French Jesuit Jean-Claude Dietsch interviewed Pedro Arrupe in 1981, before Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke, and their conversation was published the following year. The following is a selection of that interview as published by Jesuit Sources. Here Arrupe speaks to the beginnings of his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He notes how, during his generalate, he has remained convinced that “what is called ‘devotion to the Heart of Jesus’ contains a symbolic expression of the Ignatian spirit, and an extraordinarily efficacious means to personal perfection and apostolic fruitfulness.” He knows then what he knew during his times as a missionary in Japan decades earlier, that consecrating homes to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was “one of the best ways available to get closer to God, the common Father of us all.”
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Question: Now after these reminiscences so rich and significant, my question is: For you who is Jesus Christ?
Arrupe: This very question was put to me suddenly in an interview I gave to the Italian Television five years ago. The question took me then by surprise and my answer was totally spontaneous: “For me Jesus Christ is everything.” And today I give you the same answer, with greater force and clarity: For me Jesus Christ is ALL. This is how I can best define what Jesus Christ represents in my life: ALL.
From the day I joined the Society Christ has been and continues to be my ideal, he has been and still is my strength. There is no need to explain at length what this means: take Jesus Christ out of my life, and this will collapse as a body deprived of a skeleton, without head and heart.
Question: Do you think that you had already some elements of this ideal before you entered the Society?
Arrupe: No doubt about it, though this ideal was still in an embryonic state. Through the Eucharist—and especially through the devotion to the Sacred Hear—my father and my mother nurtured the seed which would later germinate in the Society. Or, if you prefer: what Christ himself planted in me through my parents, he cultivated later thanks to the Society.
Question: The figure of Jesus Christ is a very complex one. Which are the aspects that have made the greatest impact on you?
Arrupe: Certainly, the figure of Jesus Christ is, in a sense, a very complex one. But, in fact, it is very simple. The fact that Jesus Christ appears both as a weak and helpless child, and as an all-powerful person, that he appears full of affection and fondling little children, and stern in his diatribes against the Pharisees…all this proceeds from one and the same source and is reduced to one single motive, that is love. Here is where the figure of Christ acquires perfect unity and its greatest splendor. What for me, as a novice, was a simple intuition has been enriched from day to day and has borne abundant fruit. It is the Heart of Jesus, as a symbol of this love, that has sustained me powerfully through life and offered me the key to understand the Lord’s person without difficulty.
Thus this love gives life and meaning to everything else; Jesus Christ is for me a friend, especially in the Eucharist. The Mass and prayer before the tabernacle feed my thoughts and actions. This will make you understand why I am astonished at the ideas of some who keep away from the Mass and the tabernacle…and who would justify their attitude with their theological stance. How would I like to see St. Ignatius listening to such ideas! Those who do not understand what the Mass is in itself are the losers indeed. They do not know what the Mass meant for St. Ignatius and so many other Jesuits—great theologians or simple brothers—who penetrated to the depths of these treasures with their sacramental intuitions.
Stress is always to be laid on this fundamental truth: Jesus Christ is the Word incarnate. He is the way to the Father, and for us Jesuits he is the answer to Ignatius’ prayer to Mary in the chapel of La Storta near Rome: “that she place me with her Son.” Such is also the Society’s incessant prayer: “that Mary place us with her Son.”
Question: I find that the Heart of Jesus, who has so constantly held such a fundamental position in your life, appears only occasionally in the many letters, talks and conferences of your generalate.
Arrupe: You are quite right. Since the days of my novitiate, I have remained always convinced that what is called “devotion to the Heart of Jesus” contains a symbolic expression of the Ignatian spirit, and an extraordinarily efficacious means to personal perfection and apostolic fruitfulness. This conviction remains in me to this day.
It may thus appear somewhat strange that, as general, I have spoken on comparatively few occasions about this subject. The reason for it may be called pastoral, especially in what regards the Society. In view of the emotional reactions and the allergies which have been made manifest in the past several years regarding the very name “Sacred Heart”—a phenomenon which, at least in part, has its origin in certain exaggerations and manifestations of affectivity—I thought it necessary to let some time pass until this emotional charge, understandable but hardly rational, should spend itself.
I have always had, and still have, the certitude that a spirituality of so great a value, which makes use of a symbol so human and universal—the heart—which is considered a “source word” in the language (Ur wort), will not take long to trail a new path again. Gradually the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will be valued once more for what it is. But there need not be imposition or repeated insistence. This would only exacerbate the spirits or re-awaken the reactions of rejection in the fifties.
It might seem that this kind of symbols and expressions of our faith is suited only to the common people, or are proper of a popular religiosity little instructed or even ignorant. Yet the words of Jesus point precisely to the contrary: “I thank you, Father, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.”
If we wish to identify ourselves with the little ones, the simple and the poor, isn’t this an excellent way of becoming like them by adopting their attitudes before the Lord? “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
These words of our Lord could thus be paraphrased for us: “If you wish, as persons and as Society, to enter into the treasures of the Kingdom and to help in building it up with extraordinary efficacy, do as the poor do, whom you try to serve. You often repeat that the poor have taught you more than you have learned from books. Then learn from them this practical lesson: love Jesus Christ, entering through the door of a simple love of his Heart.”
When I was in Japan I never hesitated to consecrate, at the request of many families, their modest homes to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I knew well, as they knew, that this is one of the best ways available to get closer to God, the common Father of us all.
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, “Jesus Christ is ALL,” pg. 95–98.