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 St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

Founder of the Society of Jesus

JF: Happy feast day St Ignatius. Thank you for your presence in and legacy for the Church. Your legacy still lives on and your life still inspired many people in the Church to live their true Christian calling. As we speak there are already tens of thousands of Jesuit priests and religious all over the world out of the 7 or 10 men whom you started as the ‘Company of Jesus.’ You really have formed an army for the Lord. In fact, we now have a Pope who is one of your sons in the Order, Pope Francis.

Ignatius: It’s all because of God’s grace and for his glory.

JF: For the sake of all who are celebrating this day in your honour, could you please tell us about yourself?

Ignatius: I was born in Loyola, in the Basque region of Spain in 1491. My father’s name was Don Beltran, Lord of Oñaz and Loyola and my mother’s name was Marina Saenz de Licona y Balda.  My father’s family bore the name of being one of the nobles in the region descending from the ancient Basque family.  

JF: So you had a promising future ahead of you so to speak?

Ignatius: Somehow.  But looking back, I never thought, I never even dreamt to be a saint, let alone with such widespread influence.

JF: As a child, or as a young man, have you ever thought of serving God?

Ignatius: No, not really. Being one of the youngest of a many children, I had a choice between religious or military life.

JF: And you thought early on what would life be for you?

Ignatius: Well, obviously I chose to be a soldier. A military. At the age of 24, I became a full-fledged soldier, dressed extravagantly, dreaming of romance, fighting and duelling and you name it.

JF: Wow! So you thought that really was life for you?

Ignatius: Sort of. You know living the dream if you will. However, after 6 years serving in the military, in 1521, something happened that opened up another door for me.

JF: Why? What happened?

Ignatius: I was in a defence position in the Spanish Citadel of Pamplona against the French forces, when a cannon ball hit my leg. The wound was never to heal properly. I had this limp for the rest of my life.

JF: Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. That would have shattered your dreams as a promising young man.

Ignatius: Absolutely! Or so I thought! But little did I know God has called me to a greater service.

JF: What makes you say that?

Ignatius: I was still recuperating when I had this convalescence. Confined in bed, I need something to ease up the boredom, so I asked for some books to read. I was expecting book of romances, but all they got for me was the  book of the life of Christ and a Spanish version of the pious tales of the Golden Legend.  So, I took them nonetheless and started reading them. But then, I began to relish these books and spent my days reading them. Reading them made me my mind wavered between the world and the spirit. I felt being called to imitate the saints and their ways of prayer and penance.

JF: You felt God was calling you on to something?

Ignatius: Certainly. Upon recovery, I went  to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat.  There I made a general confession, left my sword and dagger before our Lady’s altar, and gave away all my earthly goods and started living a life of penance.

JF: Wow! That was a great moment of grace, a moment of conversion! So how did you exactly live a life of penance?

Ignatius: I  spent a year living on alms in the town of Manresa, during which time I received many divine illuminations on matters of doctrine.  It was during this time that I began to note down materials for what would later on become the book of Spiritual Exercises.

JF: Seems like you were really convinced that that was what our Lord asked of you. Were you really sure then of your decision?

Ignatius: I thought so. In February 1523, I set on my way to Holy Land. I took the ship from Barcelona. I spent Easter in Rome. From there, I left for Cyprus via Venice and then went on to Jaffa. From Jaffa I went to Jerusalem, with the intent to remain in the city.

JF: And did you get to remain in Jerusalem?

Ignatius: No. The Franciscan guardians of the Holy Sites asked me to leave for fear I would be captured and held for ransom.

JF: So what did you do  then?

Ignatius: I went back to Spain in 1524. As  soon as I realized that without education I would have little success in winning souls to Christ, I entered school, at 31 years old.  I was  in the lowest class, and among the youngest students.  For eleven years I devoted my time to studies, living in the utmost poverty and begging food at Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca, and Paris I was relying on the help and care by many generous people around.

JF: And how did you go with your studies?

Ignatius: While studying, I catechised the children, held assemblies of devotion and drew some people to Christ.  It wasn’t easy for me though because I was treated by some in the Church with suspicion.

JF: Did that atmosphere of suspicion enforced your decision to leave Spain?

Ignatius: In a way. But also because I just wanted to further my studies. It was in the middle of winter, I travelled on foot to Paris. While there I tried to improve in Latin and Philosophy while at the same encouraged my fellow students to spend the Sundays and holy days in prayer and doing good works.

JF: That’s amazing of you. And did that have an impact to other students?

Ignatius: Yes.   When I received the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Paris in 1534, a handful of men, including Francis Xavier, Peter Favre and four others came to associate with my spiritual exercises.

JF: How did this association work?

