Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Friends of the Cross, Part 4

[1. Nothing is so necessary]
21. Dear Friends of the Cross, we are all sinners; there is not one of us who has not deserved hell, and I more than anyone. Our offences have to be punished either in this world or in the next. If we suffer for them now, we shall not suffer for them after death. If we willingly accept punishment for them, this punishment will be an act of God's love; for it is mercy which holds sway and chastises in this world, and not strict justice. This punishment will be light and temporary, accompanied by consolation and merit, and followed by rewards both here and in eternity.
22. But if the punishment due for our sins is put off till the next world, then it will be God's avenging justice, which puts everything to fire and sword, which will inflict the punishment, a dreadful, indescribable punishment: "Who understands the power of your anger?" Judgement without mercy, without relief, without merit, without limit and without end. Yes, without end. That serious sin you committed in a few brief moments, that deliberate evil thought which now escapes your memory, that word carried away by the wind, that brief action against the law of God - they shall all be punished for eternity, in the company of the devils in hell, so long as God is God. And this avenging God will have no pity on your torments, on your cries and tears, violent enough to cleave the rocks. To suffer forever, without merit, without mercy, and without end.
23. Do we think of this, my dear brothers and sisters, when we have to suffer some trial in this world? How fortunate we are to be able to exchange a never-ending and unprofitable punishment for a temporary and rewarding one just by bearing our cross with patience! How many of our debts are still unpaid! How many sins have we committed which, despite a sincere confession and heartfelt contrition, will have to be atoned for in purgatory for many years, simply because in this world we contented ourselves with a few slight penances!
Ah, let us settle our debts with good grace in this life by cheerfully carrying our cross. In the next, a strict account is demanded down to the last penny, to the last idle word. If we were able to snatch from the devil the book of death in which he has entered all our sins and the punishment due to them, what a heavy debt we should find, and how delighted we should be to suffer for long years on earth rather than a single day in the world to come!
24. Friends of the Cross, do you not flatter yourselves that you are, or desire to become, the friends of God? Well then, resolve to drink the cup that you must drink in order to become his friends: "They drank the cup of the Lord and became the friends of God." Benjamin, the beloved son of Jacob, was given the cup, while his other brothers received nothing but wheat. The beloved disciple of Christ, so dear to his Master's heart, went up to Calvary and drank of his cup. "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" To desire God's glory is excellent, but to desire and pray for it without resolving to suffer all things is both foolish and extravagant: "You do not know what you are asking..." "We must experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of heaven." To enter this kingdom you must suffer many crosses and tribulations.
25. Rightly you glory in being God's children. You should glory, then, in the correction your heavenly Father has given you and will give you in the future, for he chastises all his children. If you are not included among his beloved children, you are, alas, included among those who are lost, as St. Augustine points out. He also tells us, "The one who does not mourn in this world like a stranger and a pilgrim will not rejoice in the world to come as a citizen of heaven."
If your heavenly Father does not send you some worthwhile crosses from time to time, it is because he no longer cares about you and is angry with you; he is treating you as an outsider, no longer belonging to his family and deserving his protection, or as an illegitimate child, who, having no claim to a share of the inheritance, deserves neither care nor correction.
26. Friends of the Cross, disciples of a crucified God, the mystery of the Cross is a mystery unknown to the Gentiles, rejected by the Jews, and despised by heretics and bad Catholics. But it is the great mystery you must learn to practice in the school of Christ, and which can only be learnt from him. You will look in vain in all the schools of ancient times for a philosopher who taught it; in vain you will appeal to the senses or to reason to throw some light on it. It is only Jesus, through his all-powerful grace, who can teach you this mystery and give you the ability to appreciate it.
Strive then to become proficient in this all-important science under your great Master, and you will understand all other sciences, for it contains them all in an eminent degree. It is our natural and supernatural philosophy, our divine and mystic theology, our philosopher's stone, which by patience transforms the basest metals into precious ones, the bitterest pains into delight, poverty into riches, the most profound humiliations into glory. The one among you who knows best how to carry his cross, even though in other things he does not know A from B, is the most learned of all.
The great St. Paul returned from the third heaven, where he learned mysteries hidden even from the angels, and he proclaimed that he did not know, nor did he want to know anything but Christ crucified. Rejoice, then, you ordinary Christian, man or woman, without any schooling or intellectual abilities, for if you know how to suffer cheerfully, you know more than a doctor of Sorbonne University who does not know how to suffer as you do.
27. You are the members of Christ, a wonderful honour indeed, but one which entails suffering. If the Head is crowned with thorns, can the members expect to be crowned with roses? If the Head is jeered at and covered with dust on the road to Calvary, can the members expect to be sprinkled with perfumes on a throne? If the Head has no pillow on which to rest, can the members expect to recline on feathers and down? That would be unthinkable!
