Pedro Arrupe delivered a stirring and personal address to the celebration hosted by the Eucharistic Youth Movement in September 1979. In the edited text below, Arrupe provides examples of his own experiences of the Eucharist—from witnessing a miracle at Lourdes to witnessing the aftermath of the atomic explosion in Hiroshima. “Our Lord, through contact with Him in the Eucharist,” Arrupe explains, “has entered into the project of my life. He has revealed Himself to me in different and ever new ways and He has transformed my plan of life into his own plan of life, the plan which He made known in the Gospel, for He, the Jesus of the Gospel and the Jesus of the Eucharist are the same Jesus risen from the dead and living.” In speaking to the 1,400 boys and girls gathered before him at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Arrupe hopes that they would also have experiences with the Eucharist that are “are a source of inspiration for your life.” At the time of Arrupe’s remarks, the Eucharistic Youth Movement, under the Apostleship of Prayer, consisted of two groups: “Community 14” (for members aged 14 to 16) and “Witnesses” (for members 17 and older).
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
1. Life’s Prospects for the Young People of Today
Some time ago I was making a long trip on a train when three young fellows of around eighteen entered into my compartment. They were accompanied by a man who was somewhat older, and after a bit I learned that he was the director of physical education at their school.
They were tired, and after some remarks on their winning a soccer game, they dropped off to sleep, one after the other. A couple of hours later they began to speak again and to take down a good number of cokes, orange sodas, etc. Their conversation became lively, and they looked at me with a certain curiosity as if they were asking themselves: Who in the world is this priest? I did not join in their conversation since I had to prepare a conference which I was to give as soon as I reached my destination.
At one point, when their talk seemed to be dying down, the teacher asked: “Now that you have finished school, what do you plan to do?” One of the boys answered without much thought: “I don’t know. I suspect that my father will tell me; I have no thoughts about anything. Who knows? It’s a tough problem. It is better that they tell me what to do. Besides, I don’t care to be bothered.”
The second then broke in: “I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t know whether I should go into business or work in the stock market. I don’t know which of these two pay the better without too much work. What I want is an easy and peaceful life. I don’t care for much more.”
The third seemed to be a bit ashamed. He said nothing, and it looked as if he wanted to avoid giving an answer. The two others looked at him with some perplexity, and after a few seconds the teacher asked him: “And you, Frank, what are you going to do?” “To tell the truth, I’m not sure myself. I have been thinking about going for some years to some spot in the Third World to see its greatest need. I could then be a help to many who are suffering in it.”
The eyes of the other two started to pop out as if to ask: “Frank, are you crazy?” The teacher then queried him: “How did you get that idea?” “I don’t know,” Frank replied a bit embarrassed, “but the idea has been floating around in my head for some months. Do you think it a crazy idea?” “No, not crazy, just a bit strange. Still, Frank, I really admire you.”
At this I was no longer able to keep quiet. In a low voice I said what I was thinking: “It’s great, Frank. Follow that tugging of your heart since it must be a heart of gold.” My four traveling companions looked at me and then began to speak about soccer.
I also gave up the theme, but I began to think how these three young fellows clearly manifested different attitudes shared by youths today:
There are those who are not much on thinking. They let themselves be carried along by circumstances. They don’t want to be bothered. And why? You live very well if you have no worries.
There are those who have no other ambition than to make money, and this with the least effort possible. They are self-centered at heart: “I go my way; and others can think what they want.” They believe that they can find their happiness in money. They let themselves be carried off by appearances, by what they see in ads, by the fascination of the world of entertainment.
But there are also those of noble heart who are moved by a desire to be of help to others, to console those who are afflicted, to be of service to others even at the cost of personal sacrifices.
2. My encounter with Christ
Dear members of the Youths’ Eucharistic Movement, you have invited me to share in this festival of yours; and I would like to speak with each one of you about the plans which you are cherishing in your hearts for your future life. Are you waiting for someone to tell you what you should do? Do you want to make money most of all in order to be happy? Do you feel a longing to serve your brothers? There is perhaps no one of you that has ideas that are firmly fixed, but certainly you are more or less inclined to one of these three general tendencies.
To you, to your questions, and to your expectations, I am today telling you in all simplicity what I have myself experienced in meeting Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago in Rome a group of pilgrims, boys and girls, came to pay me a visit after the Wednesday audience of the pope. At one point, one of the younger of the group asked me point blank: “Why did you become a Jesuit?” — “Because I believed that it was my vocation.” — “And why did you believe it was your vocation?” — “Because I felt that God was calling me.” — “And why was He calling you?” — “Well, the Lord wished to have another who would consecrate himself completely to Him, and He chose me” — “What did you think?” — “I thought that it would cost me much to abandon my career as a doctor, but that by becoming a Jesuit I could labor even more for others. I would be able to cure not only bodies, but also souls.”
