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Saint Ignatius Loyola, Priest

July 31, 2021

St. Ignatius of Loyola

 

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Jesuit Family Album

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola translated by Elder Mullan ([1914]

Day by Day — Saints for All, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, 07-31-18

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St. Ignatius of Loyola

Youngest son of Don Beltrán Yañez de Oñez y Loyola and Marina Saenz de Lieona y Balda (the name López de Recalde, though accepted by the Bollandist Father Pien, is a copyist’s blunder), b. in 1491 at the castle of Loyola above Azpeitia in Guipuscoa; d. at Rome, 31 July, 1556. The family arms are: per pale, or, seven bends gules (?vert) for Oñez; argent, pot and chain sable between two grey wolves rampant, for Loyola. The saint was baptized Inigo, after St. Enecus (Innicus), Abbot of Oña: the name Ignatius was assumed in later years, while he was residing in Rome. For the saint’s genealogy, see Perez (op. cit. below, 131); Michel (op. cit. below, II, 383); Polanco (Chronicon, I, 51646). For the date of birth cfr. Astráin, I, 3 S.

I. Conversion (1491-1521)
At an early age he was made a cleric. We do not know when, or why he was released from clerical obligations. He was brought up in the household of Juan Velásquez de Cuellar, contador mayor to Ferdinand and Isabella, and in his suite probably attended the court from time to time, though not in the royal service. This was perhaps the time of his greatest dissipation and laxity. He was affected and extravagant about his hair and dress, consumed with the desire of winning glory, and would seem to have been sometimes involved in those darker intrigues, for which handsome young courtiers too often think themselves licensed. How far he went on the downward course is still unproved.

The balance of evidence tends to show that his own subsequent humble confessions of having been a great sinner should not be treated as pious exaggerations. But we have no details, not even definite charges. In 1517 a change for the better seems to have taken place; Velásquez died and Ignatius took service in the army. The turning-point of his life came in 1521. While the French were besieging the citadel of Pampeluna, a cannon ball, passing between Ignatius’ legs, tore open the left calf. and broke the right shin (Whit-Tuesday, 20 May, 1521).

With his fall the garrison lost heart and surrendered, but he was well treated by the French and carried on a litter to Loyola, where his leg had to be rebroken and reset, and afterwards a protruding end of the bone was sawn off, and the limb, having been shortened by clumsy setting, was stretched out by weights. All these pains were undergone voluntarily, without uttering a cry or submitting to be bound. But the pain and weakness which followed were so great that the patient began to fail and sink. On the eve of Sts. Peter and Paul, however, a turn for the better took place, and he threw off his fever.

So far Ignatius had shown none but the ordinary virtues of the Spanish officer. His dangers and sufferings has doubtless done much to purge his soul, but there was no idea yet of remodelling his life on any higher ideals. Then, in order to divert the weary hours of convalescence, he asked for the romances of chivalry, his favourite reading, but there were none in the castle, and instead they brought him the lives of Christ and of the saints, and he read them in the same quasi-competitive spirit with which he read the achievements of knights and warriors.

“Suppose I were to rival this saint in fasting, that one in endurance, that other in pilgrimages.” He would then wander off into thoughts of chivalry, and service to fair ladies, especially to one of high rank, whose name is unknown. Then all of a sudden, he became conscious that the after-effect of these dreams was to make him dry and dissatisfied, while the ideas of falling into rank among the saints braced and strengthened him, and left him full of joy and peace. Next it dawned on him that the former ideas were of the world, the latter God-sent; finally, worldly thoughts began to lose their hold, while heavenly ones grew clearer and dearer.

One night as he lay awake, pondering these new lights, “he saw clearly”, so says his autobiography, “the image of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus”, at whose sight for a notable time he felt a reassuring sweetness, which eventually left him with such a loathing of his past sins, and especially for those of the flesh, that every unclean imagination seemed blotted out from his soul, and never again was there the least consent to any carnal thought. His conversion was now complete. Everyone noticed that he would speak of nothing but spiritual things, and his elder brother begged him not to take any rash or extreme resolution, which might compromise the honour of their family.

II. Spiritual Formation (1522-24)
When Ignatius left Loyola he had no definite plans for the future, except that he wished to rival all the saints had done in the way of penance. His first care was to make a general confession at the famous sanctuary of Montserrat, where, after three days of self-examination, and carefully noting his sins, he confessed, gave to the poor the rich clothes in which he had come, and put on garment of sack-cloth reaching to his feet. His sword and dagger he suspended at Our Lady’s altar, and passed the night watching before them. Next morning, the feast of the Annunciation, 1522, after Communion, he left the sanctuary, not knowing whither he went. But he soon fell in with a kind woman, Iñes Pascual, who showed him a cavern near the neighbouring town of Manresa, where he might retire for prayer, austerities, and contemplation, while he lived on alms. But here, instead of obtaining greater peace, he was consumed with the most troublesome scruples. Had he confessed this sin? Had he omitted that circumstance?

At one time he was violently tempted to end his miseries by suicide, on which he resolved neither to eat nor to drink (unless his life was in danger), until God granted him the peace which he desired, and so he continued until his confessor stopped him at the end of the week. At last, however, he triumphed over all obstacles, and then abounded in wonderful graces and visions. It was at this time, too, that he began to make notes of his spiritual experiences, notes which grew into the little book of “The Spiritual Exercises”. God also afflicted him with severe sicknesses, when he was looked after by friends in the public hospital; for many felt drawn towards him, and he requited their many kind offices by teaching them how to pray and instructing them in spiritual matters. Having recovered health, and acquired sufficient experience to guide him in his new life, he commenced his long-meditated migration to the Holy Land.

 

From the first he had looked forward to it as leading to a life of heroic penance; now he also regarded it as a school in which he might learn how to realize clearly and to conform himself perfectly to Christ’s life. The voyage was fully as painful as he had conceived. Poverty, sickness, exposure, fatigue, starvation, dangers of shipwreck and capture, prisons, blows, contradictions, these were his daily lot; and on his arrival the Franciscans, who had charge of the holy places, commanded him to return under pain of sin. Ignatius demanded what right they had thus to interfere with a pilgrim like himself, and the friars explained that, to prevent many troubles which had occurred in finding ransoms for Christian prisoners, the pope had given them the power and they offered to show him their Bulls. Ignatius at once submitted, though it meant altering his whole plan of life, refused to look at the proferred Bulls, and was back at Barcelona about march, 1524.

