Today we honour the memory of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the soldier who became a priest. Like many others who have aspired to the Religious Life or the Priesthood, Saint Ignatius is an example to us of humility and perseverance. One of his favourite prayers was: “Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough and I have no more to ask.” Saint Ignatius died in Rome on 31st July 1556. Pope Gregory XV proclaimed him a saint in 1622.
When I’ve finished my loaf of Tesco’s finest, I’ll sometimes bake a loaf in my bread-making machine, which has a small window in the lid so that I can view the process. Bread dough goes through some remarkable stages as it mixes with yeast. At first, the lump of raw, gooey flour and water looks quite lifeless. But given the right conditions, this lump lifts itself up, expanding until it is ready to be baked. And then, in the baking process, it rises even more, until it has reached a perfect combination of crust and soft, airy bread inside.
Human beings have been baking bread from time immemorial, and Our Lord used this familiar process to describe how God reveals himself. Just as bread begins as a lifeless lump, it can be said that we are lifeless before our baptism. It’s as we receive the Holy Spirit that we begin to rise, sometimes imperceptibly, and we begin to undergo a process of transformation. The Holy Spirit, like yeast in dough, expands our hearts so that we can receive the good news of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit enlivens our prayer and our study of Scripture, so that we learn how to live as children of God. The Holy Spirit inspires acts of faith and obedience, so that we can accelerate the process.
But how can we tell that the Holy Spirit is at work within us? Well, by checking our hearts and our conscience. The clearest sign of his presence comes when we begin to appreciate our status as adopted children of God; when we are no longer simply following a list of commandments and laws but responding in love to the God who loves us. We can tell when we begin to look at our community as the place where we can grow closer to God, and not the place where we seek to achieve our own selfish ambitions.
This is why we should regularly check that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Even trials and sufferings can lead to growth as we submit to the Holy Spirit. There may be areas in our lives where we still feel like a gooey mass of raw dough; but through prayer and trust the ‘yeast’ of the Holy Spirit will continue to do its work to transform us.