Luke 15:11-32 “…(The prodigal son) would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”
Like the prodigal son in the Gospel reading above, we all have lessons to learn, and they may indeed be just as hard-won for us as they were for the prodigal! Usually there is pride involved on some level. Lately I have felt the Lord revealing to me some of my defects of character, some of which I counted as strengths! Ouch! It has meant a series of trials, big and small, in which I had to assiduously inspect my own motives and actions, until finally, when the lesson was ready to be learned, a light went on.
Devout people, as you and I are trying to be, are often the most blind to their own faults. I suppose that is why St. Francis was so eager to thank those who corrected, insulted, or even physically abused him. He knew that anything the evil one would use as a means to harm him, could actually be a force for growth in virtue, and lead him deeper into the heart of God. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” ALL things.
St. Bernadette of Lourdes also knew the value of giving thanks for everything, especially the sufferings and humiliations, as she shows us in her testament of gratitude. In her words:
- For the poverty in which my mother and father lived, for the failure of the mill, all the hard times, for the awful sheep, for constant tiredness, thank you, my God!
- For lips, which I was feeding too much, for the dirty noses of the children, for the guarded sheep, I thank you!
- Thank you, my God, for the prosecutor and the police commissioner, for the policemen, and for the harsh words of Father Peyramale!
- For the days in which you came, Mary, for the ones in which you did not come, I will never be able to thank you…only in Paradise.
- For the slap in the face, for the ridicule, the insults, and for those who suspected me for wanting to gain something from it, thank you, my Lady.
- For my spelling, which I never learned, for the memory that I never had, for my ignorance and for my stupidity, thank you.
- For the fact that my mother died so far away, for the pain I felt when my father instead of hugging his little Bernadette called me, “Sister Marie-Bernard”, I thank you, Jesus.
- I thank you for the heart you gave me, so delicate and sensitive, which you filled with bitterness.
- For the fact that Mother Josephine proclaimed that I was good for nothing, thank you. For the sarcasm of the Mother Superior: her harsh voice, her injustices, her irony and for the bread of humiliation, thank you.
- Thank you that I was the privileged one when it came to be reprimanded, so that my sisters said, “How lucky it is not to be Bernadette.”
- Thank you for the fact that it is me, who was the Bernadette threatened with imprisonment because she had seen you, Holy Virgin; regarded by people as a rare animal; that Bernadette so wretched, that upon seeing her, it was said, “Is that it?”
- For this miserable body which you gave me, for this burning and suffocating illness, for my decaying tissues, for my de-calcified bones, for my sweats, for my fever, for my dullness and for my acute pains, thank you, my God.
- And for this soul which you have given me, for the desert of inner dryness, for your night and the lightening, for your silences and your thunders, for everything.
- For you—when you were present and when you were not—thank you, Jesus.
(Saint Bernadette, Saint Bernadette Soubirous, Abbe Francois Trochu)
In addition to teaching us lessons, these trials are also sent to us as heavenly jewels we can use to purchase souls, or for some other divine purpose. I love this quote from Fr. J.P. de Caussade, from Abandonment to Divine Providence:
“All these monsters only come into the world to exercise the courage of the children of God, and if these are well trained, God gives them the pleasure of slaying the monsters, and sends fresh athletes into the arena.
“And this life is a spectacle to angels, causing continual joy in Heaven, work for saints on earth, and confusion to the devils in hell. So all that is opposed to the order of God renders it only the more to be adored. All workers of iniquity are slaves of justice, and the divine action builds the heavenly Jerusalem on the ruins of Babylon.”
God is infinitely patient and will send us as many trials as it takes for us to learn the lessons he wishes to teach us, or to grow in the virtues we are sadly lacking. We do ourselves a great favor by being good students and learning our lessons quickly! Jesus and Mary, please grant us the grace to be good students!
However, if the trials continue, we can have great confidence that not one of these heavenly jewels will fall to the ground. By grace, and in Christ, each jewel is deposited in our name into the heavenly treasury, where no power can destroy it. There we can borrow it back when needed to accomplish God’s work. In addition, every delicious morsel of the heavenly treasury is ours to use, enabling us to purchase a great deal more than would be possible through our own sufferings alone.
God’s generosity is a great and glorious mystery. May his name be praised in all things! Jesus we trust in you.