Feast of St Ignatius, 31st July 2004

A Living Faith that Makes a Difference

I have been given the title of “A Living Faith that Makes a Difference” to preach today. The “difference” here I presume is referring to the difference to people’s lives. This is a good topic because we cannot speak of a living faith that does not make a difference . . . because such a faith is a faith that is dead!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly wants all of us (priests, religious and lay people), without exception to have a living faith . . . a living faith that must influence, affect and infect others with a joy that comes forth from our hearts. We should have this joy welling from our hearts because we are so blessed and privileged to be loved by God in so infinite and abundant ways. Do you agree with me?

I see some faces amongst you that does not seem to be very convinced. You seem to be saying to me, “I can’t find the joy and peace that I ought to feel because my heart is burdened with so many concerns and pain.

My sisters and brothers, if you say you have problems, other people have bigger problems. Think of the 30 million or more people who are on the brink of starvation, the millions who have no clean water; the millions whose lives are lived in constant fear of being killed by militia or murderers. Do we not feel so blessed to have more than what we possibly can eat or drink, and to be able to live in peace and sleep soundly every night? Should we not be grateful to God? Are you feeling better now? Yes? No?!

If you are feeling better now, then this is not yet the “living faith” that we are referring to in this homily. And there is a fundamental flaw in our Christian thinking because we cannot expect to have a living faith that lives off the knowledge of the misery and suffering of people. A living faith has to be positive and life giving.

To have a living faith that is positive and life giving our faith in Christ needs to be firm, strong and decisive. This is a faith that is prepared to put Jesus first in all things. A faith that dares to follow the teachings of Jesus, and dares to “let the dead bury the dead.” Indeed, as strong and decisive faith that deeply desires and even dreams of not only merely making a difference in people’s lives but, even conquering the world for God’s greater glory!

My sisters and brothers in Christ, at this juncture, you may think that I am spewing words that are religiously romantic and realistically unreachable. If you feel this way, then let us remind ourselves that there was a man who had such dreams of conquering the world for Christ some 500 years ago. He is none other than St Ignatius of Loyola.

St Ignatius began by dreaming of conquering the world for his earthly king and also marrying a beautiful princess of a royal family of his dreams. However, when God touched his heart and transformed his passion for the vanities of the world into a passion to conquer the world for Christ, he set out with great determination precisely to achieve that for God’s Greater Glory!

Like all great dreams, St Ignatius began in a small way. He recruited a few men while he was studying in Paris . He gave them the Spiritual Exercises; what today we would call a directed retreat in daily life. Through this he led them to open their hearts to serve God with a passion that was unquenchable.

Because of one man called St Ignatius of Loyola who dared to open his heart to God’s dreams and was able to develop a living faith, today, there are more than 20,000 Jesuits in 106 countries and 6 continents in the world. With God’s graces and blessings, the living faith, Jesuits travelled as missionaries to every corner of the globe: founded haciendas in Mexico , explored the Mississippi and Amazon rivers and served Chinese Emperors as map workers, painters and astronomers. In the book of Jesuits saints and martyrs we find more than 345 saints, blessed, venerable and servants of God of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits also lay claim to 35 craters on the moon named by Jesuit scientists. Historians say that Jesuits have been despised or idolized on a scale unknown to members of other religious orders. Jesuits have died the most horrible death and done the most outlandish deeds. They were loved or loathed. The Jesuits’ dramatic and wide-ranging impact could never be ignored. By the mid-18 th century, they had established more than 650 educational institutions; their power was seen as so threatening that hostility escalated into serious political feuds and at various times they were either banned or harshly suppressed throughout Europe . All these and much more happened because one man believed that God will work through him and he also dared to make God’s dream for him a reality.

There is another man whom we call Jesus Christ who dared to be selfless enough to fulfil His Father’s dreams of saving the whole world. And because of Him there are more than one billion Catholic Christians in the world today.

Jesus is now challenging us and saying to each of us . . . “Because of you, I want the world to be a significantly different place to live in. Will you help me make this significant difference in people’s lives for my sake?”

Having heard all that I have said, are your hearts fired by the zeal to live your faith more fully?! Yes?! No?! Not sure?! If we are still hesitant because we are not good enough then, we should remember that St Ignatius also began very much as a man who was caught up by the vanities of the world. And when he was eventually touched by God he started from a small group. In fact, St Ignatius was very much like us . . . perhaps even more worldly than us.

The secret of St Ignatius was that with God’s graces he was very focused, very decisive and very determined in what he did for God. Ah ha. . . there lies the great difference between St Ignatius and us, we might say. Yes, we can easily admit that, unlike St Ignatius, we are often unfocused, indecisive and weak in carrying through what we want to do for God.

Do you know why we find it so difficult to develop a solid and strong living faith? I believe, like other first world countries, we are the product of affluence. Don’t get me wrong. The Church is not against material wealth and riches. In themselves, wealth and riches are good. However, what I am referring to is quite different.

I believe we are suffering from living a life that is unreflected. To live an unreflected life is to live a life that is absorbed by the currents of secular society that numbs us into thinking that our goal in life is to make our first million dollars. And, our second goal in life is to make our next ten million dollars, and from this we will gain all the happiness that will go with it.

Again, let us remind ourselves that to own the $10 million dollars is in itself not wrong or bad. But, what is against a strong living faith is to make the $10 million our ultimate goal in life. If what I am saying here is something that we are very conscious about, then such temptations of the world will not be such a threat to our living faith. But, if such secular temptations are not something that we are conscious about, then they can become very real and dangerous threats to our living faith. This is because not to be aware of such secular and materialistic temptations is to risk living a life that unconsciously treats God as irrelevant and unimportant to our lives.

With such a faith, we can easily drift into becoming “Sunday Catholics.” Or worse still, as the joke goes, “Italian Catholics.” That is to say, Catholics who go to Church twice during their life-time, and during both times, they are carried into the Church; first during Baptism and then during their funeral.

So, to live an unreflected life is to live a wasted life; a worldly life that is focused on our self gains instead of living it to make a significant difference to other people’s lives. Secular spirituality of the world is a skin deep spirituality that will not last and certainly will never bring any deep fulfilment to anyone’s lives.

As I draw this homily to a conclusion, let me sum up by saying. There is no doubt for all of us that Our Lord wants each of us to have a living faith that makes a difference to people’s lives; not only some difference, but a significant difference to peoples lives. And the type of living we all need is a living faith that is more than obeying laws and fulfilling obligations of the Church. A living faith that is also more than doing good and being a morally upright person.

Jesus is challenging each of us to have a living faith that is like that of St Ignatius of Loyola. A faith that is very focused, very decisive and very determined to live solely for God. Indeed, a living faith that dares to dream of conquering the world for Christ. And to have such a living faith, we need to have the wisdom to find time to live a reflected life; a reflected life that is able to tap into God’s power that is latent within each of our hearts.

We are all good people with a desire to want to live our lives in God’s ways and for God. We need to unleash this divine power in small ways and in the small choices that we make daily so that we will eventually be able to make significant differences to peoples’ lives. To capture St Ignatius’ sense of what a living faith is let us now ponder on this prayer of St Ignatius called the “Prayer of Generosity.”

Lord, teach me to be generous,
Teach me to serve You as You deserve,
To give and not count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and not to seek for reward
Save that of knowing I do Your most Holy Will.

If we are able to take these words of St Ignatius to heart and pray it daily and then try to live it, I am sure we will be able to develop, with God’s graces, a living faith that will make a significant difference to people’s lives.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.