No, no, my dear Companions of the Cross, do not deceive yourselves. Those Christians you see everywhere, fashionably dressed, fastidious in manner, full of importance and dignity, are not real disciples, real members of Christ crucified. To think they are would be an insult to our thorn-crowned Head and to the truth of the Gospel. How many so- called Christians imagine they are members of our Saviour when in reality they are his treacherous persecutors, for while they make the sign of the cross with their hand, in their hearts they are its enemies!
If you are guided by the same spirit, if you live with the same life as Jesus, your thorn-crowned Head, you must expect only thorns, lashes and nails; that is, nothing but the cross; for the disciple must be treated like the master and the members like the head. And if you were to be offered, as was St. Catherine of Sienna, a crown of thorns and one of roses, you should, like her, choose the crown of thorns without hesitation and press it upon your head, so as to be like Christ.
28. You know that you are living temples of the Holy Spirit and that, like living stones, you are to be set by the God of love into the building of the heavenly Jerusalem. And so you must expect to be shaped, cut and chiseled under the hammer of the cross; otherwise, you would remain rough stones, good for nothing but to be cast aside. Be careful that you do not cause the hammer to recoil when it strikes you; respect the chisel that is carving you and the hand that is shaping you. It may be that this skillful and loving craftsman wants you to have an important place in his eternal edifice, or to be one of the most beautiful works of art in his heavenly kingdom. So let him do what he pleases; he loves you, he knows what he is doing, he has had experience. His strokes are skillful and directed by love; not one will miscarry unless your impatience makes it do so.
29. The Holy Spirit compares the cross sometimes to a winnowing-fan which separates the grain from the chaff and the dust. Like the grain before the fan, let yourselves be shaken up and tossed about without resisting; for the Father of the household is winnowing you and will soon put you in his granary. At other times the Holy Spirit compares the cross to a fire which removes the rust from the iron by the intensity of its heat. Our God is a consuming fire dwelling in our souls through his cross in order to purify them without consuming them, as he did of old in the burning bush.
Again, he likens the cross to the crucible of a forge in which the good metal is refined and the dross vanishes in smoke; the metal is purified by fire, while the impurities disappear in the heat of the flames. And it is in the crucible of tribulation and temptation that the true friends of the cross are purified by their constancy in sufferings, while its enemies are swept away through their impatience and murmuring.
30. My dear Friends of the Cross, see before you a great cloud of witnesses who, without saying a word, prove what I have been saying. Consider, for example, that upright man Abel, who was killed by his brother; and Abraham, an upright man who was a stranger on earth; Lot, an upright man driven from his own country; Jacob, an upright man persecuted by his brother; Tobit, an upright man stricken with blindness; Job, an upright man who was impoverished, humbled, and covered with sores from head to foot.
31. Consider the countless apostles and martyrs who were bathed in their own blood; the virgins and confessors who were reduced to poverty, humbled, persecuted or exiled. They can all say with St. Paul, "Look upon Jesus, the pioneer and prefecture of our faith," the faith we have in him and in his Cross; it was necessary that he should suffer and so enter through the Cross into his glory.
At the side of Jesus, see Mary his Mother, who was never stained with any sin, original or actual, yet whose pure and loving heart was pierced through. If I had time to dwell on the sufferings of Jesus and Mary, I could show that what we suffer is nothing compared to theirs.
32. Who, then, would dare claim to be exempt from the cross? Which of us would not hasten to the place where he knows the cross awaits him? Who would refuse to say with St. Ignatius of Antioch, "Come, fire and gibbet, wild beast and all the torments of hell, that I may delight in the possession of Christ."
33. But if you are not willing to suffer patiently and carry your cross with resignation like God's chosen ones, then you will have to carry it, grumbling and complaining like those on the road to damnation. You will be like the two oxen that drew the Ark of the Covenant, lowing as they went; like Simon of Cyrene who unwillingly took up the very cross of Christ and did nothing but complain while he carried it. And in the end you will be like the impenitent thief, who from the summit of his cross plunged into the abyss.
No, this accursed earth on which we live is not destined to make us happy; in this land of darkness we cannot expect to see clearly; there is no perfect calm on this stormy sea; we can never avoid conflicts on this field of trial and battle; we cannot escape being scratched on this thorn-covered earth. Willingly or unwillingly, all must carry their cross, both those who serve God and those who do not. Keep in mind the words of the hymn:
Three crosses stand on Calvary's height;
One must be chosen, so choose aright;
You must suffer like a saint or repentant thief,
Or like a reprobate, in endless grief.
That is to say, if you are not willing to suffer gladly like Jesus, or patiently like the penitent thief, then you will have to suffer like the unrepentant thief. You will have to drink the cup of bitterness to the dregs without the consoling help of grace, and you will have to bear the whole weight of your cross, deprived of the powerful support of Christ. You will even have to carry the deadly weight which the devil will add to it by means of the impatience it will cause you. And after sharing the unhappiness of the impenitent thief on earth, you will share his misery in eternity.

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