Another boy broke in: “Father, I have heard that different Jesuits have been killed It must be a rather risky vocation.” — “You are right. Six Jesuits have been killed in Rhodesia, four in Lebanon, one in Chad, two in Latin America.” — “Why don’t you defend yourselves? Why don’t you use weapons?” — “There’s not even a thought of that. We want to be of service to all without discrimination. We live to serve. If we are killed for our service, it is a great honor for us!” — “But if you are hated and you let yourselves be killed, you have to have a lot of courage. I don’t get it.” — “Right you are, but the Lord gives one strength since it is done for Him, and it is He who gives us strength.” — “So,” the boy exclaimed in amazement, and his face showed that he had failed to understand; and the same expression could be seen on the faces of the rest, who were listening in silence.
I then tried to explain myself: “Look at it this way. We Jesuits became such and continue to be such simply out of our enthusiasm for Jesus Christ and from our desire to work for Him and for others. Jesus Christ is most faithful. He does not abandon those who are dedicated to His service. Jesus Christ lived two thousand years ago, but he still lives today in the Eucharist and in the depths of our hearts.
One of those present suddenly exclaimed: “What? I’m getting less now than I did before!” The rest began to laugh.
I believe that this conversation, simple and straight-forward as it was, revealed a whole series of feelings, questions, and attitudes that are prevalent among young people today. And I am certain that you who have already become familiar with Jesus Christ will understand me better than the boy who said: “What? I’m getting less now than I did before!” I am certain that you will understand me.
3. One Same Jesus: the Jesus of the Gospel and the Jesus of the Eucharist
It is a fact that Jesus Christ, especially in the Eucharist, is a source of energy for all: for us Jesuits, for you young people, for all, since Jesus Christ is present and lives for us in the Eucharist. He becomes our Friend, our Ideal, our Model, our Strength, our Way. You should know Jesus Christ. The more you know Him, the more you will love Him, since He is in addition to being God—nothing less—He is also a perfect man, one who is both simple and congenial.
During the course of history there have been, and even today there are, many leaders, many individuals who represent different ideologies and who seek to attract us and to convince us that it is worth the effort to follow them and to dedicate ourselves to their cause, but there is no one who can be compared in this regard with Jesus Christ, even from a distance. Those who dealt with him said: “No one has ever spoken as this man.” “You have the words of eternal life.” “Let us follow him and stay with him.” “For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look at everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ.”
What can we do to gain an ever better knowledge of Jesus Christ? It is really very simple. In the Gospels we have a true picture of the historical Jesus, of the Jesus as he lived in Palestine. And in the Eucharist we have Jesus Christ living today in the midst of us. In neither case can we see him with our eyes, but the Gospel narrative is the word of God which gives vitality to what is said. When we read the Gospels we realize that the person of Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago, is still alive; and we feel Him very close to us. It is as though Jesus of Nazareth continues to live now as He did then. And on the other hand, the Eucharist is the same Body and Blood of the risen Christ. He is alive and present though hidden under the sacramental species. He lets himself be perceived. He speaks to us. He inspires and strengthens us.
Saint Teresa arrived at such a living faith in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that she used to say: “If they told me that Jesus was in the house next to mine, I would not go to see Him since I already have Him with me in the tabernacle and He visits me daily in Holy Communion. I do not have greater faith in the eyes of my face than in those of my faith. The eyes of the body can be deceived, but not those of faith.”
By bringing together the two figures, that of the Gospel and that of the Eucharist, we shall obtain the precise image of what Jesus was and is today. Do you really wish to know Jesus Christ, to be transformed by Him? Read the Gospel before the tabernacle, receive Him in Holy Communion, ask Him with His disciples: “Lord, teach us! Lord, we do not understand what you are saying. Explain it to us!”
There is no doubt that in this way each one of us can obtain a true concept of Jesus, even though He is endowed with an infinite richness which no one can completely comprehend, assimilate, or imitate. Each one of us understands or imitates some aspects of the figure of our Lord. All the saints have sought to imitate Jesus and they are all different from each other; St. Paul is different from St. Peter, and both of these from St. John. St. Francis of Assisi is different from St. Dominic, and both of these from St. Ignatius, and all three from St. John Bosco.
Nevertheless we should all seek to make for ourselves an image of Jesus Christ and to grasp as surely as we can His personality. The path which we follow in our lives should be one that brings us ever closer and ever more dedicated to Him, the Jesus of the Gospel and the Jesus of the Eucharist, who is the same and only Jesus, the Jesus who has risen and is alive, who loves us and seeks us as He does the whole of mankind.
To explain what I want to say, I shall relate some of my own experiences which were connected with the Eucharist and in which I recognize the hand of the Lord who led me and still leads me in my way of life. But I am sure that you also can reflect on your own experience up till now and on the way in which the Lord is guiding you on the path of your life.
4. Jesus, the Worker of Miracles, the Healer of the Ill, is Calling Me and Is Sending Me on a Mission
The first of my Eucharist experiences was closely connected with my vocation as a Jesuit, the same vocation about which those boys asked me as I observed earlier. The experience was that of a miracle which I saw at Lourdes during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament on the esplanade that lies in front of the basilica. Some weeks after the death of my father I had gone to Lourdes with my family, since we wished to spend the summer in quiet, peaceful, and spiritual surroundings. It was the middle of August. I stayed at Lourdes for a whole month; and since I was a medical student, I was able to obtain a special permission to study closely the sick who came seeking a cure.
