(The following column was written by Fr. Willie and emailed to the entire Belen community on February 23, 2018.)
In 1966, the great Percy Sledge came out with a love song that shot his name to the top of the music charts. The song was called “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Not only did it hit number one and stay there for several weeks, it was also listed many years later by “Rolling Stones Magazine” as one of the top 100 greatest songs of all time. This romantic ballad has persevered and made its way into our society. For example, if you watched “The Wonder Years” in the early 90s like I did, you will remember the scene when little Kevin Arnold kisses Winnie Cooper for the first time. Guess what song was playing in the background.
Sledge sings about the crazy things a man is willing to do when he falls in love with a woman.
When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Tryin’ to hold on to what he needs
He’d give up all his comfort
Sleep out in the rain
If she said that’s the way it ought to be.
I know the feeling. I’m sure that it has happened to all of us when we have fallen in love with someone. I remember being in middle school, for example, and having a crush on a girl in my math class. I don’t know what came over me. I would not eat lunch so I could save my money to buy her little things. I would wait for her after class just to ask her how her day went and wished for the days when kids would walk home from school so we could walk together. I would give up my place in the lunch line so I could stand next to her. I would not play dodge ball with my friends so I could sit with her. I even joined the choir because she was in it so I could spend time with her (and I’m a terrible singer!).
I was in love. My friends would laugh at me, but I didn’t care. They would sing the traditional childhood mocking song, “Willie and Claudia sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…” It didn’t faze me. I was determined to be with my love and express to her my interest no matter what.
As you can imagine, I eventually got over her; but there were others. The funny thing was that every time Cupid struck my heart with his arrow of love, I would take off again. I would act out of the ordinary and go out of my way to impress the girl and demonstrate my interest and affection.
Well, believe it or not, little has changed. The fact is that I am still very much in love and I continue to find myself doing crazy things to demonstrate that interest and affection. Only now my love is for Jesus. My heart belongs to him and I find myself going out of my way to express it. I find myself offering things up, sacrificing little things, doing a little extra.
When you think about it, the season of Lent we began on Ash Wednesday is a lot like this. It’s about recognizing that Jesus is our love and that it is good for us to go out of our way to offer him things that express that love. It’s about doing little things that show that we are interested, expressing our willingness to be mocked or inconvenienced, to give up all our comforts and even sleep out in the rain.
This is why during this season of Lent we are encouraged to abstain from eating meat on Fridays (an inconvenience when Friday nights are primetime for going out to dinner). We are encouraged to fast twice, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (an inconvenience when you love to eat and find significant solace in it). We are encouraged to go to mass an extra day during the week or pray that rosary that we usually don’t pray or serve the poor that we usually don’t serve or give up chocolate or soda or dessert. These all may sound foolish in the grand scheme of things, but they’re the kind of foolish things that people do when they’re in love. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be very powerful, even romantic.
But then again, I’ve always been a great romantic at heart.
Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain. The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline. In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty. The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow. Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.