Ignatius: Together we made a vow to observe poverty, chastity and to go and preach the gospel in the Holy Land or wherever the Holy Father would send us. We made this vow at the chapel on Montmartre after receiving Holy Communion from Fr Peter Favre. This was on the Feast of Assumption in 1534. Then I went back to Spain living in poverty to keep up my vow.

JF: And what happened to the others?

Ignatius: Two years later we all met in Venice, with the intent to set sail for Palestine, but there was no ship available. The proposed trip proved impossible because of war. Instead we decided to go to Rome and present ourselves to the Pope, then it was Pope Paul III.

JF: Did you get to see the Pope and what was your reason of meeting the Pope? Ignatius: We wanted to see the pope to confirm our group as soldiers of Christ or ‘the Company of Jesus’ fighting against falsehood and vice and standing under the standard of Christ.

JF: I understood the Pope received you well. Did the Holy Father give you your wishes?

Ignatius: Indeed! The Holy Father granted indult that those of us who were not priests could now be ordained, which we joyfully received soon after.

JF: Getting that blessing from the highest authority of the Church on earth would really have been amazing.

Ignatius: Absolutely. In 1540, the Society of Jesus became a reality, and I was chosen the first superior general.  The rule I established seemed, at the time, revolutionary.  My disciples were to be ascetics in the world, not in the cloister.  We were to be teachers and preachers, trained scholars able to meet argument with better argument.  We were to renounce all rank, temporal or ecclesiastical.  We were to live under the intense discipline and perfect obedience which has always been their distinctive characteristic. With our vow on poverty, chastity and obedience, we added on a fourth vow, of going wherever the pope would send us for the salvation of souls.

JF: That indeed was kind of a revolutionary sort of work for the mission.

Ignatius: After the foundation of the society, I never left Rome.  I’ve  directed many activities of the order as well as carrying out our mission as the ‘Company of Jesus’.

JF: One of your great works is the Book of Spiritual Exercises, how did you come up with that?

Ignatius: It all   begun in Manresa. Those materials came out as fruits of my prayers and penance. With the approval of the Holy Father, it was first published in Rome in 1548.

JF: You should be very happy now, that on your death  in 1556, your ‘Company of Jesus’ expanded so rapidly that it makes up sixty-seven Jesuit houses, and over a thousand members.  You have left a legacy not only on Education on the Faith by your teachers in the Order, but also  on the spiritual life in your Spiritual Exercises. But even without all this, you would still be among the great saints, for your heroic virtue, your absolute dedication to Christ and the Church and to the faith in general. Thank you for the gift that you are for the Church, for the Society of Jesus you established at the service of God and for the faith.  

Ignatius: All for the Greater GLORY of GOD….

Note: St Ignatius died in the morning of 31 July, 1556. He was canonized in 1622. Later on he was declared the heavenly patron of spiritual exercises and retreats.

St Ignatius, Pray for us.

Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints

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Homily for 17th Sunday year B 2018

Tabgha Holy Land

In one of my holidays back in the Philippines few years ago, this was when some parts of the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, I went with a couple of friends from Bendigo and some nurses from St John of God Hospital to an island north of Cebu. This island was badly hit by the typhoon and we, the Filipino community and Australian friends in Bendigo decided to form a  foundation to help the people in this particular island.

Aside from helping them with housing materials to rebuild their houses, one other thing we did was distributing rice to the families. A big part of the money used to purchase the rice was out of the 5 cents money the parishioners gave me.

We’ve re-packed the rice into bags of 5 kilograms so that we could give them to about 200 families. That’s how much rice we could only afford to give.

So we made up a list of some 200 prospective family recipients, those who were really in desperate need.

However, when the people started arriving there were more people than what we were expecting. They were also hoping they would receive something even if they were not on the list.

That got me worried, because there more than 200 families who came. In fact, there were more than 400 families there.

 But I couldn’t also bear the thought of sending them with nothing. So I decided with the team to re-pack the bags of rice into 3 kilograms each, of course without knowing how many we could come up  with.

But an amazing thing happened. No, unlike the gospel we heard today, there were no leftovers. However, what was amazing was that the last bag of rice we handed out was received by the last person in the queue. In total there were about 491 families received the handout that day.

Friends,  brothers and sisters, you may call it coincidence but I call it divine providence. As Albert Einstein is attributed to have said: ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.’

And God’s divine providence is one strong message for us in the gospel today. Divine providence, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:  is “the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward [our ultimate] perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. [CCC  302].

The clue here is that God always provides us and helping us achieve our ultimate goal: Holiness, happiness and at home forever in the presence of the Father.

But we can’t just sit down and wait for God to do something.

To experience God’s divine providence, we need to complement our trust and dependence with God with our cooperation and participation in God’s work.

In the gospel today Jesus would show us how we can cooperate and participated in God’s work.

