Monday, 31 July 2017 : 17th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard the story of how the Israelites rebelled against God in the first reading from the Book of Exodus, telling us about that time when the people of Israel chose to build for themselves a pagan idol, a golden calf to be worshipped as god instead of the One and only True God Who had brought them out from the land of Egypt.

They have rebelled against God and forgotten the love and mercy which He had shown them, when He brought them out of the land of their slavery. They suffered grievously in Egypt under the tyranny of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and God remembered them and the promise which He had made with Abraham and their forefathers. God sent ten great plagues upon Egypt which forced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, and when he reneged on that and sent his chariots after the Israelites, God destroyed the entire armies of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

But despite the wonders that He had shown them, and despite the guidance and help which He had given them throughout their journey, the Israelites still chose to commit sin by raising up for themselves a pagan idol, a god that they established to be their god and saviour, as the one who brought them out of Egypt, just because Moses went up the Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to receive God's laws and commandments.

They thought that God had abandoned them, and therefore, they quickly lost faith in Him and turned to alternative sources of comfort and hope, that is in the pagan worship of the false gods and idols, one that they must have been exposed to during their time in Egypt. A golden calf is one among the many deities worshipped and held sacred by the Egyptians, and thus Israel sinned against God.

We may be wondering why did the Israelites do such a thing, that is to rebel against God and to disobey His commandments. But the answer to this is really the fact that the Israelites did not allow the Word of God and His truth to develop inside of them. They witnessed all the miraculous deeds of God and listened to His words and covenant, as delivered unto them through Moses, but they did not allow them to grow in them. Their faith was a superficial faith.

In the Gospel today, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the two parables related to each other, one in which Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven being likened to a mustard seed, which is a very small and insignificant seed, compared to other fruits which have much larger seeds. However, from that very small seed, when placed in a fertile soil and provided with the optimum condition for germination and growth, the mustard seed will grow into a large mustard plant, far larger than what we would normally expect for seed of such a small size.

Then, Jesus continued with the story of another parable, of when yeast is added into three measures of flour shaped into a dough, the yeast will cause the whole dough to rise from a flat and small piece of dough into a large, expansive and soft piece of bread. Yeasts are very small and microscopic in size, and yet under the right conditions, the yeast can cause marvellous works to happen, including the fermentation of grapes into wine, and as mentioned, the formation of the leavened bread.

Therefore, after hearing and discussing all of these, what then, is the message which all of us should take note from today's Scripture readings? There are two key messages which we should take heed of, first of all, it is that we must provide a good condition and environment in our lives, in order for our faith to grow and develop within us. As we see from the parables of Jesus, using the examples of mustard seed and yeasts, mustard seed cannot grow and germinate without sufficient water in the soil, oxygen and suitable temperature, and yeast similarly cannot carry out its function unless oxygen is present.

Similarly therefore, our faith cannot grow without us providing a good condition and environment in which that faith we have can flourish. Otherwise, our faith will continue to remain dormant and will be useless to us. Thus, we have to provide a conducive environment, through love and dedication of ourselves to our fellow men, and through our commitment to God. And it is important for us to develop ourselves spiritually, by having an active prayer life, in which we constantly pray from our hearts, seeking to communicate with God.

And then, the second message is that, it does not matter how small we think our faith may be, even when compared to others who are seemingly more faithful and more pious than us, just like the small mustard seed, as long as it is given the right condition for optimum growth, eventually the seed will blossom and become fruitful. Thus, we ourselves do not need to worry or be concerned that we have little faith, for in whatever little faith we may have, as long as we are genuine in that faith, we will find our way forward.

We should thus begin from ourselves and from those who we are interacting with, from our families and friends. We should live our faith actively and sincerely through our daily actions, by loving our brethren, and showing mercy to those who have hurt us. We should increase our charity and generosity to those who are in need, and be ready to provide ourselves out of love for them.

Perhaps, we all should be inspired by the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, or also known as the Jesuit order. The Jesuits are now the largest religious order in the Church, with enormous contributions in the field of evangelisation and charity works in the Church. But their origins traced to the humble beginnings under St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born a nobleman into an influential family in what is now Spain, destined to lead a life of privilege, wealth and fame, and he was thus brought up in that manner, seeking for worldly glory and fame, as he became a knight involved in conflicts and wars raging at that time. However, as he lay wounded in one occasion after a great battle, it came to him that whatever glory and fame he sought in the world, whatever valour and honour he sought through battle were meaningless and empty.

Thus St. Ignatius of Loyola chose to leave everything behind and devote himself to the works of the Church. He gathered fellow minded men who desired to spearhead the efforts of the Church in evangelisation and charity. As it happened, it turned out that the religious order that St. Ignatius of Loyola founded went on to become a very important player in the Church's effort of Counter-Reformation in resisting and fighting back the tide of heresy of Protestantism throughout Christendom, as well as in the evangelising works of St. Francis Xavier, another Jesuit and companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The examples shown by St. Ignatius of Loyola show us that even though we may think that our faith is small, weak or insignificant, but if we have the desire to grow in our faith, and take the concrete steps necessary, we will be able to cultivate the faith we have in us, and we can have truly great and far-ranging effect, as shown in how St. Ignatius of Loyola, once a young nobleman with worldly ambitions and lacking in faith, after he had devoted himself to God's cause, he began the good works which impacts are still felt even to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all ask St. Ignatius of Loyola to intercede for us, that God may move our hearts which are filled with doubts and indecision, so that we may be more courageous and be more capable of taking concrete actions and steps to be ever more faithful and committed to our faith in God. May the Lord bless all of our good works, and may He give us the courage day after day to serve Him with all our might. Amen.

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