Monday, September 22, 2014

Friends of the Cross, Part 7 - Conclusion

Four considerations for suffering well

55. 11) To help you to suffer in the right spirit, acquire the good habit of reflecting on these four points:

a. The eye of God

Firstly, the eye of God, who, like a great king from the height of a tower, observes with satisfaction his soldier in the midst of battle, and praises his courage. What is it that attracts God's attention on earth? Is it kings and emperors on their thrones? He often regards them only with contempt. Is it great victories of armies, precious stones, or whatever is great in the eyes of men? No, "what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God." What, then, does he look upon with pleasure and satisfaction, and about which he inquires of the angels and even the devils? It is the one who is struggling with the world, the devil, and himself for the love of God, the one who carries his cross cheerfully. As the Lord said to Satan, "Did you not see on earth a great wonder, at which all heaven is filled with admiration? Have you seen my servant Job, who is suffering for my sake?"

b. The hand of God

56. Secondly, consider the hand of God. All natural evils which befall us, from the smallest to the greatest, come from the hand of God. The same hand that killed an army of a hundred thousand men on the spot also causes a leaf to fall from the tree and a hair from your head; the hand which pressed so heavily on Job gently touches you with a light tribulation. It is the same hand which makes both day and night, sunshine and darkness, good and evil. He has permitted the sinful actions which hurt you; he is not the cause of their malice, but he permits the actions.

If anyone, then, treats you as Shimei treated King David, heaping you with insults and throwing stones at you, say to yourself, "We must not take revenge. Let him carry on, for the Lord has commanded him to act in this way. I know I deserve every kind of insult, and that it is only right that God should punish me. My hands, keep yourselves from violence; refrain, my tongue, from speaking; do not strike, do not say a word. It is true this man attacks me, that woman reviles me, but they are God's representatives, who have come on behalf of his mercy to punish me as his love alone knows how. Let us not offend his justice by usurping his rights to vengeance. Let us not slight his mercy by resisting the loving strokes of his lash, lest he should deliver me, instead, to the absolute justice of eternity."

On the one hand, God in his infinite power and wisdom bears you up, while with the other he afflicts you. With one hand he deals out death, while with the other he dispenses life. He humbles you to the dust and raises you up, and with both arms he reaches from one end of your life to the other with kindness and power; with kindness, by not allowing you to be tempted and afflicted beyond your strength; with power, by supporting you with his grace in proportion to the violence and duration of the temptation or affliction; with power again, by coming himself, as he tells us through his holy Church, "to support you on the edge of the precipice, to guide you on the uncertain road, to shade you in the scorching heat, to protect you in the drenching rain and biting cold, to carry you in your weariness, to aid you in your difficulties, to steady you on slippery paths, to be your refuge in the midst of storms" (Prayer for a Journey).

c. The wounds and sufferings of Christ crucified

57. Thirdly, reflect on the wounds and sufferings of Christ crucified. He himself has told us, "All you who pass by the way" of thorns and the cross, "look and see." Look with the eyes of your body, and see through the eyes of your contemplation, whether your poverty, destitution, disgrace, sorrow, desolation are like mine; look upon me who am innocent, and lament, you who are guilty!

The Holy Spirit tells us, through the Apostles, to contemplate the crucified Christ. He bids us arm ourselves with this thought, for it is the most powerful and formidable weapon against our enemies. When you are assailed by poverty, disrepute, sorrow, temptation, and other crosses, arm yourselves with the shield, breastplate, helmet and two- edged sword, which is the remembrance of Christ crucified. It is there you will find the solution of every problem and the means to conquer all your enemies.

d. Heaven above; hell below

58. Fourthly, look upwards and see the beautiful crown that awaits you in heaven if you carry your cross well. It was this reward which sustained the patriarchs and prophets in their faith and persecutions; which inspired the apostles and martyrs in their labours and torments. The patriarchs could say with Moses, "We would rather be afflicted with the people of God, and be happy with him forever, than enjoy for a time the pleasures of sin." And the prophets could say with David, "We suffer persecution for the reward." The apostles and martyrs could say with St. Paul, "We are as men sentenced to death, put on show in front of the whole universe, angels as well as men, by our suffering, and as the offal of the world, the scum of the earth, for the sake of a weight of eternal glory, which this small and temporary suffering will produce in us."

Let us look upwards and see the angels, who exclaim, "Be careful not to forfeit the crown which is marked out for the cross you have received, if you bear it well. If you do not bear it well, another will carry it in the right spirit and will take your crown with it. Fight bravely and suffer patiently, we are told by all the saints, and you will receive an eternal kingdom." Finally, listen to our Lord himself, who says to you, "I will give my reward only to the one who suffers and is victorious through his patience."

Now let us look downward to the place we have deserved and which awaits us in hell in the company of the bad thief and all who have not repented, if we suffer as they did, with feelings of resentment, ill- will and revengefulness. Let us say with St. Augustine, "Lord, treat me as you will in this world for my sins, so long as you pardon them in eternity."

Never complain against creatures

59. 12) Never willingly complain against any person or thing that God may use to afflict you. There are three kinds of complaints we may make in times of distress. The first is natural and spontaneous, as when the body groans and complains, weeps and laments. There is no fault in this, provided, as I have said, that the heart is resigned to the will of God. The second kind of complaint is that of the mind, as when we make known our ills to someone who can give us some relief, such as a doctor or a superior. There may be some imperfection in this if we are too eager to tell our troubles, but there is no sin in it. The third kind is sinful: that is when we criticise our neighbour either to get rid of an evil which afflicts us or to take revenge on him; or when we willfully complain of what we suffer with impatience and murmuring.

Accept the cross only with gratitude

60. 13) Whenever you receive any cross, always welcome it with humility and gratitude. And when God favours you with a cross of some importance, show your gratitude in a special way, and get others to thank him for you. Follow the example of the poor woman who lost all that she had in an unjust law-suit and immediately offered her few remaining coins to have a Mass said in thanksgiving for her good fortune.

Take up some voluntary crosses

61. 14) If you want to make yourself worthy of the best kind of crosses, that is, those which come to you without your choosing, then under the guidance of a prudent director, take up some of your own accord.

For example, suppose you have a piece of furniture you are fond of, but which is of no use to you. You could give it away to someone who needs it, saying to yourself, "Why should I have things I don't need when Jesus is so poor?'

Or if you have a distaste for a certain kind of food, an aversion for the practice of some particular virtue, or a dislike for some offensive odour, you could take the food, practice the virtue, accept the odour, and thus conquer yourself.

Or again, your fondness for a certain person or thing may be immoderate. Why not see less of that person, or keep away from those things that attract you?

If you have a natural inclination never to miss what is going on, to be always doing things, to be in the limelight, to frequent popular places, then guard your eyes, watch your tongue, and stay where you are.

Have you a natural aversion for certain persons or things? Then overcome it by not avoiding them.

62. If you are truly Friends of the Cross, then, without your knowing it, love, which is ever ingenious, will discover thousands of little crosses to enrich you. And you will not need to have any fear of vainglory, which so often spoils the patience which people exhibit under spectacular crosses. And because you have been faithful in little things, the Lord will place you in charge of greater, according to his promise. That is to say, in charge of the greater graces he will bestow on you, of the greater crosses he will send you, of the greater glory he will prepare for you....

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