"To Love and To Suffer" - The Science of the Saints
We live in a world that flees from suffering. Since the time of our youth, we have been raised to view suffering as an impediment to happiness; that the less we suffer, the happier we will be. This belief is common not only to secular society, but also to religious groups and philosophies as well. Even certain eastern religions were founded on the principle that suffering is the primordial evil in life, from which mankind must escape (for example, the central tenets of Buddhism; the "Four Noble Truths"). For many people, suffering is viewed as an evil without value, and thus any means should be taken to avoid even a common cold. Yet, in the writings of the saints, we find an entirely different reality; that it is precisely suffering that strengthens us, humbles us, and forges us into saints. But more than this, we discover that suffering is of such inestimable redemptive worth, that nothing equals it in heaven or on earth. As Our Lord told Saint Faustina; "If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering." (p.1805)
In fact, the saints teach us that suffering is of such great merit, that it is greater than external works such as preaching, writing, or even working miracles; "You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone." (Jesus to Saint Faustina). To illustrate this point, a demon once lamented to Saint John Vianney that hell had lost 80,000 souls due to his prayers and sacrifices alone. Saint Vianney did not need to travel the world. He was a simple parish priest of a tiny village. And yet, he was able to save 80,000 souls through a simple solitary life of love.
But how can this be so? How can a God of love value our suffering? After all, suffering exists because of sin. Suffering entered the world through the disobedience of our first parents. So, clearly, God never intended for us to suffer. Even while on earth, Jesus worked miracles of healing for countless people, curing blindness, leprosy, deformities, and disease. It is clear Our Lord wants us to be happy and healthy, not to suffer. But it is when we offer our suffering--the one thing most disagreeable to our human nature--back to the Creator, it becomes a gift of inestimable value; drawing down from heaven more grace than any other action we can possibly make.
Perhaps the question above could be addressed another way, that is to say; "We love only to the degree that we are willing to suffer." (Fr. John Hardon, S.J.) If someone preaches to me with great zeal, I will not be as convinced of their love, as when that same person suffers and undergoes hardship for me. Similarly, the defining moment of redemption for humanity was not when Our Lord preached in the synagogues or healed the sick. It was when Love was nailed to a tree and drained of His blood. In this way, love and suffering are inseparable. And what greater proof of love is there than the one who dies to save His very executioners? As Christians, are we not called to trod this same path of Our Lord--not for sufferings sake but for Love's sake--to willingly forget self in order to make others happy?
Remember, every action of God is governed by love, because God IS love itself. It is His nature to love. He therefore cannot do anything BUT love. This is what most distinguishes Christianity from other religions. Christianity is the religion of radical love; love in its highest form. And the only true and proper response to love, is love. This is the primordial choice every person is faced with in this life; to choose Love, or to reject Love. And the one who loves, necessarily will have to suffer for the sake of that love, just as the example given to us by the Apostles, who rejoiced in their persecutions (see Acts 5:41, 14:21, Rom 8:18, 2 Corinthians 12:10, etc.). And what is most shocking, when we do this--when we join our sufferings to Christ's infinite merits--we participate in God's plan of salvation so intimately, that we become little "co-redeemers", as it were, and obtain the conversion of souls. As Our Lady told the world at Fatima; "Many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice themselves and pray for them." This is what it means to share in a "common priesthood" of Christ. While priests of the Old Testament sacrificed animals to atone for individual sins, in the New Covenant, Christ became the spotless Lamb to atone for all sin. Christ is our High Priest, and no servant is greater than his master. If we want to become disciples of Christ, we too must offer ourselves upon the altar of the cross--not in a morbid way, but in offering daily small sacrifices with joy, and accepting with resignation the divine will in all things. And so, while we should not seek suffering in itself, it can nonetheless become a means of great worth; in the perfection of our love, the purification of all that is not love, and the building up of the body of Christ.
"The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope, or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love, and have no other objective than to arrive at love.
"Love wants to suffer for the Beloved... Love wants to expiate the sins that have so deeply penetrated mankind. Love wants to make up for the lack of love among those who sin. Love wants to relieve the debt of suffering that sinners owe to God. Love wants to give God what sinners are depriving Him of by their sins."
"I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: 'My God I choose all!' I do not want to be a saint by halves. I'm not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that You will!"
Words of the Queen: "I remind thee that there is no exercise more profitable and useful to the soul than to suffer....Therefore, my daughter, embrace the cross, and do not admit any consolation outside of it in this mortal life. By contemplating and feeling within thyself the sacred Passion, thou wilt attain the summit of perfection and attain the love of a spouse...I find so few who console with me and try to console my Son in His sorrows..."
