HEDWIG LEWIS SJ
For information regarding this book CLICK HERE
The life of St Ignatius is charming – in many senses of the word. It is replete with wave after wave of dramatic happenings: the indulgences of the courtly cavalier with a head-full of romantic ideas; the adventures of the holy ‘knight’ in conquest of his soul, the eager student attending classes – a colossus among children, and an endearing companion building up a team of service-minded volunteers. Ignatius’s is a life of contrasting desires and fulfillments, of dreams going berserk and convictions challenged. He is the ‘barefoot’ pilgrim seeking and finding God. There is never a dull moment in his span of 65 years. He is the self-effacing ‘hero’, detached from mundane enticements, whispering in his heart to his loving Master unto his last breath: "Your love and your grace are enough for me". Yet, he is in the mainstream of life, the lodestar for his ‘companions’, the source of inspiration and the guiding spirit behind the growing Society that he founded. Centuries have passed since Ignatius handed his blazing torch to his worthy sons as he left for his eternal abode. That torch inflames hearts even to this day.
This book is a novel approach to
the biography of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
The author traces the life of the saint step by step, from his birth to the
founding of the religious Order. Each step forms a separate unit with three
sections: the first pieces together the historical realities [“retrospective”]
in the life of St Ignatius. The next, registers the varied events, experiences
and personality traits in St Ignatius’ later years, which form an integrated
link with the previous section [“perspective”]. The third section contains
‘reflections’ from varied sources, on relevant themes accruing from the previous
sections and related to the Ignatian spirit [“reflective”] that have been
influencing the ‘character’ of the Society of Jesus down the ages, directly or
indirectly, even to this day.
This is not a meticulous research study but a careful rendering from readily available resources. I have deliberatively abstained form a ‘literary style’, thus avoiding rhetoric and a romantic flow. There are only “pointers” – sharp and incisive to pierce mind and heart, clear and obvious – pointing to the pilgrim-reader the ‘way of proceeding’. The objective is to draw one to reflection rather than dwell on historical niceties. If certain thoughts are repeated in different forms, it is done according to a set purpose.
This book is meant to serve as a source of reflection in the Jesuit Jubilee Year 2006 which commemorates 450 years since Saint Ignatius' death[31 July 1556] and 500 years since the birth of St Francis Xavier [7 April 1506] and Blessed Peter Faber [13 April 1506].
SAVOURING: A hand-to-mouth' experience
In June 1987 I “retreated” to Manresa, Spain, for ten days. There I felt ‘vibrations’ of a peculiar nature affecting the very fibres of my being. I became deeply aware that I was standing on ‘holy ground’, sanctified by our dear Founder.
I visited with great devotion the various Ignatian landmarks in the town, lingering long enough for each experience to sink into the unconscious, as I recollected its association to “the pilgrim” whose steps I was re-tracing. Though I could not beat the seven-hour stretches of prayer of St Ignatius, I did spend plenty of time in the “cave” imploring that I imbibe a fraction of his spirit.
The memories of Manresa still remain vivid, though there are only a few ‘hard copy’ facts (photographs) in my preserve. But if I would have to single out one memorable experience – the most significant for me, I would have no hesitation in zeroing in on it. It had to do with the begging bowl of the saint.
The late Fr John Marti, SJ, the superior of the Manresan Retreat House then, took me around the area on regular tours. One day he brought me to a house situated in the main street “to show me something special”, he confided. I do not remember details of the particular family we visited, but I presume they were descendants of Isabel Inés, the woman who spotted Iñigo limping his way to Manresa from Montserrat after his night of Vigil there. Isabel herself happened to visit Montserrat and was returning to Manresa where she had a shop.
A member of the present household unlocked an antique chest of drawers, and pulled out something wrapped in fine linen. It was the actual BEGGING BOWL that Iñigo himself had used while he was in Manresa, and which, I was told he had handed over to the kind Isabella before he departed from there.
I requested the owner to allow me to inspect the gourd. I took it in my hands reverently, held it close to my chest, and let its vibrations echo in my heart. The gourd had a neatly carved hole an inch from the rim. I examined it curiously, while the present owner explained that the hole was made by Iñigo on purpose – so that he would never be tempted to fill his cup to the brim, but exercise self-control.
At that moment the image of the “soldierly” Iñigo, the gallant knight was blotted out of my mind. A new image, that of a ‘human’ person, full of humility and gentleness was imprinted in my heart. I was brimming over with emotion. And when I returned to the Retreat House, I did not want to wash my hands... This may sound trivial in retrospect, but not then.
I was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of our Holy Father Ignatius to other parts: Spain, France, Jerusalem, Rome. When I returned to India a month later, I felt the urge to write a ‘reflective life’ of the Saint. I began work in earnest, till I discovered Betancor’s Way of the Pilgrim. I decided not to ‘duplicate’ matters, and – to cut a long story short, I ended up writing At Home With God. It was a two-year labour of love, using all the time available after my daily administration, teaching and counselling jobs were done.
Some years ago, I was asked to prepare a “Novena” to Ignatius for a local parish. I pulled out of the shelves all the available books on the Saint and began a cursory study. I gradually realized that the old ‘embers’ had been ignited once more, and my re-reading of Ignatiana was fanning the flames. I felt myself being drawn in deeper and deeper into the life of the Founder of the Society of Jesus. I was making new discoveries, or interpreting old stories in a new light. More, I felt a stirring in my whole being as I interpreted the stories of the Pilgrim’s life. My writer’s eye soon visualized a book.
My books are the products of my personal experience and benefits. What has inspired and helped me, I believe, may in some or many ways benefit others. Why not share it? It is with such a motivation that I am offering this book to friends or followers of St Ignatius. I am sharing the experiences of my own pilgrimage with St Ignatius Loyola.
This volume is not a “biography” in the strict sense of the term. There is a framework that presents the life of the Saint rather sequentially, no doubt, and great care has been taken to check the authenticity of historical facts, but the emphasis is more on unravelling the “heart” of Saint Ignatius than on telling the story of his evolution from Courtier to Founder. Little known (or rarely emphasized) incidents of his life are retold because of the light they throw on his personality, and their revelation of what made the “man” a fully-human being, a “man for others”, and a saint who strove always to be and to do whatever was for the greater glory and service of God.
It is a pilgrimage into “the pilgrim’s” history. The task has a holy purpose. It may entertain but it must inspire. It has no particular destination, and one can linger on wherever the soul finds delight. It can amuse but also instruct. Like pilgrims, we travel empty-handed and open-minded. We move with the heart, not the head. We trust fully in God as we follow the tracks of Saint Ignatius – in the very pathways that God lead him to sainthood.
Preparing this book has been for me a voyage of discovery rather than an essay in interpretation. I have learned from my study various facets of Ignatius which I had not understood before, and I shall count my labours well repaid if through this book others come to understand him a little better than they did before.
G. Gispert-Sauch, SJ, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, July 2006, pp 553-554