Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, 1950
Part II PRACTICES OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION
The Divine Master's Program
III --- SUFFERING.
18. Let him take up his cross, the one that is his. Let this man or this woman, rarely to be found and worth more than the entire world (Prov. 31, 10-31), take up with joy, fervently clasp in his arms and bravely set upon his shoulders this cross that is his own and not that of another; his own cross, the one that My Wisdom designed for him in every detail of number, weight and measurement; his own cross whose four dimensions, its length, breadth, thickness and height (Eph. 3, 18), I very accurately gauged with My own hands; his own cross which all out of love for him I carved from a section of the very Cross I bore on Calvary; his Cross, the grandest of all the gifts I have for My chosen ones on earth; his Cross, made up in its thickness of temporal loss, humiliation, disdain, sorrow, illness and spiritual trial which My Providence will not fail to supply him with every day of his life; his cross, made up in its length of a definite period of days or months when he will have to bear with slander or be helplessly stretched out on a bed of pain, or forced to beg, or else a prey to temptation, dryness, desolation and many another mental anguish; his cross, made up in its breadth of hard and bitter situations stirred up for him by his relatives, friends or servants; his cross, finally, made up in its depth of secret sufferings which I will have him endure nor will I allow him any comfort from created beings, for by My order they will turn from him too and even join Me in making him suffer.
19. Let him carry it, and not drag it, not shoulder it off, not tighten it, nor hide it. Let him hold it high in hand, without impatience or peevishness, without voluntary complaint or grumbling, without dividing or softening, without shame or human respect. Let him place it on his forehead and say with St. Paul: "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal 6, 14) Let him carry it on his shoulders, after the example of Jesus Christ, and make it his weapon to victory and the scepter of his empire (Is. 9, 16)
Let him root it in his heart and there change it into a fiery bush, burning day and night with the pure love of God, without being consumed.
20. The cross: it is the cross he must carry for there is nothing more necessary, more useful, more agreeable and more glorious than suffering for Jesus Christ.
21. All of you are sinners and there is not a single one who is not deserving of hell; I myself deserve it the most. These sins of ours must be punished either here or hereafter. If they are punished in this world, they will not be punished in the world to come.
If we agree to God's punishing here below, this punishment will be dictated by love. For mercy, which holds sway in this world, will mete out the punishment, and not strict justice. This punishment will be light and momentary, blended with merit and sweetness and followed up with reward both in time and eternity.
22. But if the punishment due to our sins is held over for the next world, then God's avenging justice, which means fire and blood will see to the punishing. What horrible punishment! How incomprehensible, how unspeakable! "Who knoweth the power of thy anger?" (Ps. 89, 11). Punishment devoid of mercy (James 2, 13), pity, mitigation or merit, without limit and without end. Yes, without end! That mortal sin of a moment that you committed, that deliberate evil thought which now escapes your memory, the word that is gone with the wind, that act of such short duration against God's law -- they shall all be punished for an eternity, punished with the devils of hell, as long as God is God! The God of vengeance will have no pity on your torments or your sobs and tears, violent enough to cleave the rocks. Suffering and still more suffering, without merit, without mercy and without end!
23. Do we think of this, my dear Brothers and Sisters, when we have some trial to undergo here below? Blessed indeed are we who have the privilege of exchanging an eternal and fruitless penalty for a temporary and meritorious suffering, just by patiently carrying our cross. What debts we still have to pay! How many sins we have committed which, despite a sincere confession and heartfelt contrition, will have to be atoned for in Purgatory for many a century, simply because in this world we were satisfied with a few insignificant penances! Let us settle our debts with good grace here below in cheerfully bearing our crosses, for in the world to come everything must be expiated, even the idle word (Matt. 12, 36) and even to the last farthing. If we could lay hands on the devil's death-register in which he has noted down all our sins and the penalty to be paid, what a heavy debit we would find and how joyfully we would suffer many years here on earth rather than a single day in the world to come.
24. Do you not flatter yourselves, Friends of the Cross, that you are, or that you want to be, the friends of God? Be firmly resolved then to drink of the chalice which you must necessarily drink if you wish to enjoy the friendship of God. "They drank the chalice of the Lord and became the friends of God" (Common of Apostles, Lesson 7). The beloved Benjamin had the chalice while his brothers had only the wheat (Gen. 44, 1-4). The disciple whom Jesus preferred had his Master's heart, went up with Him to Calvary and drank of His chalice. "Can you drink my chalice?" (Matt 20, 22). To desire God's glory is good, indeed, but to desire it and pray for it without being resolved to suffer all things is mere folly and senseless asking. "You know not what you ask (Matt. 20, 22) . . . you must undergo much suffering" (Acts 14, 21): you must, it is necessary, it is indispensable! We can enter the kingdom of Heaven only at the price of many crosses and tribulations.