First: we must do the best that we can and let God do the rest that we can’t.

As we heard in the gospel, Jesus did not just make bread out of anything around him. He could have easily done that.

No, in fact, even if as the gospel says, he already knew what to do exactly, he still asked Philip, one of his disciples: ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people?’

Andrew must have done the best that he could do for the situation because among the crowd he was able to find a small boy with few loaves and fishes and introduced him to Jesus. It must have taken a lot of persuasion from Andrew for the boy to show what he’s got to Jesus.

He also asked the disciples to ask the people to be seated on the grass. God likes a sit down meal, not come and go, not drive-thru.

Then he also asked his disciples to give the bread for the people to eat. He could have just told the people to queue in. But no, he wants his disciples to be personally involved. Later on he asked them to collect the leftovers. This means God considers that our cooperation in his work is significant and valuable.
Second: to cooperate in God’s work is to give our all selflessly to God even the little that we have, and He will make us  see the wonderful things he can do with us, for us and even through us. This is what the small boy did. He only had 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.

The boy was from a poor family because in Jesus’ time, the bread for the people who are well-off  is made of wheat. The poor generally would have cheaper kind of bread made of barley. So that bread and fish might have been only the food for the family of this boy for a day or two.

Besides, the boy could have made a fortune out of his loaves. People were hungry of course, and if you are hungry you just eat anything, no matter how much it cost. The boy could have sold his loaves into $10 each.

But instead, he gave it all to Jesus and he had seen for himself how little things offered with love and such selflessness can become great things in the eyes of God and of others. For the boy, his 5 loaves and two fish fed thousands of people.

This assures us that when we offer our all, our everything to Jesus, we can see many wonderful things, we can see how much he can make a lot out of a little. We can see how much more he can make out of a meagre.

Third: to cooperate in God’s work is to follow Jesus faithfully and trustingly.  

The gospels assures us that when we follow Jesus, when we give some of our precious time with him, when we listen to his voice, he always has abundance of grace to meet our needs. He never sees us needing something without doing something about it.

Let us see for example the Wedding at Cana. He was there. He saw the need. He did something wonderful- his first miracle- making the best wine out of water. Also when Peter and the other disciples went fishing all night but caught nothing. When Jesus arrived and when they did what He told them to do, they caught plenty. And today’s gospel tells us: Jesus saw the need. He did something about it. Many were filled and there were plenty of leftovers.

Friends, God has done so much for us. Our lifetime is not enough for us to give him proper remuneration for all the good things he has done for us.

The least that we could do to return God’s blessings is THANK GOD always and to have a grateful heart. This is the purpose of our Eucharistic celebration.

Eucharist means thanksgiving.

We thank God for his generosity. We give back to God an hour out of the 168 hours he has given us each week.

There is no amount of praying in gratitude at home can supply for the thanksgiving we give to God by attending the Mass. We can’t see its real value now, but we’ll see how valuable it really is, when we get to heaven.

The meaning of Christmas

Christmas is here once again… We are invited that we keep our focus more closely and more especially  on the coming of Christ. Christ is the real reason for this season. It is because of Christ in the first place that this season makes sense. We endeavour to celebrate this season with joy, of giving, loving, caring, and celebrating our faith surrounded by family and friends because of the many gifts we receive from God in the first place including those gifts given to us even us without asking. 

When we walk about, drive around or just strolling by, we can sense that Christmas is indeed in the air. But let us not just focus on how we celebrate Christmas or who are we celebrating it with, but more so on why do we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is called so because of Christ- the child lying in the manger- the real reason for the season. Yes there are people who would suggest (for the sake of inclusiveness they’d argue) that this time is a special holiday.
But there is no denying that when we take on this holiday season, it is because it’s Christmas.
Let me share with you once again, a definition of Christmas by an Irish priest, Fr Flor McCarthy (SDB).

C for Christmas ‘stands for Christ. If we leave him out of Christmas, it is like celebrating a wedding without the
H stands for the hope he gives us- the hope of a life without end.
R stands for the revolution he began: turning hate to love, war to peace, and everyone into everyone’s neighbour.
I stands for Israel, the land where he was born. But it also stands for me. For Christ could be born a thousand times
            in Bethlehem, but it would all be in vain unless he is born in me.
S stands for the salvation he brought: those who lived in darkness saw a great light.
T stands for thanks- [giving] thanks to God the Father for the gift of his Son. The best way to say thanks is to make
           room for him in our hearts.
M stands for Mary who (through her amazing Yes and trust in God’s will) brought Jesus to birth.
A stands for the angels who at his birth sang: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.’ It
         was the sweetest music ever heard on earth.
S stands for the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. Now Christ is the star we follow. His light will guide us
          through the night until the sun of eternal day dawns upon us.

Hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and a grace-filled new year. 

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Trusting Jesus: Inviting him on board our life’s boat

Homily 19th Sunday year A 2017

In our gospel today, we find the disciples on the boat in the middle of the lake being caught up in the storm. Even though some of them are seasoned fishermen we can still imagine how terrifying it must have been for them. They were battling against the strong wind far out on the lake.

But this narrative is not just about the disciples on the boat in the midst of a storm, it is as Pope Francis would say: ‘an effective image of the Church:  a boat which must brave the storms and sometimes seems on the point of capsizing. What saves her is not the skill and courage of her crew members, but faith which allows her to walk, even in the dark, amid hardships. Faith gives us the certainty of Jesus’ presence always beside us, of his hand which grasps us to pull us back from danger. We are all on this boat, and we feel secure here despite our limitations and our weaknesses. We are safe especially when we are ready to kneel and worship Jesus, the only Lord of our life.” (Pope Francis Angelus Message 10 August 2014)

Remember in another part of the gospel Jesus assured to Peter that even the gates of hell will not prevail over his Church. Also in another part of the gospel, he promised to the disciples: ‘I will be with you till the end of time.’

In other words, if Jesus is with us, no storm is powerful enough to topple us over. If Jesus is the anchor of our life, no wind strong enough to uproot us. With Jesus on our side, there is nothing to be afraid even those who can kill our body, but can’t do anything on our souls.

In this gospel, Jesus assured us of two certain things: In life, HE is our LIFEGUARD and in our life of faith, he is as our HELPING HAND.

This calls us therefore to put our TRUST in Jesus rather than on any other form of god or gods we may have in our lives and in our society in general.

Just reflect on this:

How many Australian factory workers sacrificed and lost their jobs for the god called ‘PROFIT?’

How many trees, rivers, lands exploited for the god called ‘PROGRESS?’

How many poor people, communities and culture suffered and neglected for the god called ‘GREED?’

How many people, children included, sacrificed, denied of basic rights for the god called ‘SELF-GRATIFICATION?’

How many innocent men & women, voiceless & vulnerable, denied of due process & right to live, sacrificed for the god called ‘SELF- PRESERVATION or NATIONAL SECURITY?’

How many people of goodwill, important social services, institutions, agencies and people of faith who  are to bear persecutions, at risk of being alienated and denied of fundamental freedom for the god called ‘MARRIAGE EQUALITY?’

How many vulnerable adults and elderly people and their families at risk of having their  fundamental rights and basic freedom, being abused and denied for the god called ‘ASSISTED SUICIDE?’

How many people, families torn apart, friends becoming worst enemies, relationships broken and sacrificed for the god called ‘MONEY?’

Brothers and sisters, to win over these kind of storms in our lives we need to put our trust in Jesus.

How many holy men and women, adults and children, who willingly took the risk of trusting Jesus, laying their own lives even, for the faith, showing us that faith in Jesus is worth dying for, assuring us that Jesus, indeed is the Son of God?

There are thousands of them, putting their trust in Jesus, keeping the faith no matter what storm they might be into, because for them Jesus is worth all that they have. In Jesus alone they could find the answer to all their questions, the realisation of their dreams and aspirations and the fulfilment of their lives.

It is my prayer that we all follow their example of amazing trust in Jesus and thus to be added on to the list of the saints in glory. 

Trusting in Jesus means that we allow ourselves to be guided by Jesus himself, by his word and by his example.

Trusting Jesus as members of his Church means acknowledging in humility that there are things in our life that only Jesus can make it happen, that there are teachings in our Church and in our faith that only Jesus has the power to change, and that there are things we would like done that only Jesus has the the power to  do.

We can only reflect on what happened to Peter. For a moment, he believed he could walk on the water too, unaided by Jesus. But we know, when he tried to go through the storm without the help of Jesus, he started to sink. When Peter tried to do things only Jesus has the power to do, he didn’t succeed. But when he called on Jesus, he was saved. It is just as simple as saying: ‘Lord, save me!’ But it also means humility and trust in Jesus, not on our own.

Only Jesus has the power to calm the storm in our lives. We just have to be strong in our faith in him, humble ourselves, call on him to save us, reach out for his hand, and let him into our life’s boat. With him in our boat, we may still have to be shaken or threatened by trials and challenges but, we know, he can’t allow us to perish.  

Remember, the boat the disciples were in was a  hundred times smaller than the Titanic and built by some ordinary boat-builder using ordinary piece of wood, while the Titanic was built by professionals and is made using the best kind of materials.

It is not on how big our boat or how beautiful it is therefore, that can save us from sinking but on how much faith and trust we have in Jesus. It is not WHAT can save us but WHO can save us—Jesus, the Christ. Amen.