Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Suffering

I've been meaning to share this for a while. The world tells us, especially in our culture today, "Please yourself, Make yourself happy, You deserve it, You don't have to go through that." All Lies. Truly. If you understand the meaning of suffering and why we must imitate Christ, who suffered much for love of us. This passage, from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis, has really helped me to understand more deeply that we must suffer, if we want to follow Christ. I have put in bold parts that really stood out to me. I hope it helps you as it did me.

On the Royal Road of the Cross

"Anyone who wishes to follow Me must deny self, take up the cross, and follow Me." (Mt 16:24)

Why are you afraid to take up your cross, since it is the only way to the kingdom of heaven? In the cross is salvation and life; in the cross is defense against our enemies. Through the cross heavenly sweetness is poured into our souls, our minds are strengthened and we experience spiritual joy.

In the cross is the height of virtue and the perfection of all sanctity. Without the cross there is no salvation for our souls, nor hope of life eternal. Take your cross, then, and follow Jesus, and you will go into everlasting life.

Remember that Jesus has gone before you bearing His cross and has given His life for you upon that cross, so that you may bear your own cross and long to die on it for love of Him. For if you die with Him, you will also live with Him; and if you have shared His suffering, you will also share His glory.

Behold now in the cross there is all and how all depends on our dying there; for there is no other way to life and interior peace except by way of the cross and by daily mortification. You can go anywhere you will, seek whatever you wish, but you will not find a higher road above nor safer road below than the road of the holy cross.

No matter how you plan things and arrange them to your liking, you will find something to suffer, either willingly or unwillingly, and so you will always find the cross. Either you will suffer bodily pain, or you will endure in your soul tribulation of spirit.

Sometimes God will leave you to your own devices and sometimes your neighbor will irritate you; and what is worse, you will often be a trouble to your own self. No remedy or comfort can free you from this affliction or make it easier for your to bear; you simply have to bear your cross as long as God wills it.

God wants you to learn to suffer tribulation without comfort and, submitting yourself entirely to Him, to grow in humility through tribulation. No one so deeply feels what Christ endured as one who has had to suffer as He did. The cross is always ready and waits everywhere for you; you cannot escape it no matter where you turn.

Wherever you go, you take yourself with you and will always meet yourself face to face. Look upward or downward, within yourself or without; everywhere you will find the cross. And everywhere you must be patient if you desire interior peace and to merit a crown in heaven.

If you carry your cross willingly, it will carry you and bring you to your longed-for end, where there will be no more suffering - though this will not happen on earth. If you carry it grudgingly, it will become a burden and a heavier wight for you to carry, and yet you must bear it.

If you reject one cross, be sure that you will find another, perhaps a heavier one.

Do you think you can escape that which no human being has been able to avoid? What Saint in this world was ever without the cross and without suffering?

Certainly our Lord, Jesus Christ, as long as He lived on earth, was never one hour without sorrow and anguish. "Was it not necessary that the Messiah," He said, "should suffer these things and so enter into His glory?" (Lk 24:26). Then how can you seek any other road than this royal road, the road of the holy cross?

Christ's whole life was a cross and martyrdom; and do you expect pleasure and enjoyment for yourself? You make a grave mistake if you look for anything other than suffering; for this mortal life of ours is full of misery and surrounded with crosses.

The higher persons advance in the way of perfection, the heavier will they often find crosses to be. This is because the more their love of God grows, the more painful is their exile from God.

However, though such persons are afflicted in many ways, they do not lack entirely the relief of consolations; for they are aware of the great reward they reap by bearing their cross. And when they willingly submit themselves to it, their burden of suffering is turned into confidence that they will receive consolation from God.

The weaker the flesh becomes through affliction, the stronger the spirit is made by inward grace. And so it often happens that these persons gains so much strength through their desire of adversity and affliction in order to be conformed to the Crucified Christ, that they are unwilling to be without such sorrow and affliction. They are convinced that the more they can bear for love of Christ, the more pleasing they will be in God's eyes.

It is not by their own strength, but through the grace of Christ - which can and does have such a powerful effect on human frailty - that human beings can choose and even love that which by nature they hate and reject.

It is not the tendency of human beings to bear the cross and to love it, to chastise the body and to subdue it, to flee honors and to put up with reproaches, to despise themselves and to wish others to despise them, to bear all opposition and losses and not to desire any prosperity in this world.

If you trust in yourself, you will never accomplish this; but if you put your trust in God, you will be given strength from heaven, and the world and the flesh will be made subject to your command. If you are armed with faith and marked with the cross of Christ, you will not fear your enemy, the devil; for he will have no power over you.

Steel yourself, as a faithful servant of Christ, bravely to bear the cross of your Lord, Who out of love for you was nailed to the cross. Prepare yourself, then, to suffer all kinds of adversities and inconveniences in the this wretched life; for you cannot avoid them no matter where you hide. So it is in life, and there is no avenue of escape but to keep yourself in patience.

If you desire to be our Lord's dear friend and to share what is His, then you must drink heartily of His chalice. As for consolations, leave those to His will and He will arrange them as He sees best for you.

But be you prepared to suffer tribulations and to consider them the greatest comforts, saying with St. Paul: "I consider that the sufferings of Christ we presently endure are miniscule in comparison with the glory to be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18), even though you alone were able to endure it all.

When you reach the degree of patience that tribulation is sweet to you and even relished for Christ, then you may trust that all is well with you, for you have found paradise on earth.

But as long as suffering plagues you and you seek to run away from it, then you will know htat it is not well with you. You are a long way from perfect patience and the tribulation you flee will follow you everywhere.

If you resolve to do what you ought, that is, to suffer and to die to yourslef, things will go better with you and you will find peace.

Even though you may have been caught up to the third heaven with St. Paul, you are not on that account free from adversity; for our Lord, speaking of St. Paul, said: "I myself will show him how much he will have to suffer for the sake of My Name." (Acts 9:16) If you would love our Lord and serve Him constantly, then suffering remains your lot.

Oh that you were worthy to suffer something for the Name of Jesus! What great glory would await you, what great rejoicing among all the Saints, and, moreover, what great edificaiton to your neighbor!

All human beings commend patience, but how few there are who desire to suffer! You should be wiling to suffer a little for Christ, since many suffer far greater thins for the world.

Be sure of this, that you must lead a dying life; and the more you die to yourself here, the more you will begin to live to God. No one is worthy to understand heavenly things unless that person has first learned to bear afflicitons for Christ.

Nothing is more pleasing to God, or more profitable for you, than to suffer gladly for Christ. And if you would become more like Christ and follow the example of the Saints. Our merit and progress in the spiritual life does not consist in the enjoyment of consolations and heavenly sweetness, but rather in bearing adversities and afflictions.

Had there been a better way than suffering for the good of a person's soul, our Lord would certainly have shown it by word and example. but since there was not, He clearly urged His disciples and all those who wished to follow Him to carry the cross, saying: "Anyone who wishes to folow Me mus deny self, take up the cross daily, and follow Me." (Lk 9:23)

Therefore, when we have read and searched out all htings, we come to the final conclusion, that "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And may our Lord, Jesus Christ, bring us there.

"The Maker of ma
n, the Wisdom of God, has come, not in strength but in weakness...Instead of wealth, He has come poor; instead of honor, He has come in ignominy; instead of blessedness, He has come to suffer...He....has shed His whole blood in satisfaction [for our sin] when a SINGLE DROP might have sufficed."
- Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

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