In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, many commentators point out that Ignatius hardly mentions the word “love” until the very end in the contemplatio ad amorem, or the “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love.” The saint’s definition of love is that it is “best expressed in deeds” and “consists in a mutual sharing of goods.”
As we read in this Sunday’s Gospel from John (13: 31-35), we realize that the last verses of this episode are probably some of the most quoted: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In another verse, Christ describes this love, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13)
Both for Ignatius and John, love is the gold standard, so to speak, of life.
I invite you to reflect on the love in your life. How have you expressed your love in deeds? How have you shared yourself, your life and all that you have and are, with others and with God?
“Love is best expressed in deeds” is a solid principle, yet it can also be a smokescreen. It is a specific application of another adage, “action speaks louder than words.”
At the same time, one can hide behind action, deeds, activity to avoid the vulnerability that comes with loving.
In one of our earlier reflections, I shared the story of one of my best friends who gave up his high-paying job when he discovered his company was engaged in something illegal. He struggled with the choice he had to make, but what set him free to choose was remembering why he was working so hard.
He worked hard for his family and if he could not be proud of his job, his career to his children for whom he was doing all that he was doing, then what’s the point of a high-paying job that he cannot even fully disclose to his children?
Choosing the higher ground, thinking of his young kids’ formation and values, he resigned.
This makes us realize that underneath the seemingly “simple” principle of “love best expressed in deeds” is the whole reality of our life that underneath the externals—the deeds in this case—is a whole system of choices and values.
In the 1981 book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury, they posit that it is on the level of values that negotiations and, eventually, agreement or the “yes” takes place—never on the level of the “stand” or the position one takes.
It is no wonder that we often misunderstand each other as we fail to reach what lies “under” the “stand,” which are our values and the choices we make.
When we miss what lies under a stand, the values, friendships, bonds, communities are broken. Without agreement forged by understanding, without shared values, visions, hopes and dreams our bonds and communities cannot be formed.
A sharing of goods
This brings us to the second principle of Ignatius: Love consists in a mutual sharing of goods. This is a summary of all the processes in the Spiritual Exercises. This is a seemingly simple statement, but underneath it is an entire system, a wealth of wisdom.
Note that it is not a one-way sharing; one gives and one receives. These are both material goods and the nonmaterial blessings we were given. In the more figurative or metaphysical sense, it is the sharing of the “goods” of life that binds us a human community.
As the Gospel for today says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the final episode of the movie “Seabiscuit,” one main character brings together all the other main characters of the movie in love and healing.
The movie is based on a true-to-life drama during the era of the great depression in the US. It brings together three people and a horse. Each of the four characters in the film has his own story to tell—jockey Red Pollard (Tobey McGuire), horse owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) and horse Seabiscuit bring the stories of their lives marked by brokenness into this one inspiring story; the horse trainer’s, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), wisdom becomes instrumental to the healing of all three.
This is the story of the human journey from brokenness to healing. It is a story of how caring for each other and faith in one another not only heals people, but combined with a dream and inspiration, becomes a source of greatness.
It is the human journey of discovering that “love is best expressed in deeds” and in the “mutual sharing of goods,” even sharing our brokenness that we may heal together; the Cross, that we may all be reunited in the deeper bond of the Resurrection.
Red Pollard and Seabiscuit were both injured in the story, career-ending injuries as a jockey and champion horse, respectively. But it was their faith in, care for and love for one another that inspired them to heal each other.
The presence of Christ who is love, we still find, as the song goes, “in the most unexpected places.” Always, “we are surprised by grace” and the greatest of all graces is God’s love, expressed in the deed of the Cross and the Resurrection; in the mutual sharing of goods—a life, our life offered in love and service, and God’s life given to us that we may have life to the full.