“They that are Christ’s,” writes St. Paul, “have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences thereof” (Gal 5:24). “Know you not,” he exclaims, “that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death” (Rom 6:3). Prat’s commentary on this text is a useful summing-up of our theme and a good introduction to our next point. “We live,” he writes, “in proportion as we are associated with the life of Christ: Now it is in His death that Jesus Christ makes us participate in His life: we live in Him only so far as we die in Him. This takes place de jure on Calvary [and also may we add, in a manner at Mass], de facto at baptism. Baptism [and we again add, the Mass] applies to us the fruit of Calvary. In it [and in the Mass] Jesus Christ associates us, in a mystical, yet very real way, with His death and His. life. By associating us with His death, He neutralizes the active principle which sin had implanted in us, and which constituted the old man; by associating us with His life, He destroys all the germs of death and confers upon us the privilege of endless life: life of the soul and life of the body, life of grace and life of glory. No doubt we possess in hope only a portion of these favors, but ‘hope confoundeth not.’ God wishes to perfect His work in us, and He binds Himself to do so by granting us a certain pledge of His fidelity, we have only to let ourselves live.” Rather, we should say, we have only to let Christ rise to life in us.
Let us quote Prat still further: His sober words carry an amazing truth. “To be baptized into Christ is not simply to be made subject to Him, like a slave to his master, or like a liegeman to his lord, nor is it merely to be bound to Him by an oath like a soldier to his general, nor even to be consecrated to Him as a temple to a divinity, it is still more and above all to be incorporated with Him, to be immersed in Him, as if in a new element, to become part of Him as another self.” And noting the phrase “in the death of Christ,” he adds: “In fact, we are associated with Christ and become members of Him just when He Himself becomes the Savior. Now this moment, in the case of Jesus, coincides with that of His death, symbolized and mystically realized for us at baptism [and in another way, in the Mass]. From that time on, we have everything in common with Jesus Christ, we are crucified, buried, and raised from the dead with Him, we share His death and His new life, His glory, His reign, and His heritage.”
Prat summarizes St. Paul’s thought thus: “The sacraments are efficacious signs which produce ex opere operato what they signify. Now baptism represents sacramentally the death and life of Christ. It must therefore produce in us a death, mystical in its essence but real in its effects, death to sin, to the flesh, to the old man, as well as life in conformity with the life of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”
We are here in contact with a great mystery, and we note that independence of the time sequence to which we have previously referred. In some way we died to ourselves with Christ on the cross and rose to new life in His Resurrection. This death to our old selves and resurrection to life in Christ are sacramentally repeated and renewed at baptism. The same mystery is more or less re-echoed every time that we offer ourselves up to Christ at Mass and receive His life in Communion. And the same mystery thus expressed in baptism and in the Mass must characterize our whole life. We signify it—we promise it—at Mass; we must mean what we say—we must keep our promises. If we remember that before Christ with His life was given to us in baptism, a renunciation of our own life—insofar as it was connected with the world, the flesh, and the devil—was made on our behalf, we shall have some idea what our obligations are. The sacrifice of the cross, which is made ours in the Mass, was a complete summing-up and expression of what the whole of our Lord’s life had been on earth. Baptism is for us a complete summing-up and expression for us of what our whole life on earth must be: the death of our old self, which was crucified on the cross with Christ, and the development of the life of Christ in all our actions. “He must increase but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30); there is hardly any better formula. The “old man”—as St. Paul calls our fallen self—is crucified with Christ on the cross, is condemned to death, so to speak, in baptism and even given a death-wound there and is offered up in the Mass for destruction; it still remains for us to carry out that sentence of death and destruction and to fulfill the offering made at Mass.
This has to be done by mortification. Let us be quite clear. Mortification is no mere negative thing; it is the getting rid of self in order to allow Jesus to live His life in us and to enable us to share His life fully. The evil effects of the sin of Adam still remain inasmuch as our passions and our lower appetites are not properly subject to our will. They clamor for satisfaction, rebelling against control, and if they are not checked, they grow from strength to strength and carry us away into sin. In order to submit ourselves completely to Christ, we have to be masters of ourselves. To put things in a homely fashion, we are like a man driving a donkey; either he drives the donkey or the donkey drives him. We either rule our passions or they rule us. To rule our lower appetites, we must not only be determined not to allow them any unlawful satisfaction, but even to refuse them some lawful gratification, for it is well known that one who only says “no” to himself when the law says “no” to him will soon lose his authority over himself and become unable to say “no” even when necessary.