III. Studies And Companions (1521-39)
Ignatius left Jerusalem in the dark as to his future and “asking himself as he went, quid agendum” (Autobiography, 50). Eventually he resolved to study, in order to be of greater help to others. To studies he therefore gave eleven years, more than a third of his remaining life. Later he studied among school-boys at Barcelona, and early in 1526 he knew enough to proceed to his philosophy at the University of Alcalá. But here he met with many troubles to be described later, and at the end of 1527 he entered the University of Salamanca, whence, his trials continuing, he betook himself to Paris (June, 1528), and there with great method repeated his course of arts, taking his M. A. on 14 March, 1535.

Meanwhile theology had been begun, and he had taken the licentiate in 1534; the doctorate he never took, as his health compelled him to leave Paris in March, 1535. Though Ignatius, despite his pains, acquired no great erudition, he gained many practical advantages from his course of education. To say nothing of knowledge sufficient to find such information as he needed afterwards to hold his own in the company of the learned, and to control others more erudite than himself, he also became thoroughly versed in the science of education, and learned by experience how the life of prayer and penance might be combined with that of teaching and study, an invaluable acquirement to the future founder of the Society of Jesus.

The labours of Ignatius for others involved him in trials without number. At Barcelona, he was beaten senseless, and his companion killed, at the instigation of some worldlings vexed at being refused entrance into a convent which he had reformed. At Alcalá, a meddlesome inquisitor, Figueroa, harassed him constantly, and once automatically imprisoned him for two months. This drove him to Salamanca, where, worse still, he was thrown into the common prison, fettered by the foot to his companion Calisto, which indignity only drew from Ignatius the characteristic words, “There are not so many handcuffs and chains in Salamanca, but that I desire even more for the love of God.”

In Paris his trials were very varied—from poverty, plague, works of charity, and college discipline, on which account he was once sentenced to a public flogging by Dr. Govea, the rector of Collège Ste-Barbe, but on his explaining his conduct, the rector as publicly begged his pardon. There was but one delation to the inquisitors, and, on Ignatius requesting a prompt settlement, the Inquisitor Ori told him proceedings were therewith quashed. We notice a certain progression in Ignatius’ dealing with accusations against him. The first time he allowed them to cease without any pronouncement being given in his favour.

The second time he demurred at Figueroa wanting to end in this fashion. The third time, after sentence had been passed, he appealed to he Archbishop of Toledo against some of its clauses. Finally he does not await sentence, but goes at once to the judge to urge an inquiry, and eventually he made it his practice to demand sentence, whenever reflection was cast upon his orthodoxy. (Records of Ignatius’ legal proceedings at Azpeitia, in 1515; at Alclla in 1526, 1527; at Venice, 1537; at Rome in 1538, will be found in “Scripta de S. Ignatio”, pp. 580-620.) Ignatius had now for the third time gathered companions around him. His first followers in Spain had persevered for a time, even amid the severe trials of imprisonment, but instead of following Ignatius to Paris, as they had agreed to do, they gave him up. In Paris too the first to follow did not persevere long, but of the third band not one deserted him.

They were (St.) Peter Faber (q.v.), a Genevan Savoyard; (St.) Francis Xavier (q.v.), of Navarre; James Laynez, Alonso Salmerón, and Nicolás Bobadilla, Spaniards; Simón Rodríguez, a Portuguese. Three others joined soon after—Claude Le Jay, a Genevan Savoyard; Jean Codure and Paschase Broët, French. Progress is to be noted in the way Ignatius trained his companions. The first were exercised in the same severe exterior mortifications, begging, fasting, going barefoot, etc., which the saint was himself practising. But though this discipline had prospered in a quiet country place like Manresa, it had attracted an objectionable amount of criticism at the University of Alcalá. At Paris dress and habits were adapted to the life in great towns; fasting, etc., was reduced; studies and spiritual exercises were multiplied, and alms funded.

The only bond between Ignatius’ followers so far was devotion to himself, and his great ideal of leading in the Holy Land a life as like as possible to Christ’s. On 15 August, 1534, they took the vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre (probably near the modern Chapelle de St-Denys, Rue Antoinette), and a third vow to go to the Holy Land after two years, when their studies were finished.

Six months later Ignatius was compelled by bad health to return to his native country, and on recovery made his way slowly to Bologna, where, unable through ill health to study, he devoted himself to active works of charity till his companions came from Paris to Venice (6 January, 1537) on the way to the Holy Land. Finding further progress barred by the war with the Turks, they now agreed to await for a year the opportunity of fulfilling their vow, after which they would put themselves at the pope’s disposal. Faber and some others, going to Rome in Lent, got leave for all to be ordained. They were eventually made priests on St. John Baptist’s day. But Ignatius took eighteen months to prepare for his first Mass.
IV. Foundation Of The Society

By the winter of 1537, the year of waiting being over, it was time to offer their services to the pope. The others being sent in pairs to neighboring university towns, Ignatius with Faber and Laynez started for Rome. At La Storta, a few miles before reaching the city, Ignatius had a noteworthy vision.

He seemed to see the Eternal Father associating him with His Son, who spoke the words: Ego vobis Romae propitius ero. Many have thought this promise simply referred to the subsequent success of the order there. Ignatius’ own interpretation was characteristic: “I do not know whether we shall be crucified in Rome; but Jesus will be propitious.” Just before or just after this, Ignatius had suggested for the title of their brotherhood “The Company of Jesus”. Company was taken in its military sense, and in those days a company was generally known by its captain’s name. In the Latin Bull of foundation, however, they were called “Societas Jesu”. We first hear of the term Jesuit in 1544, applied as a term of reproach by adversaries. It had been used in the fifteenth century to describe in scorn someone who cantingly interlarded his speech with repetitions of the Holy Name.

