In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples and us, “Who do you say I am?” This question sounds simple enough, but it is not so easy to answer because it is not an academic answer that Jesus is looking for, but an answer that comes from our hearts because it is a question about our faith and relationship with the Him. In other words, Jesus is asking you and I: “Do you know Me personally? Do I make a big difference to your daily living? Is My presence in your life give your life your strength, joy and inspiration daily? Do you have courage to confront challenges, and have hope in Me when you are down and depressed, just because you know that My love for you is unconditional? Who exactly am I to you?” If like Peter you say, “I am the Christ of God, then like Peter, are you willing to be a follower of mine, renounce yourself and take up your cross every day and follow Me?”
Every year on the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, we rightly preach about him and his life. Today, I would instead like to share about someone who was inspired by St Ignatius. He is Fr Luis Ruiz is a Spanish Jesuit priest lived in Macau. At the age of 17 he joined the Jesuits in 1930. Eleven years later, in 1941, Fr Luis was sent to China as a missionary. He was imprisoned when the Communists took control of China and, after a brief period, was expelled from the country. Still recovering from typhoid which he contracted in prison, he was told by his Provincial to stay in Macau.
Within a month of living in Macau, Fr Luis began working with refugees. By the time China reclaimed Macau from Portugal in 1969, it is estimated that Fr Luis had been instrumental in sheltering over 30,000 refugees. Between 1970 and 1976 Fr Luis opened and operated Caritas Macau. He established five centres to care for the aged and for young men and women with mental disabilities.
Fr Luis Ruiz setup Rehabilitation Services for HIV/AIDS victims
Fr Luis Ruiz visiting a leprosy centre he set up on Dajin Island
In 1984, Fr Luis received a letter from a Chinese priest, Fr Lino Wong, who had been released from prison. On returning to his parish in Guandong Province Fr Lino had become aware of the appalling living conditions of nearby lepers and he sought Fr Luis’ help. In the following year, Fr Luis travelled to the leprosarium on the island of Tai Kam. There were over 200 lepers in that place and their living conditions were very bad—no clean drinking water, no electricity and their houses falling apart. Fr Luis immediately began providing financial assistance to the lepers. Finally, with the approval of the local government and health authorities, he rebuilt the leprosarium. Health authorities in other regions saw the work being done in Tai Kam and invited Fr Luis to help with their other leprosariums.
Fr Luis’ ministry to the lepers continued to expand with the help of the religious Sisters of Charity of St Anne. Ten years later, in 1994, he had to hand back the work of the 30,000 refugees back to the diocese of Macau because he could not manage both apostolic ministries at the same time. Four years ago, the statistics of Fr Luis and the religious sisters ministry showed that they have served over 8,000 lepers, and have set up 139 centres, built 15 roads, 17 schools, 5 bridges, 7 mobile clinics, 25 systems for clean drinking water, 21 systems for electricity for the lepers.
In all his work Fr Luis always says, ‘Nothing is happier than to make people happy’. When I attended one of his presentation in Macau some years ago he said, “While the local government agencies do give some financial assistance for each patient, for their living and medical expenses, they are not adequate. Thus, I had to rely on many of my good friends for the money I needed, but most of all I relied totally on God. Somehow, He always made sure that I had enough monies for the lepers. And so, even as a lot of money is needed, I never had to worry about money.
Fr Luiz - recent photo taken before his return to the Lord
Three days ago, Fr Luis died at the age of 97. He continued to serve the lepers right up to the very end of his life. In the last few years, when he was less mobile due to his old age and poor health, he would still insist on visiting the lepers. For the deeper and less accessible mountainous areas where there are steep cliffs, Fr Luis would have to be carried in and lowered with ropes. We have no doubts Fr Luis died a very happy death.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we may tell ourselves, “How is it that Fr Luis is able to serve so many thousands of refugees and lepers and do so much? The answer is surprisingly quite simple, but difficult. It is the answer to Jesus’ question in today’s question that asks you and I, “Who do you say that I am?”
How can we love Jesus more fully as Fr Luis has shown us? Growth in our love for Jesus does not come over night and like all relationships take many years to nurture through love, sacrifice and commitment. We need to develop a greater awareness of the Holy Spirit. One way to find this out is to gauge whether our faith is growing or is stagnated or getting weaker. For this I would like us to note that if we are living in the presence of the Holy Spirit and developing a personal relationship with Jesus, then there would surely be signs of such living. As I point them out, I would like us to ask ourselves the personal question, “Do I have such signs of the Holy Spirit within me?”
First, “Am I a positive person? Are my views about people and situation generally positive or am I usually critical, negative and always never satisfied about things and people around me? Do I turn to Jesus to try to be more positive?”
Second, “Am, I a source of unity in groups and relationships, or am I divisive in my behaviour and attitude towards others?”
Third, “Am I a forgiving person who is able to transcend the hurts and pains of people, or am I an impatient and angry person who wants to get even?
Fourth, “Am I generous with my time, talents and money? Do I share easily because I have great compassion for others especially the poor and the needy or do I rationalise and only spend lavishly on my own family needs?”
Fifth, “Am I willing to make sacrifices and serve the good of others or do I give excuses and in the end seldom do the good that is needed out of love for God?”
Sixth, “Do I have the courage to face challenges in life or do I fear pain and withdraw into my insecurities and negative self instead of finding strength and hope in Jesus?
Seventh, “Do I have deep gratitude to God for abundant blessings that He has and continues me daily or do I take Him for granted in my daily living?
Eighth, “Am I a humble person who is able to respect others regardless of who they are, and are open to the views and ways of others through the Holy Spirit that constantly speaks to me in my heart?”
Ninth, “Do I generally have joy and zest for life in my heart because deep within me, I feel blessed by God and I love God in all things, people and situations or do I live a dull and routine life daily where God is absent?”
Tenth, “Am I a praying person? Do I spend time reflecting on how I can develop a personal relationship with the Lord or am I too busy and too tired to spend time with God?”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, these ten signs of the Holy Spirit are very much present in the life of a person like Fr Luis and people whom we know who have a close relationship with the Lord. While no body is perfect these ten signs are good indications of whether we are living the Gospel values of Christ or not. The more signs we have of the Spirit within us, the easier it would be for us to answer the question that Jesus asked in today’s Gospel, “Who do you say that I am?”
And if we are blessed to have Jesus as our personal friend and Saviour in our daily living, then Jesus would probably say to us: If like Peter you say, “I am the Christ of God to you, then like Peter, are you willing to be a follower of mine, renounce yourself and take up your cross every day and follow Me?” What would our personal answer to Jesus be?
If we were to ask, “St Ignatius what advice would you give to all of us on this feast day of yours?” He would most probably say, “Learn to find God in yourself, learn to find God in others, and learn to find God in all situations of your life; all for God’s Greater Glory.” And, this is precisely our Parish Goal that you and I are trying to live daily. And if we live our Parish goal daily, our lives will surely be transformed and we will surely be able to answer very clearly Jesus’ question to you and me, “Who do you say that I am?”
(Adapted from: Greg Manning ©Madonna Magazine, May/June 2007)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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