Our Lady of the Way

Fresco of Madonna Della Strada, at the Gesu Rome, Italy

In 1540 Pope Paul III gifted the Company of Jesus the church of the Madonna Della Strada which became the first church of the Society of Jesus. Housed within the church was a fresco of Our Lady of the Way painted in the 13th C.

Later the Gesu was resurrected in its place. Today the fresco is enshrined between the main altar dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus and the altar dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola. It is where the Jesuits pronounce their vows. Santa Maria Della Strata stands today as the patron saint of the Society and of Pilgrims.

St. Ignatius' and Our Lady

St. Ignatius' veneration of Our Lady was a deep and profound part of his spirituality in his journey as a pilgrim and in the founding of the Society of Jesus. Her intercession had a powerful impact on his soul. In the account of his life, we find he referred to himself as a pilgrim, and we can see why Our Lady of the Way became the patroness of the Society of Jesus and of pilgrims.

It is said that St. Ignatius was under the protection of the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary during his time as a soldier when he sustained a crippling injury during the battle of Pamploma. During his long and painful period of convalescence, he received the graces for his conversion of heart, and began his journey as a soldier of Christ. While he recovered, he received his first vision of Our Lady; she was holding the holy Child Jesus (#10).* This was his first noticing of her intercession that continued throughout the rest of his life as she pointed The Way to Christ.

He began his pilgrimage by stopping at the shrine of Our Lady of Arantzazu (#13), where he took a vow of chastity and prayed for her intercession for strength on his journey. There he left funds for her statue to be looked after. Next, he traveled to the Abbey of Montserrat. There before the altar of Our Lady of Montserrat, he held an all-night vigil where he laid his sword and put on the armor of Christ (#17). Then before he left for Manresa on the eve of Our Lady’s Annunciation during an all-night vigil, he took the vow of poverty. That night he exchanged his fine clothing with a beggar to become poor in every way (#18).

During his time in Manresa, he felt many consolations while praying the Office of Our Lady (#28). While reciting the office, he described an experience of being elevated to a place where he saw the Holy Trinity as the figure of three keys. There and in other places he traveled, he continued to experience visions of Jesus and Our Lady (#29).

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola with the approval of Pope Paul III. At Montmartre in Paris, St. Ignatius and his first companions took their first vows on the Feast of the Assumption. Their first profession of solemn vows was celebrated at Our Lady’s altar in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

When writing up the Constitution, he shares how Our Lady interceded for him and often affirmed what he had written (#100).

The Way

To live according to The Way is to live contemplatively in the world. The New Testament provides many resources that support the vision of life lived contemplatively in the world. John 13-17, also known as the Farewell Discourse, offers a portrait of the invitation to live contemplatively in the world, conscious of God’s desire to be in an intimate relationship with us and responsive to the amazing invitation to live fully in Christ. In John’s Gospel, Jesus affirms in his own words that the path to God is made possible only through him. He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” (Jn 14:6-7)

In his commentary on the passage, William Barclay explains that the Jews would have been familiar with the term “way” as it is referred to in the book of Deuteronomy in terms of walking in the way God has commanded (Deuteronomy 5:32, 33), as well in the Psalmist’s prayer: “Teach me thy way, O Lord.” (Psalm 27:11) Barclay also explains that Jesus’ message would have been clear to his Jewish audience. The Jews knew much about the way of God in which a man must walk. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” and was confident they would understand his message that the path toward developing an intimate relationship with God could only be reached by following in his footsteps.

There is no more extraordinary model of a pilgrim, dedicated to a life of holiness and committed to walking in the way of God than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tradition holds that when Mary was old enough, she lived in the Jewish temple with the holy women. Her mother, St. Anne knew that it was God’s will for Mary and that she would be close to God, living, praying, and serving in the temple. In this way, Mary became a pilgrim at a very young age. Mary lived her whole life conscious of God’s desire to be in a relationship with her and she was responsive to God’s invitation to live in union with Christ through her "fiat". Mary, Our Lady of the Way, interceded for St. Ignatius who was committed to living The Way. The Blessed Virgin Mary was there all along for him as she is for us, pointing The Way, and taking us directly to her son, Jesus Christ.

* (# numbers take from Saint Ignatius Own Story As told to Luis Gonzalez de Camara translated by William J. Young, S.J.)

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