Do you find yourself filled with anger or anxiety about your situation these days? We’ve posted a number of such cases on our prayer requests page. Do you feel like nothing you do seems to go right? Are you searching for a job and have sent out tons of resumes and gotten nothing back? Do you wonder how you’re going to feed your family, or yourself for that matter?
Or are your concerns less intense perhaps but still troubling, such as family squabbles, or work issues for those of you who do have jobs. Perhaps the work load has gotten way too much, or you have a coworker or boss who somehow has it in for you. It’s all too bewildering or just too much to handle! You’re feeling more and more each day like a total failure!
You’re by no means alone! Both our Lord and St. Paul, for example, knew all about failure. Christ in His Passion experienced suffering and rejection on a truly heartbreaking scale, as we see when meditating on the Stations of the Cross.
And, as the "Apostle to the Gentiles", St. Paul (pictured above) experienced quite a few hardships, including being stoned, beaten, and shipwrecked during his mission to spread the Gospel to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and other parts of the Mediterranean. And yet in this intriguing passage in one of his letters to the Corinthians, He actually boasts of his weakness, saying “When I am weak I am strong”! (2 Cor 12:10). You might think, what?? Am I reading this right? Yes indeed!
And where did that strength St. Paul speaks of come from? From Christ Himself! A couple of verses earlier he notes that our Lord told him that His grace should be sufficient for dealing with his particular “thorn for the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). Jesus informed him “strength is made perfect in weakness.” The great Saint added “Gladly therefore I will glorify in my infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9).
He echoes this theme in a couple of other letters, as when he wrote to the Philippians these stirring words that almost resonate like a short prayer one can say in times of confusion, doubts, or despair: “I can do all things in him [Christ] who strengthens me”(Phil 4:13).
Remember as well how important humility is as a weapon in our arsenal against sin and Satan. As we read in the letters both of St. James and St. Peter “God resists the proud but gives Grace to the humble” (Jas 4:3, 1 Pt 5:5).
Christ was able to bring out great strength from St. Paul indeed! The "Apostle to the Gentiles" spread the Gospel far and wide in his missionary work setting up various churches all across the Mediterranean, Greece, and Asia Minor before his martyrdom in Rome around 67 AD. And his letters have brought inspiration, hope, and perseverance to millions of Christians worldwide over the centuries.
And speaking of martyrdom, he was by no means alone on that score! Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers wrote in the 2nd Century that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, and that was particularly true in the first few centuries after our Lord’s death and resurrection.
Yet Christ’s grace, serving as it does as a wonderful spiritual anesthetic in times of great physical or emotional pain, is not only for those shedding blood for our faith. He wants all of us to have it, and share it, in good times and bad! And we can receive the graces he wishes to give us in large part through prayer and the Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist (at Mass) and Penance (in Confession).
To sum up, God allows suffering as a natural offshoot from the sins of mankind out of respect for our free will. And many times, as hard as it may seem to fathom, God allows us to experience temptations so that we may grow stronger spiritually and draw closer to Him by resisting them.
Our Lord wishes for us to choose to follow Him in spite of our sinfulness, but He knows human nature better than any of us (John 2:25). The devout Simeon said of Jesus that he would not only be a light of revelation to the gentiles but also a sign that would be contradicted (Lk 2:34), and He certainly has been over the centuries!
As St. James put so well and succinctly “Whence do wars and quarrels come among you? Is it not from this, from your passions, which wage war in your members? You covet and do not have; you kill and envy, and cannot obtain. You quarrel and wrangle..” (Jas 4:1-2). Many of our misfortunes come from each other. I remember in the 1960’s there was a comic strip character named Pogo Possum who famously noted “we have met the enemy and he is us!”
Nevertheless, God can take our sufferings use them for a greater good if we let him. Each of us has some degree of brokenness, some wounds that have been inflicted upon us in this life. It’s what we do with those wounds that makes all the difference! As “citizens-in-training” for heaven we are called to imitate Christ here on earth both in His Heavenly Virtues and in His Suffering as well.
As St. Paul once said “I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake, and what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). In other words, our afflictions, if offered up to our Lord on the Cross, can help us and others achieve salvation! Noted Catholic author and columnist Mark Shea has written this excellent article about this important concept.
