A Heart on Fire:
Josef Raoul Rodriguez, SJ
Mr. Josef Raoul Rodriguez, SJ, is currently completing regency at Creighton University, where he teaches philosophy and assists with music in the Fine and Performing Arts department. He entered the Society of Jesus in 2016.
Mr. Josef Raoul Rodriguez, SJ, inherited his love for the Catholic faith and music from his Filipino parents. As a toddler, he played “Mass” at home with a plate of chips and a cup of juice.
Since my youth, the Sacred Heart has been a steady companion. I grew up in New Jersey where we attended Sacred Heart Church. While our community practiced a regular devotion to the Sacred Heart, admittedly it was a devotion that remained in formulated prayers and sentimental images for me. It was only later that the Sacred Heart would take on the meaning that it has for me today—a heart that burns and compels.
The first burning hearts I encountered were those of my Filipino parents, who shared their fire for the Catholic faith and music. At a young age, I was singing as a boy soprano and taking piano lessons. Eventually, I took up the cello and branched out to other instruments. I ended up stepping in for my dad as cantor at our parish. My heart burned for music.
However, this was surpassed by my love for liturgy. As a toddler, I’d play “Mass” at home with a plate of chips and a cup of juice (later, I’d have a proper understanding of the necessity of using bread and wine!). I’d say the words of institution: “This is my body…This is my blood…” You can imagine my excitement at age 9 when I could finally serve at the altar.
Like Jesus in Nazareth, the parish was where I “grew in age and wisdom.” The religious sisters were like aunts to me. Every priest who passed through Sacred Heart Church was a mentor. I was consistently withpeople whose hearts burned for the Church, for the Mass, for the priesthood. As such, my heart also caught on fire for these very things.
This burning heart led me to follow a call to religious life, but not with the Jesuits yet. Another religious congregation drew me in with their love for liturgy, Gregorian chant and the Sacred Heart. Through formation, I ended up earning a degree in philosophy. But before I took my first philosophy course, I refused to believe I would ever enjoy it as an “impassioned artist,” the way I enjoy music. However, I came to see how philosophy is a tradition that tests the limits of reason, leaving no topic untouched. Soon my heart would burn for the investigation of truth in a way that it hadn’t before. I was convinced that others could benefit from studying philosophy to articulate what they think and why they think it. This love, combined with the love for education that my mom had instilled in me, brought me to discern being a teacher.
My growing relationship with the Sacred Heart and my continued discernment of my apostolic desires would eventually lead me to the Society of Jesus. Currently, I’m completing my time of regency at Creighton University in Omaha. I teach an introductory course in philosophy, as well as a higher-level course that touches on God and the human person.
I participate in the orchestra on campus, and I’ve even had an opportunity to assist with conducting. I also accompany students as a spiritual director and an academic advisor. And I still get to sing at St. John’s Church on campus. Through this assignment, the Society of Jesus has certainly fostered the desires of my burning heart.
As providence would have it, there’s an image of the Sacred Heart in my room. Jesus is holding out his flaming, thorn-crowned heart in one hand and pointing to his chest with the other. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Let’s trade hearts!” Through my experiences as a Jesuit, I’ve grown in my understanding of how the Sacred Heart is the manifestation of God’s passionate love for humanity. It is a heart that burns in me for the sake of others. A heart that burns for artistic beauty wherever it may be found. A heart that burns to help others in their search for truth. My hope is that I can bring others to this Heart that has burned out of love for me.
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