There is no living a Christian life without that degree of mortification which is sufficient to prevent our lower appetites from leading us into sin. We are speaking now in general terms. We include under these appetites the desire of bodily pleasure, of ease, of comfort, of gratification, of admiration, of knowledge, of pleasing others, of revenge, of achievement, and all those attempts which self-love makes to control and dictate our actions. Where the satisfaction of the desire is forbidden, there is obviously no question of living the life of Jesus in the action which gratifies it. As a result of original sin, it is only by a constant struggle that we can keep control of ourselves. And if these desires are habitually gratified, they will soon become masters of our lives. Obviously then, we must establish at least sufficient authority in our self-government to remain masters of ourselves. In this way we are cooperating in the work of undoing the effects of Adam’s sin, which lost for our first parents the gift of integrity, and leaves us under the necessity of maintaining a continual struggle to keep our lower appetites and passions in subjection.
Good habits have an important part to play in this matter; they facilitate greatly the performance of good actions, while bad habits interfere considerably with proper self-government. We cannot here enter into details of this aspect of mortification, but the question is fully discussed in the general literature of the subject; what we would stress, is the importance of motivation in dealing with habits, and the need of having a positive aim and ideal which will move our will in the matter. What is often called a weak will is really the will of one who has not developed sufficient motives or ideals to move it. There is practically no normal weakness that cannot be overcome by proper motives and ideals. For an emergency, so to speak, one may seize upon any motive that will deter the will from a particular sin as a means to a higher end; but, because of the importance which the love of God has in the merit of our actions, it is essential to develop motives which flow from it, and which will act as a permanent driving force for the will. There is no stable virtue without such motives.
The personal love of Jesus, leading us to be ready to remove all obstacles to His full life in us and to His sharing in our every action, is probably one of the best motives. From a different point of view, we might be led by the same love to regard mortification as the removal of the obstacles to our perfect sharing in the life of His Mystical Body, which arise from the efforts of our own nature to assert itself. Each one, with the help of the Holy Spirit, should form his own personal ideal. It is important that it should be an effective and gripping one. Everyday experience affords many examples of the complete change in character and habits produced even in weaker men, by a strong personal motive such as arises, say, from war, from love, or from a new responsibility. That is but another reason why we are so insistent on the need for daily reading and reflection, and for the early development of a tender, personal love for our Lord.
It need not be thought that all pleasure must be shunned by one who would live with Christ. We are men, not angels, and some pleasure is necessary for us. In fact, when one realizes the nerveracking rush and rattle of modern life, its provincial superficiality and shallow insincerity, its unutterable boredom and its deadly monotony, and when one considers those worries that the difficulties of each day bring to the mind of anyone who has responsibilities, it may seem that there is even more need for the relaxation of pleasure today than formerly. That is a question that need not be settled here. But, in any case, there is a lawful measure and manner of pleasure that is both necessary and praiseworthy, and which can be shared with our beloved. He Himself told us: “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40), and surely each of us is one of these brethren; in fact, we are members of Christ Himself, so that what we do to ourselves is done to Him! Therefore, all good recreation can be holy and can be offered to God. We can take Jesus with us even on the path of pleasure; we can have Him beside us in all our amusements, sharing in them all, as long as they are within the limits set by the will of God.
The ideal aim in all mortification is to avoid any action, thought, word, or deed, which Jesus cannot share and make His own. We must never forget that from our baptism we have all things that He did in common with Him, and only He could tell us how He in turn longs to share fully every single moment of our life. Mortification, then, is not performed in any morbid sense of self-hatred or contempt of the body; it is not a mere negative thing, a foolish frustration and self-suppression. It is something quite positive; an “assertion” of Jesus rather than a denial of self; for we only deny ourselves to find Him, that He may live in us and that we may be united to Him. And we should remember that He wishes even to share our thoughts so that interior mortification must not be forgotten.
The principal way of denying oneself in order to be united to Jesus is by humility. We insist upon this, despite the fact that corporal and external mortification is often presented as the first stage of the spiritual life. A man can be highly mortified in his body, master of all his passions, ready to defy all human respect, undaunted by suffering or hardship, indefatigable in good works—of the external sort—and even given to long “prayers,” and withal be as proud as the Pharisee in the Gospel and, therefore, hateful in the sight of God. Far, far, better to evade a mortification saying to God: “How unmortified I am” than to perform it, saying to oneself “How wonderful I am!” An experienced observer found the famous nuns of Port-Royal “as pure as angels, but as proud as devils.”
