Imagine the scene: Ignatius and six of his companions gathered together. Together they took vows of poverty and chastity, but their sense of call went well beyond those vows. They agreed among themselves that they would go to Jerusalem seeking to spread the faith to the Muslims living there. They made a commitment that if those plans did not come to pass they would give themselves to whatever work the pope had for them.
This desire resulted in the formation of the Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus. The pope officially agreed to the formation of the Jesuits in 1540. Ignatius’ vision was that the society would be “soldiers” for the Lord. Faithful to the pope and to the Catholic Church, their desire was, as Shelley says, “to restore the Roman Catholic Church to the position of spiritual power and worldly influence it had held three centuries before under Innocent III.” Although their original plans to go to Jerusalem did not work, their work together as Jesuits resulted in immeasurable fruit.
Scholar Mark Noll notes three areas of significant impact from the Jesuits. The first area relates to reform efforts in the Catholic Church that the Jesuits brought about. They helped through their scholarly efforts in emphasizing Catholic theological positions in the face of Protestant teaching. The Jesuits also “played an enormous role in the renewal and deepening of Catholic spirituality.” Additionally, they contributed heavily in the area of education. Ignatius saw this as a key way of responding to Protestantism. Ignatius said, “another excellent means of helping the church in this trial would be to multiply the colleges and schools of the society in many lands.”
Secondly, the Jesuits had great influence on the shape of Catholicism as they “played a very large role in shaping Roman Catholicism for nearly half a millennium.” And finally, the missionary e orts of the Jesuits were profound. One example is the work of Francis Xavier. By the time he died, he had ministered in China, India, and Japan.
Ignatius and his companions committed themselves together to a larger purpose and mission. Who are the people who surround you? How do you spur each other to faithful witness and service? What are ways you can more effectively encourage the community around you? How can you call out the gifts in others? If you aren’t already doing ministry together, how can you start? Perhaps you look around and don’t see a lot of “companions” on the journey with you. Spend some time talking to the Lord about this.