A Feast of Sorrow or Joy?, Pedro Arrupe (1975)

Pedro Arrupe delivered the following homily on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in June 1975. Months before, Pope Paul VI published an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete in Domino (Christian Joy). Here, Arrupe responds to false devotion to the Sacred Heart. He asks if the feast day was one of sorrow and sadness or one of joy and happiness. He observes that only through the love of the Sacred Heart can one “grasp the mystery of redemption, just as only in this infinite love of God can we find the key to the paschal mystery.” Therefore, Arrupe finds joy in the feast—the joy of being, of divine election, of possessing faith, of being God’s instrument.

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Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart. This is a feast that has a note of sorrow, of sadness, with the cross on the background. The side of Christ crucified appears wounded by a spear; from his pierced heart gushes blood and water. The symbol of the cross is surmounted with a crown of thorns. There is the invitation to make reparation for sins and the infidelity of men to Christ’s infinite love.


All this gives to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus a touch of guilt, of pain and suffering. However, in its deeper significance, this is a celebration of love, and love stands for joy and gladness and happiness.



1.     A Feast Joyful and Sorrowful

Someone will say: Right, but in the case of Jesus love supposes the cross. Yet, the flames that rise from the Heart of Jesus are flames of love, and of an infinite love. And on this love rests the true meaning of the feast of the Heart of Jesus. Only in this love is it possible to grasp the mystery of redemption, just as only in this infinite love of God can we find the key to the paschal mystery. This mystery supposes the cross, but contains also the resurrection and the final glorification. Thus as Pope Paul VI put it in one of his exhortations, “The Easter proclamation ‘Exultet’ sings of a mystery accomplished far beyond the expectations of the prophets of old. In the joyful announcement of Christ’s Resurrection the very weakness of man is transformed, while the fullness of exultation bursts forth from the victory of the crucified Christ, from his wounded Heart, from his glorified body.”


We too, in reconciling this antinomy of cross and resurrection, of passion and glory, which is the mystery of Christ, must try to penetrate into the depths of his person. In him we discover an ineffable joy, a joy which is his own secret, something all his own. Jesus is happy because he knows that his Father loves him. The voice coming down from heaven at the moment of his baptism at the Jordan—“Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased”—is only an external expression of the profound and continuing internal experience which Jesus had of his Father from the moment of his conception: “The Father knows me and I know the Father.” This mutual knowledge takes place in a complete and incessant interchange of the trinitarian love: “all mine are thine, and thine are mine.” In this communication of love, which is the very existence of the Son and the secret of his trinitarian life, the Father gives himself constantly and unreservedly to the Son, and the Son gives himself with an infinite love to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.


2.     The Joy of Jesus Christ

The profound motive of Christ’s joy will also be the motive of our true joy. This joy rests on our sharing in the divine life through the Spirit present in our innermost being; it rests on our sharing in the love with which the Father loves the Son, to which we are also called: “I made known to them thy name, and I shall make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”


Within the framework of this interior experience we can better understand the true meaning of the beatitude, “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh;” also the meaning of joy in persecution, as expressed in the other beatitude: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven; for so men persecuted the prophets who were sent before you.”


The Heart of Christ is the symbol of the infinite love, the love human and trinitarian, which he gives through the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. A fruit of this Spirit is joy which has the power of transforming everything into a spiritual joy; a joy which no one can take away from the disciples of Jesus once they have come into possession of it.


After trying to understand the joy of Christ, so intimate and profound, we can see how the spiritual gifts of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom, communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, produce as a fruit a joy that embraces our entire being. This makes us feel an intimate happiness already in this world in the midst of all tribulations, as a presage of the perfect happiness, which is to be ours forever, of the kingdom of heaven.



3.     The Cause of Our Joy

This intimate joy, when experienced in all its depth and extent, is manifested in the joy of being. Such is the experience lived in the light of faith in him “in whom we live and move and have our being.” It is the joy of feeling ourselves penetrated by God who gives us life, who dwells in us in the Trinity of persons, who keeps creating us at every moment, thus giving us an irrefutable proof of his infinite love.


This joy is shown also in the joy of having been elected “before the foundation of the world” with a love of predilection, implied in this choice, for a privileged vocation “that we may be holy before him.” It is the consciousness of having been the object of a divine preference: “You did not choose me, but I chose you;” “you are my friends.” It is chiefly the awareness, confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit, that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”



This joy is a sure joy, well grounded on the love of Almighty God. “If God is for us, who is against us?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” knowing, as we do, that even if a woman forget her sucking child, “I shall not forget you.”