"Jesus says; 'My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me... And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer."
....More Saints Quotes
"Never does our suffering make Him happy, but it is necessary for us, and so He sends it to us, while, as it were, turning away His face.... I assure you that it costs Him dearly to fill us with bitterness. The good God, who so loves us, has pain enough in being obliged to leave us on earth to fulfill our time of trial, without our constantly telling Him of our discomfort; we must appear not to notice it...Far from complaining to Our Lord of the cross which He sends us, I cannot fathom the infinite love which has led Him to treat us this way...What a favor from Jesus, and how He must love us to send us so great a sorrow! Eternity will not be long enough to bless Him for it."
Jesus spoke these words; "My child, I have need of victims, and strong victims, who by their sufferings, tribulations, and difficulties, make amends for sinners and for their ingratitude."
"Her sacrifice is perpetual, without mitigation, from the time her religious life begins until she dies as a victim according to the example of Jesus Christ. And she does all this in silence with no one aware of it. Yet how many are there who think of this life as useless. Nevertheless, she (the religious) is like the Lamb of God. She removes sins from the world. She sacrifices herself to bring back to the sheepfold those sheep who have gone astray. But just as Christ did not know the world, neither does she know it. This abnegation enchants me completely. There is no room for self-love. She doesn't even see the fruit of her prayer. In heaven alone will she know this."
"Jesus said to me; 'How many times would you have abandoned Me, my son, if I had not crucified you. Beneath the cross, one learns love, and I do not give this to everyone, but only to those souls who are dearest to Me."
The Purgative, Unitive, and Redemptive qualities of Suffering
As we read in the writings of the saints, we begin to understand more clearly the distinct fruits of suffering;
Purgative. Suffering acts to purify and humble the soul. It is a crucible in which the impurities and worldly attachments are unmasked and expelled. Suffering can be physical (such as illnesses), emotional (humiliation, persecution, etc.), or spiritual (dryness in prayer, temptations, etc.). It can also be passive (imposed on us, beyond our control), or active (through pentitential practices such as fasting or small acts of self-denial). This purgative trait of suffering [n.b., Purgative Way] is the first and most necessary step toward union with Our Lord, because it helps divest from the soul the "old man"; pride, avarice, lust, and worldly attachments. And like a good mother who is quick to shower her child with kisses for a good effort, so too is God quick to shower the soul with consolations and sweetness in prayer for every small act of love made in suffering. The more faith and trust the soul has, the more it will be compensated and given supernatural value. Saint John of the Cross believed that this stage was so necessary, that without a complete and total eradication of the appetites and self-will, a soul will never advance to higher degrees of holiness. He states; "One inordinate appetite alone....suffices to make the soul so captive, dirty, and unsightly, that until the appetite is purified, the soul is incapable of conformity with God in union." And again he writes; "It makes little difference whether a bird is tied down by a thread or by a chain. The bird will be held down just the same.
"O my Jesus, I know that, in order to be useful to souls, one has to strive for the closest possible union with You, who are Eternal Love... I can be wholly useful to the Church by my personal sanctity, which throbs with life in the whole Church, for we all make up one organism in Jesus."
Unitive. Once metal has been sufficiently purified in the crucible, it can then be forged into a proper instrument; to be wielded by the hands of Christ. This second quality is a natural consequence from the first, in that the purification enables the soul to be united with God. The voids that are created in the fire of purification can now be filled with grace and sealed with virtue. In this stage, the soul begins to realize what it once thought was love, was only an imperfect affection. It is now beginning to understand what true love consists; not in sweet feelings, transports of the spirit, great works, or ecstasies, but in loving; in spending oneself for others; in giving until it hurts, without expecting any recompense. It is now discovering the true "secret to happiness" that so many self-help books atempt to answer; what men have searched the globe to find. It is a great mystery that has elluded many, and yet it is a profoundly simple foundation of Christinity, that; man can only find himself by giving himself away. As the pastoral council of Vatican II reminds us; "Man cannot find himself except by making a sincere gift of himself" The gaze of his entire being must turn away from himself completely, and only toward God and His beloved children; as total self-gift. As Saint Therese of Liseux once said; "I never made more progress in the spiritual life, as when I began to devote myself to praying for others." And so, in this stage, the soul is now "finding itself"; it is becoming more what it was created to be before the fall ("original man"), and its happiness increases seven-fold. Just as the force of a magnet increases as it draws nearer to iron, so too does the union between God and the soul increase in like kind. But now, the soul is still not yet perfect. And so Our Lord may ask (but does not force) the soul to continue its advance. If the soul complies, she may begin to experience periods of interior darkness, or nights, where she must learn become detached not only from creatures and things of this earth, but also spiritual attachments as well; at times feeling as if a blind man walking in darkness, relying on only blind faith and obedience as its guide. It is during these periods that the soul makes the greatest progress, unbeknownced to itself. It is only until the darkness passes that the soul looks back and sees a great chasm it has crossed, utterly overwhelmed and inflamed with love.