In 1522 it was still regarded as a mark of scorn, but before very long the friends of the society saw that they could take it in a good sense, and, though never used by Ignatius, it was readily adopted (Pollen, “The Month”, June, 1909). Paul III having received the fathers favourably, all were summoned to Rome to work under the pope’s eyes. At this critical moment an active campaign of slander was opened by one Fra Matteo Mainardi (who eventually died in open heresy), and a certain Michael who had been refused admission to the order. It was not till 18 November, 1538, that Ignatius obtained from the governor of Rome an honourable sentence, still extent, in his favour. The thoughts of the fathers were naturally occupied with a formula of their intended mode of life to submit to the pope; and in March, 1539, they began to meet in the evenings to settle the matter.

Hitherto without superior, rule or tradition, they had prospered most remarkably. Why not continue as they had begun? The obvious answer was that without some sort of union, some houses for training postulants, they were practically doomed to die out with the existing members, for the pope already desired to send them about as missioners from place to place. This point was soon agreed to, but when the question arose whether they should, by adding a vow of obedience to their existing vows, form themselves into a compact religious order, or remain, as they were, a congregation of secular priests, opinions differed much and seriously. Not only had they done so well without strict rules, but (to mention only one obstacle, which was in fact not overcome afterwards without great difficulty), there was the danger, if they decided for an order, that the pope might force them to adopt some ancient rule, which would mean the end of all their new ideas. The debate on this point continued for several weeks, but the conclusion in favour of a life under obedience was eventually reached unanimously. After this, progress was faster, and by 24 June some sixteen resolutions had been decided on, covering the main points of the proposed institute.

Thence Ignatius drew up in five sections the first “Formula Instituti”, which was submitted to the pope, who gave a viva voce approbation 3 September, 1539, but Cardinal Guidiccioni, the head of the commission appointed to report on the “Formula”, was of the view that a new order should not be admitted, and with that the chances of approbation seemed to be at an end. Ignatius and his companions, undismayed, agreed to offer up 4000 Masses to obtain the object desired, and after some time the cardinal unexpectedly changed his mind, approved the “Formula” and the Bull “Regimini militantis Ecclesiae” (27 September, 1540), which embodies and sanctions it, was issued, but the members were not to exceed sixty (this clause was abrogated after two years). In April, 1541, Ignatius was, in spite of his reluctance, elected the first general, and on 22 April he and his companions made their profession in St. Paul Outside the Walls. The society was now fully constituted.

V. The Book Of The Spiritual Exercises
This work originated in Ignatius’ experiences, while he was at Loyola in 1521, and the chief meditations were probably reduced to their present shapes during his life at Manresa in 1522, at the end of which period he had begun to teach them to others. In the process of 1527 at Salamanca, they are spoken of for the first time as the “Book of Exercises”. The earliest extant text is of the year 1541.

At the request of St. Francis Boria. the book was examined by papal censors and a solemn approbation given by Paul III in the Brief “Pastoralis Officii” of 1548. “The Spiritual Exercises” are written very concisely, in the form of a handbook for the priest who is to explain them, and it is practically impossible to describe them without making them, just as it might be impossible to explain Nelson’s “Sailing Orders” to a man who knew nothing of ships or the sea. The idea of the work is to help the exercitant to find out what the will of God is in regard to his future, and to give him energy and courage to follow that will.

The exercitant (under ideal circumstances) is guided through four weeks of meditations: the first week on sin and its consequences, the second on Christ’s life on earth, the third on his passion, the fourth on His risen life; and a certain number of instructions (called “rules”, “additions”, “notes”) are added to teach him how to pray, how to avoid scruples, how to elect a vocation in life without being swayed by the love of self or of the world. In their fullness they should, according to Ignatius’ idea, ordinarily be made once or twice only; but in part (from three to four days) that may be most profitably made annually, and are now commonly called “retreats”, from the seclusion or retreat from the world in which the exercitant lives. More popular selections are preached to the people in church and are called “missions”.

The stores of spiritual wisdom contained in the “Book of Exercises” are truly astonishing, and their author is believed to have been inspired while drawing them up. (See also next section.) Sommervogel enumerates 292 writers among the Jesuits alone, who have commented on the whole book, to say nothing of commentators on parts (e.g. the meditations), who are far more numerous still. But the best testimony to the work is the frequency with which the exercises are made. In England (for which alone statistics are before the writer) the educated people who make retreats number annually about 22,000, while the number who attend popular expositions of the Exercises in “missions” is approximately 27,000, out of a total Catholic population of 2,000,000.

VI. The Constitutions Of The Society

Ignatius was commissioned in 1541 to draw them up, but he did not begin to do so until 1547, having occupied the mean space with introducing customs tentatively, which were destined in time to become laws. In 1547 Father Polaneo became his secretary, and with his intelligent aid the first draft of the constitutions was made between 1547 and 1550, and simultaneously pontifical approbation was asked for a new edition of the “Formula”. Julius III conceded this by the Bull “Exposcit debitum”, 21 July, 1550. At the same time a large number of the older fathers assembled to peruse the first draft of the constitutions, and though none of them made any serious objections, Ignatius’ next recension (1552) shows a fair amount of changes.

This revised version was then published and put into force throughout the society, a few explanations being added here and there to meet difficulties as they arose. These final touches were being added by the saint up till the time of his death, after which the first general congregation of the society ordered them to be printed, and they have never been touched since. The true way of appreciating the constitutions of the society is to study them as they are carried into practice by the Jesuits themselves, and for this, reference may be made to the articles on the SOCIETY OF JESUS. A few points, however, in which Ignatius’ institute differed from the older orders may be mentioned here. They are:

1.the vow not to accept ecclesiastical dignities;
2.increased probations. The novitiate is prolonged from one year to two, with a third year, which usually falls after the priesthood. Candidates are moreover at first admitted to simple vows only, solemn vows coming much later on;
3.the Society does not keep choir;
4.it does not have a distinctive religious habit;
5.it does not accept the direction of convents;
6.it is not governed by a regular triennial chapter;
7.it is also said to have been the first order to undertake officially and by virtue of its constitutions active works such as the following:

—foreign missions, at the pope’s bidding;
—the education of youth of all classes;
—the instruction of the ignorant and the poor;
—ministering to the sick, to prisoners, etc.

