Saint Ignatius lived in sixteenth-century Spain, and is remembered as the founder of one of the most famous religious orders in the Church, the Jesuits. However, Ignatius did not start off in the religious life; he was a soldier first. Ignatius served in the Spanish army until he was wounded during a battle with the French. He was captured and taken to Loyola, where the French treated his injuries. Ignatius was very sick until the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, when his fever went away and he began to recover. While he was getting better, he read stories about the saints and realized that their lives were more satisfying than the stories of knights and soldiers.
When he was well enough to leave Loyola, the first thing Ignatius did was to go to Confession. He gave his belongings and rich clothing to the poor and went to live alone in a cave. Ignatius decided to move to the Holy Land in order to live and pray where Jesus had lived. The trip took a long time and was full of sickness, shipwreck, and hunger. Once Ignatius got there, the Franciscans who were in charge of the holy places told him that he could not stay because it was too dangerous. He obeyed them and returned to Spain.
Ignatius spent the next eleven years studying, while still suffering hunger, false accusations against him, and other trials. Eventually other people began to follow him, and in 1540, they became an official religious order called the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. In 1556, Ignatius got sick and even thought the doctors expected him to recover, he knew that he would soon die. He asked for the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and died soon after that.
The Jesuit order continued to grow after Ignatius’ death, and they played an important part in evangelizing North America. Many of them became missionaries, and some were even martyred. Today, there are almost 20,000 Jesuit priests and brothers in the world – that’s the largest single religious order in the Church!
One of the most well-known legacies of Saint Ignatius is his Spiritual Exercises, a set of meditations, prayers, and mental exercises to be carried out over a period of about a month. They are divided into four major themes (sin, the life of Jesus, the Passion of Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus) and usually require a spiritual director and a retreat. You can conduct some “spiritual exercises” of your own with the following fun activities:
Prayerful Push-ups: Recite a prayer out loud while doing pushups. Are you at a Hail Mary level or can you pray a whole decade of the Rosary? Challenge yourself to continue as long as possible!
Sacrament Squats: Recite the seven Sacraments while doing squats. (Arms out straight, bend at the knees as far down as you can go, and then stand up straight again.) Do you remember all of them?
Bible Lifts: Challenge each to simple lifts other using the numbering system of Bible verses. You’ll need some kind of weights to lift – besides small hand weights, water bottles will work well. Read John 3:16 and lift your weights 16 times. Read Romans 8:28 and do 28 lifts. You get the idea. You can choose verses randomly or pre-select family favorites!
Commandments Race: Set up a simple course around your house, yard, or block and run around it 10 times. Each time you pass the start line, recite a Commandment. Can you remember them all? Can you recite them in order?
Jump Rope for Jesus: The Mysteries of the Rosary help us to think about the life of Jesus. While jumping rope, name all the Mysteries in order. (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious)