Thoughts of love are in the air and well they should be. This past weekend we celebrated Valentine’s Day on the same day as the first Sunday of Lent. Though St. Valentine was a very real person, ordinarily most of the population thinks of the sentiment of romantic love rather than to reflect upon the sacred. Valentine’s Day is good, though it is an emphasis on love for but one day; Lent, however, is an entire season of love. Lent points us toward Easter which is the culmination of the Son of God coming into the world in order to completely empty Himself for us so that we might be saved, the greatest act of love ever offered. The entire season of Lent, therefore, is about love; quite literally it is Love which saves us. Our response to this overwhelming love given by God is our active participation in the Lenten season: prayer, penance, and almsgiving. Yearly we offer our efforts at growing in sanctity as a way of returning the gift of ourselves to Him who gave Himself totally for us. And in the process, hopefully, we are invited to fall more deeply in love with our God.
In reflecting upon all of these things, the Jesuit, ‘Servant of God’ Fr. Pedro Arrupe, came to mind. He was given the title Servant of God because the Church has begun the process of investigating his life through a cause for his canonization. In other words, it has been acknowledged that Fr. Arrupe lived a life of heroic virtue and holiness. He is a beloved figure among the Jesuits and one who is important to the history of the order. Born in 1907 in Bilbao, Spain, he was educated in medicine, attaining a doctorate in Medical Ethics. After his education and ordination, he was sent to Japan as a missionary. He found the work frustrating because few people participated in what he offered and he made even fewer converts. On Dec. 8, 1941 he was arrested, accused of espionage on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The night before Arrupe thought he was going to be executed, he heard the singing of Christmas carols outside his cell window, a gesture which made a huge impact upon him. He was released shortly after this because of his respectful behavior. He stayed in Hiroshima and was there in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped. Miraculously he and the other 8 Jesuits with him escaped all harm and were able to help as many of the injured as possible.
In 1958 Fr. Arrupe was elected 28th Father General of the Society of Jesus, being the only other Basque to have held this position since the founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was Father General until 1981 when he suffered a debilitating stroke, forcing him to resign. His years in office were during a time of great change in both the church and in the world. His focus was on social justice and working with the poor and so his time as Father General was often controversial because of the political implications of bringing justice to some areas of the world. After the stroke he lived another 10 years, virtually mute, until his death on February 5, 1991.
The reason Pedro Arrupe came to mind, however, is because of something he wrote about love. Though the piece known as “Fall in Love” is very well known, it is evident in other examples of his writing that this was not a one-time expression. He seemed to live the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, interpreting them through the grace of love. He once wrote: “The [Spiritual] Exercises are, in the last analysis, a method in the pedagogy of love—the pedagogy, that is, of the most pure charity toward God and toward one’s neighbor. They root out carnal and worldly love from the human heart, thus opening it to the beams of God’s love. A demanding love it is, calling forth in a person a response of love and of service.… Only one term is final and irreducible to another: love.”*
Love was clearly the motive for Fr. Arrupe throughout his life of service. In “Fall in Love” Fr. Arrupe reveals the sanctity with which he lived, the humility with which he approached God, and the love with which he served those to whom he ministered, including his brother Jesuits. At the end of the piece he says that we should “fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Indeed this is what is at the heart of the season of Lent and at the heart of our Christian faith. The season of Lent is a time in which we remember all that the Father has done out of His amazing love for us, culminating in the sacrifice of His own Son. We immerse ourselves in the Gospels in order to participate more fully in their message, desiring to be disciples, reflecting upon the values of mercy and love given by Jesus in his self-emptying which included such intense suffering. If the entire season does not echo with love resounding sometimes gently and at other times deafeningly, then we are missing the gift of the season entirely. Our lives as Christians are about only one thing: love. Lent is a time when we are invited to fall more deeply in love with the God who is madly, deeply in love with us.