The above points give no conception of the originality with which Ignatius has handled all parts of his subject, even those common to all orders. It is obvious that he must have acquired some knowledge of other religious constitutions, especially during the years of inquiry (1541-1547), when he was on terms of intimacy with religious of every class. But witnesses, who attended him, tell us that he wrote without any books before him except the Missal.

 

Though his constitutions of course embody technical terms to be found in other rules, and also a few stock phrases like “the old man’s staff”, and “the corpse carried to any place”, the thought is entirely original, and would seem to have been God-guided throughout. By a happy accident we still possess his journal of prayers for forty days, during which he was deliberating the single point of poverty in churches. It shows that in making up his mind he was marvelously aided by heavenly lights, intelligence, and visions. If, as we may surely infer, the whole work was equally assisted by grace, its heavenly inspiration will not be doubtful. The same conclusion is probable true of “The Spiritual Exercises”.

VII. Later Life And Death

The later years of Ignatius were spent in partial retirement, the correspondence inevitable in governing the Society leaving no time for those works of active ministry which in themselves he much preferred. His health too began to fail. In 1551, when he had gathered the elder fathers to revise the constitutions, he laid his resignation of the generalate in their hands, but they refused to accept it then or later, when the saint renewed his prayer. In 1554 Father Nadal was given the powers of vicar-general, but it was often necessary to send him abroad as commissary, and in the end Ignatius continued, with Polanco’s aid, to direct everything. With most of his first companions he had to part soon. Rodríguez started on 5 March, 1540, for Lisbon, where he eventually founded the Portuguese province, of which he was made provincial on 10 October, 1546. St. Francis Xavier (q.v.) followed Rodríguez immediately, and became provincial of India in 1549. In September, 1541, Salmeron and Broet started for their perilous mission to Ireland, which they reached (via Scotland) next Lent.

But Ireland, the prey to Henry VIII’s barbarous violence, could not give the zealous missionaries a free field for the exercise of the ministries proper to their institute. All Lent they passed in Ulster, flying from persecutors, and doing in secret such good as they might. With difficulty they reached Scotland, and regained Rome, Dec., 1542. The beginnings of the Society in Germany are connected with St. Peter Faber (q.v.), Blessed Peter Canisius (q.v.), Le Jay, and Bobadilla in 1542. In 1546 Laynez and Salmeron were nominated papal theologians for the Council of Trent, where Canisius, Le Jay, and Covillon also found places. In 1553 came the picturesque, but not very successful mission of Nuñez Barretto as Patriarch of Abyssinia. For all these missions Ignatius wrote minute instructions, many of which are still extant.

He encouraged and exhorted his envoys in their work by his letters, while the reports they wrote back to him form our chief source of information on the missionary triumphs achieved. Though living alone in Rome, it was he who in effect lad, directed, and animated his subjects all the world over.

The two most painful crosses of this period were probably the suits with Isabel Roser and Simón Rodríguez. The former lady had been one of Ignatius’ first and most esteemed patronesses during his beginnings in Spain. She came to Rome later on and persuaded Ignatius to receive a vow of obedience to him, and she was afterwards joined by two or three other ladies. But the saint found that the demands they made on his time were more than he could possibly allow them.

“They caused me more trouble”, he is reported to have said, “than the whole of the Society”, and he obtained from the pope a relaxation of the vow he had accepted. A suit with Roser followed, which she lost, and Ignatius forbade his sons hereafter to become ex officio directors to convents of nuns (Scripta de S. Ignatio, pp. 652-5). Painful though this must have been to a man so loyal as Ignatius, the difference with Rodríguez , one of his first companions, must have been more bitter still. Rodríguez had founded the Province of Portugal, and brought it in a short time to a high state of efficiency. But his methods were not precisely those of Ignatius, and, when new men of Ignatius’ own training came under him, differences soon made themselves felt. A struggle ensued in which Rodríguez unfortunately took sides against Ignatius’ envoys.

The results for the newly formed province were disastrous. Well-nigh half of its members had to be expelled before peace was established; but Ignatius did not hesitate. Rodriguez having been recalled to Rome, the new provincial being empowered ti dismiss him if he refused, he demanded a formal trial, which Ignatius, foreseeing the results, endeavoured to ward off. But on Simón’s insistence a full court of inquiry was granted, whose proceedings are now printed and it unanimously condemned Rodriguez to penance and banishment from the province (Scripta etc., pp. 666-707). Of all his external works, those nearest his heart, to judge by his correspondence, were the building and foundation of the Roman College (1551), and of the German College (1552). For their sake he begged, worked, and borrowed with splendid insistence until his death.

The success of the first was ensured by the generosity of St. Francis Borgia, before he entered the Society. The latter was still in a struggling condition when Ignatius died, but his great ideas have proved the true and best foundation of both.

In the summer of 1556 the saint was attacked by Roman fever. His doctors did not foresee any serious consequences, but the saint did. On 30 July, 1556, he asked for the last sacraments and the papal blessing, but he was told that no immediate danger threatened. Next morning at daybreak, the infirmarian found him lying in peaceful prayer, so peaceful that he did not at once perceive that the saint was actually dying.

When his condition was realized, the last blessing was given, but the end came before the holy oils could be fetched. Perhaps he had prayed that his death, like his life, might pass without any demonstration. He was beatified by Paul V on 27 July, 1609, and canonized by Gregory XV on 22 May, 1622. His body lies under the altar designed by Pozzi in the Gesù. Though he died in the sixteenth year from the foundation of the Society, that body already numbered about 1000 religious (of whom, however, only 35 were yet professed) with 100 religious houses, arranged in 10 provinces. (Sacchini, op. cit. infra., lib.1, cc, i, nn. 1-20.)

It is impossible to sketch in brief Ignatius’ grand and complex character: ardent yet restrained, fearless, resolute, simple, prudent, strong, and loving. The Protestant and Jansenistic conception of him as a restless, bustling pragmatist bears no correspondence at all with the peacefulness and perseverance which characterized the real man. That he was a strong disciplinarian is true. In a young and rapidly growing body that was inevitable; and the age loved strong virtues. But if he believed in discipline as an educative force, he despised any other motives for action except the love of God and man. It was by studying Ignatius as a ruler that Xavier learnt the principle, “the company of Jesus ought to be called the company of love and conformity of souls”. (Ep., 12 Jan., 1519).

