Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Must Endure Life's Difficulties with Joy

No one is exempt from sorrows and difficulties in this life. Therefore, we must try to endure life's difficulties joyfully because there is no other more beneficial road leading to the salvation of our soul as the narrow and sorrowful path of hardships, through which we mimic and follow our Lord Jesus Christ, Who suffered so much in this life. He chose this path for both Himself as well as His followers, and advised us that we cannot become His disciples if we do not carry our cross and follow Him: "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Lk.14:27).

We cannot hope to make progress in the spiritual life and become Christ's co-heirs along with all the Saints in Paradise if we do not first swim through the waters of sorrow, just as our Lord and all the Saints were glorified after first carrying their Cross. This cross of suffering is so noble and so highly regarded by the Lord that He Himself promises to be next to the person who suffers, to deliver him from his affliction, and to glorify him in a wondrous manner: "I will be with him in affliction; I will deliver him, and glorify him" (Ps. 91:15). 

Who then will not embrace life's difficulties with joy and not seize the opportunity to acquire such a sweet, faithful, and almighty Companion? God, in His compassion and wisdom, allows us to be faced with these small and transient sorrows in order to grant us the indescribable and eternal riches in His heavenly Kingdom.

Truly, we must thank them who harm and ridicule us more than them who help and support us. They who wrong us become purifying agents of our soul, through which we receive forgiveness of our sins. When our merciful Lord allows us to be confronted with difficulties and sorrows, He expresses greater love for us than when He grants us temporary enjoyment and spiritual consolation. Indeed, we should despise them who impede us from the Cross and love them who grieve us, just as the Holy Gospel teaches. When Peter, moved by love for Christ and not wanting to see his Master suffer, urged Him not to die on the Cross, the Lord rebuked him, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Mt.16:23). 

From this, we must realize that sorrows are pleasing to the Lord; moreover, that we must shun them who advise us to forsake our cross, whereas thank them who harm us. This is precisely what the Lord did: He referred to Judas as His "friend"(Mt. 26:50) when he betrayed Christ with a kiss, showing us in this manner that we must consider our persecutors as friends and agents of our salvation.

It is truly foolish for us to flee from sorrow—because the more we try to avoid sorrow and suffering, the more they overpower us. Conversely, when we greet difficulties and sorrows with joy, they become frail and collapse before us, just as when Christ voluntarily proceeded to meet His enemies:“When Jesus went forth and said unto them, ‘Whom seek ye?’ they answered, ‘Jesus of  Nazareth.’ Jesus then said unto them, ‘I am He.’ As soon as He said ‘I am He,’ they went backwards and fell to the ground” (Jn. 18:4-6).

We can actually experience the joy of Paradise when we find ourselves nailed to the cross of sorrows if we thank God in times of difficulty and confess that we deserve to suffer, just as the good thief did while hanging on the cross.

He acknowledged Christ as the Lord and rebuked the other thief, “Dost not thou fear God? We indeed suffer justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Lk. 23:40-41). Do you see the gratitude of this thief? People who love the Lord behave in the same manner. They realize that they are worthy of condemnation; however, as they hang from their cross they do not lose hope but rather profess Christ to be the Almighty God, and they beseech Him to be deemed worthy of entering His Heavenly Kingdom.

The more we patiently endure our cross, the lighter it becomes for us. If we carry our cross eagerly and joyfully, it will become a source of great delight, an inseparable memory of our Savior, and a certain hope of eternal life within Paradise, as took place with the good thief, who heard these blessed words from the Lord: “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).

An exceptional degree of perfection exists, indeed, when a person remains patiently affixed to the cross with determination for the love of God, and without complaining to God or others that his cross is unbearable. Blessed is the man who not only thanks the Lord in times of poverty, sickness, loss of his family members, and various other misfortunes, but also blesses and glorifies the Lord always—even when death itself approaches—, and joyfully embraces every cross for the love of God. Such a person resembles the holy martyrs who glorified the Lord as they were tortured on the cross and thanked Him for allowing them to die on account of His holy name.

O my beloved Christians: we find and acquire glory upon the Cross—not within pleasure and enjoyment!

If we carefully considered and examined the weight of the Lord's Cross, our own cross would seem minute and light as a feather. The Lord was hanging on the Cross completely naked and without any help from anyone. This is why He voiced, "My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken Me?" (Mt. 27:46). We, on the other hand, are neither naked nor nailed to and hanging from such a cross. On the contrary, we receive considerable consolation from our friends and relatives during difficult moments. Additionally, God has promised to be next to us in times of sorrow, and with His help, we can endure any hardship.

