Life is a beautiful thing, truly breathtaking. Yet even the most beautiful rose will be studded with thorns.
I’m a college student, so I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about suffering. I can claim, though, that I have felt pain, I have faced and still face trials and struggles. Through it all, for the longest time, it all swirled under an ebony cloud of confusion. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was really facing, or why I had to face it. This past week was no exception. Until a drop of sunlight fell blindingly through the cloud to bring back the light of hope and joy stifled for so long in the darkness.
I and many friends consecrated ourselves last December to Jesus through Mary according to the formula set forth by St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. De Montfort wrote a book on what it truly means to devote oneself to the Blessed Virgin entitled True Devotion. Which, unfortunately, I have yet to read myself, but which a dear friend is currently reading. Now I don’t believe in coincidences–I believe that which is referred to as serendipity is really the hand of God at work–so it was not just a nice surprise but a spiritual gift when he shared the following insight from the book: Mary hands us the sweetest gifts of Heaven–crosses.
How can this make any sense? Crosses sweet? The mind reels at the paradox. Allow me, then, to share with you the path I took in discovering the beauty of this truth.
Fellow pilgrims, Christ Himself said, “[H]e who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Harsh? Considering He literally carried a giant cross on a scarred and bleeding back with thorns dug into His skull, through streets and up a rocky hill, alone but for those who lined the streets to mock Him, after which He died a slow painful death by suffocation and blood loss with nails through His hands and feet, all so we might have the chance to spend eternity in Heaven, I hardly think so.
And no, I do not digress. Consider: our God knows the full extent of our suffering. He was physically tortured, murdered, knew loneliness, was tempted when He was weakest in bodily strength in the desert, had a cousin who was killed, watched His mother suffer as He carried out His mission–in the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, “I fight not under a Captain Who has never sensed a wound, but One who stumbled to His Throne.” There is a poignant scene in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis in which Diggory, beginning to cry, hangs his head in shame and pain before Aslan, who represents Christ. When he finally looks Aslan in the eye, he is shocked: Aslan, too, is crying.
Brethren, God does not rejoice in our suffering. What He does rejoice in is that which lies just beyond the suffering, if we will only trust Him. You see, God’s love for us is incomprehensible, because He is Love Himself; He is that love which says, “I freely sacrifice all I am and have for your greater good and ultimate happiness.” The thing is, He sees what will truly make us good and happy, while we can’t even see what will happen to us in the next moment. He is outside of time and space; we, for now, must work within it. So inevitably, God’s going to allow things or give us things that simply don’t make sense.
But there is peace, is there not, in knowing that God is not only walking with us but guiding us? If we are trusting in God and striving to grow closer to God, then the times in which we feel lost may well be the times in which He holds us closest to Himself.
A final point: in the Catholic Church, there is a teaching of ‘redemptive suffering’–the belief that in our suffering, if we truly offer it to God joyfully and unite it with Christ’s salvific sacrifice, we can participate in the work of salvation. By our offering of that which we struggle through, we can win souls for Heaven. Brethren, consider: we have been given the chance to participate in the divine work of redemption, the very work which transforms us and makes us adopted Children of God. Besides the gift of Himself for the work of salvation and in the Eucharist, please tell me what greater gift there could be.
I wish I could say it gets easier. News flash: life is hard. And the closer you get to Christ, the harder it will become, the deeper He will call us, the more struggling He will entrust to us. And yet, how much greater is the joy that will come with it, how much stronger is the fire of purpose leading us ever forward to Paradise. How great will eternity be for us, how beautiful is the promise made by He who will never break His promises.
And for those who simply need a little encouragement: God walks with you in your suffering. He weeps with you as you cry, feels your pain as you fall. To get back up again, to struggle forward again on this rocky road of reality with praise on your lips and faith in your heart, brings untold joy to the Heart Who gave you life. And just beyond the twilight is the promise of a rising sun that will drive away all doubt, eradicate all pain, dry away all tears.
Hope in the Lord, for the sun will rise.
(Credit due to my good friend Joe, for giving me the quote and, more importantly, the friendship that has brought me to this understanding)