YOU CAN’T FAKE THIS: A HOMILY ON THE MEMORIAL OF ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, IBADAN
A story is told of an Igbo girl who grew up in Igbo land, but moved over to Abuja after her secondary school. After about six years in Abuja, she came back to the village and started pretending that first, she can no longer speak the Igbo language and secondly, she can no longer speak Pidgin English. After one week in the village, she was sitting under the tree with some of her old friends, speaking her queen’s English when a snake came along. The snake was already coming very close to her when she exclaimed ‘Chineke!!! See sineki!!!’ She couldnt fake that one.
Apart from levitation, there are other extraordinary gifts that are associated with certain saints. Some of them were stigmatists, some could bilocate, others were able to see the state of people’s souls, especially those who came to them for confession, etc. We live in a world where whatever has an original also has a fake. I have a friend who is a trader, and he would always tell you, ‘This one is original, it cost so and so amount… This other one is fake and it costs so and so amount.’ I thought that was brave enough. Over the years, there have been people who in trying to seek attention tried to fake some of these gifts. Today we still have people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike who have certain genuine gifts, while others try to fake gifts like speaking in tongues, healing, visions etc. There are so many fakes these days that it is hard to tell which is real.
The question is ‘How can we tell who is really led by the Holy Spirit and who is just faking it?’. People have faked even levitation. Dont ask me how they do it. I dont know. In our first reading we are told what the fruits of the Holy Spirit are and what the fruits of self-indulgence are. Those who are led by self, the result is fornication, indecency, sexual irresponsibility, idolatry, sorcery, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper, quarells, disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and such things. When a person claims to be led by the Holy Spirit and these signs are seen in them, then something is wrong somewhere. The first reading further gives us signs associated with those who are led by the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Trustfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.
Jesus in the Gospel condemns the Pharisees and calls them unmarked tombs. For an unmarked tomb, it could look neat outside, but inside is a decaying body. In other words, they are fake. They try to put up an appearance but inside, they were different. Of the virtues above, I would like to highlight three, namely Love, Joy and Peace. It is hard to fake these things. If someone is really led by the Spirit, they will have love, joy and peace. Not the kind of love where people just try not to hurt anybody in the name of being nice, not the kind of joy where people give a fake smile, like the waiters do at restaurants, not the kind of peace where someone is just afraid of conflict. This kind of Love, Joy and Peace cannot be faked. You just cannot fake it. The Pharisees are so concerned about the law, but there is no joy in their hearts. By their fruits we shall know them, not by their fake displays.
When he was condemned and was to be taken away and fed to the beasts at the arena, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the Romans saying, “…Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread…” A fuller version can be found in the Second Reading of the Office of Readings for today. Reading through that letter, one can see the Joy, Peace and Love of Ignatius even in the face of death. If you want to know the true character of a person, watch how they react when there is a problem. A truly holy person will be at peace, will be joyful and loving, even in the face of death. You can fake anything, but you cannot fake how you react when your life is threatened. You just cannot fake that one.