A Lesson in Love

by Chris Canniff


One time, a friend of mine passed by a tour group as she was leaving Higgins, and she heard the tour guide tell the prospective families, as he pointed toward the statue in front, “This is St. Ignatius of Loyola. He’s the founder of Boston College.” *facepalm*


Fortunately, most student tour guides know a bit more biographical data on St. Ignatius than that particular one did.  At that point in the tour, they talk about Boston College and its Jesuit Catholic identity.  Most say roughly the same things about “men and women for others” and “setting the world aflame.”


During the autumn of my freshman year, I sat in my calculus class in Fulton 230 three days a week, and I stared out the window at that weathered bronze statue as the bright leaves died around it in a burst of brilliance.  I often thought to myself: “What does it mean that this is a Jesuit Catholic school?  And what does this statue have to do with it?”


I did not understand why St. Ignatius, who had been an intrepid soldier, was displayed here looking so weak in the throes of struggle.  That whipping October wind seemingly buffeted him—with his cassock and cape blowing about, with his eyes closed to some suffering before him, with his head tilted downward in an expression of longing, with his right hand clasped over his heart, and with his left hand open and extended in a gesture of loss.  After his military career, he had become “a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”  But where was his strength?  Where was his fortitude?


Over the years, the statue has loomed large in my thought and reflection and prayer.  I have walked by it frequently, thinking about what it means, about what this all means.


On the night before my graduation last year—my last night as a BC undergrad—I walked around campus with a friend.  He and I reminisced, sharing our memories of the different places we were passing by and reflecting on what lessons we had learned.  After four years, every spot had become so full of memories—some we had with each other and some we had alone or with others, some we had that were happy and some we had that were sad, some of hope and some of hardship.  We spoke to each other about the people here whom we had truly grown to love.  When we came to the statue of St. Ignatius, we stopped there for a long time.  I told my friend how perplexed I had been by it early on, but after all these experiences, now just hours away from graduating, I told him that I thought I finally had come to understand.

As you look more closely at the statue, you will notice that, although his body is somewhat twisted and everything appears to be in disarray, what is most striking is just how serene and calm his face looks, despite what tempests seem to swirl around him.  This is the sculpture of a man who lived his life in the crucible of love, and his passionate expression of loss and longing actually reveals the inner peace that a life of love will bring.


I am reminded of a memoir I once read in which the author said, “I came to the conclusion that the only people who have any emotions worth mentioning are those who do not fritter them away on sensation, but enclose the fire in the mind and heart.”  This is that crucible of love, the pressure that makes the diamond.


Ignatius told us “to give and not to count the cost.”  But what if love costs us everything?  What if it costs us the very person whom we love?  Well, that is what happened to Jesus; his love for his Heavenly Father and for each of us cost him his friends and even his very life.  The message is this: love, even if it costs everything.  We must learn the hard lesson that absolutely nothing is our own; everything is his, and whatever we have we must strive to give.  If we persist in loving God and neighbor, our union with him and with all others whom we love will ultimately be made into endless joy.  The losses we endure inspire a longing for this joy and a placid hope.  This is the beauty for which we were made—love of another person and love of God.


The next morning, as my friend and I processed from Linden Lane, wearing our black robes and colorful hoods and square caps, weaving across campus with our other friends, we passed by the statue on our way down to Alumni Stadium.  I looked at St. Ignatius amidst the flourishing, lively, and verdant surroundings and thought to myself, “This is the lesson I have learned; this is what it means to have been formed at a Jesuit Catholic school.”


He is battered on all sides, pained by the grief that is so closely bound to self-gift.  And yet, he is sustained by hope, standing strong against what might move him away from this center.  He persists in love.

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