Still the danger of pride does not dispense us from carrying out the “crucifixion of the flesh” promised in baptism. Nor does the need and lawfulness of some pleasure exempt us from resisting the tide of the times in which people are living for pleasure. We must have at least sufficient self-control to avoid sin. But our vocation as Christians, our baptism, our participation in the Mass, our union and identification with Jesus lead us further than that. It is impossible to be intimate with Jesus, to know Him, to know His story and to know His views without feeling some desire to share His sufferings. “Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity” (Is 53:3). “O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” (Lam 1:12). “I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Ps 68:21). “I was wounded in the house of them that loved me” (Zec 13:6). A mere sense of fellowship, a desire to be like our friend, a wish to lighten His burden, would lead us at least to accept sufferings when they come, and would probably have the further effect of producing in us a certain uneasiness at living a life of pleasure.
But there is a deeper motive to be found. St. Paul writes to the Colossians: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). He had written to the Corinthians: “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27); in this latter case he merely wishes to avoid sinning personally. But the filling up of what is wanting of the sufferings of Christ is quite a different matter. The text does not mean that there is any insufficiency in the Redemption as wrought by the Passion and Death of Christ; it refers rather to the role of suffering in applying that Redemption to individual souls. Every grace that comes to men from God has to be merited by Jesus Christ, and comes from Him to us. He has associated His Mother, the Mother of Sorrows, with Him in the work of Redemption, so that at least in the application of its fruits she always has a part. But He seems to have made the application of these fruits of His Passion partly dependent also on the prayers and sufferings of the other members of His Church. This is evidenced by St. Paul’s readiness to suffer for his flock. The reports of the requests made by our Lady of Fatima are in full harmony with this view.
And our Lord Himself includes this readiness to suffer in the conditions He lays down for His followers: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” He adds immediately: “For he that will save his life shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Mt 15:24). There is an obvious reference here to the need of forgetting oneself and forsaking one’s own life in order to be united to Him and to live His life. Does He not liken the kingdom of heaven “to a merchant seeking good pearls: who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Mt 13:45–46). But He also expects His followers to share in His work of expiation and satisfaction. His reply to the request for the first places in His “kingdom” is: “Can you drink the chalice that I drink of ?” (Mk 10:38). Indeed, even now He often asks chosen souls to become victims of reparation for the sins of the world and for the direct insults offered to God and to His Son. And if He sends such souls sorrow and associates them with Him so closely in His work of Redemption, it is only because He wishes that they should earn greater glory and closer union with Him in Heaven. Indeed, even without being so chosen, no one can truly say he loves his Savior if he does not feel ready to embrace the sufferings God sends him, in order to lighten the load that the Savior had to bear in the Agony in the Garden. We should not let the time sequence disturb us. God’s foreknowledge is above all time and just as He suffered by the sins we commit today, so was He comforted by our share in His work.
This is a most fruitful field of apostolate for the laity. Even in the ordinary day’s round, they can exercise the apostolate, and, like the heart in the human body, they can associate themselves in the work of “circulating” the life of Christ in the souls of His members, by prayer and suffering. They must keep in mind that in doing so, they are dealing with primary causes; those who actually preach or minister grace are often only secondary causes—mere instruments in applying the grace someone else’s prayers and sufferings have obtained. Here is the work for any layman, which does not call for anything out of the ordinary beyond the patient acceptance of God’s will.
Suffering has other effects that are of great value. It satisfies for our own sins, it purifies our soul, and it deepens and strengthens our character and our personality. It gives us an insight and a power of sympathy for our neighbor that can be acquired in no other way. In fact, it opens to us the interior life of Christ Himself, and in doing so unites us still more closely to Him. Often, too, sharp suffering is a turning point in our lives and leads to the commencement of new fervor and new hope. Even in the natural order its deepening effects are well marked; it brings out all that is good in us, and, in an extraordinary way, it can lead to happiness and peace. False standards are shattered and our eyes are opened; we are raised to a new height of dignity, of magnanimity, of serenity, of noble moral perfection.
To quote Fr. Faber: “Nothing condenses life so much as suffering. Nothing precipitates so much the great labor of experience. Nothing so endows the faculties of our nature with the most magnificent increase. A life of joy, is for the most part, spent superfi cially and without any solid gain. There are few acts of heroism in a state of joy, although joy has also its profound lights which are full of God. But it is affliction which makes saints.”
