by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
CHAPTER 1: CHARITY IS PATIENT
(Charitas patiens est.-----1 Cor. xiii. 4.)
He that loves Jesus Christ loves Sufferings.
THIS earth is the place for meriting, and therefore it is a place for suffering. Our true country, where God has prepared for us repose in everlasting joy, is Paradise. We have but a short time to stay in this world; but in this short time we have many labors to undergo: Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. [Job, xiv. i.] We must suffer, and all must suffer; be they just, or be they sinners, each one must carry his cross. He that carries it with patience is saved; he that carries it with impatience is lost. St. Augustine says, the same miseries send some to Paradise and some to Hell: "One and the same blow lifts the good to glory, and reduces the bad to ashes." [Serm. 52, E. B. app.] The same Saint observes, that by the test of suffering the chaff in the Church of God is distinguished from the wheat: he that humbles himself under tribulation, and is resigned to the will of God, is wheat for Paradise; he that grows haughty and is enraged, and so forsakes God, is chaff for Hell.
On the day when the cause of our salvation shall be decided, our life must be found conformable to the life of Jesus Christ, if we would enjoy the happy sentence of the predestined: For whom He foreknew He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son. [Rom. viii. 29.] This was the end for which the Eternal Word descended upon earth, to teach us, by His example, to carry with patience the cross which God sends us: Christ suffered for us (wrote St. Peter), leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps. [1 Pet. ii. 21.] So that Jesus Christ suffered on purpose to encourage us to suffer. O God! what a life was that of Jesus Christ! A life of ignominy and pain. The Prophet calls our Redeemer despised, and the most abject of men, a titan of sorrows. [Isa. liii. 3.] A man held in contempt, and treated as the lowest, the vilest among men, a man of sorrows; yes, for the life of Jesus Christ was made up of hardships and afflictions.
Now, in the same manner as God has treated His beloved Son, so does He treat everyone whom He loves, and whom He receives for His Son: For whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth . . . and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. [Heb. xii. 6.] For this reason He one day said to St. Teresa: "Know that the souls dearest to My Father are those who are afflicted with the greatest sufferings." [Life, addit.] Hence the Saint said of all her troubles, that she would not exchange them for all the treasures in the world. She appeared after her death to a soul, and revealed to her that she enjoyed an immense reward in Heaven, not so much for her good works, as for the sufferings which she cheerfully bore in this life for the love of God; and that if she could possibly entertain a wish to return upon earth, the only reason would be in order that she might suffer more for God.
He that loves God in suffering earns a double reward in Paradise. St. Vincent of Paul said that it was a great misfortune to be free from suffering in this life. And he added, that a congregation or an individual that does not suffer, and is applauded by all the world, is not far from a fall. It was on this account that St. Francis of Assisi, on the day that he had suffered nothing for God, became afraid lest God had forgotten him. St. John Chrysostom says, that when God endows a man with the grace of suffering, He gives him a greater grace than that of raising the dead to life; because in performing miracles man remains God's debtor; whereas in suffering. God makes Himself the debtor of man. And he adds, that whoever endures something for God, even had he no other gift than the strength to suffer for the God Whom he loves, this would procure for him an immense reward. Wherefore he affirmed, that he considered St. Paul to have received a greater grace in being bound in chains for Jesus Christ, than in being rapt to the third heaven in ecstasy.
But patience has a perfect work. [James i. 4.] The meaning of this is, that nothing is more pleasing to God than to see a soul suffering with patience all the crosses sent her by him. The effect of love is to liken the lover to the person loved. St. Francis de Sales said, "All the wounds of Christ are so many mouths, which preach to us that we must suffer for Him. The science of the Saints is to suffer constantly for Jesus; and in this way we shall soon become Saints." A person that loves Jesus Christ is anxious to be treated like Jesus Christ,---poor, persecuted, and despised. St. John beheld all the Saints clothed in white, and with palms in their hands: Clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. [Apoc. vii. 9.] The palm is the symbol of Martyrs, and yet all the Saints did not suffer Martyrdom;---why, then, do all the Saints bear palms in their hands? St. Gregory replies, that all the Saints have been Martyrs either of the sword or of patience; so that, he adds, "we can be martyrs without the sword, if we keep patience." [In Evan. hom. 35.]
