Mystery of the Merciful Love, Pedro Arrupe (1979)

Pedro Arrupe delivered the following homily, in Rome, in 1979. The remarks foreshadow much of what Pope John Paul II articulated the following year in his encyclical “Dives in misericorida,” which examined God’s mercy and man’s need for mercy. For Arrupe, the heart “is the abode of the Trinity,” and the Sacred Heart of Jesus serves as the supreme revelation of the mystery of God and of man. It is in proximity and communication with the Sacred Heart that man can “understand the greatness and holiness of God, our own dignity of being children of God in the deepest meaning of the human person.”

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



1.     Meaning of the word “Heart”

In human language there are words considered to be fundamental, original, “source words,” in contrast to other words known as “technical” or “useful.” The former contain an enormous evocative power. They are like sea shells that collect in their innermost coils all the distant murmurs of the oceans. The other type of words are coined by man for practical and utilitarian purposes. The source words come down the ages loaded with a weight of deep persuasive connotation, evoke deep and varied ideas and sentiments, and in many cases have different meanings depending on the personal experiences of the speaker or the listener. The “technical” words are plain, concrete, applied to ideas or objects of our daily life and do not transcend tangible realities.


The word “heart” is one of those source words, fundamental, original, than go to the root of things.


“Heart” is one of these complex concepts, whether studied in biblical theology, in the popular language, or in daily life. It may be said that it expresses man in his totality and is logically anterior to the philosophical distinction between the biological body and the incorporeal spirit. “Heart” is a real symbol used to express the most original center of the psychological unity of the person, the innermost core of every human being, in which the openness to God and to other men is essentially realized.


The heart is, we might say, the consciousness of the birth of all human decisions. It is the “I’” of man, his inner self, his hidden personality, in contrast to the external appearance of man. The heart is God’s point of insertion into mean; here is where the natural law is imprinted and the Holy Spirit infused; this is the abode of the Trinity. This is the intimate point of contact “toto ictu cordis” of the actasis of St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica at Ostia. For a Christian the heart represents the fountain of all his personal life, where thought, love and sentiments converge into one: Cor meum, says St. Augustine, ubi sum, quicumque sum: “My heart, where I am, whatever I am.”



2.     Meaning of the word “Heart”The Heart of Christ reveals the Mystery of God

The Heart of Christ has for us a still deeper meaning. The faith experience makes it for us the infinite love of the Redeemer for the Father and for us men.


Thus the “Heart of Christ” is the indicator, so to say, pointing to us where we shall find the most profound depths of our faith. It is like a large door that opens wide to admit us to a better understanding of the depths of the one and triune God and his activity “ad extra” in the gift of himself. As we draw near to this divine love, symbolized by the Heart of Jesus, we shall find the most efficacious inspiration: for our life of children of God and the deepest insight into so many fundamental human aspirations.


The Heart of Jesus is an open door to the secret recesses of God Having the only-begotten Son of God as a guide we can approach, with the profoundest awe, the “Holy, Almighty, Immortal God,” who has deigned “to reveal to us his mystery, which was kept secret from long ages but is  now disclosed.”


Though St. John of the Cross rightly says that “the closer the soul approaches God, the blacker is the obscurity she feels through its weakness, yet in this very obscurity a light emerges that allows us in a wonderful manner, to penetrate into its depth. This is a “light-giving obscurity” that teaches us “with a knowledge, without knowing, transcending all knowledge.”


This mystery of love is the mystery of the life of the Blessed Trinity which is a life of communion and communication. As St. Ignatius tells us, love consists in sharing what one possesses and is (Sp Ex 231).


This exchange is something essential in the Trinity. The Father begets the Son communicating with him from all eternity the plenitude of his divine being; and the Son responds, also from all eternity, giving himself totally to the Father in an impulse of love. The mystery of divine love is precisely in this, that the three persons, being infinitely perfect in themselves, communicate themselves fully giving their own being. This communication of love between the Father and the Son is so rich, so close and profound, and of such high quality (divine quality!) that it is also a person, the Holy Spirit. Each one of the three persons does not exist in itself and does not belong to itself, except in so far as it is referred and gives itself fully to the other two at the same time. The whole of their being is a pure and complete going out of themselves (“ecstasy”), a total tendency of each toward the others, in the expression of the Greek Fathers.