These are the reasons why a man who comes to the service of God must prepare his soul for tribulation. God is a tremendous lover, and love knows no half measures. Love will not be satisfied with anything short of all; no degree of union short of the closest possible will satisfy it. In fact, if it seeks less, or if it is satisfied with less, it is not love. God will not be satisfied with anything less than everything: “Thy whole heart, thy whole soul, all thy mind and all thy strength.” Jesus will not be satisfied until we are transformed completely into Him. And to that end He sends us suffering so that we may be united to Him and be transformed completely into Him.
On our part, if we but really loved Him and really understood Him whom we love, we would rejoice in suffering. To love, in fact, is to suffer; for love demands union and is tortured and torn to its very depths by even the slightest defect in union. What then must be the suffering of those who truly love God while in exile here on earth! And after death, no exterior fire in purgatory is anything like the interior fire of suffering that burns in the hearts of those souls who have glimpsed their beloved God and are not yet united to Him.
This very suffering in purgatory is God’s merciful provision for the purification of those who have not completed their transformation here in this life. No one can enter into that blissful union of love with God, which is heaven, until he is perfectly transformed into Christ. That should be the normal term of our life here below; death should be merely the removal of the very last vestige of self remaining after a lifetime of gradual transformation into Christ. Unfortunately, such is not usually the case. We have, we persuade ourselves, other things to do in this life; we have our work, our career, our friends, our loves, and our talents; we have our own life to live—so we fondly imagine. And so when it all comes to the end, we are not ready; we have no wedding garment, we have no oil in our lamps. Like the famous five—we have been foolish!
The wise man hopes that God will accomplish this transformation for him here on earth. And, if he be willing to rely upon God’s grace and accept the sorrows and sufferings sent to him by God’s loving and fatherly providence, he will find that God sets about that work of transformation here and now. And what is more, he will probably find, like St. Teresa of Avila, that it is the first of our crosses that is really the hardest. Once he has learned to suffer in union with Jesus, he has discovered a new happiness hitherto undreamed of, and he begins to see what our Lord meant when, promising eternal life to those who renounced all for His sake, He added the assurance that they would “receive a hundred times as much, now in this time” (Mk 10:30). But really we should not be surprised at this discovery; our Lord Himself assured us that His yoke was easy and His burden light. Why will we not take God at His word? The pity of it all is that people are so often frightened by the thought of the suffering that they may have to endure in the service and search of God, while in fact such sufferings are usually no greater than those which men often endure to ensure worldly success or the attainment of some cherished end—to say nothing of the fact that halfhearted service is the hardest service of all. Courage has its own reward in these matters. There is in the spiritual life a relief that comes in time, something very similar to the athlete’s “second wind.” After a certain amount of effort it seems to the runner that he cannot possibly go one step further; he has then to force himself to endure the strain and to continue his efforts. Very soon, however, his system readjusts itself to the new demands that are being made upon it, and he experiences that sense of relief and consciousness of new strength known as “second wind.” A similar renewal of one’s strength can come under like circumstances in the spiritual life also. Our motto should be: Do manfully! And let it never be forgotten that pleasure is not happiness, nor is suffering sadness. All the saints’ lives are full of joy—a joy that the world does not know, a joy that surges up in a man’s heart and wells up like a river, overflowing and overwhelming his whole being till his very soul sings a canticle of joy. Only the lovers of God can understand the Ninth Symphony.
And in passing let it be added that these lovers of God share Beethoven’s difficulty in finding adequate expression of their feelings. To express his joy Beethoven had to make use of words and the human voice in that famous orchestral work. To express their love for God, His lovers can find no more adequate way than of suffering. For suffering intensifies love and manifests it. Our Lord Himself went far beyond the measure of suffering necessary to make strict atonement for our sins. The Cross is the expression of His love. One cannot see into the heart of the lover, but suffering gladly and joyfully borne for the sake of the beloved is the lover’s age-old resource to manifest his own heart and to touch the heart for which he longs. Let it be added that there is a special poignancy and immeasurable depth in our Lord’s sufferings which has no counterpart in the sufferings of the human lover. Where love is unrequited, or where it fails to find full or even adequate response, there is always the cold comfort of the possibility that the very failure to respond is merely an indication of the inherent impossibility of finding full satisfaction or return. There are hearts so centered on themselves, that they can only be a source of grief and misery to those who love them. Our Lord knew that there is no heart, no character, no soul so cold, so hard, so selfish, or so self-sufficient, that He could not set it on fire, if that heart would but give itself to Him. He knew that the very suffering which the hardness of each particular heart was causing Him could be the very means of His meriting for it, of softening it, and giving it a power to love far beyond reckoning. “With God all things are possible.” He knew that He can make a success of every single soul whose love He seeks. But . . .”thou wouldst not.” That is what breaks His Sacred Heart! For suffering that is inevitable is not so keen as that caused by the will of another. To realize that one’s own happiness, or, as in this case, the happiness of one’s beloved, could be realized by the mere consent of another who can give it but will not—that is what pierces the very depth of the heart and rends it in an agony of pain.