The merit of a soul that loves Jesus Christ consists in loving and in suffering. Hear what our Lord said to St. Teresa: "Think you, my child, that merit consists in enjoyment? No, it consists in suffering and in loving. Look at My life, wholly embittered with afflictions. Be assured, my child, that the more My Father loves any one, the more sufferings He sends him; they are the standard of his love. Look at My wounds; your torments will never reach so far. It is absurd to suppose that My Father favors with His friendship those who are strangers to suffering." [Life, addit.] And for our consolation St. Teresa makes this remark: "God never sends a trial, but he forthwith rewards it with some favor." [Life, ch. 30.] One day Jesus Christ appeared to the Blessed Baptista Varani, [Boll. 31 Maii. Vit. c. 7.] and told her of three special favors which he is wont to bestow on cherished souls: the first is, not to sin; the second, which is greater, to perform good works; the third, and the greatest of all, to suffer for His love. So that St. Teresa [Found. ch. 31.] used to say, whenever anyone does something for God, the Almighty repays him with some trial. And therefore the Saints, on receiving tribulations, thanked God for them. St. Louis of France, referring to his captivity in Turkey, said: "I rejoice, and thank God more for the patience which he accorded me in the time of my imprisonment, than if he had made me master of the universe." And when St. Elizabeth, princess of Thuringia, after her husband's death, was banished with---her son from the kingdom, and found herself homeless and abandoned by all, she went to a convent of the Franciscans, and there had the Te Deum sung in thanksgiving to God for the signal favor of being allowed to suffer for his love. St. Joseph Calasanctius used to say, "All suffering is slight to gain Heaven." And the Apostle had already said the same: The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. [Rom, viii, 18.]
It would be a great gain for us to endure all the torments of all the Martyrs during our whole lives, in order to enjoy one single moment of the bliss of Paradise; with what readiness, then, should we embrace our crosses, when we know that the sufferings of this transitory life will gain for us an everlasting beatitude! That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. [2 Cor. iv, 17.] St. Agapitus, while still a mere boy in years, was threatened by the tyrant to have his head covered with a red-hot helmet; on which he replied, "And what better fortune could possibly befall me, than to lose my head here, to have it crowned hereafter in Heaven?" This made St. Francis exclaim:
"I look for such a meed of bliss,
That all my pains seem happiness."
But whoever desires the crown of Paradise must needs combat and suffer: If we suffer, we shall also reign. [2 Tim. ii. 12.] We cannot get a reward without merit; and no merit is to be had without patience: He is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. [2 Tim. ii. 5.] And the person that strives with the greatest patience shall have the greatest reward. Wonderful indeed! When the temporal goods of this world are in question, worldlings endeavor to procure as much as they can; but when it is a question of the goods of eternal life, they say, "It is enough if we get a little corner in Heaven!" Such is not the language of the Saints: they are satisfied with anything whatever in this life, nay more, they strip themselves of all earthly goods; but concerning eternal goods, they strive to obtain them in as large a measure as possible. I would ask which of the two act with more wisdom and prudence?
But even with regard to the present life, it is certain that he who suffers with most patience enjoys the greatest peace. It was a saying of St. Philip Neri, [Bacci, 1. 2, ch. 20.] that in this world there is no Purgatory; it is either all Paradise or all Hell: he that patiently supports tribulations enjoys a Paradise; he that does not do so, suffers a Hell. Yes, for (as St. Teresa writes) he that embraces the crosses sent him by God feels them not. St. Francis de Sales, finding himself on one occasion beset on every side with tribulations, said, "For some time back the severe oppositions and secret contrarieties which have befallen me afford me so sweet a peace, that nothing can equal it; and they give me such an assurance that my soul will ere long be firmly united with God, that I can say with all truth that they are the sole ambition, the sole desire of my heart." [Spirit, ch. 19.]
