What difference does the Eucharist make in my life?
I am a Jesuit (Society of Jesus) priest. We were founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions. Ignatius, our first superior general, was from the small Basque region of Spain. Over 400 years later, a second Basque, Pedro Arrupe, was named superior general, and we consider him a “second founder” of the order, because he was general right after Vatican Council II, when our order reformulated its mission quite radically, perceiving that in light of the times we now live in, we needed to practice “a faith that does justice.” The cause for Arrupe’s canonization is now beginning—long overdue, I believe.
Arrupe, like Ignatius, had a great devotion to the Eucharist. Arrupe held a crowd of over 400 teenagers in Assissi, Italy spellbound in 1979, as he challenged them to live the Gospel in a more radical way, telling the story of his life, and how the Eucharist impacted him in incredible ways at key moments of his life.
The first moment that Arrupe describes was when he was a medical student, not contemplating religious life at the time. His father had just died, so he went with his family to Lourdes, France to relax. There was a procession at this holy site, when Arrupe saw a middle-aged woman pushing a cart with her 20 year-old son in it. His body was twisted and contorted by polio. She was reciting the rosary, occasionally gasping “Maria Sanctissima, help us!” She positioned herself to be in the front row as the bishop passed by carrying a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. The young man gazed at the monstrance as the bishop blessed him with it. The man rose from the cart, cured, as the crowd cried out, “Miracle!” Because he was a medical student staying there for a month, Arrupe was part of a team that verified that this truly was a miracle.
This experience changed the course of Arrupe’s life. He said that many of his medical school professors, though some were quite renowned, were very skeptical about miracles. But Arrupe realized that his real calling was to the Jesuits, and he entered the novitiate three months later.
Arrupe was ordained, and became a missionary to Japan in 1938. He was imprisoned for 33 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, although the government had no charges against him. He then served as novice master to young Japanese Jesuits in Hiroshima, when the atomic bomb fell there in 1945. Their building was one of the few that remained standing, though it was badly damaged. Because of his medical background, Arrupe did great work, burying the dead and rescuing the wounded. His chapel, half destroyed, was packed with the injured from around the city, who were in great pain. Arrupe celebrated mass there with these people who had never seen a mass before, and had no idea what he was doing. Six months later, nearly all were cured, only two had died. Many of the survivors became baptized, having experienced God’s grace so directly.
Skipping ahead to 1966, Arrupe was elected Superior General of the entire Jesuit order. During this time, Arrupe led the Society in making what later became known as “a preferential option for the poor.” Some Jesuits chose to work very directly with the poor. As Superior General, Arrupe visited Jesuits around the world, including a visit to an dreadful slum in Peru where Jesuits were working. During mass there, Arrupeinvited the poor inhabitants to speak. One man said to Arrupe, “Senor, we are very thankful for your priests. They have taught us to love our enemies. A week ago, I had prepared a knife to kill a man I hated, but after the priest preached the Gospel, I went and bought this man an ice cream instead.”
Arrupe tells many, many more amazing stories from his life in this talk, along with some great reflections on these experiences. If you’re interested, I can print some copies of the entire 24-page talk. While perhaps none of us will have the incredible experiences Arrupe had, I think we are all touched by the Eucharist in amazing ways.