[ADDU Live-streamed Mass, August 7, 2020
With the ADMU Class ‘59’ ’63 ‘67]
The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be traced back not only to Margaret Mary Alaquoque in the 17th century, whose visions urged us to this devotion “in reparation for the ingratitude of man for the Sacrifice which Christ made for them.” But it can be traced back even further to the 11th Century devotion to the five wounds of Jesus, his hands and feet pierced by the nails of crucifixion and his heart pierced by a soldier’s lance. From its origins, what is central to this devotion is what is symbolized in his heart: the love of Jesus for each of us personally – the love of Jesus which manifests the compassion of the Father who sends Jesus in Love for our redemption.
For many of us, we have set aside First Fridays to recall the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that is, to recall his personal love for us. For those of us who due to “life” – the pressures of business, the anxiety to provide for family, the concerns we have for a child or a grandchild, the joy of wealth, the hazardous fascination with a distracting relationship, the thrill of fame, the intoxication of power – may have become lukewarm, if not cold, vis-à-vis this love, the coronavirus pandemic may be offering us sacred space to consider essentials in life, among them, graced opportunity to consider how Jesus loves us personally and what Jesus proposes to us in our Gospel today for reflection: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take us his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:24-24).
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?” That was the question which St. Ignatius repeatedly asked his friend, Francis Xavier, at the University of Paris and coaxed this nobleman towards becoming one of the Church’s greatest missionaries.
How does Jesus love us personally and how do we experience this in our lives?
It would probably be very hard to experience the joy of God’s love if through the decisions of our lives we have effectively turned away from God. That is possible. It is possible that we have willy-nilly usurped the place of God saying, not “Thy will be done” but “My will be done.” It is possible that enamored by the things we know are distractions in our lives we have foolishly declared ourselves immune to the effects of our sin, that we have covered over our corruption or injustice with rationalizations of how provident we must be for our relatives and admirers, or that we have accepted poisonous relationships in our lives by denying their toxicity. So it is that when we think of the love of Jesus and look at his Sacred Heart we feel an emptiness or dryness, a terrible distance, even a cynicism or despair.
Here, in these interior feelings of alienation or desolation, Ignatius suggests the love of God is making itself felt, calling us back, preventing us from feeling comfortable with sin, like they once called back the Prodigal Son to remorse, repentance, and the Father’s embrace.
Otherwise, how do we experience the personal love of Jesus? Ignatius would suggest an intimate relationship with him. As this pandemic has helped us to appreciate more profoundly precious persons in our lives – the treasure of family, the value of true friends, and the many gifts God has given us – so too this pandemic may be inviting us to a more intimate relationship with Jesus. St. Ignatius suggests that this does not just happen. Intimacy with Jesus is a special grace, a privileged gift, for which we beg. We beg to know him more and more intimately as we contemplate the mysteries of his life in Sacred Scripture, how he entered into human history, preached the Kingdom of his Father, forgave sins, healed the sick, fed the hungry, confronted the false piety of the priests, denounced the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, overturned the tables of the money changers to take possession of His Father’s Temple, and accepted the dire consequences of his preaching. With St. Paul we beg to intimately understand the mind of Jesus:
6Who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,a
7but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-10)
Is it not then that through this intimacy we come to a special encounter with the love of Jesus for each of us personally? Intimacy is when the love of our mind becomes the love of our heart.
There is no richer manifestation of the love of Jesus, the Word of the Father’s love, than that of Jesus lifted up on the Cross for us. From his Cross, his Heart speaks to our heart: This is my body given up for you. This is my blood poured out for you. In being lifted up for us on the Cross, he lifts us up to the Father in new life. He enfolds us in his Heart as He and the Father come to dwell in our heart (cf. Jn 14: 23).
“Do this in memory of me” (1 Cor. 23. 24), he says. “Come, follow me” (Mt. 4:19), he invites. “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself, take us his cross and follow me. “ Love entails a response, not in words, but in deeds. Self-emptying love entails a selfless response.
That entails suffering and sacrifice. That entails dying, yes. Like finally forgiving a person who has deeply hurt you; or asking for forgiveness from someone you have hurt. Like speaking encouraging words to persons struggling alone with this pandemic, or watching out for the isolated elderly and vulnerable, or going out of your way to accompany our youth in coping with this new normal. It may mean helping the front-liners in recognition of the selfless sacrifice they make to help others. But following Jesus in suffering and dying also brings the joy and consolation of the Resurrection.
On this First Friday, as God knows how to use this pandemic for his purposes, celebrate the personal love of God for you. And consider your response.
