Ignatius Loyola: A Saint Reads the Saints

31 July marks the feast day of Saint Ignatius Loyola (b.1491), the founder of the Society of Jesus (more commonly known as the Jesuits). In a breviary, I was interested to read a passage from the Acts of Saint Ignatius taken down by Luis Gonzalez, which describes the reading habits of the young saint:

“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 thought 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.

But divine mercy was at hand and, in place of these thoughts, it used to substitute others from what he had recently read. For when he had read the lives of Christ our Lord and the saints he would think to himself and ponder: ‘What, if I were to do what blessed Francis did or what blessed Dominic did?’ And he used to meditate a good deal in this manner. This way of thinking lasted for some time, but then other things intervened and he resumed his idle and worldly thoughts, and these persisted for a long time. He was involved in that succession of changes of mind for a considerable time.

But there was a difference in his two types of subject for thought. When he was intent on his worldly interests he got great pleasure at the time, but whenever he wearied of them and gave them up he felt dejected and empty. On the other hand, when he thought about the austerities which he found that holy men practised, not only did he find joy in the account of them, but when he stopped thinking of them his joy remained unabated. However, he never noticed the difference or thought about it, until one day it dawned on him, and he began to wonder at it. He understood from experience that the one subject of thought left him dejection, while the other left him joy.”

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