Ignatius was born in 1491, the eleventh and last child of a Basque noble, the doyen of the castle at Loyola in Guipuzcoa, Northern Spain. His early life was at court and in the army. In 1521 a canon ball fractured his shin and thigh. The broken bones in his leg were wrongly set, so it was decided to break them again. That bodged surgery left Ignatius limping for the rest of his life.
When convalescing he immersed himself in what we would now call books of military fiction. He found that war stories were exciting enough at the time of reading, but left him feeling empty afterwards. By contrast, books about Christ and the saints inspired thoughts and aspirations that remained in his mind and heart, and bore fruit.
After a pilgrimage to Montserrat, Ignatius spent eleven months at the town of Manresa a few miles from the abbey. Near Manresa there was a cave where he passed hour upon hour in solitary prayer. He began to mortify his body in ways that we might nowadays describe as extreme. He spent many hours weeping for past sins.
During those months of solitude and penance at Manresa, Ignatius had a number of visions and mystical experiences which formed the basis of his Spiritual Exercises, precisely structured meditations intended to ignite a definitive commitment to serving Christ the King. One of Ignatius’ particular insights was the value of the imagination in the contemplation of divine things. Using our imagination in prayer helps to purify and strengthen the will.
Wondering how best to serve the Church, his idea of a new religious Order gradually took shape. In 1540 Pope Paul III established The Society of Jesus. For the rest of his life Ignatius lived in Rome, directing the new Order. During the magnificent missionary expansion of The Society he was often ill. On 31st July 1556 he died suddenly and without receiving the last rites.
Part of Ignatius’ enduring legacy is his uncompromising affirmation that in the Christian life half measures are of no use. Ultimately, we are either with the King or we are against Him. After his conversion Ignatius’ whole life was lived for the greater glory of God and the Holy Name of Jesus. He was a contemplative-in-action. He worked for God’s greater glory with all the zeal and practicality of a tireless soldier.
The early sources indicate that Ignatius’ original focus, and the primary charism of his Society, was preaching and teaching the truth that salvation is through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Their principal means of doing that was by conducting the founder’s Spiritual Exercises.
The subsequent shift of emphasis to ‘building a better world’ seems to be one of the many theological re-positionings that emerged in the 1960s.
Many claim that ‘building a better world’ is an authentic part of doing Christ’s work.
Secundum quid. It depends on what one means by ‘better’.