By Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
O Jesus Crucified, teach me the science of the Cross; make me understand the value of suffering.
1. The Passion of Jesus teaches us in a concrete way that in the Christian life we must be able to accept suffering for the love of God. This is a hard, repugnant lesson for our nature, which prefers pleasure and happiness; however, it comes from Jesus, the Teacher of truth and of life, the loving Teacher of our souls, Who desires only our real good. If He commends suffering to us, it is because suffering contains a great treasure.
Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; if Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude and if He offers it to us, inviting us to esteem and love it, it is only in view of a superior good which cannot be attained by any other means — the sublime good of the redemption and sanctification of our souls.
Although man, by his twofold nature, is subject to suffering, God willed to exempt our first parents from it by their preternatural gifts; but through sin, these gifts were lost forever, and suffering inevitably entered our life. The gamut of sufferings which has harassed humanity is the direct outcome of the disorder caused by sin, not only be original sin, but also by actual sins. Yet the Church chants: O happy fault! Why? The answer lies in the infinite love of God which transforms everything and draws from the double evil of sin and suffering the great good of the redemption of the human race.
When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of mankind, He also assumed their consequences, that is, suffering and death; and this suffering, embraced by Him during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, became the instrument of our redemption. Pain, the result of sin, becomes in Jesus and with Jesus, the means of destroying sin itself. Thus a Christian may not consider pain only as an undesirable burden from which he must necessarily recoil, but he must see in it much more — a means of redemption and sanctification.
2. Suffering is the disagreeable feeling which we experience when something — a situation, a circumstance — does not correspond to our inclinations, our needs, or our hopes, which does not harmonize with them or gratify them. Whereas all men are subject to this misery, the Christian alone possesses the secret of accepting it into his life without destroying the harmony or the happiness which he can enjoy on earth. This secret consists precisely, for a Christian, in attuning all kinds of suffering to his personal aspirations, which, for him, can never be limited to an ideal of earthly happiness. This harmony is possible, for that which appears to be opposition and disagreement from one point of view, often turns into profit when seen in a different light. Thus, for example, physical suffering, cold, hunger, illness, while unpleasant to the body, can be very useful for the attainment of a moral or supernatural good, such as the acquisition of virtue, or progress in holiness.
If, from a purely human viewpoint, some sufferings seem inopportune and useless, they are never so when regarded supernaturally. “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom. 8:28). Even the greatest calamity, private or public, can become a precious and most effective means of elevating the soul. Every kind of suffering can then be made conformable to the highest ideals of the Christian: eternal salvation, sanctity, the glory of God, the good of souls. But this congruity is impossible without love; or rather, it will be possible only in proportion to our love, for it was by love alone that Jesus transformed the Cross, a terrible instrument of torture, into a most efficacious instrument for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind.
It is the same for us: charity, the love of God and of souls, will enable us to accept any kind of suffering, harmonizing it with our loftiest aspirations. In this way, suffering finds a place, a very important place, in our life, without destroying our peace and serenity. On the contrary, our spirit is dilated under an increasingly generous inspiration, unto an ever greater love. As a result, we shall be happy, even while we are experiencing pain. Behold how Jesus has transformed suffering; behold the value conferred on it by His Passion.
From the masterpiece Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene (d. 1953) for Passiontide (Baronius Press, 2015),
Ven. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Thomas a Kempis and Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
12:32: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.
“Your care for me is greater than all the care I can take of myself. For he who does not cast all his care upon You stands very unsafely. If only my will remain right and firm toward You, Lord, do with me whatever pleases You. For whatever You shall do with me can only be good.
If You wish me to be in darkness, I shall bless You. And if You wish me to be in light, again I shall bless You. If You stoop down to comfort me, I shall bless You, and if You wish me to be afflicted, I shall bless You forever.” — Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Bk. III, ch. XVII
Thomas a Kempis: Do Not Trust Feelings
“My son, trust not to thy present feeling, for it will soon give way to another. As long as you live you will be subject to changeableness in spite of yourself. You will be joyful at one time and sad at another, now peaceful but again disturbed, at one moment devout and the next indevout, sometimes diligent while at other times lazy, now grave and again lighter.
But the man who is wise and whose spirit is well instructed stands superior to these changes. He pays no attention to what he feels in himself or from what quarter the wind of fickleness blows, so long as the whole intention of his mind is conducive to his proper and desired end.
For thus he can stand undivided, unchanged, and unshaken, with the singleness of his intention directed unwaveringly toward Me, even in the midst of so many changing events. And the purer this singleness of intention is, with so much the more constancy does he pass through many storms…
But in many ways the eye of pure intention grows dim, because it is attracted to any delightful thing that it meets. Indeed, it is rare to find one who is entirely free from all taint of self-seeking. The Jews of old, for example, came to Bethany to Martha and Mary, not for Jesus’ sake alone, but in order to see Lazarus.
The eye of your intention, therefore, must be cleansed so that it is single and right. It must be directed toward Me, despite all the objects which may interfere.” — The Imitation of Christ, Book III, ch. 33
Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene on Love vs. Feelings:
“The soul should learn to be content to remain in the presence of the Lord, attending to Him simply with a will full of love. It should remain there to keep Him company, satisfied to speak some words of love to Him from time to time. Little by little it will become accustomed to make its prayer in this way. Then it will become aware of being in contact with Him in a way, in essence, that is better than the former.
“But I do not know how to love the Lord any more!”
Do not believe it! It is true, you do not love more by feelings than you did at first, when your heart was moved at the thought of God’s love for you. But remember that the Love of supernatural charity is not a sensible love, it is a love of the will, which it is not necessary to feel. It consists only in an interior decision of the will, with which the soul gives God preference above all creatures and wants to consecrate itself wholly to His service. This love is there in you, and this is true love, the love that leads to the sense of God.
More than that, St. John of the Cross believes that with the crisis of aridity there begins to be born in the soul that which he calls infused love, that love with which the soul not only thrusts its will towards God, protesting that it wants to love Him, that that happens to be in a certain way secretly drawn to God. In such a state the soul’s love greatly increases and it progresses rapidly in the ways of the spirit. While from one side it is pushed on, for the other side it is drawn, it travels quickly!”
— Pope John Paul II on Faith Reason and Nihilism