During the sixteenth century, holy men and women helped to bring about genuine reform within the Church.
Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491. He was a knight who led a worldly life. On May 20, 1521 one of his legs was shattered by a cannon ball. In the long convalescence, he could find nothing to read except the life of Christ and a collection of the lives of the saints. Ignatius was deeply impressed by what he read and determined to devote himself entirely to the service of God.
Ignatius had a vision of Our Lady with the Child Jesus. This vision helped him to detest his past sins, especially sins of the flesh. Ignatius vowed chastity and made general confession for his sins. He led a life of prayer and penance, and started to jotted down spiritual insights which would became The Spiritual Exercises, a handbook for making a permanent choice for Christ during the course of a month’s retreat.
At the age of thirty-two, Ignatius began to study for the priesthood. He started with the rudiments of Latin, and lived a life of great poverty.
After eleven years of studies, on the Feast of Assumption in 1534, Ignatius and six companions made vows of poverty and chastity and promised to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or, failing this, to put themselves at the service of the Holy Father. Pope Paul III permitted some of them to become priests. After ordination, Ignatius postponed his first Mass for over a year.
Eventually the group formed into a religious order—- the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits. They labored unceasingly for the preservation of the Faith, and went to wherever the pope would send them. When Ignatius died on July 31, 1556, the Society had nearly one thousand members.
One of the six companions of Ignatius was St. Francis Xavier. Francis was influenced by Ignatius while sharing a room with him at the University of Paris.
Francis left Europe in 1541 and reached India in 1542. With no ability for languages and knew nothing of native peoples, Francis relied solely on God, and successfully evangelized many people in India, Indonesia, and Japan.
Francis died on December 3, 1552 at the island of Sancian near Hong Kong while waiting to enter mainland China.
Teresa of Avila
In 1562, St. Teresa of Avila founded the Discalced Carmelites. Teresa was born in 1515 and entered a Carmelite convent in 1535.
For years, frivolous conversations prevented the spiritual progress of Teresa. A vision showed her the very place in hell to which her own faults would have led her. Teresa’s biggest fault was her attachment to her friends. One day, God told her “No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels.”
Teresa detached herself from the world, but not all her friends accepted her new way of life. She was surrounded by hostility and gossip. Sometimes Teresa complained to Christ about her sufferings. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends”, she responded, “No wonder you have so few friends!”
At the age of forty-three, this faithful friend of Christ decided to found a new convent that went back to the basics of a contemplative order—-a simple life of poverty devoted to prayer. Despite great oppositions, Teresa founded the first Discalced Carmelite convent. During her life time, Teresa personally founded fifteen convents, and reformed the friars with St. John of the Cross.
Teresa shared her teachings on prayer with others through her writings. The Way of Perfection, the Interior Castle, and her Life are part of the patrimony of the Church’s spirituality.