25. You take pride in being God's children and you do well; but you should also rejoice in the lashes your good Father has given you and in those He still means to give you; for He scourges every one of His children (Prov. 3, 11; Heb. 13, 5-6; Apoc. 3, 19). If you are not of the household of His beloved sons, then -- how unfortunate! what a calamity! -- you are, as St. Augustine says, listed with the reprobate. Augustine also says: "The one that does not mourn like a stranger and wayfarer in this world cannot rejoice in the world to come as a citizen of heaven" (Sermon 31, 5 and 6). If God the Father does not send you worth-while crosses from time to time, that is because He no longer cares for you and is angry at you. He considers you a stranger, an outsider undeserving of His hospitality, or an unlawful child who has no right to share in his father's estate and no title to his father's supervision and discipline.
26. Friends of the Cross, disciples of a crucified God, the mystery of the Cross is a mystery unknown to the Gentiles, repudiated by the Jews and spurned by both heretics and bad Catholics, yet it is the great mystery which you must learn to practice at the school of Jesus Christ and which you can learn only at His School. You would look in vain for any philosopher who taught it in the Academies of ancient times; you would ask in vain either the senses or reason to throw any light on it, for Jesus alone, through His triumphant grace, is able to teach you this mystery and make you relish it.
Become proficient, therefore, in this super-eminent branch of learning under such a skillful Master. Having this knowledge, you will be possessed of all other branches of learning, for it surpassingly comprises them all. The Cross is our-natural as well as our supernatural philosophy. It is our divine and mysterious theology. It is our philosopher-stone which, by dint of patience, is able to transmute the grossest of metals into precious ones, the sharpest pain into delight, poverty into wealth and the deepest humiliation into glory. He amongst you who knows how to carry his cross, though he know not A from B, towers above all others in learning.
Listen to the great St. Paul, after his return from the third heaven where he was initiated into mysteries which even the Angels had not learned. He proclaims that he knows nothing and wants to know nothing but Jesus Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2, 2). You can rejoice, then if you happen to be a poor man without any schooling or a poor woman deprived of intellectual attainments, for if you know how to suffer with joy you are far more learned than a doctor of the Sorbonne who is unable to suffer as you do.
27. You are members of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6, 15; 12, 27; Eph. 5, 30). What an honor! But, also, what need for suffering this entails! When the Head is crowned with thorns should the members be wearing a laurel of roses? When the Head is jeered at and covered with mud from Calvary's road should its members be enthroned and sprayed with perfume? When the Head has no pillow on which to rest, should its members be reclining on soft feathers? What an unheard of monster such a one would be! No, no, dear companions of the Cross make no mistake. The Christians you see around you, fashionably attired, super-sensitive, excessively haughty and sedate, are neither true disciples nor true members of the crucified Jesus. To think otherwise would be an insult to your thorn-crowned Head and His Gospel truth. My God! How many would-be Christians there are who imagine they are members of the Savior when in reality they are His most insidious persecutors, for while blessing themselves with the sign of the Cross, they crucify Him in their hearts.
If you are led by the spirit of Jesus and are living the same life with Him, your thorn-crowned Head, then you must look forward to nothing but thorns, nails and lashes, in a word, to nothing but a cross. A real disciple needs to be treated as his Master was, a member as its Head. And if the Head should offer you, as He offered St. Catherine of Siena, the choice between a crown of thorns and a crown of roses, do as she did and grasp the crown of thorns, fastening it tightly to your brow in the likeness of Jesus.
28. You are aware of the fact that you are living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6, 19) and that, like living stones (1 Pet. 2, 5) you are to be placed by the God of love in the heavenly Jerusalem He is building. You must expect then to be shaped, cut and chiseled under the hammer of the Cross, otherwise you would remain unpolished stone, of no value at all, to be disregarded and cast aside. Do not cause the hammer to recoil when it strikes you. Yield to the chisel that is carving you and the hand that is shaping you. It may be that this skillful and loving Architect wants to make you a cornerstone in His eternal edifice, one of His most faithful portraits in the heavenly kingdom. So let Him see to it. He loves you, He really loves you; He knows what He is doing, He has experience. Love is behind every one of His telling strokes; nor will a single stroke miscarry unless your impatience deflects it.