[For the Jesuit Community]
The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be traced back not only to Margaret Mary Alaquoque in the 17th century, whose visions urged us to this devotion “in reparation for the ingratitude of man for the Sacrifice which Christ made for them,” but to the 11th Century devotion to the five wounds of Jesus, his hands and feet pierced by the nails of crucifixion and his heart pierced by a soldier’s lance. From its origins, what is central to this devotion is what is symbolized in a heart: the love of Jesus for each of us personally – the love of Jesus who preaches the Kingdom of God to us both collectively and individually, who suffers, dies and is raised up for us in our redemption.
Meanwhile our Gospel for today poses the question: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). That was the question which St. Ignatius repeatedly asked of his friend, Francis Xavier, at the University of Paris and so derailed him from his theological studies as part of his career of nobility to join the Companions of Jesus and eventually to be missioned by Ignatius to preach the Gospel in India, the Moluccas, Japan, and the threshold of China.
The same Gospel says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take us his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:24-24). The Lucan version poses this question just after Jesus predicts his suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. “The Son of Man … must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9: 22-24). Unlike Matthew, Luke stresses self-denial and taking up one’s cross daily.
On this First Friday, we may be being invited to ask – now that we’ve all said yes to follow Jesus as Jesuits – how do we experience his personal love in our lives? And do the questions posed in the Gospel of Matthew or Mark help us come to a deeper experience of this?
You‘d think this would be an easy question to answer… For me, trying to answer this question confronts me with a chiaroscuro of consolations and desolations … cyphers of my trying to find this personal love of Jesus in my life. Many times: the experience of his consoling closeness, sometimes in formal prayer, many times simply in recalling him in the course of a day’s activities, present, affirming, encouraging – loving me, like with a pat on my back or with an arm around my shoulder. But many other times, the experience of his absence, the feeling of his distance, his disappointment, his telling me I’ve run away from him again, or that I’ve hurt him again.
There are times in doing the things that I do I come to think I have not denied myself, and that the stresses and constraints with which I have to deal, have nothing to do with taking up his Cross, but only mine, still in pursuit of a world I have given up only in a type of vanity or self-deceit. That is when I think Jesus intervenes with an interior sense of emptiness, and reminds me it is not my work, not my mission, not my personality, not my projects, not my power that counts, but his. He reminds me of this in the middle of the night when I toss and turn. He reminds me of this in prayer as I ask, “Why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me?” (Ps. 42:6). Or in recalling his words, ”Just as the branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. … without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15: 4b. 5b). And when I miss to pray, he reminds me in intrusions of insight here and there which convince me it is not I who am in charge, but he, and that there are many idols erected in high places in my life which I must tear down before I come to a deeper encounter with the loving God of my history. “What kind of house can you build for me? What is to be my resting place? My hand made all these things…” the Lord asks me in Isaiah, before he states: “This is the one I approve, the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word” (Is. 66:1b. 2b).
I have come to experience him in certain friends that he has given me. Not many, some Jesuits, others not. But friends who know me and accept me in my neediness and vulnerability. These friends forgive me my anger, forgive me my weakness or forgive me my foibles; some of them, being priests, have even forgiven me my sins, and continue to be there to listen and forgive – and forgive again. Here, Jesus tells me, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). And you are one of them.
I have experienced the personal love of Jesus in our lay colleagues who in their own following of Jesus share our mission and help me understand more deeply the reason why I was called to be a Jesuit. As I have experienced the love of Jesus in the way you embrace your mission, even as it has meant shifting to online education or online formation or humbly accepting a new assignment.
This pandemic, I think, has brought me to a deeper silence, deeper prayer, to richer opportunity to search the Sacred Scriptures in searching for him. That too has been an encounter with Jesus’ personal love, who says, “I have come to bring you life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). Or: “I am the Bread of Life … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn. 6: 34. 56.). I’ve experienced this in the Bread we’ve broken together, in the nourishing homilies we’ve shared together, and in the silence we’ve kept together in a manner that was new and nurturing for me after fifty-five years of Jesuit life. I’ve experienced the personal love of Jesus in this community – as we’ve shared of our personal lives and, on Ogie’s cue, “let our bodies remember…” our pleasures and our pains, our vanity, our excesses, and our shame before a merciful Lord, recalled the witness of heroic Jesuits in the Zamboanga missions and right here in our midst, sought our pearl of great price, and allowed our hearts to be warmed by the Sacred Heart pierced on the Cross because of his personal love for us.