A lot can happen in a century. Little could the soldier Ignatius of Loyola have known when he was badly wounded on the battlefield in 1521 that in a mere hundred years he would be canonized in the Catholic Church. But that’s all it was—one century. Last May, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ cannonball moment and conversion to seek the call of Christ in his life. On March 12, 2022, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of his canonization, and that of his close companion and fellow Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier. These two Jesuit pilgrims held very different missions, one a visionary and administrator who organized, launched, and governed a new religious order dedicated to serving the poor, preaching the gospel, and education, and the other a missionary who boldly traveled throughout India, Southeast Asia, and Japan. Because of them, the Society of Jesus became what it is today. Here are a few reflections on this 400th milestone from our Ignatian Year committee.
Lisa M. Hastings
I had the good fortune recently to journey alongside 40 lay women and men from Jesuit universities who were participating in a seven-day, mostly silent retreat. The Magis Retreat is a component of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP), designed to educate and form administrators and faculty more deeply in the Jesuit & Catholic tradition of higher education. Among the group were individuals from diverse faith traditions, ethnicities, and life paths—the common thread was a deep desire for the Magis, the desire to live more fully into calling and service to the greater good.
The lives of Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier are a study in contrasts united by this same common thread. Well known is Ignatius’ disappointment at being turned away upon his arrival in Jerusalem, his lofty goal to “help souls” in the Holy Land rebuffed almost immediately. And Xavier was not originally chosen for the mission to evangelize the people of the East Indies. Rather, he emerged as a substitute for a Jesuit who fell ill. Today, we know much about Ignatius’ gift for leadership and administration and Xavier’s compassionate and tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in far lands. Both encountered disappointment, opposition, hardship, and ill health. Neither could have imagined where God’s invitation, over and over, would lead them.
What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ? Ignatius and Xavier lived these questions throughout their lives. As I witnessed at the Magis Retreat, these questions, at the heart of Ignatian Spirituality, are as deeply compelling today as they were then.
Fr. James R. Conroy, SJ
Starting anything is difficult. Starting something that lasts 500 years is extraordinary. Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola, whose 400 anniversaries of canonization we celebrate this year, did just that. Along with Peter Faber, canonized in 2013, they were the principal founders of the Society of Jesus.
Bound in mutual affection, Loyola and Xavier were alike and different. Both were filled with ambition, zeal and passion. Both encountered Jesus Christ as friend and savior. Each possessed the capacity to break barriers and trod new ground in ministry. Best of all, they had the desire to share the most intimate experience of God’s grace with one another. “Love consists in a mutual sharing of goods…” (Sp. Ex. # 231)
They differed in the apostolic mission required of them. Xavier sailed to the East never to return. Ignatius settled in Rome never to leave. Although they would never see one another again, they remain present through 138 letters. Xavier’s letters to Ignatius were translated and distributed throughout the nascent Society of Jesus. Xavier’s words and experiences and Ignatius’ organizational genius sculpted the future of the Society.
As the disciple John would say to St. Peter at the Sea of Galilee, “It is the Lord,” so too Ignatius and Xavier would recognize the presence of the living God and share the beauty of that grace. The legacy lives on.
Fr. Michael F. Tunney, SJ
I remember losing focus very early on. With all the talk of cannonball moment videos; getting Jesuit communities and apostolic works focused on programming and events around the Ignatian Year; and promoting international, Jesuit Conference and province websites and school webpages, “making all things new in Christ” was just like checking one more box and accomplishing the latest “To Do” list item. Jesus quickly got lost in the fray.
And then the Ignatius 500 Fund project kicked into gear. We received really creative and thoughtful proposals for how Jesuits and colleagues across the new East Coast Province were thinking and praying and planning for the year. I saw these as projects that can make a difference in people’s lives.
On top of that, I received a new mission that got me thinking and acting and praying about the next phase of my life. Like all the ones before it, I came to appreciate, again as for the first time, how much Jesus has always been, is, and always will be alongside me. Asking the same thing of me now that he’s always been inviting me to: “Be a Jesuit. Be a priest. Be humble. Be bold. Be creative.”
“Making all things new in Christ” in my little life is turning out to be both reassuringly familiar and persistently fresh.