3.     Meaning of the word “Heart”The Heart of Christ reveals the Mystery of Man

In the light of the mystery of God we can more easily see in what man’s perfection consists. Modern psychology has “rediscovered,” in terms more comprehensible to modern man, what scholastic theology taught long ago. This teaching is that our human body (with its organs and senses) cannot grow and develop, or mature and reach its fullness except through a gradual process of acquisition. We consume food, assimilate concrete data, and acquire particular skills; but our person, our most recondite being, can only attain its plenitude and fulfilment by the opposite process. We develop ourselves, our persons, when we come out of our own selves as soon as we relate to others, and as far as we serve them. Jesus himself said, though this saying was not recorded in any of the Gospels: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” “God loves a cheerful giver.”


The Heart of Christ is an open door that reveals to us, not only the interior life of the Trinity, but also God’s exterior activity in the world. If love is always communicative of itself, the infinite love, which is God, wishes to communicate himself with all that is outside himself. Through creation he pours out his perfection to all created beings in the universe, making them all reflections of his infinite perfection.


In particular he has made man “to his image and likeness,” capable of being, of communicating, of giving himself to others. In this sharing with others God has placed man’s highest fulfilment of all his powers and his greatest happiness.


Further God desires to make man a sharer in the communion of love and life which the essence of his trinitarian being. This is precisely why the Son of God was sent to this world. Jesus Christ accomplishes this redeeming mission by his total self-giving, even to death on the cross. This was his voluntary offering of love and obedience to the Father and the surrender of his life for us, his brothers, thereby communicating to us his divine life, in the measure of which we are capable. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


If we wish to go deeper into this knowledge of the love with which Jesus loves us, let us hear his words: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” What can this mean? “As the Father has loved me.” Jesus himself in the discourse of the last supper says: “That the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them (my disciples) and I in them.” It might look incredible that Jesus loved us with the same love with which he is loved by the Father. Yet, how could it be otherwise, once we share in the divine nature, as St. John tells us: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”


Following the same line of thought Jesus says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Christian love, therefore, is to love with the only love that proceeds from the Father to the Son and “which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Here is a perfect remedy for our egoism: we shall love with the same love which Christ communicates to us and which is a participation of that unique love of the Father to the Son.



4.     Meaning of the word “Heart”History of Love and Mercy

His Holiness Pope John Paul II defines this revelation of love as mercy and says that “in man’s history this revelation of love and mercy has taken a form and a name: that of Jesus Christ.”


Hence derives the compassion towards all men, chiefly toward suffering humanity; hence the understanding of the position of others, with the desire of “being more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false,” as St. Ignatius would tell us (Sp Ex 22).


With this loving mercy “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In other words, God wishes that all men become children of the Father. This imparts a profound meaning and an unshakable foundation to the apostolic zeal that labors in order that the word of God be accepted by all men; here lies the true motive of all evangelization.


The Pope himself has declared this in his encyclical letter: “Man cannot live without love. He would remain a being incomprehensible in himself; his life makes no sense, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This is why Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself.”


It is clear from this that in order to understand man in his innermost being, that is to say, in order to penetrate into man’s heart, that profound and original center of which we have spoken earlier, we must enter through the Heart of that Man-God, the God who made himself man in order that man be truly man and a child of God.


Only by entering through this door, which is the Heart of Christ, shall we be able to understand the greatness and holiness of God, our own dignity of being children of God in the deepest meaning of the human person, the foundation of the equality of all men before God, “in whom there is no partiality,” and who died for all, men and women, without distinction.


We shall thus understand also the eternal value and transcendence of our dedication to others in brotherly love, in which the perfection of the human person consists, and which impels us to collaborate in the Lord’s plan of universal salvation “as fellow workers with God.”


Thus we shall feel that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, while showing us his wounded Heart, tells us: “I am the door; If any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”




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, “Mystery of the Merciful Love,” pg. 141–146.

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