One day I was in the esplanade with my sisters a little before the procession of the Blessed Sacrament. A cart pushed by a woman of middle age passed in front of us. One of my sisters exclaimed: “Look at that poor boy in the cart.” It was a young man of around twenty, all twisted and contorted by polio. His mother was reciting the rosary in a loud voice a from time to time she would say with a sigh: “Maria Santissima, help us.” It was a truly moving sight, and I remembered the plea which the sick turned towards Jesus: “Lord, cleanse me from this leprosy!” She hastened to take her place in the row which the bishop was to pass carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance.
The moment came when the bishop was to bless the young man with the Host. He looked at the monstrance the same faith with which the paralytic mentioned in the Gospel must have looked at Jesus. After the bishop had made the sign of the cross with the Blessed Sacrament, the young man rose cured from the cart, as the crowd filled with joy cried out: “Miracle! Miracle!”
Thanks to the special permission which I had, I was later able to assist at the medical examinations. The Lord had truly cured him. There is no need to tell you of what I felt and my state of mind at that moment. I had come from the Faculty of Medicine in Madrid, where I had had so many professors (some truly renowned) and so many companions who had no faith and who always ridiculed miracles. But I had been an eyewitness of a true miracle worked by Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, by that same Jesus Christ who had during the course of His life cured so many who were ill and paralytic. I was filled with an immense joy. I seemed to be standing by the side of Jesus; and as I sensed His almighty power, the world that stood around me began to appear extremely small. I returned to Madrid. My books fell from my hands. The lessons, the experiments which had so thrilled me before now seemed so very empty. My comrades asked me: “What’s happening to you this year? You are like one who has been stunned!” Yes, I was like one stunned by that impression which every day grew more disconcerting. The one thing that remained fixed in my mind and in my heart was the image of the Host as it was raised in benediction and of the paralyzed boy who had leapt from his cart. Three months later I entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus of Loyola.
The teaching of our Lord was the same as that of the Gospel. Through his miracles and His teaching He awakened in me a faith and love for Him so that He could finally say: “Leave everything and follow me!” The Lord of the monstrance was the same Lord as that of the Gospel. His powers were the same, and His wishes were as they had then been: “May the workers, who are few, become more numerous since the harvest is great.”
Once this voice is heard today as it was twenty centuries ago, it cannot be forgotten. One is of course free to follow it or not, but one with judgment or reason, as St. Ignatius of Loyola says, will end with following it. There is no doubt that the force which goes forth from Jesus in the Eucharist, and which went forth on that unforgettable afternoon at Lourdes, is the same that went forth from Jesus in Gospel times. That experience at Lourdes was a repetition of what the contemporaries of Jesus saw when the crowds surrounded him and he cured all. Certainly it is a question of the same Jesus, now hidden under the sacramental species, but with the same love and the same power. These are experiences which leave an indelible trace and bring it about that we also can say with the apostle: “That which we have seen and heard and touched of the Word of life, that is what we preach to you.”
Our vocation as Jesuits is essentially missionary. It is thus normal that a Jesuit should go to one of those countries known as a mission country. From the time that I became a Jesuit in 1927 until 1937, when I was destined to Japan, I had continuously asked to be sent there since it seemed to me that it was the place for me. This conviction had its origins in a deep feeling within me, but the Lord had confirmed it in circumstances connected with the Eucharist. Once when I had just finished serving Mass for our rector in the novitiate, his name was Cesareo Ibero, I told him that I had received a negative answer from the General of the Society of Jesus to my request to be sent to Japan. The rector, who was descending from the altar where he had finished celebrating Mass, told me: “You will go to Japan.” At that moment I felt as if the Lord who had been offered upon the altar had said through the lips of my rector: “Your vocation is to go to Japan, millions of souls are waiting there for you. That is the field of your apostolate.” It was Jesus who told me from that hour what would be officially decided ten years later. It was the same Jesus who called His disciples from among others so that He might personally send each one of them on his own way.
I also remember that in October, 1938, when I was sailing from Seattle to Yokohama, that as I was celebrating Mass alone in the cabin of the ship, I recalled that incident when the rector of Loyola spoke to me when I was still a young Jesuit student. At that moment, when I was now a priest, I held in my hands, in the Host which I had myself consecrated, Him who had destined me for that same country in which another great Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier, had begun to preach the Gospel four hundred years before. There in my hands was that Savior who had said to his apostles: “Go and preach to all men; I shall be with you till the end of time.” On the ship, I experienced great joy and was inspired with the thought of the work which I was about to begin in Japan. It seemed to me that Jesus Himself, whom I held each day in my hands, was teaching me as He had taught the crowds from the prow of the ship on the lake of Tiberias. It seemed to me that it was that same wisdom which had then spoken in parables that had spoken also to me but in a manner which I could not fully understand as yet: It was that “for the moment you cannot understand,” as Jesus told His disciples. There were in fact things that would have then been too hard and difficult for me, but He who was speaking to me was the same Master who had said: “I will give you rest.”