And it is exactly for this purpose—to make a success of us, to kindle this fire of love in our hearts—that He allows suffering to come to us. He can take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts like His own. Sufferings—the sufferings He sends—will do that if we take them in the proper manner. But we must accept them rightly; for suffering can destroy any greatness of soul we may have and make us narrow, bitter, hard, and incapable of love, if we do not accept it properly. What then should our attitude be in suffering?
To determine our proper dispositions in suffering we should first of all note that suffering in itself and for its own sake is not good, nor is it willed by God as such. Its value lies in the effects it has upon the soul and the acts of which it is the occasion. Also it may be noted that suffering generally owes much of its painful aspect for us to some attachment we have to a created good, either in ourselves or in others. To accept suffering when it comes as an inevitable evil may only be a mere sickly expression of spineless impotence; it could be the surrender of defeat, a fatalism that is far from Christian. But even Christian acceptance of suffering can vary. St. Bernard describes three different attitudes: “Those who are beginning in the school of fear, carry the cross of Christ with patient submission; those who are progressing in hope, bear it willingly and readily; but those who are consumed with love, embrace it with ardor.”
The patient submission of the first group is a resignation which excludes all murmuring; despite our repugnance, we will what God wills. Tears may flow, but even though our eyes are blurred, we see the hand of God our sovereign Lord. We may pray for relief, we may seek help, but still: “Not my will, but thine, be done.” We imitate the divine model in Gethsemani, who in His love for us let us see His human repugnance to the sorrows of His Passion.
The second group go further. They not only see the hand of God their sovereign, but they recognize it as the hand of their loving Father. Their faith and hope convince them that God is acting for their good. If His pruning knife is painful, yet He is only ensuring the fruitfulness of their life. They endeavor to cooperate with God. They try to thank Him, they praise His providence, they conform themselves to His will and actively follow His lead. They remember that they are the bread and wine of Christ’s priestly sacrifice in their souls, and that it is in suffering that He transforms them into His own Body. They love Him, and if, being human, they must seek sympathy, they prefer to seek it from Him. To their fellow men they are silent. This silence in suffering, when prudent, is a great virtue; though there may be times when the relief of speech is not only necessary but also praiseworthy.
The lover, however, embraces the Cross, and delights to share the life and even the death of his beloved. It is not the suffering as such that he loves; that would be the desire of a diseased mind. It is rather the one who suffered. For the lover seeks no reasons; if Jesus suffered, that is enough; His lover must suffer too. There are souls for whom it can happen that the greatest suffering is not to suffer. St. Teresa exclaims: “Either to suffer or to die.” St. John of the Cross sings in limpid poetry: “I die because I do not die.” This seems unnatural; but when every other attachment is gone, when every simple tendency of the heart and will is to the beloved, no created joy can satisfy the heart. In fact, even the truest and the greatest joys of creatures can only hurt, for the lover sees in them all a faint image of the beloved—whom he has not yet found in full union, for whom he longs, and without whom he cannot find rest or happiness.
But as with all human desires, there are many different reasons for this glad embrace of the Cross. Love must be told; it must express itself. In fact the love that does not know that urge to expression is hardly love at all; it is perhaps some sort of secret pride in one’s own tastes or one’s own benevolence. Now suffering gives expression to love as nothing else can; hence the relief it can give to the bursting heart that can know no joy but that which it can share with its beloved, and would rather suffer with Him, than be full of all else without Him.
Listen to St. Andrew going to his crucifixion: “Hail, O Cross! Receive the disciple of Him who hung from thee—my Master, Christ! O good Cross, so long desired and now awaiting my thirsty heart. In tranquil joy and exultant security I come to thee! Do thou, also exulting, receive me the disciple of Him who hung from thee! Thou hast received the beauty and loveliness of the members of the Lord; do thou now receive me and take me from men and join me again to my Master, so that He who by thee redeemed me, may by thee also receive me.”
