Trilateral Love

I am reading from the writings of Pedro Arrupe, S.J., a Spanish Jesuit priest who served many years as Superior General of the Society of Jesus, and who died in 1991.  The Fall in Love prayer attributed to him has long been one of my favorites, but I had not read very much of what he wrote.

I have often written about the relationship between our love of God and our love of one another, but have tended to focus on one side of the equation, if you will, the fact that we cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters.  As Arrupe beautifully describes, we need to also keep the converse in mind.  He writes

We cannot love God cut off from others, nor in the abstract.  It is a trilateral love.  To love our brothers and sisters, and to show this love in our actions, is not something adventitious, something added to our love of God to complete it.  It is a constitutive element demanded by the very notion of the love of God.

But we must make the converse statement, too.  By the very fact that we are Christians, we cannot genuinely love others unless we love God.  What is asked of us is not an abstract love of humanity (“philanthropy”) but a concrete love of brothers and sisters (“philadelphia”).  In every person, with all his or her concrete circumstances, there is a value that does not depend on me, but that makes the person like me.  God is within the other, with his love, waiting for me.  And this is a call that I cannot neglect.

Arrupe also reminds us that to refuse love (and the service that goes with it) “even to a single person is to refuse to recognize that person’s dignity and, at the same time, to abdicate my own, which has no better foundation than the dignity of the other,” and that we must accept “that even the most solidly founded rights of some must at times yield to the needs of others.”

Note: If you want to get a taste of Arrupe’s writings, the volume of his Essential Writings that is part of Orbis’ Modern Spiritual Masters Series is a good place to go.