This world needs heroes. To an even greater extent, this world needs saints. Subsequently, this world is sorely in need of heroic saints (as if there were any other kind)! The new two-hour biopic film “Ignatius of Loyola” is a veritable gift to the Catholic Church, especially for those faithful who need to be reminded now more than ever that God allows second chances as we journey through this life striving to do his will, serving our neighbor in the interest of imparting the Gospel expectations of faith, hope, and love, all while undergoing constant interior conversion and repentance on the road to enduring reconciliation to the Lord and his good graces.
When I chose Saint Ignatius of Loyola as my confirmation saint while in the eighth grade (1995-1996 academic year) at Saint Mary of the Assumption Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland (which happens to be the birthplace of Archbishop John Carroll, Jesuit and first bishop of the United States), this was the beginning of my ongoing endeavor to learn more about this holy man. Now, as a high school theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, I have the blessed privilege of teaching my students about the numerous contributions of the founder of the Society of Jesus (the “Jesuits”), which is “the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church.”
After getting to preview the new film Ignatius of Loyola, produced by Jesuit Communications in the Philippines with the participation of Ignatius Press in the United States, all of the inspiration that I had already gained from learning about this soldier-saint was further reinforced. The main character in “Ignatius of Loyola” is played by Spanish actor Andreas Muñoz, along with a supporting cast comprising many fellow Spaniards. In short, this movie has it all: action (which manages to strike that delicate balance of cinematic captivation while not ending up over the top), profound reflection on the spiritual rigors that Ignatius underwent during his conversion, authentically pristine scenery of the Spanish countryside to nourish the eyes and the mind, and ultimately, a sequential survey of the early days of Ignatius’ ministry, which was wrought with setbacks that Ignatius was able to fight through with the valor of a Spanish nobleman and aspiring knight.
Another feature of the film is that we are also able to catch a glimpse of the foundations of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises and the Examen. Without offering any particular spoilers, a particularly moving scene is when Ignatius is enduring an ongoing internal conflict between the forces of good and evil, and his mind flashes through memories of various scenes of his past life, pre-conversion. This scene is in a variety of ways reflective of the Jesuit practice of the Examen, described by Jesuit Fr. James Martin in this post titled The Daily Examen: “‘Think of it as a movie playing in your head,’ writes James Martin, S.J., in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. ‘Push the play button and run through your day, from start to finish, from your rising in the morning to preparing to go to bed at night. Notice what made you happy, what made you stressed, what confused you, what helped you be more loving. Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations. Thoughts, words, and deeds, as Ignatius says. Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day.’” (I think you know whether good or evil triumphs for Saint Ignatius at the end of this sequence of flashbacks from not just one day, but many days of his life before he came to Christ.)
The drama, glory, and powerful imagery of the film “Ignatius of Loyola” will inspire anyone of good will to seek to build up the kingdom of God by spreading the Gospel, no matter your state in life. A hallmark of the pontificate of Pope Francis – himself the first Jesuit pontiff – has been to call his fellow Jesuits (and all of Christ’s disciples, for that matter) into the peripheries in order to draw them closer to the Lord, a point to which an allusion is offered toward the end of the film. “Ignatius of Loyola,” by focusing on Ignatius’s young adulthood and the process of undergoing his conversion and accepting his vocation, introduces us to a man, a former military soldier and formerly unrepentant sinner, who abandons his prior life of degradation and material concerns while holding onto his soldier status, yet by putting down the sword and picking up his cross in a manner emblematic of Christ’s words in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
The Jesuit acclamation of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (Latin for “To the Greater Glory of God”) is fitting for this film, which achieves just that. You can catch a preview of this remarkable film on Ignatius Press’s YouTube page. Prepare for the “Saint of Second Chances” to continually reinforce your journey with the Lord Jesus Christ by viewing this film about one righteously courageous man’s momentous life. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!