Room in Loyola castle where Ignatius was born

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. It was on this day in 1556 that he died. Odd that we would celebrate a death rather than just remember it. When I was in the order, this was a day of good food and drink way into the wee hours. I imagine it still is at Jesuit institutions around the world. Maybe a “celebration” rather than a somber “remembrance” is the way to go. I would hope my funeral would be a celebration. Of course whoever was throwing the funeral would have to provide free beer. So I guess July 31st for Ignatius is like an “eternal birthday” or the day he was turned into a saint-y type person at age 65. His life is pretty interesting if you want to check it out. Not the usual “I was born for this holiness stuff” like some other saints I know. His journey was very human and very approachable I would think. He was a good man with a good heart who became a great man with a huge heart. He was an ordinary man who became extraordinary.

Last June, I traveled with the St. Ignatius Chamber Singers (San Francisco) and their conductor, Chad Zullinger throughout Italy, France and the Basque country of Northern Spain. The chorus sang in various churches and cathedrals, some impromptu performances, some planned. They even sang under the Eiffel Tower at sunset to tourists waiting in line to take the elevator to the observation deck. It was magical. You can read a day-by-day account here on this website under “Choir Tour 2012.”

Our final venue was the Basilica of St. Ignatius in his home town of Azpeitia in the

Singing in the Basilica

province of Gipuzkoa. The town is located deep in the Pyrenees about 16 miles southwest of the beautiful beach of San Sebastián. This was the place Inigo Lopez de Loyola was born in 1491. As we toured the “castle” (read ‘house’) I couldn’t help but think of the history that passed through these doors and rooms. This is the history which would turn the last of the Loyola kids from a punk into the spiritual leader of a movement which rocked the Catholic Church  even down to the present day. The movement and the religious order which Ignatius founded with some of his college buddies wasn’t always the Church’s darling. But that history can be left for another time. It’s fascinating stuff.

Full of energy the young Inigo took off to find a glorious life as a “knight in shining armor” and like many an arrogant young man was humbled over and over again by life’s sometimes cruel realities. Stories and legends surround this young Basque “nobleman” some of them true and some hard to substantiate. His love for the ladies and gambling, sword fighting in the streets of Azpeitia are all part of his lore. You know, typical teenage enthusiasm that sometimes got him in trouble.

Rather than walk through the life of this person, I wanted to take time to draw your attention to the transformation that took place over a period of years. While recovering from his war wounds after the battle of Pamplona, Ignatius had great plans. He was inspired by the two books that were available to him, the lives of the saints and the life of Christ. He concluded that he would be better than the saints he read about. He knew he could do it. Maybe a book would be written about him. He thought “How freakin’ cool would that be?” (a rough translation from the original Basque). It wasn’t to be, however because over time he realized that because of his imperfections he would never ever be like the saints he read about. He was depressed…he thought himself not-good-enough. At his lowest moment, even contemplating suicide, he gets a subtle revelation that God loved him as he was at the time and not what he would be like tomorrow. Simple enough, hard to swallow. In essence the revelation told Ignatius, and us, that it doesn’t matter how much you do, God loves you anyway, good or not so good.  And we do what we do because it is right. This invitation and dose of reality should, and in Ignatius’ case did, get us off our butts and out of the self-loathing and not-good-enoughs to do something great…for others. God cannot be found in church until God is found in others, including things.

This quiet moment of spiritual reality changed Ignatius’ life completely. He would continue to work on his arrogance, but in the end would finally touch the face of God. And us? Us people need to realize that the talents and gifts that are ours are only as good as using them to be “with and for others.” You can figure out what that means for you. I’m still working on it.

Happy Ignatius day…now go set the world on fire…

and so it goes…