5. The Body and Blood of Jesus for the World
The mission which the Lord entrusts to us, though it has its origins in a personal encounter with Him, is always open to others, to the entire world, since the Lord has shed His blood “for the multitude,” that is for all men. Every Mass is a Mass for the world and in the world. I remember the Mass which I celebrated at the top of the famous Mount Fujiyama, at a height of more than 11,000 feet. I had climbed it with one of my religious brothers. At that time it was made almost entirely on foot. One could only go on horseback to a height of about 3,300 feet. It was necessary to reach the summit by four in the morning to be able to see the marvelous panorama since by six the peak was covered with clouds and could no longer be seen.
We arrived on time and celebrated Mass in the most complete solitude. It was shortly after I arrived in Japan. I was living through the first impressions of a new environment and my mind was bubbling with a great number of projects for the conversion of the whole of Japan. We had climbed Fujiyama so that we might be able to offer to the Eternal Father the Sacrifice of the Immaculate Lamb for the salvation of all Japan at the highest point in all that country. The climb had been most tiring since we had to hasten in order to arrive on time. Several times we thought of Abraham and Isaac as they climbed a mountain to offer their sacrifice. Once we had reached the top, the sight of the rising sun was stupendous. It raised our spirits and disposed them for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. Till then I had never celebrated Mass in such conditions. Above us the blue sky expanded like the cupola of an immense temple—brilliant and majestic. Before us were all the people of Japan, at that time some eighty million who did not know God. My mind ranged out beyond the lofty vaulting of the sky to the throne of the divine Majesty, the seat of the Blessed Trinity. I seemed to see the holy city of the heavenly Jerusalem. I seemed to see Jesus Christ and with Him St. Francis Xavier, the first apostle of Japan, whose hair had become white in the course of a few months because of the sufferings he had to endure. I also was being confronted by that same Japan as Xavier had been. The future was entirely unknown. If I had then known how much I would have to suffer, my hands would have trembled as I raised the sacred Host. On that summit so near to heaven it seemed to me that I understood better the mission which God had entrusted to me. I descended from it with a renewed enthusiasm. That Eucharist had made me feel the grandeur of the everlasting God and universal Lord. At the same time I had felt that I was an “assistant,” a sharer in the labor of Jesus Christ in the great redemptive mission entrusted to Him by His Father. I could repeat with more sincerity and conviction the words of Isaiah: “Here I am, send me” or those of St. Francis Xavier: “I am! Behold me.”
Our Lord also, as is told in the Gospel, went up a mountain with His disciples and was transfigured before them. I also experienced the longing to remain there and not to leave so that I might continue to relish those heavenly moments, as St. Peter had when he exclaimed, “It is good for us to be here. If you wish I shall prepare three tabernacles one for you, one for Moses (my companion, Moses Domenzáin, bore this same name), and one for Elias.” That same Jesus who had filled St. Peter with joy and admiration, so much so that he had adored Him “falling with his face to the earth,” had also shown Himself to me in the sublime sight of our Eucharist—the sacred Host, illuminated by the white light of the rising sun seemed to be transfigured before my eyes, and I believed that I heard with St. Peter the voice of the Lord which said to me: “Have no fear.” It was a word most necessary for me as I was descending from those heights to the harsh life that was waiting for me during those years in Japan. How many things can Our Lord teach and make one feel in a single Mass.
From this it is almost natural for me to pass on to another remembrance of the Eucharist, to a Mass celebrated in very different circumstances from those just mentioned. This Mass taught me how Jesus, who suffers and dies for us, can bring about His plan of salvation through the mysterious ways of sorrow and suffering.
The atomic bomb had exploded at 8:10 on August 6, destroying the whole of Hiroshima, reducing it to ashes and killing at one blow eighty thousand people. Our house was one of the few that remained standing, even though it was badly damaged. There were no windows or doors left, all had been torn away by the violent wind caused by the explosion. We turned our house into a hospital and assembled there around two hundred who were injured in order to nurse and assist them. The explosion had occurred on the sixth of August. On the following day, the seventh, at five in the morning before beginning the work of helping the wounded and burying the dead, I celebrated Mass in our house. It is certain that in the most tragic moments we feel nearest to God and the importance of His assistance. Actually, the external surroundings were not much adapted for fostering devotion during the celebration of the Mass. The chapel, half destroyed, was packed full of those who had been injured. They were lying on the floor close to each other and they were obviously suffering from the torments of their pains. I began the Mass as best I could in the midst of that crowd which did not have the least idea of what was taking place upon the altar. They were all pagans and had never seen a Mass. I cannot forget the frightful impression I had when I turned towards them at the “Dominus vobiscum” (Mass was then said with one’s back to the congregation) and saw that sight from the altar. I was unable to move and remained as if I were paralyzed with my arms stretched out as I contemplated that human tragedy: human knowledge, technical advance used for the destruction of the human race. All looked at me with eyes filled with anxiety, with desperation, as though expecting that some consolation would come to them from the altar. It was a frightful scene! Within a few minutes there would descend upon the altar the one of whom John the Baptist had said: “There is one in the midst of you whom you do not know.”