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Catholic Culture

Ordinary Time: July 31st

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, priest

MASS READINGS

July 31, 2019 (Readings on USCCB website)

COLLECT PRAYER

O God, who raised up Saint Ignatius of Loyola in your Church to further the greater glory of your name, grant that by his help we may imitate him in fighting the good fight on earth and merit to receive with him a crown in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Old Calendar: St. Ignatius of Loyola, confessor

In the year 1521 a cannon ball fractured the left leg of Captain Ignatius Loyola, the future founder of the Jesuits. While he was convalescing, Ignatius read about Christ and His saints and thus turned wholly to God. He then undertook to equip himself for Christ’s service by acquiring a good classical and theological education. The members of the Society of Jesus became the shock troops of the Church in the battle against the spread of Protestantism in Europe, as well as one of the greatest foreign mission organizations that the world has known. Ignatius died on July 31, 1556.

See Catholic Culture’s special section on St. Ignatius.


St. Ignatius
Ignatius, by nation a Spaniard, was born of a noble family at Loyola, in Cantabria. At first he attended the court of the Catholic king, and later on embraced a military career. Having been wounded at the siege of Pampeluna, he chanced in his illness to read some pious books, which kindled in his soul a wonderful eagerness to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the saints. He went to Montserrat, and hung up his arms before the altar of the Blessed Virgin; he then watched the whole night in prayer, and thus entered upon his knighthood in the army of Christ. Next he retired to Manresa, dressed as he was in sackcloth, for he had a short time before given his costly garments to a beggar. Here he stayed for a year, and during that time he lived on bread and water, given to him in alms; he fasted every day except Sunday, subdued his flesh with a sharp chain and a hair-shirt, slept on the ground, and scourged himself with iron disciplines. God favored and refreshed him with such wonderful spiritual lights, that afterwards he was wont to say that even if the Sacred Scriptures did not exist, he would be ready to die for the faith, on account of those revelations alone which the Lord had made to him at Manresa. It was at this time that he, a man without education, composed that admirable book of the Spiritual Exercises.

However, in order to make himself more fit for gaining souls, he determined to procure the advantages of education, and began by studying grammar among children. Meanwhile he relaxed nothing of his zeal for the salvation of others, and it is marvelous what sufferings and insults he patiently endured in every place, undergoing the hardest trials, even imprisonment and beatings almost to death. But he ever desired to suffer far more for the glory of his Lord. At Paris he was joined by nine companions from that University, men of different nations, who had taken their degrees in Arts and Theology; and there at Montmartre he laid the first foundations of the order, which he was later on to institute at Rome. He added to the three usual vows a fourth concerning missions, thus binding it closely to the Apostolic See. Paul III first welcomed and approved the Society, as did later other Pontiffs and the Council of Trent. Ignatius sent St. Francis Xavier to preach the Gospel in the Indies, and dispersed others of his children to spread the Christian faith in other parts of the world, thus declaring war against paganism, superstition, and heresy. This war he carried on with such success that it has always been the universal opinion, confirmed by the word of pontiffs, that God raised up Ignatius and the Society founded by him to oppose Luther and the heretics of his time, as formerly he had raised up other holy men to oppose other heretics.

He made the restoration of piety among Catholics his first care. He increased the beauty of the sacred buildings, the giving of catechetical instructions, the frequency of sermons and of the sacraments. He everywhere opened schools for the education of youth in piety and letters. He founded at Rome the German College, refuges for women of evil life, and for young girls who were in danger, houses for orphans and catechumens of both sexes, and many other pious works. He devoted himself unweariedly to gaining souls to God. Once he was heard saying that if he were given his choice he would rather live uncertain of attaining the Beatific Vision, and in the meanwhile devote himself to the service of God and the salvation of his neighbor, than die at once certain of eternal glory. His power over the demons was wonderful. St. Philip Neri and others saw his countenance shining with heavenly light. At length in the sixty-fifth year of his age he passed to the embrace of his Lord, whose greater glory he had ever preached and ever sought in all things. He was celebrated for miracles and for his great services to the Church, and Gregory XV enrolled him amongst the saints; while Pius XI, in response to the prayers of the episcopate, declared him heavenly patron of all Spiritual Exercises.

Excerpted from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.

Patron: Basque country; Jesuit Order; Jesuits; retreats; soldiers; Spiritual Exercises (by Pope Pius XI).

Symbols: Book; chausible; Holy Communion; a rayed IHC or IHS; heart with crown of thorns; sword and lance upon an altar; book with words Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.

Things to Do:

  • Learn more about St. Ignatius and the Jesuit Order and/or read this biography by John Farrow, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
  • If you have never done so, consider making the Spiritual Exercises. You can find it online here or you may purchase a copy from Catholic First.
  • The Jesuits at Georgetown have a collection of St. Ignatius’ Letters and Instructions to his fellow Jesuits. Much of his spiritual teaching is found in his letters and is considered an important source of Jesuit spirituality. If you are interested in reading them click here.
  • St. Ignatius founded his Society to give the greatest possible service to the Church and to the Pope. In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits take a special vow of loyalty to the Pope. Today would be a good time to say a prayer for Pope Francis.
  • In the Spiritual Exercise, St. Ignatius strongly recommends making a daily examination of conscience. If this is not part of your schedule today would be a good time to start.

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The Word Among Us

Meditation: Exodus 34:29-35

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Memorial)

As Moses came down from Mount Sinai . . . , he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant. (Exodus 34:29)

Do pregnant women really glow? Doctors say yes. A pregnant woman’s skin can flush because her body is making more blood, and her face often shines because her skin glands are especially active. The woman may be aware of things changing inside her, but she is often surprised to learn that other people can see a difference too.

Moses didn’t know he was beaming either. After talking face-to-face with God on the mountain, he probably felt like a changed man, but he never guessed it would be so obvious to everyone else.

