A Heart on Fire:
Matthew Ippel, SJ
Comforting a young Central American migrant struggling to compose himself during the holiday party because celebrating this time of year is difficult when he is so far from his family. An encounter.
Hearing the painful story of a long, dangerous, and tiring journey from Central America through Mexico, as a Salvadoran immigrant shares how he clung to la Virgen de Guadalupe as a sign of hope and promise. An encounter.
Listening to a student at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis share with me how I have a soothing, calming voice…that puts her to sleep in class! An encounter.
Life is full of them. As I look back on my two and a half years in the Jesuits, I have been blessed and challenged by so many. Encounters with others have turned my world upside down; they have been discomforting and eye-opening; they have been grace-filled. Whether with other Jesuits, those I accompany in my ministry, or those I engage and meet for the first time, these encounters lay a claim on me.
In a post-Thanksgiving car ride to visit a Jesuit at Saint Louis University, Steve, another Jesuit scholastic, and I engaged each other in conversations that spanned the variety of most Jesuit chats. Needless to say, with two Jesuits studying philosophy, our conversation was not far removed from what occupies a solid chunk of our lives. Steve spoke eloquently about the philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas says the role of the other and her/his impact on another person is their “face” making a claim on you and me. Wow! Talk about the ethical and philosophical consequences of such a statement.
As I look back on the encounters I have experienced in my Jesuit life, I am deeply moved and struck by how each of these people — fellow human persons whom I have had the privilege and deep joy to know — made a claim on me.
I feel compassion for the young man who for the first time in his life is not with his family during Christmas. I am disturbed at the thought of someone fleeing such horrific violence and oppression. I am heartened by my student’s abrupt honesty and her support of my efforts to become a better instructor.
As I grow more into my Jesuit vocation, I realize more and more the primacy of human experience and how God is operative and active in it all. It is God who invites, challenges, and encourages me to recognize and love that which is in front of me, to love and care for that “face” which has made a claim on me. This claim of the other is about encounter. Encountering others, in a world constantly changing, on the one hand more human and on the other dehumanizing.
Recognizing the presence of God is of the utmost importance. So is responding. That is the claim. It reveals a degree of authority another has on me. And it leads me to ask a series of questions: Why did this happen? For what purpose? What do I do now? Questions I ponder and struggle with. Questions that draw me deeper into the mystery of this Jesuit vocation to which I have responded, “Yes.” This vocation that brings me to the raw, real humanity of our world. It is in this very place that I recognize and realize more and more that the invitation is to receive all these human encounters that God has given me and to respond. I offer all I have and all I am, trusting and knowing that God will guide and challenge me to be of greater service with more selfless, abounding love.
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