I had never sensed before so greatly the solitude of the pagan ignorance of Jesus Christ. Here was their Savior, the One who had given His life for them, but they “did not know who was in the midst of them.” I was the only one who knew. From my lips there spontaneously went forth a prayer for those who had had the savage cruelty to launch the atomic bomb: “Lord, pardon them, since they do not know what they are doing.” and for those who were lying before me, tortured by their pains: “Lord, grant them faith so that they may see; give them the strength to endure their pains.” When I lifted the Host before those torn and mangled bodies there rose from my heart: “My Lord and my God: have compassion on this flock without a shepherd!” Lord, may they believe in You. Remember that they also must come to know You.
Certainly from that Host and from that altar there poured forth torrents of grace. Six months later, when all, already cured, had left our house (only two persons died), many of them had received baptism, and all had learned that Christian charity can have compassion, can assist, can give a consolation that is above all human comfort, can give a peace that helps one to smile in the midst of pain and to pardon those who had made us suffer so much.
Such Masses as these are moments replete with a sacramental intuition which arrives at understanding what is so difficult or so impossible to understand without faith, that is, the value of suffering, the beauty and sublimity of the sacrifice of charity.
6. Jesus Friend and Consoler
Another type of Eucharistic experience is that which shows us the value that the Most Blessed Sacrament has for us when we have been in intimate and prolonged contact with Him during our life and we sense the lack of this sacrament when we are not able to receive it. At such a time we appreciate the great role which Jesus, our friend, companion, and consoler has in our life if we have been and are habitually nourished by the Eucharist.
I remember a Japanese girl of around eighteen whom I had baptized three or four years earlier and who had become a fervent Christian. Every day she received Communion at the six-thirty Mass in the morning, which she promptly attended every day.
One day after the explosion of the atomic bomb, I was passing through streets clogged with masses of ruins of every kind. On the spot where her house had formerly stood, I found a kind of hut supported by some poles and covered with pieces of tin. I went up to it. A wall about a foot and half high marked off a place within its interior. I tried to enter but an unbearable stench repelled me. The young Christian, her name was Nakamura, was lying stretched out on a rough table raised a bit above the ground. Her arms and legs were extended and covered with some burned rags. Her four limbs had become along their whole length a single sore from which pus was oozing and falling down upon and penetrating the earth. Her burned flesh seemed to be little else but bones and wounds. She had been in this state for fifteen days without being able to take care of herself or clean herself, and she had only eaten a little rice which her father, who was also seriously injured, gave her. Her back was already one gangrenous mass since she had not been able to change her position. When I sought to clean her burns, I found that the muscles were rotten and transformed into pus that left a hollow into which my hand entered and at the bottom of which was a mass of worms.
Appalled by such a terrible sight, I remained without speaking. After a little, Nakamura opened her eyes and when she saw me near, and smiling at her, she looked at me with two tears in her eyes and sought to give me her hand which was only a purulent stump and she said to me with a tone that I shall never forget: “Father, have you brought me Communion?” What a Communion that was, so different from that which I had given her each day for so many years! Forgetting all her sufferings, all her desires for physical relief, Nakamura asked me for what she had continued to desire for two weeks, from the day on which the atomic bomb had exploded. She asked for the Eucharist, for Jesus Christ, her great consoler, to whom she had months earlier offered her body and soul to work for the poor as a religious. I would have given anything to have been able to hear her speak of that experience of her lack of the Eucharist and of her joy at receiving it after so much suffering. Never before had I experienced such a request, from one who had been so cruelly reduced to a “wound and ulcer,” nor such a Viaticum received with such an intense desire. Nakamura San died soon after, but she had been able to receive and embrace Jesus whom she had loved so much and who was anxiously waiting to receive her forever in His home in heaven.
The absence of Jesus is something like that which Martha felt when after the death of Lazarus she said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It was precisely then that Jesus performed one of the greatest miracles of His public life. Like Martha, Nakamura also was able to feel that Jesus, though absent exteriorly, had not abandoned her and that He would come to meet her again to take her to Himself and make her completely happy for all eternity.
I have frequently thought of that scene of Nakamura San. How much it taught me! The value of the Eucharist for souls who have truly experienced it, the desire to receive it that causes one to forget every other kind of suffering and need, the joy of receiving it, all the greater the longer that one has been deprived of it, the strength that Christ gives us under the sacramental species, communicating to us His love and His incomparable joy.
A religious who, because of her work with the poorest people of Peru, could only assist at Mass every six weeks, since she had to remain far from a place of worship, told me: “It is just in this situation that I feel more what the Eucharist means for me.” If we must leave our Lord to serve the souls of others, He makes Himself felt more deeply even in His physical absence since He is always living in the depth of our soul.
