Like most Catholics, I planned for Lent. I had my list of suggested “give ups,” “to dos,” goals. I like to be in control. There are aspects of this personality trait that are positive, but essentially wanting control is often a futile endeavor.
So on the morning of “Shrove Tuesday” or Mardi Gras depending on your name for the festive, feasting day before Ash Wednesday, I woke up about 3 a.m. realizing that I was completely out of control.
I huddled under the blankets with chills, fever and a wheezing noise emanating from my chest with every breath I took. Ecclesiastes 1:14 scoffed at my well-laid plans: “I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity.”
I had gone to bed feeling healthy. I woke up to a week of illness.
Far too sick to join in Ash Wednesday services, I nevertheless found it easy to contemplate that I was, indeed, dust, or as I half-jokingly termed my condition, toast. I never used to get this sick, I thought. It must be the creeping onslaught of old age.
I felt sorry for myself. I basked in my own mortality, not a bad thing to do during the first week of Lent. I found myself weeping easily, moved by sentimental stories on the news or Facebook. I decided I might as well feel sorry for the whole world.
Then, I thought of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe.
Father Arrupe was the 28th superior general of the Society of Jesus, a man tasked with leading the Jesuits in 1965 right after the Second Vatican Council had caused the earth to move under our feet.
Father Arrupe is my hero. In my pantheon of personal saints, Father Arrupe is one to whom I pray most consistently. A famous poster of him praying at Hiroshima, where he was when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb, hangs over my desk.
Father Arrupe led the Jesuits to a new commitment to the poor, to a faith that does justice, to viewing education’s purpose as preparing us to be men and women for others. Some compared him to the order’s founder, calling him a second Ignatius. He even resembled the saint, who like him was born in the Basque region of Spain.
But the reason I thought of Father Pedro Arrupe as I endured illness was because of famous words he spoke at the time that he had to step down as the Jesuits’ leader in 1983. He had experienced a debilitating stroke, and though he lived for several years, he never recovered.
“More than ever,” he told his Jesuits, “I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”
Those are powerful words, spoken by a man who was used to being in a position of power. To be totally in God’s hands, Father Arrupe discovered, is to no longer be in control.
We don’t get to choose what we surrender.
I realized my little week of unexpected retreat at the beginning of Lent was actually a gift. I thank God for taking away my control of the first week of Lent and for reminding me I am never truly in control.
I thank him for the example of people who allowed themselves to fall totally into the hands of God, like Father Arrupe and like Jesus with whom we walk during this season.