Christianity

How to suffer well

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.

St Augustine

We will all suffer in this life. That is the truth of our fallen world. The question is how to suffer well? If we suffer well, we may do great good, and also suffer less in purgatory, but if we suffer poorly, we will multiply our suffering and only bring further punishment on ourselves.

To suffer well, we must accept suffering from the hands of Our Father, in obedience, in humility, and in love.

We must suffer all that comes our way in obedience to God’s will, recognising the truth that all things are directed according to His providence and will, to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Our suffering comes to us from God, and we must not refuse it, simply because it is His will for us.

You might find the thought that God has willed your suffering upsetting, but actually this should comfort us. Suffering is not the ultimate evil that it’s often portrayed as. It is not meaningless or pure evil. It is a gift, albeit a mysterious gift, of our loving Father. We can accept suffering because He is trustworthy.

It was by Jesus’s obedience to the Father upon the cross that Adam’s fatal disobedience has been undone (Romans 5:19), and so by suffering in obedience we are united to Jesus’s obedience and cooperate in the redemption of the world.

We must suffer in humility before God, acknowledging that we are sinners, worthy of all suffering, deserving of the fires of hell for our crimes against God who is all good and deserving of all our love. When we suffer, we should see it as a just penance for our sins, and that by this suffering we are paying a small part of our incredible debt to God.

Again, you might find this thought disturbing, and might even think it an unhealthy way of seeing yourself. And it can be, if it’s separated from from a proper awareness of God’s merciful love. But joined to that awareness, it is a liberating truth: through our suffering, the Father is disciplining us for our good, that we may share in His holiness (see Hebrews 12:5-11). Of ourselves, we are utterly unworthy of all His good gifts, but we are loved and thereby made worthy.

When we suffer with humility, we are giving God our all and asking nothing in return. It is a more perfect gift, because it is not tainted with pride. We get to offer ourselves without even claiming any credit for our offering. As Jesus tells us, we should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:10) This humility is Jesus’s entire way of being, His whole life of emptying Himself and claiming nothing for His own (Philippians 2:6-7).

We must suffer in love for God, taking suffering as an opportunity to give ourselves to Him, along with the things that are most dear to us. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only beloved son (Genesis 22:2), and if we wish to be perfect we too must look to be ready to offer God our everything, trusting Him.

By offering ourselves and all we love to the Father, in love for Him, we are united to Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross and upon the altar. We pass over from earth to heaven, from death to resurrection, from Adam to Christ. When we suffer like this, united to Jesus, our suffering and His become one, and our suffering gains immense value.

So, how do we suffer in obedience, humility, and love? Basically, by willing to. Each time you suffer something, by a quick mental act accept it and give it to God, saying something like, “All for you, Jesus“. It won’t cease to be suffering and it won’t become easy, but I have found that it brings a certain peace and a certain strength, because it has a meaning and because you’re no longer suffering it alone. I also recommend praying the morning offering first thing each morning, to formally offer up all the day’s prayers, works, and sufferings.

May you have a blessed lent! God bless!

“It is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ”

‘And today we again repeat with all the insistency We can command: it is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ, one needs to be a living member, in spirit and in truth, i.e., living in the state of grace and in the presence of God, either in innocence or in sincere repentance. If the Apostle of the nations, the vase of election, chastised his body and brought it into subjection: lest perhaps, when he had preached to others, he himself should become a castaway (1 Cor. ix. 27), could anybody responsible for the extension of the Kingdom of God claim any other method but personal sanctification? Only thus can we show to the present generation, and to the critics of the Church that “the salt of the earth,” the leaven of Christianity has not decayed, but is ready to give the men of today – prisoners of doubt and error, victims of indifference, tired of their Faith and straying from God – the spiritual renewal they so much need. A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination.

‘Every true and lasting reform has ultimately sprung from the sanctity of men who were driven by the love of God and of men. Generous, ready to stand to attention to any call from God, yet confident in themselves because confident in their vocation, they grew to the size of beacons and reformers. On the other hand, any reformatory zeal, which instead of springing from personal purity, flashes out of passion, has produced unrest instead of light, destruction instead of construction, and more than once set up evils worse than those it was out to remedy. No doubt “the Spirit breatheth where he will” (John iii. 8): “of stones He is able to raise men to prepare the way to his designs” (Matt. iii. 9). He chooses the instruments of His will according to His own plans, not those of men. But the Founder of the Church, who breathed her into existence at Pentecost, cannot disown the foundations as He laid them. Whoever is moved by the spirit of God, spontaneously adopts both outwardly and inwardly, the true attitude toward the Church, this sacred fruit from the tree of the cross, this gift from the Spirit of God, bestowed on Pentecost day to an erratic world.’

– Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, On The Church and the German Reich, n.19-20, published 1937

I recommend reading the whole encyclical. It’s fascinating historically, but it also contains a number of remarkably relevant passages for our own times and circumstances.

God bless!

The nativity according to St Bonaventure

‘At length arrived at the city of Bethlehem, they found there so great a multitude of people, who had resorted thither from all parts, on the same occasion, that, by reason of their extreme poverty and distress, they could find no room in the inn. Here let tenderness excite you to compassion towards the august personage of this young and delicate Virgin. Consider her at the age of fifteen, wearied with the labours of a tedious journey, confused, terrified and abashed amidst a crowded populace: she seeks, to no purpose, a place of rest; and being everywhere refused admittance for herself and spouse, is at last reduced to seek for a shelter in a homely shed, the usual refuge of persons surprised by sudden storms of rain. In this place, we may suppose St. Joseph, who was by profession a carpenter, might probably have made a land of partition, or small enclosure for themselves, in which he fixed a rack and manger for the convenience of their beasts. And now let me earnestly entreat you to be sedulously attentive to everything that passes, concerning this subject, chiefly because what I am now going to relate, I had from a devout and holy man of undoubted credit, to whom I believe it was revealed by the Blessed Virgin herself.

‘The expected hour of the birth of the Son of God being come, on Sunday, towards midnight, the holy Virgin, rising from her seat, went and decently rested herself against a pillar she found there: Joseph in the meantime, sat pensive and sorrowful; perhaps, because he could not prepare the necessary accommodation for her. But at length, he arose too, and taking what hay he could find in the manger, he diligently spread it at our Lady’s feet, and then modestly retired to another part. Then the eternal Son of God, coming forth from his mother’s womb, was, without pain to her, transferred in an instant from thence to the humble bed of hay, that was prepared for him at her feet. His holy Mother, hastily stooping down, took him up in her arms, and tenderly embracing him, laid him in her lap; then through instinct of the Holy Ghost, she began to wash and bathe him with her sacred milk, with which she was most amply supplied from heaven: this done, she took the veil off her head, and wrapping him in it, carefully reposed him in the manger. Here the ox and the ass, kneeling down, and laying their heads over the manger, gently breathed upon him, as if endowed with reason. They were sensible, that through the inclemency of the season, and his poor attire, the blessed infant stood in need of their assistance to warm and cherish him. Then the holy Virgin throwing herself on her knees, adored him, and rendering thanks to God, said: “My Lord and heavenly Father, I return thee most grateful thanks, that thou vouchsafest of thy bounty to give me thy only Son ; and I praise and worship thee, O eternal God, together with thee, O Son of the living God, and mine.”’

– St Bonaventure, Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

Happy 7th day of Christmas!

Lucifer’s justice compared to Mary’s

Why did Lucifer and his angels fall to pride, and the Blessed Virgin Mary not? Lucifer, prior to his fall, was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. From her conception, Mary was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. Lucifer was created without original sin, in fact he was created prior to sin even existing, and Mary was conceived without original sin also. So was Mary at risk of falling just as much as Lucifer was? I don’t think so.

The difference, I think, is that Lucifer was without sin because he was created in original justice, a justice that was his own justice. He was, simply from the way he was created, just, and ordered properly towards God. He had the justice natural to creatures.

But Mary’s Immaculate Conception did not give her a justice of her own: she was given the justice of the Christian, to share in Christ’s own justice, by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was not simply created fresh, without sin in the same way that Adam and Eve were, she was recreated in the divine recapitulation of Jesus, infused with the life of God. She is not just new, she is renewed. Her holiness belongs entirely and solely to God.

Lucifer’s justice was from God as its creator, to God as its end, but of Lucifer as its object.  Mary’s justice is from God, to God, and of God.

It is from God, but not as its creator, since the justice of Mary is the justice of Jesus, and the justice of Jesus is not created, but simply His being, His life of obedience and love to the Father from eternity to eternity. Jesus’s justice is His alignment with the Father, which is who He is.

It has God as its end, but not merely, as in Lucifer’s case, as the standard it is directed to, as an oven has cooking as its end. Mary’s justice has God as its end in a more perfect way, because Mary’s justice is her union with God, sharing His divine life, His very Godhead, and so its end is nothing less than for Mary to be made perfectly one with God.

