I want to share a story and the lesson I learned. I found it be rather life changing in my spiritual journey and I thought it would be good to share.
I was listening to a podcast titled Carmelite Conversations and one of the discussions was around a particular saint who wrote about the joy of suffering. This is a very common idea found in the writings of saints and scripture:
More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death… – Philippians 3: 8-10
Here St. Paul relates his understanding of suffering and how little it bothers him because it brings him closer to Christ and unites him further with Him. I think most are aware of suffering and its importance but in this particular example most of us can appreciate that this is very challenging and even alien thought. I want to explore that in this post rather than the broad topic of why suffering is important (a blog perhaps in the future).
As I was listening to that particular podcast it dawned on me how little I understood about the joy of suffering. In fact, it dawned on me how little of many spiritual things I understood. Although I had advanced in some areas such as spiritual reading and prayer, I did not firmly grasp this notion of joy in suffering or even what it means to love God above all things. I have an intellectual understanding of such things but nothing rooted deeply in my soul. At this point, thankfully, another thought came into my mind: similar to how I learned almost in a step wise fashion the important of prayer and accepting God’s will, we can only begin to understand some of the more complex and beautiful things of our faith once we are given the grace to understand it. Therefore, so as long as we submit to the will of God and because He desires all men and women to be saved, we have to accept the fact that as we journey towards Him and when we are ready, He will give us the grace to understand His truth more and more. This is all by His grace alone.
Here is another particular example that moved me quite deeply. It is from a book by one of my favorite saints:
Let us conclude this first point by giving the gist of all that has been said hitherto. He who prays is certainly saved. He who prays not is certainly damned. All the blessed (except infants) have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying; if they had prayed, they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be, their greatest torment in hell, to think how easily they might have been saved, only by asking God for His grace; but that now it is too late, — the time of prayer is over – Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection by St. Alphonsus Liguori
Quite a statement. I was stunned to read such words. I would say that without a doubt we all might know that prayer is important and that we should do it but hearing that if we don’t pray we are certainly damned is scary, no? This book would lead me to dive into the works of the saints even further. Prior to this I would say my prayer life was satisfactory but after reading that book I was shook to the core. Do you want to know how I even decided to read the above book? I recall it very clearly. I must have been sitting and reading a book in front of the TV when I was inspired to google something along the lines of “Why do we need to pray as Catholics?” I found this article miraculously in my search and was changed by his words since. I cannot recall exactly the date but I thought it might have even landed on the feast day of St. Alphonsus but that is all legend now. The point here I am trying to make is that at this particular point in my spiritual journey I was given the grace to understand this reality of prayer so that I might advance just another step further. Looking back on my life, I was able to identify many more instances of graces like this that enabled me to take just one step forward towards God. I now firmly believe that the Lord works in such a way where He lead all souls gradually to Him and so as long as we accept these movements of grace and surrender to His will, we will in time progress to the point where we too may understand the joy of suffering and other deeper truths.
I want to conclude with the following thought: do not beat yourself too much for not understanding the greatest mysterious of our faith right away. For if you are currently struggling with mortal sin, it is very little value to try and understand some of the highest fruits of our faith such as perfect love of an enemy or the joy of suffering until you first overcome the cause of your mortal sin. For those that have conquered mortal sin, be weary not yo overburden yourself with heavy mortification’s too early on, as this can be a cause for regression as well. You can only move at the pace the Lord enables you. Do not get discourage when you see others moving faster than you or proud when you see others moving slower than you. God provides to each the necessary grace to reach Him and He provides it at different times for all souls. Trust in His will and you will attain the spiritual perfection you desire by His grace. A devotion to the Blessed Mother will be of great value as she leads all men to our Lord Jesus Christ.