And indeed peace can never be found by one who leads an irregular life, but only by him who lives in union with God and with His blessed will, A certain missionary of a religious Order, while in the Indies, was one day standing to witness the execution of a person under sentence of death, and already on the scaffold: the criminal called the missionary to him, and said, "You must know, Father, that I was once a member of your Order; whilst I observed the rules I led a very happy life; but when, afterwards, I began to relax in the strict observance of them, I immediately experienced pain in everything; so much so, that I abandoned the religious life, and gave myself up to vice, which has finally reduced me to the melancholy pass in which you at present behold me." And in conclusion he said, "I tell you this, that my example may be a warning to others." The Venerable Father Louis da Ponte said, "Take the sweet things of this life for bitter, and the bitter for sweet; and so you will be in the constant enjoyment of peace. Yes, for though the sweet are pleasant to sense, they invariably leave behind them the bitterness of remorse of conscience, on account of the imperfect satisfaction which, for the most part, they afford; but the bitter, when taken with patience from the hand of God, become sweet, and dear to the souls who love Him."
Let us be convinced that in this valley of tears true peace of heart cannot be found, except by him who endures and lovingly embraces sufferings to please Almighty God: this is the consequence of that corruption in which all are placed through the infection of sin. The condition of the Saints on earth is to suffer and to love; the condition of the Saints in Heaven is to enjoy and to love. Father Paul Segneri the younger, in a letter which he wrote one of his penitents to encourage her to suffer, gave her the counsel to keep these words inscribed at the foot of her crucifix: "'Tis thus one loves." It is not simply by suffering, but by desiring to suffer for the love of Jesus Christ, that a soul gives the surest signs of really loving Him. And what greater acquisition (said St. Teresa) can we possibly make than to have some token of gratifying Almighty God? [Life, ch. 10.] Alas, how ready are the greatest part of men to take alarm at the bare mention of crosses, of humiliations, and of afflictions! Nevertheless, there are many souls who find all their delight in suffering, and who would be quite disconsolate did they pass their time on this earth without suffering. The sight of Jesus crucified (said a devout person) renders the cross so lovely to me, that it seems to me I could never be happy without suffering; the love of Jesus Christ is sufficient for me for all. Listen how Jesus advises every one who would follow Him to take up and carry his cross: Let him take up his cross, and follow Me. [Luke. ix. 23.] But we must take it up and carry it, not by constraint and against our will, but with humility, patience, and love.
Oh, how acceptable to God is he that humbly and patiently embraces the crosses which he sends him! St. Ignatius of Loyola said, "There is no wood so apt to enkindle and maintain love towards God as the wood of the cross;" that is, to love Him in the midst of sufferings. One day St. Gertrude asked our Lord what she could offer Him most acceptable, and He replied, "My child, thou canst do nothing more gratifying to Me than to submit patiently to all the tribulations that befall thee." Wherefore the great servant of God, Sister Victoria Angelini, affirmed that one day of crucifixion was worth a hundred years of all other spiritual exercises. And the Venerable Father John of Avila said, "One 'blessed be God' in contrarieties is worth more than a thousand thanksgivings in prosperity." Alas, how little men know of the inestimable value of afflictions endured for God!
The Blessed Angela of Foligno said, "that if we knew the just value of suffering for God, it would become an object of plunder;" which is as much as to say, that each one would seek an opportunity of robbing his neighbor of the occasions of suffering. For this reason St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, well aware as she was of the merit of sufferings, sighed to have her life prolonged rather than to die and go to Heaven, "because," said she, "in Heaven one can suffer no more."