29. At times the Holy Spirit compares the cross to a winnowing that clears the good grain from the chaff and dust (Matt. 3, 13; Luke 3, 17). Like grain in the winnowing, then, let yourself be shaken up and tossed about without resistance, for the Father of the household is winnowing you and will soon have you in His harvest He also likens the cross to a fire whose intense heat burns rust off iron. God is a devouring fire (Deut. 4, 24; 9, 3; Heb. 13, 29) dwelling in our souls through His Cross, purifying them yet not consuming them, exemplified in the past in a burning bush (Ex. 3, 2-3). He likens it at times to the crucible of a forge where gold is refined (Prov. 17, 3; Eccli. 2, 5) and dross vanishes in smoke, but, in the processing, the precious metal must be tried by fire while the baser constituents go up in smoke and flame. So, too. in the crucible of tribulation and temptation, true Friends of the Cross are purified by their constancy in suffering while the enemies of the Cross vanish in smoke by their impatience and murmurings.
30. Behold, dear Friends of the Cross, before you a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12, 1-2) who silently testify that what I assert is the truth. For instance, consider Abel, a righteous man, who was slain by his own brother, then Abraham, a righteous man, who journeyed on the earth like a wanderer; Lot, a righteous man, who was driven from his own country; Jacob, a righteous man, who was persecuted by his own brother; Tobias, a righteous man, who was stricken with blindness; Job, a righteous man, who was pauperized, humiliated and covered with sores from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.
31. Consider the countless Apostles and Martyrs who were bathed in their own blood, the countless Virgins and Confessors who were pauperized, humiliated, exiled and cast aside. Like St. Paul they fervently proclaim: Behold our beloved Jesus, "Author and Finisher of the faith" (Heb. 12, 2) we put in Him and in His Cross; it was necessary for Him to suffer and so to enter through the Cross into His glory (Luke 24, 26).
There at the side of Jesus consider Mary, who had never known either original or actual sin, yet whose tender, immaculate Heart was pierced with a sharp sword even to its very depths. If I had time to dwell on the Passion of Jesus and Mary, I could prove that our sufferings are naught compared to theirs.
32. Who, then, would dare claim exemption from the cross? Who would refuse to rush to the very place where he knows he will find a cross awaiting him? Who would refuse to borrow the words of the martyr, St. Ignatius: "Let fire and gallows, wild beasts and all the torments of the devil assail me, so that I may rejoice in the possession of Jesus Christ. "
33. If you have not the patience to suffer and the generosity to bear your cross like the chosen ones of God, then you will have to trudge under its weight, grumbling and fretting like reprobates; like the two animals that dragged the Ark of the Covenant, lowing as they went (1 Kings 6, 12); like Simon the Cyrenaean who unwillingly put his hand to the very Cross of Christ (Matt. 27, 32; Mark 15, 21), complaining while he carried it. You will be like the impenitent thief who from the summit of his cross plunged headlong into the depths of the abyss.
No, the cursed earth on which we live cannot give us happiness. We can see none too clearly in this benighted land. We are never perfectly calm on this troubled sea. We are never without warfare in a world of temptation and battlefields. We cannot escape scratches on a thorn-covered earth. Both elect and reprobate must bear their cross here, either willingly or unwillingly. Remember these words:
"Three crosses stand on Calvary's height One must be chosen, so choose aright; Like a saint you must suffer, or a penitent thief, Or like a reprobate, in endless grief. "
This means that if you will not suffer gladly as Jesus did, or patiently like the penitent thief, then you must suffer despite yourself like the impenitent thief. You will have to drain the bitterest chalice even to the dregs, and with no hope of relief through grace. You will have to bear the entire weight of your cross, and without the powerful help of Jesus Christ. Then, too, you will have that awful weight to bear which the devil will add to your cross, by means of the impatience the cross will cause you. After sharing the impenitent thief's unhappiness here on earth, you will meet him again in the fires of hell.
34. But if you suffer as you should, your cross will be a sweet yoke (Matt. 11, 30), for Christ will share it with you. Your soul will be borne on it as on a pair of wings to the portals of Heaven. It will be the mast on your ship guiding you happily and easily to the harbor of salvation.
Carry your cross with patience: a cross patiently borne will be your light in spiritual darkness, for he knows naught who knows not how to suffer (Eccli. 34, 9).
