Ignatius – pilgrim to stationary leader

Ignatius at La Storta, a guided Imaginative Contemplation
26 April 2022
Rome
23 May 2022

Ignatius – pilgrim to stationary leader

In reflecting on Ignatius’ time in Rome, it could be said that the pilgrim becomes a stationary leader. I propose to explore this through the lenses of three themes: leader, companion and disciple.

After the mystical experience at La Storta Ignatius Loyola, along with Peter Favre and Diego Laínez find themselves in Rome with the other companions. It will be another moment of change along the path for this pilgrim, as Ignatius would come to live the rest of his life in the eternal city. This pilgrim who dreamed of travelling on the road preaching the message of the gospel to all finds himself elected the general superior of the newly formed religious order, the Company (or Society) of Jesus. Despite being unanimously elected by the First Companions, and perhaps knowing that it would mean his staying in Rome, Ignatius asked that they vote again, at which he was again unanimously elected.

As the leader of this newly formed religious order Ignatius had many responsibilities and requests to attend to daily to support this rapidly growing group. John O’Malley SJ describes it thus: “This structure of Jesuit government evolved rapidly under the press of numerical and geographical expansion… in 1549 Jesuits lived in twenty-two cities and towns…”.

Despite all of these responsibilities in shepherding this newly formed order, its members and variety of apostolic works in countries such as Italy, Portugal, Germany, Spain and India, Ignatius still took a keen interest in caring for the sick Jesuits living in the house – a job he undertook personally. As well as caring for the sick he was said to be a martinet when it came to cleanliness – quite a contrast from his time in the cave at Manresa. There were also many letters writing to close friends, such as Francis Xavier and benefactors from Spain, as well as to those who had written to Ignatius asking for spiritual guidance. There were also many who visited the house in Rome to seek his spiritual counsel in person. These are just some of the ways in which Ignatius continued to be a companion to those whom he knew and those who sought his help.

Even with the pressures of leading this new order, Ignatius never skimped on time for prayer, and it could be observed that his felt knowledge of the divine presence was as strong and intimate as always. This is perhaps best understood through his gazing at the stars and the gift of tears. His close companion Diego Laínez, described it this way to another Jesuit:

“At night [Ignatius] would go up on the roof of the house, with the sky there up above him. He would sit there quietly, absolutely quietly. He would take his hat off and look up for a long time at the sky. Then he would fall on his knees, bowing profoundly to God… and the tears would begin to flow down his cheeks like a stream, but so quietly and gently that you heard not a sob nor a sigh nor the least possible movement of his body.”

Ignatius the pilgrim, who was told that his Jerusalem was now Rome, left a global impact that no one would have imagined the day that the cannonball shattered not only his leg, but his dreams. What we see of Ignatius in his time in Rome is the maturing of the leader and companion who convinces the army to stay and fight in Pamplona and the blossoming of understanding of the disciples who, laying in his sick bed wanted to stand in the very place of Jesus in Jerusalem, now stands with his brother Jesuits in numerous countries as they seek to preach and serve the Good News of the one who became everything for Ignatius.

With thanks to Isaac Demase, SJ for this contribution to our Erromeria pilgrimage. Isaac is a Jesuit scholastic assisting at JISA and Jesuit Mission Australia before he begins theology studies in the middle of this year.