Saint Faustina: Sufferings, adversities, humiliations, failures and suspicions that have come my way are splinters that keep alive the fire of my love for You, O Jesus."
Redemptive. The third quality of suffering is the highest form of suffering, because it is directed entirely outward toward the salvation of souls. Redemptive suffering most intimately configures us to Christ, Who entered this world for this very purpose. It is the culminating work of Christ, and thus there is nothing greater that we can do in our imitation of Him. It is the kind of suffering that cries to heaven for humanity;"forgive us!", and searches for reasons to excuse humanity; " for we know not what we do!". It sheds copious tears not only for mankind, but especially for hardened sinners; "those in most need of God's mercy". Redemptive suffering is offering oneself as a holocaust; to suffer the very fires of hell in order for others to obtain heaven. It takes on the sins of others, acting as a kind of sponge absorbing the evil around them. This form of suffering is so powerful--because love is so powerful--that its arms can span the entire world and has the potential to affect countless souls.
And yet, redemptive suffering does not have to take on extreme forms as we might expect. But rather, any suffering, if offered with love, can be given refemptive value, even something as mundane as a toothache. As Saint Therese reminds us, the smallest act of pure love is greater than the greatest miracles and feats of human strength, and can merit the conversion of souls. How is this possible? How can the prayers of a single person alter the lives of people on the other side of the world? How did Saint Faustina save 1,000 souls in just 40 days, by her sacrifices and prayers behind the walls of a cloister? As we have learned by now, love knows no bounds; love is not limited by this world; love cannot be caged.
"On the First Friday of the month, before Communion, I saw a large ciborium filled with sacred hosts. A hand placed the ciborium in front of me, and I took it in my hands. There were a thousand living hosts inside. Then I heard a voice, These are hosts which have been received by the souls for whom you have obtained the grace of true conversion during this Lent." (Diary, p640)
"We [religious] are co-redeemers of the world. And souls are not redeemed without the cross."
In a vision given to Saint Faustina, we observe how religious communities sustain the world in existence, acting as a shield blunting the sword of God's justice upon the world;
"During the renewal of the vows, I saw the Lord Jesus on the Epistle side (of the altar), wearing a white garment with a golden belt and holding a terrible sword in His hand. This lasted until the moment when the sisters began to renew their vows. Then I saw a resplendence beyond compare and, in front of this brilliance, a white cloud in the shape of a scale. Then Jesus approached and put the sword on one side of the scale, and it fell heavily towards the ground until it was about to touch it. Just then the sisters finished renewing their vows. Then I saw Angels who took something from each of the sisters and placed it in a golden vessel on the other side of the scale, it immediately out weighed and raised up the side on which the sword had been laid. At that moment, a flame issued forth from the thurible, and it reached all the way to the brilliance. Then I heard a voice coming from the brilliance: "Put the sword back in its place; the sacrifice is greater."
What great glory, at so little cost! And how few people really understand this reality! What is a little discomfort on earth, compared to eternal bliss? As Our Lady revealed to Venerable Mary of Agreda, if the saints in heaven were able to feel regret, they would lament over not making better use of their time on earth. Let us then take advantage of this great gift of life, recalling the profound love Our Lord has for us. All He asks of us is our love, and if we are willing, a little suffering. And for such a small price, He will descend into the world and reverse the fate of souls who have co-signed themselves to damnation.
