Ignatius Loyola reluctantly dictated his spiritual Autobiography during the last couple years of his life. His intention was not to leave a detailed record of the events of his life, but rather to help his companions benefit from his experience of finding God, and therefore to help deepen their spirituality. There are many lessons for us to consider from the Autobiography.
The initial lesson concerns the first line found in this short document: “Up to his 26th year he was a man given over to the vanities of the world, and took special delight in the exercise of arms, with a great and vain desire of winning glory.” What are the “vanities of the world” to which Ignatius is referring? In many places throughout his Autobiography, Ignatius refers to his habit of “vainglory”, which is being overly concerned about his own well-being, about his external appearance, his presentation, his reputation, attracting the attention and admiration of others, and so forth. As a consequence of the patterns formed during his upbringing as a member of the minor nobility, Ignatius was plagued by this habit throughout his entire life, from birth until death. Vainglory is a “bad habit” or “disordered affection” which will be a lifelong struggle for Ignatius.
One commentator a number of years ago claimed that the Autobiography was primarily a medieval document pertaining to overcoming the vice of vainglory. Certainly, vainglory is a prominent theme running through the Autobiography, but this document’s spiritual lessons concerning discernment and one’s encounter with God are far more important. However, in initially mentioning his life-long struggle with vainglory, what lesson does Ignatius wish us to learn? Even though the habit of vainglory took root early in his life and therefore was deep-seated, Ignatius learned how to identify this disorder with the help of the Spirit of God, and gradually to overcome this habit, although the tendency towards this disorder will always remain throughout his life. This initial lesson from the Autobiography gives us great hope. The Lord is always helping us to realize greater self-knowledge, including life-long habits or disorders, and the Lord is always helping us to identify and overcome them. This is a lesson that Ignatius teaches us initially through relating his spiritual story through his Autobiography. I hope that periodically I may offer future blogs on other lessons we can learn from the life and experiences of Ignatius.
Fr. Kevin Leidich, a native of San Francisco is an experienced Spiritual Director and has been a member of the JRC Pastoral Staff since August 2014.