This Sunday’s readings have faith as the central theme. We see in the first reading how faith sustained the chosen people from the Exodus to their entry into the promised land. Then in the second reading, St. Paul beautifully summarizes Abraham’s own journey of faith and how this bore fruit in his “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.”
The gospel gives another aspect of faith; a faith characterized by fidelity and vigilance, focus and readiness. The parable of the faithful servant that Christ uses highlights these characteristics of faith—remain faithful, focused on one’s task, role or mission, and be vigilant for the master’s return, always ready.
Let me invite you to reflect on these characteristics or qualities of faith—fidelity and vigilance, focus and readiness—from yet another perspective.
One of the fascinating virtues of Ignatian spirituality is availability or being “disponible”; the orginal term Ignatius used was “disponibilidad.” This is the readiness to respond, to go wherever God’s call or will leads us to; roughly translated, to be at the disposal of God’s will or mission.
This virtue of “disponability” comes from another Ignatian virtue: indifference. In Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation in the Spiritual Exercises (Spex), he talks about being indifferent to all material things, to all of creation, which God gives us to attain our one main goal: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul” (Spex 23).
Creation, material things have use or value in so far as they help us attain our goal. If they don’t, then they are to be set aside or we must be indifferent to them. This is called active indifference in the sense that the underlying value is a choice we make; a choice to totally focus on praising, reverencing and serving God to save our soul or be reunited with him.
We are indifferent to all things not because of neutrality but precisely because we are radically and deeply committed to following God’s will, God’s mission for us. It is our relationship with God that not only matters most, but the only thing that matters.
There is a saying that before you can die for something, you must first live for it. This is the fidelity element of faith. We must live for our faith.
There is a story about one of our youth role models very visible now. (I was not able to ask permission to share this story, so I will have to “disguise” him.) When he was much younger, he went abroad with a team to compete in a tournament. Typical of growing up mischief, his teammates watched adult movies on the in-house entertainment of the hotel.
The mischief registered on the hotel bill, so the adult chaperones discovered it and confronted the team. Since the whole team was in the room where the viewing took place, all were penalized. Our role model objected and protested that he did not take part in the mischief.
The adults pointed out that he was in the room, so how could he feign innocence? He must also be penalized. He continued to argue his case and said it was unjust for him to be penalized. As proof of his nonparticipation, he told them—and this was corroborated by his teammates—that while the viewing was going, he was praying the rosary.
Fidelity to who we are
This was perhaps almost two decades ago, but when you see this young man now and how he grew up through his college years and after, you realize his consistency and understand what fidelity is all about.
This is an aspect of faith that we often overlook, fidelity to who we are. This is, of course, premised on the belief that we become what we believe in. If our belief, our faith in God becomes central to our life, we become our relationship with God.
This young man’s story shows us how he was able to live out the basic values and beliefs he had despite these being challenged by peer pressure and, later on, by adult authority. Despite the challenges, he remained steadfast in what he believed in.
Let me share one more story as an example, this time to show how fidelity is reinforced by indifference and availability.
My grandfather was a public servant through and through. He had a short private practice as a lawyer before he joined the government. He was in government service and had served in the executive, judicial and legislative branches.
He was a brilliant and respected lawyer. His family was an upper middle class family yet he was very detached from material things. He enjoyed the comforts of a good life and was in a way spoiled, but he was indifferent when it came to material things and worldly honors.
Being a regional trial court judge in the 1960s, he had handled very critical and celebrated cases. There is one deportation case that was a very high profile case and landed in his “sala” (chamber). When the trial was going on there, one emissary after another visited my grandfather offering a car, “bayongs” (big shopping bags) of money, businesses, etc., just to rule in favor of the one charged. He did not give in to the temptation and pressure. He ruled justly and fairly, and the one charged was deported.
I would like to think that my grandfather was an example of fidelity and vigilance, focus and readiness. He remained faithful to who he was and what he saw his mission was.
At the very end of his career as a public servant, on his last run, in the eyes of the world he lost, but in his heart and soul what mattered was his fidelity to what he had lived by and lived for all his life—honesty, hard work and integrity in public service.
Indifference to all things and fidelity to the one thing that matters, God alone, our relationship with Him and our mission from Him, this is the faith that Christ talks about in today’s gospel. Long before the phrase “24/7” became part of our vocabulary, it was the quality of our Christian faith; always faithful, 24/7; always ready, 24/7.