How pathetic we are! Our true God endured various tortures and suffered such a cruel death on account of our sins. We insignificant and wretched sinners, on the other hand, cannot tolerate even the slightest pain, which our good Lord sends for our own benefit and correction. Oh, how foolish it is for us to seek Christ in comfort and pleasure!

Christ prayed for them who crucified Him: "Forgive them, O Father, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk. 23:34), whereas we do not want to forgive anyone who hurts us even a bit. The good thief confessed Christ while he was on the cross, and we ungrateful sinners ridicule Him along with the evil thief saying, "If You are the Son of God, save Yourself and us" (Lk. 23:39). In times of difficulty, we deny Him by contending, "If You are God, deliver us from our cross, and we will believe in You (Mt. 27:43). You should allow ungodly and evil people to suffer, not us. We have done nothing wrong..."

Oh, how unrighteous and insensitive we are! We sit back and allow a thief to surpass us in the faith! A condemned criminal in a state of such harsh suffering and punishment was able to understand better than us the benefit of sorrows! We should mimic the good thief and confess Christ during every sorrow and hardship—even bitter death itself—, welcoming difficulties not as remorseful and repentant criminals but as true Christians and genuine children of God.

If the Lord entered into the glory and bliss (which He as the rightful owner was always entitled to) after first suffering and enduring His Passion (cf. Hb. 12:2), how much more fitting is it for His servants to suffer in order to inherit the Kingdom that does not belong to them. How is it possible for us slaves to have it easier than our Master, or as students to be greater than our Teacher? Christ suffered for us, and we do not want to suffer in order to save our own soul? The Son of God chose to ascend to the Father through scorn and humiliation, and we worthless worms desire recognition and praise?

My dear brothers, when we experience difficulties and sorrows, let us not only endure them patiently without complaining but let us rejoice—because, indeed, "The sufferings of this present life are not worthy of and cannot be compared to the future glory that will be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).

When God appeared to Saint Stephen the first martyr in Heaven, He manifested Himself with glory: “he looked up steadfastly into Heaven, and he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). When God opened the heavens and appeared to the prophet Ezekiel, “It was the appearance of the glory of the Lord” (Ez. 1:28). Similarly, when God appeared high on the summit of Mount Sinai, He made Himself manifest with much glory (cf. Ex. 19:16). However, when He appeared to Moses on the earth, He made Himself manifest within the burning bush: a plant full of prickly thorns (cf. Ex.3:2). The Lord did so in order for us to realize and comprehend that He Who is worshipped and glorified in Heaven by the saints and angels is found here on the earth within the thorns of sorrows. Just as Moses was deemed worthy of beholding God's glory on Mount Sinai only after first seeing Him here on the earth amongst the thorns, likewise it is necessary for us to labor to find the Lord first here on the earth within the thorns of sorrows and hardships if we wish to behold the glory and bliss of His heavenly Kingdom in the next life.

How foolish and ungrateful we are! If happiness and delight are concealed within sorrows, why should we detest hardships and difficulties? Shouldn't we rather thirst for them since through them we acquire Paradise and Christ Himself, Who is the actual source of all happiness and contentment?

When the venerable and God-bearing Saint Ignatius found out that he would be fed to the lions, he was overcome with great joy and cried out gleefully, "When will the beasts come to devour my body? I am wheat of my Lord, and I must be milled by the teeth of the lions in order to become sweet bread for my Lord. Now I am truly starting to become His disciple!"

Saint Andrew the Apostle desired for quite some time to suffer for the love of Christ. Eventually, he was sentenced to be crucified. When he was brought before his dearly beloved Cross, he voiced the following with jubilation, "Hail, O most-holy and precious Cross! For the longest time, exceedingly have I desired thee, and, finally, thou art about to fulfil my dream. Behold, I proceed with elation to thee. Rejoice as thou receiveth me, the disciple of Him Who hung from thee."

Since every good thing and all glory comes to us through the Cross, come my dear Christians! Let us extol and praise it; let us venerate it reverently; let us yearn for it wholeheartedly. And when it comes to us from time to time, let us embrace it and receive it joyfully—because through it we receive many divine gifts and graces. This is the key that opened Paradise for us. We are blessed if we learn to love the cross of sorrows and if we endure difficulties with thankfulness; for then we will be pleasing to God and loved by Christ. And since we will have suffered with Christ and been crucified along with Him in this life, we will be glorified with Him in the next life (cf. Rom. 8:17 & 2Tim. 2:11-12) unto the endless ages of ages. Amen.

From the book "The Salvation of Sinners"

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