A SHORT INSTRUCTION ON BEARING SICKNESS AND SUFFERING PATIENTLY
IT is a truth frequently asserted by Holy Writ, and ever taught by the Church, that no suffering can come to us either from a man or earthly creature, or from the devil, without the permission or special ordinance of God. Not a hair of your heads, said Christ to His disciples, can fall, without the will of My Father. If then we cannot lose a hair from our heads without God's will, how much less can a sorrow or a sickness befall us without the permission or ordinance of God. When, then, God visits anyone by a cross, He does it, not from hate, but from love, and for the good of that person, who may thereby be brought to the knowledge of his sins and to conversion. God does it that the person may enter into himself, purify himself by penance, and become a participator in the glories of Heaven; or God does this to try him, to give him the opportunity to exercise himself in the virtues of self-denial and of patience, to increase his merits and enable him to attain a higher degree of blessedness. Be convinced, God never sends a cross to a man in order to distress him, but to draw him up to himself through crosses and sufferings, and thereby to open Heaven to him. This is shown by the revelations of St. Gertrude.
As she was once in deep trouble, she said to our Lord; "Ah, my beloved, Thou hast so often told me that Thou lovest me, how canst Thou then put so heavy a cross upon me?" The Lord replied: "If my elect could enter Heaven without a cross I would not let them suffer in the least degree: but as they cannot do this, I am compelled to visit them with suffering." (B. iii.)
It may thence be inferred that when God sends us a cross, it is a special sign of His love, as St. Paul says:
Whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth. --- Heb. xii. 6
As St. Gertrude was once at prayer and made an offering to the Lord of all her sufferings, bodily as well as spiritual; as well of the exterior as of the interior joys of which she was then quite destitute, our Lord appeared to her and took her joys and sorrows into His hands, In the form of two costly rings set with jewels. She knew from this, that as the ring is a sign of betrothal, even so spiritual and bodily contradictions are a true sign of election, and are similar to a betrothal with God. (B. iii: ch. 3.) In the revelations of St. Mechtildis we read the following: As, on a festival day a cloister sister, lay sick in bed, the Saint prayed for her fervently, and complaining asked the Lord why He let His daughter be so sick, when she served Him so zealously in the choir. Then the Lord appeared. Why should I not rejoice and take pleasure with My daughter if I wish to do so? For as soon as a man is sick. I clothe Myself with his soul as a garment of honor, and with special pleasure seat Myself by My Father's side, praise Him and thank Him for all the pain the man suffers. (B. iv. ch. 29.)
Another time it was revealed to her, that every one who suffers willingly pain, sickness, sorrow, or whatever trouble he may have, and suffers it with the same love with which Christ suffered, refreshes the Divine heart of the Saviour, which seeks with unutterable longing for the salvation of men and longs to suffer for them. And as He cannot quiet this longing Himself (for He Himself can suffer no more), He seeks through others to fulfill His desires, and all the suffering then becomes merit in the just, while to the sinners it is applied for the forgiveness of their sins, and to the dead for their relief. Another time, He said to her, "When any one is in so much trouble that he would rather die than bear the trouble longer, if from love to Me he bears the trouble and offers to bear it longer from that love, I will accept the offer as though he had suffered it all on My account." How meritorious pain is, we see from the Revelations of St. Gertrude. As a certain person once wounded himself at work and was suffering excruciating pain, St. Gertrude, moved with compassion, prayed to God that the man should not be exposed to the danger of having his limb amputated. The Lord answered her kindly: "That will not be the case; this pain, on the contrary, will bring a great reward to his soul; and beyond this, every person who makes it a duty to mitigate the torments of the suffering, and in this way contributes to their cure, shall receive everlasting reward." Gertrude then asked: "My God, how then can persons who mutually assist each other become worthy of so great a reward, as they do not assist each other from love of Thee, but to ease their neighbor's pain?" The Lord replied: "The kind of patience by which any one from love of Me and to the glory of My name suffers evils which no human medicine can remedy, I by no means condemn; the less indeed, that if sanctified by the words which in My greatest anguish I addressed to My Father: 'Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from Me,' (Matt. xxvi. 39) it becomes incomparably more worthy, more deserving of reward."
As Gertrude inquired further, "Is it not more acceptable to Thee when one suffers all occurring evils patiently, than when they are only borne because they are unavoidable?" The Lord answered: "That is an impenetrable mystery in the abyss of My Divine justice, which surpasses human understanding; but to speak after a human fashion, I will say, that between the two sorts of suffering there is the same difference as between two beautiful colors, which are both so lively and brilliant that it can only with difficulty be decided to which to give the preference." From this we may perceive how infinitely kind and generous our good God is Who thus rewards the least action.
Here arises the question, whether he who has deserved the suffering, insult or disgrace that is come upon him, can obtain merit from God by means of it?
Let it serve for answer that such a one would merit little; yet I will offer thee a piece of good advice on this subject: If thou art suffering by thy own fault, think thus: "Ah my dear God and Lord! I am heartily sorry that I have committed this fault. I wish I had not been guilty of it, so that I might suffer this pain in Thy honor without having incurred this blame. In spirit I offer to Thee this suffering as a penance, in satisfaction for my sins, and I unite it with Thy sufferings which Thou didst undergo for me."
Do this, thou wilt not remain without merit. Another question is, if he can merit anything who is impatient and grumbling under suffering. This question our Lord answered His servant Gertrude in these words: "He has, in fact, some merit therefrom; but it is as much inferior as copper is to gold."
Suffer then with patience every hardship, reflect that it comes to thee from the loving hand of God, Who giveth His elect no more to suffer than they can bear, as the Saviour once revealed to St. Gertrude in these words: "As the mother who desires to warm her child, keeps her hand stretched out between the fire and the child, that the tire may not injure it, even so, when I see that it is time to purify my elect by trouble, I visit them with contradictions, not to destroy them, but to try them, and thereby to come to their help." (B. iii. ch. 85.) It displeases God therefore for anyone to think God lets him suffer too much, as he once revealed to St. Gertrude. The Saint was once praying for a person who, in an ebullition of impatience, had asked: "Why God had afflicted her with calamities which she had not deserved?" The Lord said to the Saint: "Ask her in what respect these sufferings are not fitted to her, and tell her that since Heaven is only to be reached by suffering, to choose for herself the most suitable crosses, and when these come upon her bid her bear them patiently." (B, iii. ch. 72.) From these words the Saint understood that the most dangerous form of impatience is that in which the imagination leads us to believe we could be patient in other circumstances, but not those in which God has placed us. On the contrary, we must hold fast to the conviction that all suffering comes from God, is for our good, and if we cannot bear it patiently. it gives us at least the opportunity of self-humiliation. [Ibid.)
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