On March 12, 2022, the Society of Jesus celebrated the 400th anniversary of the canonization of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. It is fitting that these men, two of the founders of the Society of Jesus and dear friends, were declared saints together. These “friends in the Lord” exemplify what it means to be true Christian disciples and models of holy friendship.
As founders of this new Order within the Church, both Ignatius and Xavier were prolific writers, offering direction and inspiration to the first Jesuits and others as the work of the Society developed throughout the world. To commemorate this important anniversary, the Institute of Jesuit Sources is pleased to offer a discounted bundle of these inspiring and zealous letters and instructions written by these great saints.
After his conversion, Ignatius began a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he aspired to live a life of penance and devotion. He spent a night in prayerful vigil before Our Lady of Montserrat, where he decided to lay down his sword before Our Lady, signifying the relinquishment of his worldly desires and the beginning of his new life in service to the Kingdom of God. While Ignatius envisioned spending his life as a pilgrim, doing penance and laboring for the conversion of souls in the Holy Land, God had different plans for him. Ever attuned to the movements of the Spirit, Ignatius discerned that, along with his companions, God was inviting him to found a new religious order.
Among those first companions was Francis Xavier, who entered university as a typical young man with ambitious goals. He was athletic, good looking, and well-educated, from a noble Basque family. Upon meeting Ignatius and Peter Faber, his roommates at the University of Paris, his life changed irrevocably. Spurred on by the example of Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, Francis experienced a conversion of his own. It is said that Ignatius often quoted this Bible verse to Francis: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?” (Mt 16:26). This Scripture had a profound impact upon Francis and appeared frequently in his letters.
Ignatius, who initially hoped to be a missionary himself, spent the final two decades of his life at his desk at the Order’s headquarters in Rome, administering the newly formed Society of Jesus, which exploded in numbers beyond his wildest dreams. He was one of the more prolific writers of the 16th century, composing over 7,000 letters and instructions. His letters reveal him to be a master of administration, deeply perceptive in the reading of souls.
Francis Xavier originally aspired to worldly success but sacrificed everything to become a missionary, spreading the Gospel to lands previously unknown to Christianity. He is often acknowledged as the greatest missionary since St. Paul, traveling more than 60,000 miles over twelve years, eventually succumbing to death from exhaustion. His zeal for sharing the faith was beyond measure and continues to inspire believers today.
In a heartfelt letter to Ignatius, Francis describes losing his voice and even the ability to raise his arm after performing countless baptisms and leading new Christians in prayer. “There is such a great multitude of those who are being converted to the faith of Christ in this land where I am that it frequently happens that my arms become exhausted from baptizing, and I can no longer speak from having recited so often the Creed and the Commandments in their language, and the other prayers.”
He is said to have baptized tens of thousands into the faith. Francis wrote many letters from his missions, and these inspiring letters were widely disseminated throughout Europe. They were read with great anticipation and excitement and served to energize the renewal of the Catholic faith in his native land. Francis became widely known through his correspondence and inspired countless men to join the Society and become missionaries themselves.
The letters written between Ignatius and Francis show a deep fraternal bond from which each man drew great strength and spiritual fortitude. Francis deeply missed his friends—especially Ignatius. His correspondence clearly revealed his longing to be reunited with his companions. His personal sacrifice and devotion to the missions is all the more remarkable, as he accepted this loneliness and yearning as a cost incurred for the tremendous benefit his missionary work brought to others.
Francis wrote to Ignatius, “God is my witness, dearest Father, of the great longing which I have to see you again in this life, so that I might speak with you about many things…I see that there are many of the Society in these regions, but I also see that we have a great need of a physician for our souls. I earnestly entreat you, dearest Father, that you also provide for us your sons here in India by sending one who is eminent in virtue and sanctity to raise me from my lethargy with his spirit and zeal. Since with God’s help you perceive so well the movements of our souls, I have great hopes that you will diligently strive to lift us up from our tepidity and inspire us with a more ardent zeal for perfection.”
When Francis received letters from his friends, especially Ignatius, he cut out the signatures from their letters and kept them in his breast pocket, as an incarnate source of consolation and fortitude. Such was the value which this great saint placed upon the fraternal bond shared by those early companions.
In June of 1553, Ignatius wrote to Francis requesting that he return to Rome, a potential reunion for these friends who had been separated for over 12 years. However, Ignatius did not yet know that Francis had died in December of 1552; it took almost three years for this sad news to reach Ignatius in Rome. Given the amount of time it took for letters to travel such long distances, Ignatius continued to receive letters from Francis—even after his death.
He had once written to Ignatius, “I still trust that we shall eventually see each other again in China or Japan, or certainly in heaven, where, as I hope, we have both been called by the singular gift and kindness of God into the society of the heavenly kingdom, where we shall enjoy God, the perennial source of every good for all eternity.”
Their shared canonization, which took place on March 12, 1622, is a profound symbol of the deep companionship they enjoyed together on earth and which continues now in heaven.
The beautiful letters and instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier are available to you today through the Institute of Jesuit Sources, with a special 20% discount in commemoration of this anniversary. May their words continue to inspire believers even today to go forth and set the world aflame.
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