If you ever doubt the power of books to change a life, consider the story of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. Ignatius knew his path as a child. He would be a military officer, just like his father. He was not interested in anything but the army.
Ignatius became a soldier. He was severely injured while defending the fortress of Pamplona against a French siege. (We know Pamplona best today for its annual running of the bulls, but it was first known as a famous military stronghold in the province of Navarre.) Ignatius’ legs were badly broken, and then badly set, and he faced months of recuperation in bed. He asked for novels about knights and soldiers to help him pass the time. The only available books were stories about Christ and the saints. Anxious for any distraction, Ignatius began to read and, in his reading, he was converted.
When Ignatius could get out of bed, he went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. He placed his sword before a statue of Mary, gave his military uniform to a beggar and made a lifelong vow, not to the king of Spain, but to the King of the Universe, Christ the Lord. For a time he lived like one of the desert fathers in a cave, where he prayed and fasted and grew in faith.
In his reading, he was converted.
Then, the man who did not like to read went back to school. He started at a local grammar school, a grown man among children. He went on to the University of Alcala and then to the University of Paris, where he met six friends — among them St. Francis Xavier — who came to share his vision of a life, lived only for God.
To help them all in their life together, Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises, one of the great works of Christian instruction in holiness.
More and more people were attracted to the life Ignatius and his friends were living. They came together, the first of those who would be called the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. By the time Ignatius died in 1556, some 1,000 men had joined the society. Today, for the first time, one of their number is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. The Jesuit motto, attributed to St. Ignatius is ad majorem Dei gloriam, or the abbreviation AMDG, which is translated into English as “for the greater glory of God.”