Confronting world hungers with St. Ignatius of Loyola

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Jesus V. Fernandez, S.J. () - July 31, 2011 - 12:00am

The name ‘Loyola’ has become such a popular name since the vast area known as Loyola Heights came to existence in Quezon City when the old Ateneo de Manila transferred there from its old place in Ermita and became its most famous landmark. Subdivisions around the Ateneo would always specify in their addresses that the location was Loyola Heights, meaning a well-appointed place. The name has become prestigious, surely not in the way ‘Loyola’ was originally known in the 16th century.

The noble house of Loyola belonged to a Basque nobleman Don Beltran and his lady Doña Marina Sanchez de Licona. Born in 1492 at Loyola castle in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa, Ignatius was apprenticed while still very young to Juan Velasquez de Cuellar, an official at the Spanish royal court who took charge training him in the elements of Spanish chivalry. Chivalry and the romance which went with it was then in full flower. Concerning his early life, Ignatius had this to say: “Until I was twenty-six years of age, I was entirely given to the vanities of the world; I took special delight in the use of arms, urged on by great and vain craving for worldly renown.”

While in the service of the Duke of Najera, a relative, Ignatius became chief defender of the Spanish garrison in Pamplona when it was besieged by French invaders. At an ensuing battle at which the French became victorious, Ignatius was seriously injured when a canon ball grazed him on the legs. The French treated the gallant adversary with honor and returned him in a litter at his ancestral home of Loyola. He became grievously ill.

To ease the torment and monotony of long years on convalescence, he called for books. Only the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints became available. What he learned about the imitation of Christ and the saints radically changed him. No longer would he be a soldier or a courtier but would imitate the saints, serving God’s Kingdom by entering the service of Jesus Christ. He journeyed to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, offering his sword and knightly arms at her feet with the resolve to embark upon a life of total consecration in the service of Christ. Later on, he founded what we now know as the Society of Jesus or Jesuits. We celebrate his feast today, to commemorate his passing from this life to eternity on July 31, 1556.

But how should we celebrate Ignatius’ memory in the tradition of the House of Loyola where he grew up? When Jesuits celebrate, the seal of the Ateneo with the letters in blue and gold “Lux in Domino” is borne aloft together with the coat-of-arms showing two wolves trying to get at the rim of a boiling pot. Scholars derive the name “Loyola” from “lobos y olla” which is Spanish for “the wolves and the pot”. Hence, the pot of kettle emblazoned on the coat-of-arms of St. Ignatius’ family. The symbol is traditionally interpreted to signify the generosity of the House of Loyola, at whose feasts not even the wolves were sent away empty. Was it a prophetic sign that one member of the House of Loyola with his Jesuit sons would engage in feeding the hungers of the world with Jesus Christ, the Bread of the World? Jesus fed 5,000 hungry men plus women and children out of sheer compassion for they followed Him from far-off places weary, hungering not just for bread but likewise for the Word of God, the bread which never runs out no matter how much one gives.

It is not so much of the proverbial Jesuit influence on the world of science and the arts, nor their prominence within the Church; not so much their supposed intellectual prowess in the fields of philosophy, theology, and mass communication. It is much more the help to poor people usually unknown to those engaged in intellectual pursuits; the Jesuit who for long hours in the confessional listens to the pain and torment of unimportant people; of the Jesuit who strives to reach out to the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the suffering, the broken-hearted; who tries to restore sense and meaning in the lives of those convicted of some crime or even condemned to death in prison; the Jesuit who heals the wounds of those oppressed, the people who desperately seek comfort where there are seemingly none; the Jesuit who plods away in awakening in those who are in darkness a spark of faith, of hope and of love. Such are the world hungers only Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life can satisfy.

(Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 9: 18-26)

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