And that’s the point. Sometimes we have a hard time seeing what’s crystal clear to everyone else: we have changed. By God’s grace, we are maturing. The Spirit’s activity within us is causing visible signs of that change to surface.

This means you. God’s grace has been active within you. He has been busy breaking up hard ground in your heart. Old habits are becoming less entrenched. You smile more, and you’re more careful with your words. Right now, the Spirit’s fruit is growing inside you. Slowly, incrementally, miraculously, you are being transformed from the inside out.

All this activity can’t remain hidden! What’s surprising is that family, neighbors, and coworkers often sense it before you do.

So how about taking some time to look in the mirror today? You might be surprised by what you see. As you reflect on the ways you’ve changed, don’t be afraid to think outside the box either. For instance, maybe you’ve just made it through a major life transition. That’s a sign of maturity. Or perhaps you’ve developed a new skill recently, even if it’s not obviously spiritual. That’s growth.

This little exercise may inspire a spirit of gratitude in you. It may even motivate you to keep cooperating with God’s grace so that you’ll see even more changes. There’s always, always more with the Lord. He will never stop pouring out grace on you. So keep drinking it in! Like Moses on the mountain, keep carving out bits of “face time” with God in prayer. Remember: the light of Christ is glowing within you.

“Lord, thank you for your grace at work in me—and thank you for shining through me!”

Psalm 99:5-7, 9
Matthew 13:44-46

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Marriage = One Man and One Woman Until Death Do Us PartDaily Marriage Tip for July 31, 2019:

Make time today to tell your spouse what you love about him/her. Be specific!

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Regnum Christi

July 31, 2019 – The Treasure Hunt

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Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Matthew 13: 44-46

Jesus said to his disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Introductory Prayer: Lord, you have made me for yourself, and my heart is restless until I rest in you. I want to encounter you more deeply today so that you can be my treasure. Thank you for the gift of this new day. I know you love me. I wish to discover your love more deeply and give it to others.

Petition: Lord, help me to treasure the gift of your friendship.

  1. In Search of a Treasure: The restlessness in our hearts can be compared to a hunt for treasure. In different ways we all experience the desire for unconditional love, true goodness, the answer to our deepest questions. In Christ, God has come to give himself to us. He is the one we truly long for; he is our greatest treasure. During this time of prayer let us deepen our awareness of the greatness of his gift of friendship and let us strengthen this friendship by our openness to his love
  2. The Priceless Treasure: In Christ we have experienced the overwhelming faithfulness of God’s love for us. In his mercy we discover that our life has infinite value in the Father’s eyes. In his teachings we discover the wisdom to build our life on solid ground. In his grace we receive the strength to grow in love and holiness. This is where we can build a true future. This is where we can live up to our calling to greatness. But we must be willing to leave aside all other concerns to really possess this treasure. We must leave aside anything that tries to give us a false sense of security outside of God. Am I making my friendship with Christ the one value that guides my heart and my decisions?
  1. The Unopened Treasure Chest: Unpacking this treasure is the work of our spiritual life. We need to cooperate with Christ’s grace in order to truly possess this treasure. The cultivation of faith, hope and charity helps us discover and live this treasure more fully each day. Our sacrifices and renunciations done to put on the new man help us dig this treasure out of the earthy make-up of our lives. Living generous charity helps us make this treasure truly last and enrich our lives. Am I sincerely allowing Christ’s treasure to transform me?

Conversation with Christ: Lord, thank you for the gift of your love. You are the treasure I truly long for. Help me to enter more deeply into your heart this day by doing things your way no matter what the cost. Help me to value the gift of your friendship above everything else.

Resolution: I will make a small sacrifice of my time to do something extra for someone who needs God’s love.

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Homily of the Day

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier. At his ancestral home, the Loyola castle in the Basque country, he was recuperating after his leg had been shattered in battle by a cannon ball. All he had to occupy his time were his daydreams. Ignatius asked for books. The only books available were on the life of Christ and a biography of the saints. To alleviate the boredom, Ignatius read these. Gradually his daydreaming changed. He began to see himself doing great deeds for Christ. And he asked, “If Francis of Assisi, if Dominic could do such daring deeds for Christ, could not I also do great deeds for him?”

Then Ignatius made a marvelous discovery. After an adventuresome and romantic daydream, he felt flat, empty, without enthusiasm or interest. After daydreaming about exploits for Christ, however, there lingered with him an aliveness, an expansiveness, an enthusiastic interest in life. He recognized that God was speaking to him through his feelings, that it would be in the service of Christ rather than in the pursuit of soldierly and romantic goals that he would find joy and fulfillment.

Ignatius had stumbled upon what we have come to call the “discernment of spirits,” a method of entering into oneself and reading and interpreting one’s feelings to find God’s will. As the years passed, Ignatius developed and fine-tuned this original insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth, until it has become, along with his Spiritual Exercises and the Society of Jesus, one of his greatest and most valuable legacies to Christ’s Church.

How many times have we contemplated what Jesus means to us? In today’s Gospel, this question is asked clearly by Jesus to his disciples. St. Ignatius saw the Lord as someone to know, love, and serve; someone we can turn to at times of crisis and happiness; someone who is there for us when we are in need. Today as we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Can we see Christ as St. Ignatius saw him?

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One Bread, One Body

One Bread, One Body

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All Issues > Volume 35, Issue 4

<< Wednesday, July 31, 2019 >> St. Ignatius of Loyola
 
Exodus 34:29-35
View Readings
Psalm 99:5-7, 9 Matthew 13:44-46
Similar Reflections
 

“THY KINGDOM COME”

 
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. When he found one really valuable pearl, he went back and put up for sale all that he had and bought it.” —Matthew 13:45-46
 
St. Thomas Aquinas stated that Jesus taught us in the “Our Father” not only how to pray but also how to desire (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2763). He taught that the order, that is, the priority of our desires, should be the order of the petitions of the “Our Father.” Thus, our first desire should be for our Father’s name to be hallowed because of the holiness of His children (Mt 6:9). After holiness, our second desire should be for God’s kingdom to come (Mt 6:10).

The kingdom should be sought above all else (Mt 6:33). We enter His kingdom by water and Spirit, that is, by Baptism (Jn 3:5). We live for His kingdom by giving everything we have to the Lord (Mt 13:44ff; Acts 2:44-45; Catechism, 546). We celebrate the kingdom by centering our lives on the Mass (see Mt 26:29). Because the kingdom is a matter “of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14:17), we repent (see Mk 1:15) of quenching the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19). We go to Confession and return to the kingdom. We will even volunteer to be poor (Mt 5:3) and to accept persecution for the sake of righteousness so as to possess the kingdom now (Mt 5:10). Like Jesus, we are preoccupied with God’s kingdom. Our lives pray: “Your kingdom come.”

 
Prayer: Father, I accept the privilege of living and dying for the kingdom.
Promise: “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the Lord.” —Ex 34:29
Praise: As a soldier, St. Ignatius of Loyola was seriously wounded in battle. His long convalescence led to a deep conversion to Christ. His Spiritual Exercises remain prominent today.

July 31 – Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest

Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Story

The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat near Barcelona. He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned.

It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises.

He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. Ignatius spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods.

In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others—one of whom was Saint Francis Xavier—vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Pope Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general.

When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens, and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society.

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, Ad majorem Dei gloriam—“for the greater glory of God.” In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls.


Reflection

Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Seventeen years later, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society that was to play so prominent a part in the Catholic Reformation. He was an implacable foe of Protestantism. Yet the seeds of ecumenism may be found in his words: “Great care must be taken to show forth orthodox truth in such a way that if any heretics happen to be present they may have an example of charity and Christian moderation. No hard words should be used nor any sort of contempt for their errors be shown.” One of the greatest ecumenists was the 20th-century German Jesuit, Cardinal Augustin Bea.


Saint Ignatius of Loyola is the Patron Saint of:

Retreats


franciscanmedia.orgAdditionally, Patronage: Dioceses of San Sebastián and Bilbao, Biscay and Gipuzkoa; Basque Country; Military Ordinariate of the Philippines; Society of Jesus; Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil; Junín, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Archdiocese of Baltimore; and Antwerp, Belgium.

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Peter Paul Rubens

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

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Navarre Bible Commentary (RSV)

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From: Jeremiah 26:1-9

Jeremiah arraigned
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[1] In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord, [2] “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah which come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. [3] It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the evil which I intend to do to them because of their evil doings. [4] You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law which I have set before you, [5] and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not heeded, [6] then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.'”

[7] The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. [5] And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! [9] Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

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Commentary:

26:1-45:4. The first part of the book was a lengthy collection of oracles, usually in verse form, interspersed with narrative passages; this second part consists largely of prose narratives. It is very likely that most of them were written down by Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, a person who was very close to him from the year 605 on (cf. 32:12, 16; 36:4-20; 45:15 and the Introduction to this book).

They tell us about Jeremiah’s preaching and about the difficulties he encountered in the fulfillment of his ministry. The entire account, only occasionally interrupted by the inclusion of oracles, culminates in the so-called “Sufferings of Jeremiah” (37:1-44:30), in which we are told in some detail about what Jeremiah underwent in the period after the first deportation to Babylon, in 597. It was not only that people misunderstood him; he was ill-treated by those still living in the land of Judah and eventually, after the second conquest and deportation in the year 587, he was forcibly taken to Egypt, where he died.

These pages describe his clashes — first with the people, priests and prophets (26:1-29:32) and then with the kings who occupied the throne during those years of turmoil (34:1-36:32). The episodes are not in chronological order, and they derive from a number of separate collections of documents. One collection contains narratives of events in the reign of Jehoiakim (chaps. 26; 35-36; and 45); another, events in the time of Zedekiah (chaps. 27-29). In the centre of this part comes what is called the “Book of Consolation” (30:1-33:26), highly poetic and theological pages.

26:1-29:32. The connecting thread in the first section of prose accounts of the life of Jeremiah is the prophet’s fidelity to the mission entrusted to him by the Lord, despite ever-increasing opposition from his fellow citizens.

26:1-24. This chapter deals with the same incident in the temple that was narrated in 7:1-8:3 (see note), and which occurred in 608 BC. It contains a summary of what the prophet said on that occasion, and people’s reactions to it (vv. 7-24). The religious life of the nation hinged on the temple, whose importance had increased further as a result of Josiah’s recent reforms; but Jeremiah proclaims that the temple will be destroyed; it will he reduced to rubble, like the old shrine at Shiloh (vv. 2-6). This prophecy so angered people, priests and prophets that they called for Jeremiah’s death (vv. 7-9), but the authorities managed to calm them down and Jeremiah escaped with his life (vv. 10-19), probably because his sincerity impressed the rulers: he was a man ready to risk his life in order to be faithful to his prophetic mission. Although one cannot he sure where the New Gate (v. 10) was, the rulers’ intervention clearly had a judicial character to it, since legal proceedings took place at the city gates. The New Testament contains clear echoes of this account — in the deliberations of the Sanhedrin on what to do with Jesus after he was arrested (cf. Mt 26:5-68 and par.), in the sentence handed down by Pilate (cf. Lk 23:22), and also in the account of the martyrdom of St Stephen (cf. Acts 6: 12-14).

This episode dramatically illustrates the sort of clashes that Jeremiah became involved in when carrying out his mission from the Lord. He has harsh things to say, and meets resistance from the people, who have even begun to think that nothing that offends their sensibilities or contradicts their desires can come from God. Even so, Jeremiah does not back down, for the Lord gives him the strength to stay true to his calling (cf. 1:7-10).

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From: Matthew 13:54-58No One is a Prophet in His Own Country
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[54] And coming to His (Jesus’) own country He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? [55] Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? [56] And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this Man get all this?” [57] And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” [58] And He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

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Commentary:

53-58. The Nazarenes’ surprise is partly due to people’s difficulty in recognizing anything exceptional and supernatural in those with whom they have been on familiar terms. Hence the saying, “No one is a prophet in his own country.” These old neighbors were also jealous of Jesus. Where did He acquire this wisdom? Why Him rather than us? They were unaware of the mystery of Jesus’ conception; surprise and jealousy cause them to be shocked, to look down on Jesus and not to believe in Him: “He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:11).