During Lent, our additional prayer, penance, and almsgiving are not simply to discipline us, but they are to help us learn how to hear the whispered “I love you” from God as it resonates within us. Our practices help us to let love have more of a presence within our heart. Those practices emphasized by the Church and those we choose help our hearts to be emptied of that which is not love, to be stretched to love in new ways, and to be filled with God’s love that we may move outwards to others with renewed vigor. It is relatively easy to fall in love, but to stay in love is another thing entirely. Therefore what we do during Lent can help us to stay in love through examining the ways we could do better on our journey to holiness.
In order to see Jesus’ love poured out throughout His ministry a suggestion is that we meditate on the Gospels. In our prayer we can go with Jesus to the outcast lepers, the frightening possessed, the fallen prostitutes, the cheating tax gatherers, the arrogant Pharisees, the alien pagans, the ‘invisible’ women, the lowly poor, and the comfortable rich. We can hear Him teach His disciples, instruct the apostles in forgiving "seventy seven times seven times," reflect upon the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. It is important for us to observe Jesus as He ‘fell deeply in love’ with all of His people. If we let His love work at transforming us then perhaps we can fall in love and stay in love. Indeed, loving is something that will decide everything in guiding our choices and responses throughout our lives.
Pedro Arrupe was transformed by God’s love and therefore was wise to counsel us to fall in love, too. While thoughts of falling in love remind us of romance, Arrupe was talking about finding God in whatever we do and in whoever it is to whom we devote our lives: love is about everlasting commitment. No matter where it is directed, any falling in love is at its core falling in love with God. And falling in love is about letting God lead us home with Him. It is about trusting Jesus to be there in whatever form or fashion, especially when life makes no sense and things seem dark. It is about allowing Him into our pain and accepting the invitation into His. And it is about realizing that His love is so far above ours, so perfect in light of our imperfection, that we are humbled beyond belief when He wants to spend time with us. Falling in love with God means letting God show His love for us and it means returning a simple response of “thank you” back to Him.
During this season of Love which is called Lent, let us enter into the penance, the prayer, and the almsgiving expecting to meet Jesus in the midst of it all. Let us open ourselves to Him in the guise of the poor and the hurting. Let us invite Him into our paltry gift of self. As we attempt our Lenten sacrifices and additions let us offer gratitude for whatever growth in holiness we find, and if we have struggled somewhat unsuccessfully, let us offer our intentions to have done better as the gift that it is and know Jesus will receive it with joy. If we beg God to help us to fall in love with Him and with His people, this love will transform us and move toward healing that which is painful, broken, terrifying, or evil in this world. Fall in love, stay in love: it will decide everything.
May we open ourselves to love this Lent! May we let our practices of prayer, penance, and almsgiving expand our hearts! May our fasting and abstinence open our hearts to the poor and suffering! May we fall in love, stay in love and rely upon Love! May we have the patience and perseverance to stay faithful to our Lenten practices! May we be gentle upon ourselves if we falter in the commitments we made for the season, knowing it is our intention that the Lord desires! And may we let Love be our guide as we strive to grow in holiness! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I found this quote on an Ignatian website, but it comes from a book called Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings, by Kevin Burke (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2004, p. 136-137). The website I used is as follows:
- The text of Fall in Love is in the third image in this entry. If you want to see it closer up, you can click on the image. Or you can view the text at https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/316647.Pedro_Arrupe
Photos and images: The first photo is one I took while on vacation in Oregon. It was in a public rose garden in Portland.
The second photo is a famous photo of Fr. Pedro Arrupe and is of unknown origin. I found it on just about every website in which he was mentioned. Here is the one I used for much of the information I cited on Fr. Arrupe:
The third image is of Fall in Love as mentioned above. I found it at http://www-hollymonroe-com.myshopify.com/products/falling-in-love-1
Next is an icon, Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-christ-holy-forgiveness-040-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The last two are photos which I took. The first is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a work in stained glass which is at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, TX. The last photo was taken in Jacksonville, Florida of the sunrise on a cloudy morning over the Atlantic Ocean.
Heart Speaks to Heart