A book can change your life and make you a saint!
Today, 31st of July, we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. The Jesuits are known for their commitment to education. Yet again, I find two of my great loves overlapping, the saints and books! Last year I also wrote a post about books and saints, you can read it here, if you wish.
Books played a huge part in the conversion of Saint Ignatius. At the age of 30 in May of 1521 as an officer defending the fortress of the town of Pamplona against the French, who claimed the territory as their own against Spain. During the battle a cannon ball struck Ignatius, wounding one leg and breaking the other. Because they admired his courage, the French soldiers carried him back to recuperate at his home, the castle of Loyola, rather than to prison. During the long weeks of his recuperation, he was extremely bored and asked for some romance novels to pass the time.The reading which was given to us in the Office of Readings goes like this:
“Ignatius was very addicted to reading aimless and exaggerated books about the illustrious deeds of the famous, and when he felt well again he asked for some to pass the time. But there were no books of that type in the house and he was given a book called 'The Life of Christ' and another 'The Flower of the Saints', both in his native language.
By reading these regularly he developed a certain sympathy with what was written in them. Sometimes he took his mind off them and turned his thoughts to the type of story he used to read earlier on; sometimes, according as it occurred to him, he thought about those idle inclinations, and things of that nature, such as he used to think about formerly.”
None of the saints were born saints! We have heard the phrase: “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” They had a journey to embark upon to reach the point where they could say like St. Paul, ‘it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me’. The image given to us in today’s First Reading is very fitting. We read from the prophet Jeremiah and thought evoking image of the potter, the potter’s wheel and the clay: “whenever the vessel he making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do.” Ignatius was moulded by the fashioning hand of God. The clay of his life was taken off the wheel and God started to shape him again. It was not an easy path and he suffered greatly during his life as the Jesuit Order grew and took shape. Again he had these words to offer to his own situation: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.” Ignatius was destined to be a saint, and a great one at that!
There is a quote from Christopher Morley which says “when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life.” This is what happened with St. Ignatius. He was given a new life. He would proceed to resign all his vanity and all the things he had, all the choices he had, and he gave it all away in exchange for following Jesus, like the disciples did. His holiness consisted in the great love that directed his life to do everything A.M.D.G., ad maiorem Del gloriam, which translates from the Latin to “ for the greater glory of God.”
His great prayer was:“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”
So today, as we look at the life of St. Ignatius, we can ask ourselves, what do we read? Does it nourish us or is it just to pass the time or let us zone out? Do I read the lives of the saints or spiritual books or reflections? Even just for a few minutes each day? We can take the prayer of St. Ignatius and make it our own: “your love and your grace, that is enough for me.” When we accept this, we can truly do all things A.D.M.G, for the greater glory of God!