I myself personally experienced this deep sense of pain for the lack of the Eucharist during the thirty-three days that I was imprisoned in Japan, but there was also at the same time a feeling of the faithful and consoling presence of Our Lord. The enemies of Christianity had made a thousand accusations against me. They were angry, since they saw that while they were trying to put obstacles in the way to conversions, a good number of young people were turning to the Church and were receiving baptism. The war broke out in Japan on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1941, with the attack of Pearl Harbor. The military police immediately put me in jail, in a cell with an area of four square meters. I did not know why they had put me there, and I was not told why for a long time, and only at the end of my confinement.
I passed the days and nights in the cold of December entirely alone and without a bed, or table, or anything else but a mat on which to sleep. I was tormented by my uncertainty on why I had been imprisoned. This provoked a kind of self-torture because of the presumptions, suspicions, and fears that I had done something that could have been a source of harm to others. But I was above all tortured by not being able to say Mass, at not being able to receive the Eucharist. What loneliness there was! I then appreciated what the Eucharist means to a priest, to a Jesuit, for whom the Mass and the tabernacle are the very center of his life. I saw myself dirty, unshaven, famished, and chilled to the bone without being able to talk with anyone. But I felt even more anguish for my Christians who were perhaps suffering because of me. And above all there was no Mass. How much I learned then! I believe that it was the month in which I learned the most in all my life. Alone as I was, I learned the knowledge of silence, of loneliness, of harsh and severe poverty, the interior conversation with “the guest of the soul,” who had never shown Himself to be more “sweet” than then.
During those hours, those days, those weeks of silence and reflection I understood in a more illuminating and consoling way the words of Christ: “Remember what I have told you: a servant is not more important than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
I was interrogated for thirty-six hours in a row. I was asked matters that were very touchy to answer and I was myself astonished by the “wisdom” and the fitness of my replies. It was a proof of the saying of the Gospel: “Do not be concerned about what you must say to defend yourselves. I shall give you the right words and I shall give you such wisdom that all your adversaries will not be able to resist and much less defeat you.”
When my sufferings were becoming more cruel, I experienced a moment of great consolation. It was Christmas night. My mind went back to so many happy Christmases, to the three Masses which I was able to celebrate that night. What remembrances filled my mind! But none of all this was now possible. I was alone, without Mass. Instead of Christmas it seemed more like Good Friday! Just then when my Christmas was being changed into the Passion and that blessed night into a sad Gethsemani, I heard a strange sound near one of the windows. It was the soft murmur of many voices which with muted accents sought to escape detection. I began to listen. If any of you have been in prison waiting for a sentence, you would appreciate the anxiety with which I followed those sounds which were now of themselves becoming an immediate source of suspicion. Such are the fears that one feels within the four walls where one is detained.
Suddenly, above the murmur that was reaching me, there arose a soft, sweet, consoling Christmas carol, one of the songs which I had myself taught to my Christians. I was unable to contain myself. I burst into tears. They were my Christians who, heedless of the danger of being themselves imprisoned, had come to console me, to console their Shimpu Sama (their priest), who was away that Christmas night which hitherto we had always celebrated with such great joy. What a contrast between that thoughtfulness and the injustice of senseless imprisonment!
The song with those accents and inflections which are not taught or learned poured forth from a touching kindness and sincere affection. It lasted for a few minutes, then there was silence again. They had gone and I was left to myself. But our spirits remained united at the altar on which soon after would descend Jesus. I felt that He also descended into my heart, and that night I made the best spiritual Communion of all my life.
From then on the Eucharist became for me something new and different. I sought never to lose it. The moment when one loses something is also the moment in which its worth is best known. And so, my dear young men and women, the Eucharist is a treasure, a great treasure which the Heart of Christ was able to give to mankind.
There is still another incident that has been most instructive in my life and which made me understand more fully the intimacy which we should have with Jesus in the Eucharist and that the simpler one’s manner of prayer is the more profound it becomes.
I was once in Yamaguchi in charge of a group of boys and girls. Among these was a girl of about twenty who without any show went to the chapel and remained on her knees before the tabernacle at times for hours on end. She seemed to be absorbed, as she remained there motionless. I was struck by the fact that though she was a young woman like all the others, very charming and cheerful, she went to the chapel with such persistence, though she was living together with her companions who held her in the highest esteem. One day I met her, or rather, I made it a point to meet her as she was leaving the chapel. We began to speak as usual and our conversation fell upon her constant and long visits to the Blessed Sacrament. She had hardly given me the chance to speak about this when I asked her: “And what do you do in so much time before the tabernacle?” Without hesitation, as if she had already prepared her answer, she told me: “Nothing.” “What? Nothing?” I insisted. “Does it seem possible to you to remain so long without doing anything?”
This sharpening of my request, which wiped out all possibility of doubt, seemed to upset her a little. This time she was a little more slow in answering me. At last she said: “What do I do before the tabernacle? Well, I am there.” Then she was silent again. And we took up again our ordinary conversation.
She seemed to have said nothing, at least nothing particular. But in reality she had not concealed anything and had said everything with a word replete with content. In a single word she had condensed the whole meaning of being present before the Lord: “To be,” as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, was at the feet of the Lord, or as His Mother stood at the foot of the cross. They also were there. Hours of friendship, hours of intimacy, during which nothing is lost and it seems that nothing is said, since that which is given is everything one’s whole being. Unfortunately there are too few who understand the value of this “being” at the feet of the Master in the Eucharist, of this apparent loss of time with Jesus.