"For the sake of your love, I withhold the just chastisements, which mankind has deserved. A single act of pure love pleases Me more than a thousand imperfect prayers. One of your sighs of love atones for many offenses with which the godless overwhelm Me. The smallest act of virtue has unlimited value in My eyes because of your great love for Me. In a soul that lives on My love alone, I reign as in heaven. I watch over it day and night. In it I find My happiness; My ear is attentive to each request of its heart; often I anticipate its requests. O child, especially beloved by Me, apple of My eye, rest a moment near My Heart and taste of the love in which you will delight for all eternity. But child, you are not yet in your homeland; so go, fortified by My grace, and fight for My kingdom in human souls; fight as a king's child would; and remember that the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them the possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, My child, a great number of souls who will glorify My mercy for all eternity. My child, that you may answer My call worthily, receive Me daily in Holy Communion. It will give you strength'... Jesus, do not leave me alone in suffering. You know, Lord, how weak I am. I am an abyss of wretchedness, I am nothingness itself; so what will be so strange if You leave me alone and I fall? I am an infant, Lord, so I cannot get along by myself. However, beyond all abandonment I trust, and in spite of my own feeling I trust, and I am being completely transformed into trust-often in spite of what I feel. Do not lessen any of my sufferings, only give me strength to bear them. Do with me as You please, Lord, only give me the grace to be able to love You in every event and circumstance. Lord, do not lessen my cup of bitterness, only give me strength that I may be able to drink it all. O Lord, sometimes You lift me up to the brightness of visions, and then again You plunge me into the darkness of night and the abyss of my nothingness, and my soul feels as if it were alone in the wilderness. Yet, above all things, I trust in You, Jesus, for You are unchangeable. My moods change, but You are always the same, full of mercy."
Words of the Queen: "If my lord and master has made Himself the life and the way for men though his Passion and Death, is it not evident that in order to go that way and live up to this truth, they must follow Christ crucified, afflicted, scourged and affronted? Consider the ignorance of men who wish to come to the Father without following Christ, since they expect to reign with God without suffering or imitating his Passion, yea without even a thought of accepting any part of his suffering and Death, or of thanking Him for it. They want it to procure for them the pleasures of this life as well as of eternal life, while Christ their Creator has suffered the most bitter pains and torments in order to enter heaven and to show them by His example how they are to fight the way of light.
"...but they [mankind] make their recovery impossible, since all of them are weak and afflicted by many sins, for which the only remedy is suffering...tribulation earns the pardon of the just Judge. By the bitterness of sorrow and affliction the vapors of sin are allayed; the excesses of the concupisible and irascible passions are crushed; pride and haughtiness are humiliated; the flesh is subdued; the inclination to evil, to the sensible, and to earthly creatures is repressed; the judgement is cleared; the will is brought within bounds and its desultory movements at the call of the passions, are corrected; and above all, divine love and pity are drawn down upon the afflicted, who embrace suffering with patience, or who seek to imitate my most holy Son. In this science of suffering are renewed all the blessed riches of the creatures; those that fly from them are insane, those that know nothing of this science are foolish."
What if I am afraid of suffering?
When we think of suffering, many are tempted to think only of only the more extreme forms; hospital beds, terminal illnesses, or perhaps even torture and martyrdom. Others might think of "victim souls" such as Mother Teresa or Saint Faustina, who spent years in total darkness and anguish. If this is our idea of holiness, then it is no wonder why some are afraid of advancing further, if this is what we have to look forward to!
Rather, suffering does not have to take on these more extreme forms. Anyone can offer little sacrifices each day, and become holy by doing so. Remember, God is a loving and gentle God, and He wants us to be happy. He will only permit a soul to become a "victim" if that soul is especially called to such a life and firmly resolved to that end. (The soul is free to turn away from this path at any moment, since God has given us the gift of free will, and honors that gift assiduously.) Our crown in heaven will radiate to the degree that we loved on earth, and suffering adds further gems to our crowns, whether it be short periods of intense suffering or spread out thinly over time. Every day presents a thousand opportunities to offer oneself as a gift to God and others; even something as simple as a broken toe-nail, getting cut off while driving, being accused unjustly, or being asked for help at an inconvenient time. How we respond in such instances, will determine the splendor of our crown in heaven. In fact, these little daily opportunities have the ability to transform us more effectively than if we offered our necks to the guilotine as martyrs. For, to persevere day-in and day-out in a thousand small victories requires a greater act of the will than a single moment of courage fortified by grace. We become, as it were, slow burning embers, continually offering incense before the throne of God. As Our Lady told Venerable Mary of Agreda; "For I assure thee, my dearest, that those who are perfect and punctual in their religious obligations can equal and even surpass the martyrs in merit." This same sentiment is echoed by Saint Therese; "There are trifles that please Our Lord more than the conquest of the world; a smile or a kindly word, for instance, when I feel inclined to say nothing or to appear bored." If one is still afraid of suffering, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone, since even the saints had to grow in their love;
"At the beginning of my religious life, suffering and adversities frightened and disheartened me. So I prayed continuously, asking Jesus to strengthen me and to grant me the power of His Holy Spirit that I might carry out His holy will in all things, because from the beginning I have been aware of my weakness." [p. 56] She later writes; "From the moment I came to love suffering, it ceased to be a suffering for me. Suffering is the daily food of my soul."
