Talking about love can make people uncomfortable. For many, love is too sentimental, too romantic, too intimate for public discussion. Love might even elicit overly strong feelings and memories, some painful and others glorious. But love, and expressing love, is at the heart of all spiritual, religious, and humanistic traditions, and it carries special significance in the spirituality of the Jesuits and their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. The message that our world needs practical expressions of love now more than ever was delivered by me in a video recording as part of Georgetown’s “Spiritual Continuity” series. I describe expressing “love in action” as a core tenet of the Spiritual Exercises, a lengthy retreat in daily life authored by St. Ignatius that has successfully helped people for the last five centuries to grow in greater interior freedom and more generous service of others. Ignatius ends the Exercises in a “Contemplation to Attain Love” with a profound statement: love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words. This core truth has profound implications for how we should live and gives special insight to our shared responsibility in a time of global pandemic.
For Ignatius, we are each called to love others with the same generosity with which we are loved by God. Despite our failings, limitations, and shortcomings, we are invited to give to others of what we have: our special talents, gifts, callings in life, in the same generous way that God gives to each of us. But this is not some invitation to saccharine, abstract love of romance novels. Instead, Ignatius is inviting us to love others concretely, practically, generously in the context of our relationships. Our relationships and the love that we share in them, both the relationships that give us great joy (you might think of your children, parents, siblings, spouses) and the ones that challenge us (you might think of difficult colleagues, neighbors, friends), are being seriously tested today. On the one hand, this pandemic is revealing many of the weaknesses in us as individuals and in us as a society. On the other hand, a crisis like the one we’re living through invites even greater possibilities for hope, healing, and service. I recall in the video some of the inspiring ways in which I have observed how SCS staff and faculty colleagues are expressing love in action through ongoing discernments about how to care for our students during this difficult time. I also call to mind students who are patiently and creatively arising to the educational challenge in the midst of these new circumstances.
I invite you this week to ponder how you are seeing love expressed in actions. Are there people in your life who have inspired you with greater generosity, patience, and care? Are you finding ways in your relationships to express love in new and creative ways? If you’d like to continue this reflection on love in action in the form of an examen, join our Daily Digital Meditation at 12 pm each day of the work week (sign up here). Each Friday will be dedicated to a guided examen that reflects on our experiences of the past week.