Carry your cross with joy and you will be inflamed with divine love, for only in suffering can we dwell in the pure love of Christ.
Roses are only gathered from among thorns. As wood is fuel for the fire, so too is the Cross the only fuel for God's love. Remember that saying we read in the "Following of Christ": "Inasmuch as you do violence to yourself, " suffering patiently, "insofar do you advance" in divine love (Bk. 1, Chap. 15, 11). Do not expect anything great from those fastidious, slothful souls who refuse the Cross when it approaches and who do not go in search of any, when discretion allows.
What are they but untilled soil, which can produce only thorns because it has not been turned up, harrowed and furrowed by a judicious laborer. They are like stagnant water which is unfit for either washing or drinking.
Carry your cross joyfully and none of your enemies will be able to resist its conquering strength (Luke 21, 15), while you yourself will enjoy its relish beyond compare. Yes, indeed, Brethren, remember that the real Paradise here on earth is to be found in suffering for Jesus. Ask the saints. They will tell you that they never tasted a banquet so delicious to the soul than when undergoing the severest torments. St. Ignatius the Martyr said: "Let all the torments of the devil come upon me!" "Either suffering or death!", said St. Theresa, and St. Magdalen de Pazzi: "Not death but suffering!" "May I suffer and be despised for Thy sake, " said Blessed John of the Cross. In reading the lives of the saints we find many others speaking in the self-same terms.
Dear Brethren, believe the Word of God, for the Holy Spirit says: The Cross affords all kinds of joy to anyone without exception who suffers cheerfully for God (Jas. 1, 2). The joy that springs from the cross is keener than the joy which a poor person would experience if overladen with an abundance of riches, than the joy of a peasant who is made ruler of his country, than the joy of a commander-inchief over the victories he has won, than the joy of a prisoner released from his fetters. In conclusion, let us picture the greatest joys to be found here below: the joy of a crucified person who knows how to suffer not only equals them but even surpasses them all.
35. Be glad, therefore, and rejoice when God favors you with one of His choicest crosses, for without realizing it you are being blessed with the greatest gift that Heaven has, the greatest gift of God. Yes, the cross is God's greatest gift. If you could only understand this, you would have Masses said, you would make novenas at the tombs of the saints; you would undertake long pilgrimages, as did the saints, to obtain this divine gift from Heaven.
36. The world claims it is madness on your part, degrading and stupid, rash and reckless. Let the world, in its blindness, say what it likes. This blindness which is responsible for a merely human and distorted view of the cross is a source of glory for us. For every time they provide us with crosses by mocking and persecuting us, they are simply offering us jewels, setting us upon a throne and crowning us with laurels.
37. What I say is but little. Take all the wealth and honors and scepters and brilliant diadems of monarchs and princes, says St. John Chrysostom, they are all insignificant compared with the glory of the Cross; it is greater even than the glory of the Apostles and the Sacred Writers. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, this saintly man goes as far as to say: "If I were given the preference, I would gladly leave Heaven to suffer for the God of Heaven. I would prefer the darkness of a dungeon to the thrones of the highest heaven and the heaviest of crosses to the glory of the Seraphim. Suffering for me is of greater value than the gift of miracles, the power to command the infernal spirits, to master the physical universe, to stop the sun in its course and to raise the dead to life. Peter and Paul are more glorious in the shackles of a dungeon than in being lifted to the third heaven and presented with the keys to Paradise."
38. In fact, was it not the Cross that gave Jesus Christ "a name which is above all names; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth and under the earth" (Phil. 2, 9-10). The glory of the one who knows how to suffer is so great that the radiance of his splendor rejoices Heaven, Angels and men and even the God of Heaven. If the saints in Heaven could still wish for something they would want to return to earth so as to have the privilege of bearing a cross.
39. If the cross is covered with such glory on earth, how magnificent it must be in Heaven. Who could ever understand and tell the eternal weight of glory we are given when, even for a single instant, we bear a cross as a cross should be borne (2 Cor. 4, 17)! Who could ever collate the glory that will be given in Heaven for the crosses and sufferings we carried for a year, perhaps even for a lifetime.
40. Evidently, my dear Friends of the Cross, Heaven is preparing something grand for you, as you are told by a great Saint, since the Holy Ghost has united you so intimately to an object which the whole world so carefully avoids. Evidently, God wishes to make of you as many saints as you are Friends of the Cross, if you are faithful to your calling and dutifully carry your cross as Jesus Christ has carried His.