This is the joy of one who knows that he possesses the whole deposit of faith, the treasures of God’s knowledge and wisdom, for the sake of which it is worthwhile to sell everything else in order to buy the pearl of great value. This pearl is mine!


This again is the joy of being an instrument in the hands of God. All that is mine is at the same time a work and a gift of God, as a result of his continuous concurrence and help, both in the natural and in the supernatural order. What a joy to be God’s collaborators, his ministers and instruments, even in the highest work of infinite love, which is the salvation of the world!


Finally, there is the Joy of having been created for an eternity of bliss, called to an eschatological vocation, destined for a life which will know no end. There our hearts tend with all the expectancy and nostalgia of one who is going home, where we shall participate “in the rejoicing of the marriage of the Lamb.” Our earthly life, with all its vicissitudes, has an eternal transcendence. We know for certain that our names are written in heaven, that at the end of our days a perfect and everlasting happiness is waiting for us with God, because “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”



4.     In Order to Overcome Our Difficulties

It is no easy matter to understand what this joy is, in the midst “of the great tribulation” of this world. Faith is the only beacon that can guide our way, a living faith that may sharpen our capacity of penetration, and permit us to discern at every moment this transcendent eschatological relation. The only power capable to bend this hard rod of tribulation and suffering is the burning flame of the love of Christ. Hence in the Heart of Christ we have the symbol and the key of this divine alchemy, which transforms suffering into joy, and pain into bliss.


One thing is certain—the true joy of Christ springs from love and the way to reach it is the way of the cross. This is a doctrine difficult to understand. The apostles themselves) in spite of the years they spent in the school of Jesus, came to understand it only little by little. The words with which Jesus upbraided the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we could apply to ourselves: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” But once they grasped this, the apostles were possessed of a joy which was irresistible and highly communicative. Their joy was so great that “they left the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.”



Those who possess a living faith feel in themselves a plenitude of joy, as the first Christians did, who lived a simple life “with glad and generous hearts.” They communicate this joy to others with their words and example, as Philip the deacon did, who in a Samaritan town “proclaimed them the Christ…and there was much joy in that city.” Paul and his companion Silas, who had been cast into prison and had their feet fastened in the stocks, passed the night “praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”



5.     The Mystery of this Feast

This may help us to understand the deep meaning of the mystery of the feast of the Sacred Heart, which is a feast of love and not, as I said, one of pain and sorrow. In fact, this pain and this sorrow, a result of our lack of response to the love of Christ, is transformed, through this love, into real happiness and joy. One can then understand how Paul could describe Christ’s servants “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” and as “overjoyed in the midst of their afflictions.” And to the Colossians he would say, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” inviting them to share his immense joy with him.


These thoughts may help us to take a positive attitude when faced with suffering and the cross and to expand our joy in the measure in which we share in the sufferings and the cross of Christ. “Friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. Rather rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Or, as the apostle James writes to his disciples: “Count it a joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials.” The key to the understanding of this mystery is the point of view which Jesus, our pioneer and perfecter of our faith, took of suffering and the cross: “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross despising the shame.”


Before concluding I would like to quote the words of Pope Paul VI in a recent document: “In the course of this Holy Year of Jubilee, 1975, we have endeavored to follow with all fidelity the promptings of the Holy Spirit, by inviting the faithful to return to the sources of joy.” The world is clamoring for joy; there is so much suffering everywhere, so much anguish, so much insecurity. The spring of joy is to be found in the Heart of Christ, symbol of the infinite love of God, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” This love is the fountain of our happiness, the secret that will transform all into joy, the true joy that than can fill man’s heart.


Those who possess this love in all its depth and transforming power will feel it as a “living flame of love,” as “a soft hand,” as “a delicate touch” that “savors of eternal life” and “in slaying thou hast changed death into life.” Here lies the secret of human happiness, hidden to the wise and understanding, and discovered only by the simple and little ones.


My wish and prayer to the Lord is that the feast of the Sacred Heart of this Holy Year may teach us to sing in our hearts, in fullness of joy, the song of joy which is never to end. Suffering and the cross will one day be a thing of the past, but the joy of the heavenly “Alleluia” which the blessed sing already in heaven, will never come to an end.




Original Source (English translation):

Arrupe, Pedro. In Him Alone Is Our Hope: Texts on the Heart of Christ (1965–1983): Selected Letters and Addresses—IV, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1984, “A Feast of Sorrow of Joy?,” pg. 125–131.

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