Friday, 31 July 2020 : 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, on this day as we listen to the words of the Scripture we are reminded that we have often been stubborn and rebellious before God, and we have often ignored the Lord’s genuine love and call for us to return to Him, as history and Scriptural records and truth had revealed to us. As it had once happened at that time, so it has happened again at present and will happen again in the future.

In the first reading today, taken from the passage of the Book of the prophet Jeremiah, we heard of the words of the Lord that He spoke through Jeremiah and which He asked of the prophet to convey to the people of Judah, calling them all to repent and turn away from their sins, that He might forgive them and stay His wrath from them all and rescind the punishments for the many sins that the people had committed all those while.

And the Lord also reminded His people that unless they repent from their sins, then what happened to the sanctuary of Shiloh would also happen to them all, as a kind and loving reminder that God still yet gave more and more chances to His people to repent and turn away from their sins. For the context, the sanctuary of Shiloh historically had been important religious centre for the Israelites since the days of the Judges before the rise of the kingdom of Israel.

And Shiloh was likely the place where the then Judge and High Priest Eli had his seat and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept under the Holy Tent. When the two wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas led the Israelites against the Philistines who raided and attacked them, they brought the Ark of the Covenant with them, thinking that they would win and triumph over the Philistines. On the contrary, they suffered a terrible defeat, the wicked Hophni and Phinehas were killed and the Ark of God was taken away by the enemy.

The story of the sanctuary of Shiloh was a great tragedy and humiliation for the Israelites, and the utterance of the place was the way for the Lord to convey the message to the Israelites that if they continued on in their path of wickedness and sin, just as it had happened before, then it would happen again. And this was proven correct later on, as within about two decades, both Judah and Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians, the Temple destroyed and the Ark went missing since then.

It was a humiliation on a perhaps much greater scale than the humiliation of Shiloh, but it could have been prevented had the people then been more humble and accepting of God’s love and mercy. But they hardened their hearts as we heard from our first reading today, opposing Jeremiah and protesting publicly against him and whatever he had said and done, while refusing to reinspect and relook once again at their own lives and actions, their lack of faith and sin.

In the Gospel today, we heard a parallel story in how Jesus was doubted and rejected by none other than His own townspeople, those who had seen Him grow up in their midst, His neighbours and even perhaps friends. Those were the same people who expressed doubt and disbelief at the Lord after hearing Him speak and performing miracles. They had seen Him grow up in a poor carpenter family just like many of them, in a poor backwater village in Galilee. Therefore, it could even be seen as the people being jealous and refused to believe that the Lord Jesus could have been genuine.

It is sad how these attitudes are leading people away from God, and they kept so many people in their ego and pride, their hardened hearts and closed minds that they ended up being ever more and more distant from God. Yet, God has always been patient in reaching out to us and calling on us to follow Him despite our many transgressions and disobedience. And just as the path of disobedience leads to our downfall and annihilation, should we turn away from sin and be reconciled with God, then a bright future awaits us.

Today, we remember the memory of one of such converts, a great saint and holy man of God, devout as priest and champion of Christendom against its many troubles and enemies. Yet, when this holy man of God was young, he was not at all devout, and treated God as someone insignificant and distant, preferring to seek worldly ambitions and dreams of glory and might, as the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits can tell us.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born into a minor noble family in northern part of what is now Spain. He was brought up in the common norm of the time as part of the nobility, surrounded by wealth, power and privileges, and the young St. Ignatius of Loyola dreamt of great pursuits and noble, chivalrous deeds as was expected of many among the nobles then. To that extent, in the pursuit of glory and power, St. Ignatius of Loyola joined the military, and at that time, wars and conflicts characterised many parts of Christendom as kings fought for power and influence.

In one of the sieges, St. Ignatius of Loyola was badly injured and he had to stay in the hospital to treat his terrible wounds. As he was bedridden for a while, he was initially restless and wanted to resume his previous military career. But his almost life-threatening injury ended his military life, and he went through profound spiritual conversion through reading the lives of the Lord and the saints. As he continued to explore this newfound interest and passion, St. Ignatius of Loyola left behind the worldly pursuits and desires he once had, and instead, he sought to imitate the holy lives of the saints and serve the Lord.

To this extent, St. Ignatius of Loyola came to practice spiritual discernment and experiences that he would later also be famous for, as the Ignatian spirituality. And as he met and gathered like-minded people, who wanted to serve the Lord and the Church particularly during the troubled times at that time when the Church and the faithful were threatened from both the outside by the rising power of the Ottomans that persecuted Christian communities and conquered many nations, to the rapidly growing heresy of Protestantism that divided many communities of the faithful and led many astray from the true faith.

Therefore, St. Ignatius of Loyola together with several other men founded the Society of Jesus and became in time, the spearhead of the Church’s efforts in countering the threats faced at that time by the faithful. Led by St. Ignatius of Loyola, many Jesuits would go to various places throughout Christendom and through many years of labour and loving commitment, brought countless souls back to salvation in God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we heard how St. Ignatius of Loyola had been transformed by the chance experience he had when he was injured, and how he opened himself to the Lord and desired to seek Him as he went on to learn more and more about Him. And this is what we should all be doing as well in our lives. This is what each and every one of us have been called to do, to allow God to lead us in our lives to the right path, and for us to follow Him wholeheartedly, rejecting sin and evil for good and righteousness.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and remember his motto, ‘Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam’ meaning ‘For the greater glory of God’. Let our lives and actions be transformed and changed by God, that in everything we say and do, in our every interactions, we will glorify God and be inspiring role models for one another, that we all may become ever closer to God and His salvation. May God bless us always in everything we do, now and forevermore. Amen.

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