It is of God, because it is Christ’s saving work upon the cross, and her being united to Christ crucified, Him living in her. It is not her work, but her union with Christ’s saving work. Lucifer had the justice of a servant: of doing what is required of him; Mary had the justice of a spouse: of loving and being loved, intimately and tenderly.

So we see just how great our salvation is, and how it leaves no room for pride.

God bless, and have a wonderful Christmas!

Discouragement

‘Most beloved sons, do not ever accept such a feeling. When you feel yourself to be at fault, even if it is a sin that is fully conscious, grave, and repeated many, many, many times, do not let yourselves be fooled by the devil into consenting to discouragement. But when you feel yourself to be at fault, offer your whole fault, without analyzing it and examining it, to the Immaculate as her property, pronouncing the sole name “Mary,” as I just did a moment ago, and worry yourselves about pleasing her with the action that immediately follows, as I am doing in this moment, adding for you, most dear sons, these few words.

‘Dearly beloved, every fall, even if it be very grave and repeated, serves us always and only as a little step towards a higher perfection. For this alone, in fact, the Immaculate permits a fall, in order to heal us of our self-love, our pride, in order to lead us to humility and render us in this way more docile to divine graces. The devil, on the contrary, tries to inject despair and interior despondency, which are nothing else but a new sign of pride. If we knew well our wretchedness, we would not wonder at all at our falls, but rather we would wonder and give thanks, after the fall, for not having fallen still lower and more often. There does not exist, in fact, a sin so grave into which we cannot fall if divine grace, that is, the merciful hand of the Immaculate, does not sustain us.’

St Maximilian Kolbe, ‘Let Yourself Be Led by the Immaculate’

The conquest of death

On Easter Sunday, Jesus conquered death. We dare to taunt death, ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ [1 Cor 15:55]

Jesus didn’t just defeat death in His own case only, making Himself a special exception to the laws of life and death. He crushed death itself, abolishing its reign and dominion. He annihilated death at a metaphysical level.

The whole world was held in death’s grip, and no one could hope to escape it. It was known that eventually, each and every man, woman and child would come to be cut off from the land of the living and go down to join the dead. Everyone knew that this is simply our fate.

Everyone would eventually be cut off from the land of the living because we were all cut off already from God, the author of life. The body was subjected to corruption and death because the soul was subjected to sin. The death of the body was just a delayed reaction to the death of the soul.

But Jesus overcame both death and sin by uniting Himself to them. By becoming sin, identifying Himself perfectly with sinful humanity, and suffering death, He brought the fullness of love, and life, and righteousness down into the heart of sin and of death itself. He descended to the deepest existential depths of human misery and hopelessness, the darkness from which no one returns, and there He brought life to death and redemption to sin, utterly overcoming them from the inside.

As Christians we have already been baptised into Jesus’s death and resurrection. We have passed over from death to life already, and the grave will never hold us captive. Even after our bodily death, when we still await the resurrection of the body at the end of time, we will not be trapped in the grave, but alive in the spirit in Heaven.

‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’

Alleluia! God bless you!

Time

Yesterday morning the clocks went forwards an hour. Which sounds very dull, admittedly. But when you break down what is really happening, there’s something much more interesting going on.

Imagine if you didn’t understand our modern concept of time. If you understood time in terms of the natural rhythms of life, sunrise and sunset, full moon and new moon, birth and death. What would British summertime even mean? (and while we’re at it, what would British mean?)

It would mean that we all simultaneously agree to wake up one hour earlier/closer to sunrise, and move our schedules forwards an hour too. Incredibly, we all make this change at once, waking an hour earlier every day, so that we can enjoy one hour more of sunlight. Millions of people, most confessing that they are “not morning people”, all doing what they need to do to wake an hour earlier every single day.

It is astonishing that we think of it as losing an hour’s sleep and not as simply waking earlier every day. It says something about our separation from nature. For us, time has become something artificial, something primarily about other people’s rhythms, not the natural world’s. It has become something we create and define, a rhythm we dictate rather than dance to. In this note, thank God for the Church’s liturgical calendar, with its lumpy organic character, giving a bit of rhythm to the life of the soul. Thank God we don’t have a sterile religion, without feasts and seasons and God given rhythm.

We should also recognise the power of reframing our ideas. If we were all told to move our lives to be an hour earlier, we’d say no. If we asked those who wake up at 7 to suddenly start waking up at 6 each morning, they’d say it’s asking too much. But if we reframe it as just changing the clocks and missing one hour of sleep, we can all do that and we hardly even mention it (except for me, it seems). We have made a significant change consistently across a large population, just by a small change to our thinking, a slight shift to our frame of reference.

God bless you!