“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
I have read that the cross is the inheritance of Christians, the great treasure he has left us in his Last Will. Yet, being human as he was, when faced with our own Gethsemane, we most often echo his words that this cup of suffering might pass us by. Sometimes, the Lord answers our prayer and removes our trial. But there are times, as with Jesus, when the Father asks us to enter into his will, to trust him on this, that there are bigger things at play than we know about. It is at these times that we are asked to embrace suffering as a gift, as a measure and promise of our “sonship”.
St. Catherine of Genoa, in her “Treatise on Purgatory” has given us much food for thought on the issue of suffering. While what she is referring to in her Treatise is the suffering we endure after death in order to be purified of “the rust and stain of sins”, I believe it may be applied as well to the sufferings we are asked to endure here on earth. In Chapter XVI she has this to say about the souls in Purgatory:
“For if his goodness did not temper justice with mercy (satisfying it with the precious blood of Jesus Christ), one sin alone would deserve a thousand hells. They suffer their pains so willingly that they would not lighten them in the least, knowing how justly they have been deserved. They resist the will of God no more than if they had already entered upon eternal life. […] They see all things, not in themselves nor by themselves, but as they are in God, on whom they are more intent than on their sufferings. For the least vision they can have of God overbalances all woes and all joys that can be conceived.”
So often I have resisted suffering, prayed ceaselessly to have this cup pass me by, without in the least desiring that God’s will be done. I did not fully realize that what God was offering me was a gift, the mitigation of a portion of my suffering after death, or the accomplishment of a great good for another.
Instead of being intent on my sufferings, I need to see all things as they are in God, who only desires our ultimate good, which culminates in total union with him. He wants none of the delays that sinfulness throws up as roadblocks to perfect union. In accepting the suffering that he wills for is, we are saying, “Lord, neither do I want to delay our eternal union. Do with me as you will.
A lifetime of penance seems a small thing to offer in light of St. Catherine’s statement that one sin alone would deserve a thousand hells. It is God’s mercy alone that makes our small efforts bear fruit so far out of proportion to the effort involved.
In the book Spirit of Penance, Path to God, author Van Zeller makes this statement
“Few things are so uselessly squandered as the riches of pain. Leave the Passion (of Christ) out of account, and suffering is not a good but an evil; take the Passion as the foundation and principle of Christian penance, and suffering is of infinite worth.”
It is always good to ponder the sufferings of Christ and our own call to penance, to come back often to these familiar words of Christ in the Garden and ponder them deeply: “Not what I want, but what you want.”
May the Lord grant us all the grace to remain in his Holy Will now and forever.