A soul that loves God has no other end in view but to be wholly united with Him; but let us learn from St. Catherine of Genoa what is necessary to be done to arrive at this perfect union: "To attain union with God, adversities are indispensable; because by them God aims at destroying all our corrupt propensities within and without. And hence all injuries, contempts, infirmities, abandonment of relatives and friends, confusions, temptations, and other mortifications, all are in the highest degree necessary for us, in order that we may carry on the fight, until by repeated victories we come to extinguish within us all vicious movements, so that they are no longer felt; and we shall never arrive at Divine union until adversities, instead of seeming bitter to us, become all sweet for God's sake."
It follows, then, that a soul that sincerely desires to belong to God must be resolved, as St. John of the Cross [Mont. du C. l. 2, ch. 7.] writes, not to seek enjoyments in this life, but to suffer in all things; she must embrace with eagerness all voluntary mortifications, and with still greater eagerness those which are involuntary, since they are the more welcome to Almighty God.
The patient man is better than the valiant. [Prov. xvi. 32.] God is pleased with a person who practices mortification by fasting, hair-cloths, and disciplines, on account of the courage displayed in such mortifications; but he is much more pleased with those who have the courage to bear patiently and gladly such crosses as come from His Own Divine hand. St. Francis de Sales said, "Such mortifications as come to us from the hand of God, or from men by His permission, are always more precious than those which are the offspring of our own will; for it is a general rule, that wherever there is less of our own choice, God is better pleased, and we ourselves derive greater profit." [Spirit, ch. 4.] St. Teresa taught the same thing: "We gain more in one day by the oppositions which come to us from God or our neighbor than by ten years of mortifications of self-infliction." [Way of Perf. ch. 37.] Wherefore St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi made the generous declaration, that there could not be found in the whole world an affliction so severe, but what she would gladly bear with the thought that it came from God; and, in fact, during the five years of severe trial which the Saint underwent, it was enough to restore peace to her soul to remember that it was by the will of God that she so suffered. Ah, God, that infinite treasure is cheaply purchased at any cost! Father Hippolytus Durazzo used to say, "Purchase God at what cost you will, He can never be dear." Let us then beseech God to make us worthy of His love; for if we did but once perfectly love Him, all the goods of this earth would seem to us but as smoke and dirt, and we should relish ignominies and afflictions as delights. Let us hear what St. John Chrysostom says of a soul wholly given up to Almighty God: "He who has attained the perfect love of God seems to be alone on the earth,---he no longer cares either for glory or ignominy,---he scorns temptations and afflictions,-----he loses all relish and appetite for created things. And as nothing in this world brings him any support or repose, he goes incessantly in search of his beloved without ever feeling wearied; so that when he toils, when he eats, when he is watching, or when sleeping, in every action and word, all his thoughts and desires are fixed upon finding his beloved; because his heart is where his treasure is."
Affections and Prayers
My dear and beloved Jesus, my treasure, I have deserved by my offenses never more to be allowed to love Thee; but by Thy merits, I entreat Thee, make me worthy of Thy pure love. I love Thee above all things; and I repent with my whole heart of having ever despised Thee, and driven Thee from my soul; but now I love Thee more than myself; I love Thee with all my heart, O infinite good! I love Thee, I love Thee, I love Thee, and I have not a wish besides that of loving Thee perfectly; nor have I a fear besides that of ever seeing myself deprived of Thy love. O my most loving Redeemer, enable me to know how great a good Thou art, and how great is the love Thou hast borne me in order to oblige me to love Thee! Ah, my God, suffer me not to live any longer unmindful of so much goodness! Enough have I offended Thee. I will never leave Thee again; I wish to employ all the remainder of my days in loving Thee, and in pleasing Thee. My Jesus, my Love, lend me Thine aid; help a sinner who wishes to love Thee and to be wholly Thine own.
O Mary my hope, thy Son hears thee; pray to Him in my behalf, and obtain for me the grace of loving Him perfectly!
In this chapter we have spoken of patience in general; in Chapter 10 we shall treat more particularly of occasions in which we have especially to practice patience.