Would you like to have some good advice from me? Look upon Jesus as your friend, as your confidant. Learn to go and see Him, to visit Him, to “remain” with Him, and you will see how many things you will learn. It is a wisdom which He alone can give you, the true knowledge which makes men wise, holy, and even happy. All that we need for our life is gradually attained with a pouring forth from heart to heart. “Tell me with whom you associate and I shall tell you who you are.” If you go with Jesus, if you remain with Jesus, you will certainly become yourself another Jesus. Do you not recall that the principles of your association tell you that you should become personal friends of Jesus and that you should speak with him?
7. Jesus has a Special Love for the Poor
Certainly Jesus, the same Jesus of the Gospel and of Eucharist, can say profound and precious things to those who have cultivated for a long time an intimacy with him, but we should not think that he cannot speak to all men, even though they are living in the most difficult conditions and in utter poverty. Rather, it is precisely that Jesus who gave His blood for them, that can find secret and wonderful ways for reaching their hearts.
A few years ago I was visiting a Jesuit province in Latin America. I was invited, with some timidity, to celebrate a Mass in a suburb, in a “favela,” the poorest in the region as they told me. There were around a hundred thousand people living there in the midst of mud since the town had been built along the side of a depression and became almost completely flooded whenever it rained.
I readily accepted since I know from experience that visits to the poor are most instructive: they do much good for the poor, but one also learns much from them.
The Mass was held in a small structure all patched together and open. Since there was no door, cats and dogs came and went without any problem. The Mass began. The songs were accompanied by a guitar which was strummed by one who was not exactly an expert, but the results seemed marvelous to me. The words were as follows: “To love is to give oneself, to forget oneself, by seeking that which can make another happy.” And they continued: “How beautiful it is to live for love, how great it is to have to give. To give joy and happiness, to give oneself, this is love.” “If you love as you love yourself, and give yourself for others, you will see that there is no egoism which you cannot conquer. How beautiful it is to live for love.”
Gradually as the song went on, I felt a knot in my throat and I had to force myself to continue with the Mass. Those people, who seemed to have nothing, were ready to give themselves to share their joy and happiness.
When we arrived at the consecration and I raised the Host in the midst of an absolute silence, I perceived the joy of the Lord who remains with His beloved. As Jesus says: “He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Soon after, when I was distributing Communion and was looking at their faces, dry, hard, and tanned by the sun, I noticed that large tears like pearls were running down many of them. They were meeting Jesus, their only consolation. My hands trembled.
I gave them a brief homily in dialogue. They told me things which are heard with difficulty in lofty discourses. They were very simple things but at once human and sublime. One old woman asked me: “You’re the superior of these priests, aren’t you? Well, ‘Señor,’ thanks a thousand since your Jesuit priests have given us the great treasure which we lacked, and of which we have the greatest need, the holy Mass.” One young man said openly: “Señor padre, you should know that we are very thankful since these priests have taught us to love our enemies. One week ago I had prepared a knife to kill a comrade whom I hated much, but after I heard the priest explain the Gospel, I went and bought an ice cream and gave it to my enemy.”
At the end a big fellow, whose fearful looks could have inspired fear, told me: “Come to my house. I have something to honor you.” I remained uncertain, not knowing whether I should accept or not, but the priest who was accompanying me said: “Go with him, father; the people are very good.” I went to his house which was a half falling shack. He made me sit down on a rickety chair. From where I was seated the sun could be seen as it was setting. The fellow said to me: “Señor, see how beautiful it is!” And we remained silent for some minutes. The sun disappeared. The man added: “I did not know how to thank you for all that you have done for us. I have nothing to give you, but I thought that you would like to see this sunset. It pleased you, didn’t it? Good evening.” He then gave me his hand. As I was leaving I thought: “I have met very few hearts that are so kind.” I was about to leave that street when a small woman very poorly dressed came up. She kissed my hand, looked at me and said with words filled with emotion: “Father, pray for me and for my children. I was at that beautiful Mass which you celebrated. I am running home. But I have nothing to give to my nine children. Pray to the Lord for me: He must help us.” And she disappeared almost running in the direction of her house.
I learned many things with one Mass among the poor. How different from the great receptions of the leaders of this world!
8. The “Eucharist Person,” the “New” Person Modeled upon Jesus Christ
I would be able to continue on telling you of other experiences which I have had, but the time does not permit it. Let us therefore sum up what I have sought to tell you up till now. Our Lord, through contact with Him in the Eucharist, has entered into the project of my life. He has revealed Himself to me in different and ever new ways and He has transformed my plan of life into his own plan of life, the plan which He made known in the Gospel, for He, the Jesus of the Gospel and the Jesus of the Eucharist are the same Jesus risen from the dead and living.
