“She passes through this Word, enduring with true gentle patience every pain and trouble that I permit her for her own good. She accepts it courageously, choosing my way over her own. And she suffers not only patiently, but gladly.” Pg. 163
At first glance, my human instinct is to repel this idea with many objections:
- What word?
- Gentle patience with every pain?
- Someone permits the pain for her own good?
- She accepts it courageously?
- And gladly?
And it only gets worse. The someone who allows these tragedies to unfold for this women is God the Father, and the word is his words as revealed to her. My child, you are going to suffer significantly, I could alleviate your pain this very moment, but I will not. You will come to understand and be glad that I have given you such troubles.
Most of us do not have such direct revelations as this women. But if we did would we not protest grievously? Do we not protest today our major sufferings much less our mild nuisances in life? Do we ask for more suffering gladly? Should we ask for more suffering? I dare say not! And her suffering was extreme.
This quote is from The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena, in the chapter called Tears. The concept of accepting suffering, meaningless, accidental, or purposefully inflicted suffering by another, is not new for Christian contemplatives. Our role model and Savior Jesus Christ taught us with the ultimate sacrifice. Yet I struggle with the concept to ask for more. Despite how little suffering I have carried relative to others and the vast potential to suffer greater indignities and pain, I do not dare to ask for more. Much less to be happy to receive more pain – and not to glorify me but to it praise God! A silent sacrifice devoid of any intent of self-promotion or seeking selfish spiritual consolations. Yes, send me more?
These two sentences almost passed me by as an absurdity for anyone but the saints. And then a wave of the confrontations I have experienced in life with misery, pain, and suffering overtook me. My childhood adversity score is quite high (google ACE study and test yourself). My adulthood included a few self-inflicted wounds as well as externally inflicted losses. By all accounts, I have pretty good reason to question the existence of an all-powerful and personal God. Accepting one also necessitates reconciling that God “allows” my misery and much worse atrocities to exist. And still, I believe.
In retrospect, human free will, and their decisions contributed to my pain. Other pains are built into our lives by genetics, nature, accidental causes, and human mortality. Amid these life events a combination of personal resiliency and many supportive people, I have been able to experience the highs and lows of a volatile life and catch glimpses of angels in our midst at work. I have also in retrospect seen my evolution transformed many times over, and I say this with minimal ego, in fact, as sometimes I am rowing the other way as the forces of good carry me onwards.
How has pain and suffering shattered or nourished your faith? I have experienced both in my journey. It is sad to admit, but my sense of faith has been most robust under two conditions:
- When I am in the midst of personal failure, loss, or witnessing unfathomable suffering, and
- When I am in the presence of holy people, in meaningful pray, or reading the saintly works.
I would like to believe my faith grew in leaps and bounds by my own works and by my sincere gratitude of the favors granted me in life. They have provided me with the strength and resources to practice compassion, empathy, and love for others. While these things do strengthen my faith – they have not jettisoned me into serious contemplation and soul-searching as the first two conditions have nurtured.
The first two conditions have given me a base of humility that transcends human definitions. My ability to handle misery and pain in the face of adversity is undoubtedly wanting. Any received praise and platitudes, individual achievements, or other standard measures of the worthiness of a man fail me when held in comparison to the lives of the genuinely saintly or the gold standard of holiness.
All is not lost though. The tears that we experience can be transformed. Have you ever had tears silently and sadly flow gently as you experienced a melancholy understanding of both crushing loss and joyous peace? I have learned through suffering more than I have learned through successes.
I am still unable to ask God for more. In my prayers, I do express, “Your will, not mine, be done.” Sometimes I add I trust in you to give me what I can handle, but God I myself am incapable of handling anymore. I am keenly aware of being careful what I ask for from God.
To accept my lot with patience, courage, and a happy disposition calls for significant growth! And I have been working at this for a very long time. As I reread this passage, it is no longer foreign to me. You and I have lived it whether we recognize it or not. This is like one of those films that never closes the chapter, only ignites the mystery and leaves you wanting the sequel, yet you know only you can write the ending.
“The picture above represents a most unusual apparition in which Our Lady of La Salette was seen by two children Melanie Mathieu and Maxim Giraud, in the small French village of La Sallette, located near Grenoble, on September 19, 1846. She first appeared emerging from a globe of light, weeping over our sins.”