My heroes (5)

by Patrick O'Brien


— Ignatius Loyola —

Ignatius of Loyola was my boyhood hero and, for a young boy growing up, there was much to admire — a dashing knight in the service of his king, his skill and courage in combat, plus suggestions of a love for poetry, vice and pleasure.

Life changed dramatically for Ignatius one day when he had a vision while lying in his hospital bed, recovering from the wounds of battle. Renouncing his worldly status and all the trappings of a privileged life, Ignatius began a life of poverty where he developed a strange dominion and command over devils.

His biographer, Ribadeneira, accounts “he lived amongst the meanest sort of people, being despised and contemned, and desirous to be so: his desire was to be mocked and laughed at by all, and if he would have permitted himself to be carried on by the fervour of his mind, he would have gone up and down the streets almost naked, and like a fool, that the boys of the town might have made sport with him, and thrown dirt upon him.”  

Over time, men of similar mind gathered themselves around Ignatius and their Company of Men went on to become that what we now know as the Jesuits. In 1965 I assumed the name of Ignatius at my Confirmation.


Comment from a Reader:

This post by Patrick O’Brien and a brief exchange with him provided me with the impetus to comment on a particular topic that I have had in mind for some time – the vanishing heroes in today’s age of instant communications and gratification, flashy graphics, short attention spans and infatuation with technology and the material world.

Simply put, it seems to me our heroes have vanished. By heroes I mean people of virtue, people who have made great sacrifices for their convictions, and even more importantly, provided examples to strive toward and emulate for centuries. And clearly, I am not talking about the prevalence of popular spirituality that talk loosely about “abundance” or getting back what you think you deserve for your efforts.

There is a larger dimension that involves the whole subject of traditionalism and liberalism. I will just provide a quote here by the French philosopher Alain de Benoist of the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) which I think accurately describes the cultural situation we face today in what he calls “The Crisis of Modernity”:

“Thus, modernity has given birth to the most empty civilization mankind has ever known: the language of advertising has become the paradigm of all social discourse; the primacy of money has imposed the omnipresence of commodities; man has been transformed into an object of exchange in a context of mean hedonism; technology has ensnared the lifeworld in a network of rationalism—a world replete with delinquency, violence, and incivility, in which man is at war with himself and against all, i.e., an unreal world of drugs, virtual reality and media-hyped sports, in which the countryside is abandoned for unlivable suburbs and monstrous megalopolises, and where the solitary individual merges into an anonymous and hostile crowd, while traditional social, political, cultural or religious mediations become increasingly uncertain and undifferentiated.” Source: The French New Right in the Year 2000.

The example in Patrick’s post is from the Christian tradition. There was a time when we learned about the lives of the saints as an inspiration. But examples of virtuous people are hardly limited to Christiandom – they exist across different religions and cultures. I can only speak as an American living in the United States. Patrick and I are only a year apart in age. I think we have both probably witnessed the demise of moral education, and I imagine people from previous generations must have seen it slowly taking place as well.

My conclusion is probably obvious – that with all the benefits of technology today and with modern capitalism as we know it, we need to refocus on moral education and look carefully at what technology does not give us – a moral center and a view of life and history that is longer than 30 minutes.

I will now step off my soapbox 😉

William Scotti