These past months, I have been struggling with the experience—or the act, or the feeling or the virtue—of love or loving.
I remember with vivid clarity two moments that defined my experience of love.
The first happened when I was wrapping up my midlife journey in the early 2000s.
Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, my late spiritual director, synthesized it this way:
“You have now come to a point where you need to make a choice. You need to choose whether to enter the core of your relationship with Christ or stay on the periphery.”
The statement stunned me. I was silent for a few seconds and felt as if I took a pit stop after the most difficult and grueling part of a journey.
All I could do was nod and feel warmth fill my entire body.
Afterward, it was clear I had to enter the core of my relationship with Christ, that meant embracing the Cross and the Resurrection.
The second occurred while I was walking in Central Park. I already quoted part of this in a previous article, a portion of a 1995 homily I delivered as the principal of Ateneo de Manila High School.
I told the congregation about Joe Lynch, a senior in Jesuit High School in Portland, where I did my practicum for my master’s degree.
Star football player
He graduated as one of the valedictorians of his class. Even after he moved to the East Coast—he was in Harvard, and I was in New York, where I was finishing my studies—we would still see each other.
Joe was then a freshman in Harvard, where he was a full scholar of the US Navy, and a dorm scholar as a star football player when he visited New York.
We were walking around the city when he shared his plan to pursue a career either in medicine or law.
After discussing the pros and cons of both possibilities, he paused and said, “Well, I guess, it doesn’t really matter where I’ll end up. I can live on a farm, for all I care, so long as I have a good and happy family.”
We kept walking in the unusual silence we shared while sauntering the busy, noisy streets.
Suddenly he added, “Father, whatever makes me a more loving person…”
Seven years later in July 2002, we met in Seattle, where Joe was finishing med school.
He asked me to meet his fiancée Sarah, now the mother of their four beautiful daughters. It was also the time that I was wrapping up my midlife journey.
We were driving back into the city after a trip to the suburbs, and I was sharing with Joe and Sarah how I was struggling to discern the “how” of what I thought God was asking me to do.
Somehow the “what” and the “why,” my mission in life, already seemed clear to me.
Joe asked what I thought God was calling me to do as a life mission. I said it was to help young people like him and Sarah discover their own mission in life, to guide them in their own journey toward healing and wholeness so they could discover their mission.
In the silence that followed, I suddenly blurted out, “Helping people become more loving persons.”
Years-old memories are all vividly coming back, triggered by the confluence of events these past months.
Then I remember that there are no accidents in God’s plan. In his time—and His is always the best time—He lets everything fall into place.
Somehow, these memories synthesized as I prepared to write this article for Pentecost Sunday.
Like the Resurrection, Pentecost is a season of grace when we remember that our life is all about being sent on a mission, the same mission as Christ’s—to heal a world wounded and broken, to make all things and all persons whole again.
This mission is our way to enter the core of our relationship with Christ, the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.
There were passages in two books I read the past months that jolted me into this realization.
James Hollis’ “The Middle Passage” says when one has been “in the presence of the truly creative, the imaginatively bold, then one cannot feign unconsciousness. One is similarly summoned to largeness of soul, boldness of action.
“Finding and following our passion, that which touches us so deeply that it both hurts and feels right, serves individuation by pulling our potential from the depths…the ego is not in charge; it can only run away or give assent.
“Living passionately is the only way to love life,” Hollis stressed.
From “What I Believe” by Hans Kung: “But where love is only a resolve of the will without a venture of the heart, it lacks genuine human depth, warmth, inwardness, tenderness. Such ‘Christian caritas’ can certainly do good deeds, but hardly radiates love.”
Kung also talked of the distinction “between selfish love, which only seeks its own, and giving love, which seeks what is the other’s good.”
Is this not what we renew each year during the Easter season which we end today with the Feast of the Pentecost?
Each year we renew the passion and inspiration in our life.
Last week, I talked to a couple whose wedding I was about to officiate.
I told them about Hollis’ book, which has a subtitle “From Misery To Meaning” that fairly summarized his work.
We can live life doing good, but the meaning comes only in knowing that we always aim for the greater good. The greater good is doing God’s will, and God’s will is to love—God first with a passion, and others as ourself, with equal passion.
Misery then is the absence of meaning, the lukewarm response to the call to love with passion.
Meaning is all about living a life of mission with passion, in the words of the song, to fill the world with love with great passion.
Christ was sent to love. With this love he healed and made whole our world and us.
He lived this love once and for all on the Cross and in the Resurrection.
It is to this life that we are sent, with the gift of the Holy Spirit.