"Do not be afflicted if your heart often experiences repugnance and dislike for sacrifice. All its power rests in the will, and so these contrary feelings, far from lowering the value of the sacrifice in My eyes, will enhance it. Know that your body and soul will often be in the midst of fire. Although you will not feel My presence on some occasions, I will always be with you. Do not fear; My grace will be with you...[...] "O my Jesus, farewell; I must go already to take up my tasks. But I will prove my love for You with sacrifice, neither neglecting nor letting any chance for practicing it slip by.
"Once, when I was in the kitchen with Sister N., she got a little upset with me and, as a punishment, ordered me to sit on the table while she herself continued to work hard, cleansing and scrubbing. And while I was sitting there, the sisters came along and were astounded to find me sitting on the table, and each one had her say. One said that I was a loafer and another, "What an eccentric!" I was a postulant at the time. Others said, "What kind of of a sister will she make?" Still, I could not get down because sister had ordered me to sit there by virtue of obedience until she told me to get down. Truly, God alone knows how many acts of self denial it took. I thought I'd die of shame. God often allowed such things for the sake of my inner formation, but He compensated me for this humiliation by a great consolation. During Benediction I saw Him in great beauty. Jesus looked at me kindly and said, 'My daughter, do not be afraid of sufferings; I am with you.'"
Distrust Wounds Our Lord More than Anything Else!
In sufferings, the soul must trust that it is in God's care, and that nothing will harm it--for God's goodness will never give a soul more than it can bear, or more than it permits to bear. Our trust in His goodness must be unerring and absolute;
"Your great trust in Me forces me to continuously grant you graces. You have great and incomprehensible rights over My Heart, for you are a daughter of complete trust."
"[Jesus says;] Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even My death is not enough for them. Woe to the soul that abuses these gifts."
"O what precious moments these are. It is a happiness that the Lord gives me to relish almost always in moments of affliction. At these moments, more than ever, when the whole world troubles and weighs on me, I desire nothing other than to love and to suffer. Yes my father, even in the midst of so much suffering I am happy because it seems as if my heart is beating with Jesus' heart."
To Court the Cross
If suffering is the greatest form of love, then meditation on Our Lord's passion is the greatest form of meditation. As Jesus told Saint Faustina once; "There is more merit to one hour of meditation on My sorrowful Passion than there is to a whole year of flagellation that draws blood; the contemplation of My painful wounds is of great profit to you, and it brings Me great joy." A soul that always has Our Lord's Passion and Our Lady's agony on the forefront of its mind will make rapid progress in the spiritual life, for it is through the passion of Our Lord that God's love for man is revealed in its highest form. We read similar sentiments in a vision given to Saint Faustina, during a time when she had great dryness of prayer;
: "Jesus was suddenly standing before me, stripped of His clothes, His body completely covered with wounds, His eyes flooded with tears and blood, His face disfigured and covered with spittle. The Lord then said to me, "The bride must resemble her Betrothed." I understood these words to the very depth. There is no room for doubt here. My likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility. "See what love of human souls has done to Me. My daughter, in your heart I find everything that so great a number of souls refuses Me. Your heart is My repose. I often wait with great graces until towards the end of prayer."
"When Jesus wants me to understand that He loves me, He allows me to savor the wounds, the thorns, the agonies of His passion...When He wants to delight me, He fills my heart with that spirit which is all fire; He speaks to me of His delights. But when He wants to be delighted, He speaks to me of His sorrows, He invites me -- with a voice full of both supplication and authority -- to affix my body [to the cross] in order to alleviate His suffering. Who can resist Him? I realize how much my miseries have caused Him to suffer, how much I have offended Him. I desire no other than Jesus alone, I want nothing more than His pains (because this is what Jesus wishes). Let me say--since no one can hear me--I am disposed to remain forever deprived of the sweetness Jesus allows me to feel. I am ready to suffer Jesus hiding His beautiful eyes from me, so long as He does not hide His love from me, because then I would die. But I do not feel I can be deprived of suffering--for this I lack strength. [...] Perhaps I have not yet expressed myself clearly with regards to the secret of this suffering. Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, wants all Christians to imitate Him; He has offered this chalice to me yet again, and I have accepted it. That is why He does not spare me. My humble sufferings are worth nothing, but Jesus delights in them because He loved [suffering] on earth...Now shouldn't this alone be enough to humiliate me, to make me seek to be hidden from the eyes of men, since I was made worthy of suffering with Jesus and as Jesus? Ah, my father! I feel too keenly my ingratitude toward God's majesty."
Davide A. Bianchini, Contact