“The carpenter’s son”: this is the only reference in the Gospel to St. Joseph’s occupation (in Mark 6:3 Jesus Himself is described as a “carpenter”). Probably in a town like Nazareth the carpenter was a general tradesman who could turn his hand to jobs ranging from metalwork to making furniture or agricultural implements.

For an explanation of Jesus’ “brethren”, see the note on Matthew 12:46-47.

[The note of Matthew 12:46-47 states:

46-47. “Brethren”: ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and other languages had no special words for different degrees of relationship, such as are found in more modern languages. In general, all those belonging to the same family, clan and even tribe were “brethren”.

In the particular case we have here, we should bear in mind that Jesus had different kinds of relatives, in two groups–some on His mother’s side, others on St. Joseph’s. Matthew 13:55-56 mentions, as living in Nazareth, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (“His brethren”) and elsewhere there is reference to Jesus’ “sisters” (cf. Matthew 6:3). But in Matthew 27:56 we are told that James and Joseph were sons of a Mary distinct from the Blessed Virgin, and that Simon and Judas were not brothers of James and Joseph, but seemingly children of a brother of St. Joseph.

Jesus, on the other hand, was known to everyone as “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3) or “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55).

The Church has always maintained as absolutely certain that Jesus had no brothers or sisters in the full meaning of the term: it is a dogma that Mary was ever-Virgin (cf. note on Matthew 1:25).]

[Note on Matthew 1:25. St. John Chysostom, addressing himself to St. Joseph, comments: Christ’s conception was the work of the holy Spirit, but do not think that this divine economy had nothing to do with you. for although it is true you had no part in the generation of Christ, and that the Virgin remained inviolate, nevertheless, what pertains to a father (not injuring the honour of virginity) that do I give you—the naming of the child. “For ‘you shall call his name.’ although you have not generated him, you will act as a father to him. Hence it is that, beginning with giving him his name, I associate you intimately with the one who is to be born.” (Hom. On St. Matthew, 4)

Following the Greek text strictly, the New Vulgate version says: et non cognoscebat eam, donec peperit filium. The literal English translation is: “and he knew her not until she had borne a son.” The word donec (until) of itself does not direct our attention to what happened afterwards; it simply points out what has happened up to that moment, that is, the virginal conception of Jesus Christ by a unique intervention of God. We find the same word in John 9:18 where it says that the Pharisees did not believe in the miraculous cure of the man blind from birth “until” (donec) they called his parents. However, neither did they believe afterwards. Consequently, the word “until” does not refer to what happened later.]

The Vulgate adds after filium the words suum primogentium, which in the Bible simply means “the first son”, without implying that there are any other children (cf, Exodus 13:2). This Latin variant gives no ground whatsoever for thinking that Our Lady had other children later. See the note on Luke 2:7.

[Note on Luke 2:7. “First-born son”: it is usual for Sacred Scripture to refer to the first male child as “the first-born” whether or not there were other brothers (cf., for example, Exodus 13:2; 13:13; Numbers 15:8; Hebrews 1:6). The same practice is to be found in ordinary speech; take, for example, this inscription dating from approximately the same time as Christ was born, which was found near Tell-el-Jedvieh (in Egypt) in 1922, which states that a woman named Arsinoe died while giving birth to “her first-born son”. Otherwise, as St. Jerome explains in his letter “Adversus Helvidium”, 10, “if only He were first-born who was followed by other brothers, He would not deserve the rights of the first-born, which the Law lays down, until the other had been born”–which would be absurd, since the Law ordains that those first-born should be “ransomed” within a month of their birth (Numbers 18:16).

However, Jesus Christ is first-born in a much deeper sense independent of natural or biological considerations–which St. Bede describes in these words, summarizing a long tradition of the Fathers of the Church: “Truly the Son of God, who was made manifest in the flesh, belongs to a more exalted order not only because He is the Only-begotten of the Father by virtue of the excellence of His divinity; He is also first-born of all creatures by virtue of His fraternity with men: concerning this [His primogeniture] it is said: `For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren’ (Romans 8:29). And concerning the former [His being the Only-begotten] it is said `we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father’ (John 1:14). Thus, He is only-begotten by the substance of the Godhead, and first-born through His assumption of humanity; first-born by grace, only-begotten by nature. This is why He is called brother and Lord; brother, because He is the first-born; Lord, because He is the Only-begotten” (“In Lucae Evangelium Expositio, in loc.”)

Christian Tradition teaches, as a truth of faith, that Mary remained a virgin after Christ’s birth, which is perfectly in keeping with Christ’s status as her first-born. See, for example, these words of the Lateran Council of A.D. 649: “If anyone does not profess according to the holy Fathers that in the proper and true sense the holy, ever-Virgin, immaculate Mary is the Mother of God, since in this last age not with human seed but of the Holy Spirit she properly and truly conceived the divine Word, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and gave Him birth without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolate even after His birth: let such a one be condemned” (Canon 3).]

The Church has always taught that the perpetual virginity of our Lady is a truth to be held by all Catholics. For example, the following are the words of the Lateran Council of A.D. 649: “If anyone does not profess according to the holy Fathers that in the proper and true sense the holy, ever-virgin, immaculate Mary, is the Mother of God, since in this last age not with human seed but of the Holy Spirit she properly and truly conceived the Divine Word, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and gave him birth without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolate even after his birth: let such a one be condemned” (can. 3)

St. Jerome gives the following reasons why it was fitting that the Mother of God, as well as being a virgin, should also be married: first, so that Mary’s child would be clearly a descendent of King David (through the genealogy of St. Joseph); second, to ensure that on having a son her honor would not be questioned nor any legal penalty imposed on her; third, so that during the flight to Egypt she would have the help and protection of St. Joseph. He even points to a fourth possible reason, expressly taken from St. Ignatius Martyr, and to which he seems to give less importance—that the birth of Jesus would go unnoticed by the devil, who would not know about the virginal conception of our Lord (cf, “Comm. On St. Matthew, 1, 1”).

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July 31, 2021
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