He, the worker of miracles, the almighty Healer of the sick, met me on the esplanade of Lourdes in the Host that was blessing the ill. He chose me and sent me personally with an apostolic mission to continue His work, when the rector of Loyola at the end of his Mass confirmed me in my aspiration to ask for the mission in Japan, and when during the Mass on the ship He made me feel that I was near the apostles whom He sent into all the world and to St. Francis Xavier. He, the Anointed-Victim who offers Himself upon the cross to His Father for the salvation of the world, for all the men who do not yet know Him, at one with all those who suffer, offered Himself in my hands on the highest peak in Japan and in the midst of those who had been tortured and wounded by the atomic bomb. And again, He has always shown Himself to me as a most faithful friend. He, the great consoler in suffering fulfilled the hunger and the longing of Nakamura as she was rent with pain. He, the true and sole companion able to remain united with us even in the most absolute solitude never abandoned me in the days when I was in prison. He, the friend who communicates Himself in silence to those who “remain” near him as to that girl in Yamaguchi. He who has a special love for the poor and knows how to fill them with joy and to bless them with great gifts that are hidden to us, as to those Christians of the Mass in the “favela” of Latin America.
We should now reflect on all this and strive to draw some practical results for our own personal lives. I shall limit myself to some brief points. You yourselves will later, during the next days, continue to think upon them.
The central ideal which your movement presents to you is that of “a man of the Eucharist,” that is, of a man who like Jesus carries to the very end the plan of the Father, dedicating himself totally to others, letting his heart be broken for them on a universal level open to all the world, to all men. This man of the Eucharist is the new man, the man who wishes to build a new world with Jesus. In the midst of the present culture with its advances and limitations, you wish in fact to be new, that is to be modern among those who are modern. The problem consists in knowing the criteria of this newness and in remaining constant to it.
If the newness is measured by the style of dress, by the length of hair, by “jeans,” by guitars, by the songs of rock and pop, the use of drugs, by confrontations and by the recourse to violence, I believe that you will certainly not be “the newest” young men and women.
But the true criterion of what is new is that which is described by St. Paul. According to him, to be old men means to be slaves to sin, to have that hardness of spirit of one who has lost his moral sense, who lets his conduct become disordered and delivers himself over to the unbridled practice of every kind of impurity. According to this criterion, many young people who claim to be “modern,” and “new,” are precisely those who are most “old.”
A man who is truly “new” is the one created by God after the model of Jesus Christ “in justice and in holiness,” “renewed (by God) to bring you to perfect knowledge and to make you like to Him who has created you” “with sentiments of mercy, kindness, humility, patience, and sweetness, supporting one another, pardoning one another … And above all may you have love, which is the bond of perfection.” This perfection in charity brings a great joy, the serenity which is the fruit of the Spirit. Because of this you of “Community 14” and “Witnesses,” should always be the most cheerful of those who are young, with the joy and the smile most solid and profound, that joy which, as St. John says, no one can take from you.
The criteria for recognizing men who are “new,” are those which were spoken of the first and true “new” man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the man-God. He is that charming friend who spoke in such a way that one who heard Him exclaimed: “No one has spoken as this man,” “He did everything well,” “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” “Let us also go with him to die.” He is that friend who has so given Himself for us that He offered His life in the terrible tortures of the cross, but who, having risen, lives forever, not only at the right hand of the Father in heaven, but also much closer to us in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist gives some very precious characteristics to Christ’s complete giving of Himself. They are a source of inspiration for your life as “Community 14” and “Witnesses,” and they renew you each day, making you ever more “new” and ever more “men of the Eucharist.” Jesus Christ becomes our food in the Eucharist, a new food, so that He may be united in the most intimate measure possible with us and to give us new strength to plan and build a new world. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, hidden under the sacramental species, remains near us in the tabernacle as a faithful friend to encourage us and to teach us to be “new” as he was.
Strive to become intimate with and to obtain a knowledge of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. May He be the force which moves you along the path of the new world. Christians should not only be new for themselves but also witnesses, leaders, precursors of the truest modernity, heralds of Christ, always new and always modern.
All this that I wish to say to you can be summed up in your being friends of Christ, but true friends. He has chosen us as His friends; “You are my friends.” Now we are those who must choose Him as our friend, but as a true friend, as our best friend. And to be converted to Him, to be more closely united with him, to be identified with Him, to continue His life in ours, there is no more direct route than that which passes through the Eucharist.
Lord, You have before You this group of young men and women who have heard Your invitation: “If you Wish to be perfect, sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, then, come and follow me.” They long to be faithful to You, to follow You wherever you go and to give their lives for You. They are so filled with enthusiasm for You that they say, as Ittai said to king David: “By Yahweh and your life, my lord king, where my lord king is, living or dead, there also will your servant be.”
True “men of the Eucharist,” who are engaged in building a new world, are those who follow their Lord wherever he goes and who, to follow him, are nourished by his Body and Blood, and are thus transformed into “other Christs.” From here, from Assisi, You should leave with a heart on fire, on fire with the love of Christ, who is the only one who can transform the egoism of the heart of stone of the old man in the man of today.
Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “The Eucharist and Youth,” pg. 283–307.