In addition, the beloved 16th century Spanish writer Ven. Louis of Grenada wrote in his book The Sinner’s Guide (a favorite of many great saints) “Remember that the sufferings of this life bear no proportion to the rewards of the next. The happiness of Heaven is so great, so unspeakable, that we would gladly purchase one hour of its enjoyment by the sacrifice of all earthly pleasures and by the endurance of all earthly sorrows….Consider also the different effects of prosperity and adversity. The former inflates us with pride; the latter humbles and purifies us. In prosperity we often forget to whom we owe all that we are; but adversity usually brings us to the feet of our Creator. Prosperity often causes us to lose the fruits of our best actions; but adversity enables us to expiate our past failings, and preserves us against future relapses.”
In the abstract that makes great sense. In prosperity we can indeed become like spoiled selfish children wanting more and more candy: money, sex, power, a bigger house, a bigger mansion, more more more (!!), as pride takes over completely and runs roughshod over our wills. What fun it is to Lord our “status” over others! To look down on them. To think of ourselves as Gods rather than God’s!
Yet many times we feel too confused, resentful or angry, and turn our backs, not our faces (Jer 32:33) to God in adversity. Sometimes our heads get so filled with worry or self-doubts that turning our problems over to Him is the last thing we want to do! Instead we try to drown our sorrows, even if they get worse, in drink, drugs, sex, anger, envy, or other sinful emotions or diversions. These can take a considerable toll on one’s body and mind, to say nothing of imperiling one’s soul!
As salutary as our crosses can be to our holiness, the perilous and quite understandable temptation for many is to turn away not towards God when faced with varying degrees of angst or crises! As Jesus Himself once told Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun in the 1920’s, in one of her many mystical visions “Many are willing to entertain Me when I visit them with consolation. Many receive Me with joy in Holy Communion, but few welcome Me when I visit them with My Cross."
I realized that myself recently when dealing with chronic pain. I didn’t want crosses myself, but rather I wanted to sit and admire other people carrying theirs. That was fine! But when Jesus asked me to drink from His bitter cup of suffering (Mark 10:39) I wanted to spit it out and go ‘Yecch, couldn’t you put some Splenda in that or something?!?”
This, by the way is the great danger inherent in so-called prosperity or feel-good Gospels hawked by some Christian churches, that of course you have the right to be happy! Isn’t that what God wants for us?
Yes He indeed does, but He doesn’t promise us total happiness in this life but rather in the one to come, with Him in Heaven, and that is something we must nonetheless strive for here on earth by living in conformity with the Commandments and the Gospel message, rather than assuming it as a given.
Keep in mind in regards to the Pogo quote mentioned earlier that if we followed His commandments more readily a lot of the misery we give each other would vanish. They are laws of love after all, and yes, God is love (1 John 4:8).
If you can’t approach tragedy or defeat or other such tests with much needed composure and grace, at least don’t give up on God thinking he’s given up on you. That would be a tragic mistake! Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44) will be more than happy to shower you with bittersweet consolations encouraging self-destructive and sinful behavior!
Incidentally, he's also good at offering people the world in exchange for their souls in subtle ways, by encouraging greed, vanity, a lust for power, and egotism, with empty promises of a golden bridge to Paradise which is more like a tunnel to Hell!
Satan is more than happy to sugar-coat his deceptions with just enough truth to make them seductive. He’s created enough havoc in this world turning people against each other and helping to foment various types of injustice to turn righteous indignation into destructive rage. Throw in a few dollops of pride and selfishness and well… we’re back to St. James’ quote mentioned earlier (Jas 4:1-2).
Give your self-doubts, confusion, dread and even despair to God in humility, even if you think he’s not listening! Don’t give them to Satan! He will distort truth with enough falsehoods to encourage whatever confusion or anger he can in your soul!
Throw whatever negativity the devil tries to send you right back at him. Let it boomerang on him! Pray to God and the saints and our Blessed Mother for the much needed graces of perseverance and calmness in the face of these hardships. Let Jesus bring out strength in your weakness even if you don’t fully understand how and why he does so!
Say to God, in effect, something like this:
Dear Lord, I don’t know what your plan is for me right now. But take my misery and bring whatever good you can out of it and give me the grace of equanimity to bear it. You thought enough of me to have created me in your image. Help me to get through this trial. And help me to remember, in spite of the storms raging around me, that you are indeed in charge and desire my good so that I may share Eternal Life with you in Heaven!
I pray for all of you and for myself, this Lenten season and beyond, that God gives us all the grace to carry whatever crosses we may be carrying in these strange, troubed times! And feel free to post a prayer request in our prayer requests section if you think that might help. It never hurts to have others praying for you!