“Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
My friends the times we are living in are becoming more perilous to those living out the life of faith. The freedom of worship we in the west have enjoyed for centuries—a freedom we mostly took for granted—is now undoubtedly in jeopardy. The more God’s laws are trampled upon, in practice and in secular law, the closer we draw to an outright persecution of the faithful. Anyone who follows the news can see that a clash is coming between those who uphold the laws of God and those who celebrate transgression.
We must remember, however, that the trials of this world are exercises for growth in virtue, a training ground for those who seek above all to imitate Christ in this life so as to live forever with him in the next, and opportunities to participate in the saving power of Christ. There is an early manuscript called The Didache, which outlines the Christian practices of the fledgling Church. The authors of this manuscript urged Christians to “fast for those who persecute you.” As well, the Catechism tells us:
“The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: ‘All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.’ Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: ‘So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.'”
–Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section #1816
As penitents, we are no strangers to suffering, and even in our small way seek it out by living the rule of St. Francis of 1221. What this accomplishes in the spiritual realm, we cannot know in this life. But we have the assurance of St. Francis and the example of Christ and his saints that by some mystery of grace, the little we do matters! But there is another dimension to penance besides the simple practice of it. St. John of the Cross once said, “And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of Heaven. And the name of that river was suffering….And I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was LOVE.” This second dimension is one we should ponder deeply—that love is what makes the sufferings of this life not only bearable, but as the martyrs often testified, it can even make it sweet. How much we do is far less important than how much we love.
Our life of penance is a wonderful opportunity to practice suffering with love. Practice makes perfect as they say, and if we cannot suffer with love in small matters (cf. Mt 25:23), how will we do so if we are faced with persecution or even martyrdom? As someone who has been a professed member for some time, I know how easy it is to slip into a “routine” of penance. We penitents must consciously season our offerings with love. This becomes more imperative the more the world rejects the Christian. As Christ died for us while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:8), we too must be willing to suffer for sinners, and even for those who may be out to hurt or even destroy us. Christ died for us all. He is asking us to suffer for their souls, to mount the cross on their behalf in imitation of him. In this way we strip the victory from the evil one, who counted those souls as his own. That is love, and that is the victory of the cross.
So, even though things may look bleak, we are not without hope! On the contrary. In joy or sorrow, in consternation or consolation, in life or death–for the Christian who knows how to suffer with love, all is gain, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4)
In all things give thanks that we are given the grace to be his instruments of mercy on earth!