St. John of the Cross, in describing the spiritual life like one advancing up a mountain, says that there are two ways up. One road winds up little by little, having many switchbacks and making many circles around the mountain. The other, more or less a straight line, goes straight up that sucker. This latter road, he describes, is one of darkness. In order to go up it, you must embrace the darkness. You must hug the cactus. You must let the Lord lead you into a place far beyond comfort and a life you can control. You must accept the suffering with which you will be blessed.
For the nearer the soul approaches Him, the blacker is the darkness which it feels… So immense is the spiritual light of God, and so greatly does it transcend our natural understanding, that the nearer we approach it, the more it blinds and darkens us. (St. John of the Cross)
Of course, we fear that so much. Suffering is by definition something fear-provoking. We shouldn’t feel bad about fearing it. But we must dive into that fear. To live the spiritual life radically is to be in over your head, to plunge into waters far, far, far too tumultuous. It’s never supposed to be something we can ‘handle’.
To take that road straight up the mountain, let’s do this:
If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ. (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
This is simply the proclamation of the Gospel.
Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Do these words always sound unrelatable? Never fear:
There’s a certain progression in the journey to God regarding our attitude towards suffering. In the beginning, we flee from suffering. As we mature, we reluctantly accept it as necessary. As the Spirit works more deeply in our hearts, we little by little lose our fear of suffering and become able to rejoice in it, even to love it. (The Fulfillment of All Desire)
So in asking for God to take us into The Daunting, what should our attitude be?
When I shall have arrived at port, I will teach you how to travel dear brother of my soul, on the stormy sea of the world: with the surrender and the love of a child who knows his Father loves him and cannot leave him alone in the hour of danger… The way of simple love and confidence is really made for you. (St. Therese)
A disciple’s attitude in the midst of suffering is childlike surrender and confidence. Why? Because “suffering, like everything else in life, is enclosed within the parameters of God’s providence. We suffer because God loves us.” (Ken Russell)
“What punishments of God are not gifts.” (Steven Colbert, quoting J.R.R. Tolkien)
“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” (A.W. Tozer)
If they are gifts, let’s not waste any moment of suffering we encounter, no matter how small. Every instance of suffering is raw material to be given back for use in God making His fire burn brighter. Let’s surrender every bit of ourselves into that consuming fire of God.
To sum it up – be not afraid! Let’s ask the Lord to take us straight up the mountain. Let’s ask the Lord for a participation in His Cross (warning: never go seeking it for yourself, just ask and let Him give it). Suffering is the gateway, friends. Death is the gateway to life. Crucifixion is the gateway to Resurrection. Jesus has made it so.
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