It is not to be expected that all will be able to summon up such enthusiasm as St. Andrew, just as it is not to be expected that all will meet the same extreme fate. But there is one thing which can be expected: that if anyone greets even the smallest cross which God sends him as St. Andrew did, he will find his cross very much lightened and will perceive a joy that may open to him a new realm of happiness, for he will discover a wonderful sense of fellowship with Jesus in suffering.
Our Lord Himself warned us: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot he my disciple. And whatsoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. . . . Every one of you that doth not renounce all he possesseth cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26, 27, 33).
When we remember that these are the words of Him who commanded us to love even our enemies and to honor our father and our mother, it is obvious that there is a Hebrew figure of speech in the use of the word “hate.” The meaning here, of course, is that we must love God above all these and let no love of the creature interfere with the love of the Creator and all that it asks of us. Suffering came into the world by the free act of man’s will in turning away from God. And much suffering has its ultimate origin in the love of the creature. Now God is our lover. He will not be satisfied with part of our heart; He will not share our heart with any single one of His creatures. We may love them in due measure, but always in complete subordination to our love for Him, always ready to renounce any or all of them as soon as His love demands it. That is His desire. Unfortunately we are full of attachments; we have given our hearts to many things, and God in His merciful goodness provides in His government for our lives for the breaking down of these attachments. Advance in the spiritual life, advance in the quest for Jesus, advance in union with Jesus consists principally in two things: more and more detachment, and more and more purity of intention.
To produce this development is the purpose of God’s providence and is the result of our abandonment to His will. To this progress we must now turn our attention. But let us insist that in all this question of mortification and suffering, there is no question of mere negation. We mortify ourselves to embrace Jesus; we welcome suffering for love of Jesus because it transforms us into Him, and by detaching us from His creatures, gives Him our whole heart. As in the case of St. Andrew, the Cross joins us and unites us to Christ.
Suffering should be a matter of joy rather than of sadness; in fact, so much do we feel that to be true, that even where there is only question of those voluntary mortifications or acts of selfdenial by which one brings one’s self into subjection, and breaks the bonds that tie one to creatures—we would say that the rule for such mortification is to perform only those acts that one can Christ’s life-giving cross do cheerfully and without losing one’s peace of mind. “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). To give cheerfully is a grace from God, which He will cheerfully give to those who sincerely ask. St. Francis of Assisi gave us his notion of perfect joy when he said: “More than all graces and gifts of the Holy Ghost, which God gives His friends, is to deny oneself and, for the sake of Christ’s love, to suffer pain, injury, disgrace, and distress. For, in the other gifts of God we cannot glory, because they are not our own but God’s, whereas in the cross of trial and suffering we can glory, for it is our own.”
At the risk of apparent contradiction, we add an assertion that may seem strange after all we have said of suffering; yet truth and prudence compel it. To do the will of God, whether it be in joy or sorrow, in pleasure or in pain, is a greater thing than to suffer. To do the will of God, so readily, so eagerly, so lovingly that we do not even notice whether it accords with our own will and desires is the height of self-denial. To accept our own imperfection in the manner in which we accept the will of God can be a tremendous act of self-denial. In fact, “it is a pure grace from God and one of the greatest, to suffer in a petty way, to conquer in a feeble manner, that is to say, with a sort of spiritual feebleness; humbly and with self-contempt, and to be so discontented with ourselves that we do not believe that we ever do anything well. This discontent with ourselves is very pleasing to God, and His content should be the basis of our own. Nothing would give us any further anxiety if we found our sole satisfaction in pleasing and satisfying God.” To ensure a proper perspective we refer the reader back to Bl. Guerric’s doctrine at the end of the last chapter, and we also quote Msgr. Gay: “Holy spiritual childhood is a more perfect state than the love of suffering, for nothing immolates a man to such a degree as to be sincerely and peacefully lowly. The childlike spirit kills pride far more surely than the spirit of penance.” The apparent contradiction disappears if we remember that the fundamental reason both for suffering and for humility is to give ourselves to God and to be transformed into Him. Whatever achieves that best is the more perfect. And one cannot improve on the will of God as a means of sanctification whether He sends us joy or sorrow. It is His will—and that is all that really matters.