I am quietly praying before the cross these days — asking what I must do.
I am in exile from my beloved Russia. I know that God’s plans for me are for my good, so what must I do to embrace this time? I must love and suffer.
When you look at Jesus and at Christianity in its essence you see the same thing. Jesus loved and suffered and saved the world. We are called to the same love and to suffer and in this very uniquely Christian way — to redeem the world.
We live in a world that flees from suffering. We are told you can’t suffer and be happy, and that the less you suffer the more you will be happy. For many suffering is viewed as an evil without value, and thus any means should be taken to avoid even a common cold.
Yet in the saints, we find something different. It is precisely suffering that strengthens us, humbles us and forges us, making us into saints. But more than this, we discover that suffering is of such inestimable redemptive worth that nothing equals it in heaven or on earth. As Our Lord told Saint Faustina; “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things. One is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.”
In fact, the saints teach us that suffering has such great merit, that it is greater than external works such as preaching, writing or even working miracles.
“You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone,” Jesus revealed to Saint Faustina.
We know our suffering exists because of sin. Suffering entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our first parents. God never intended for us to suffer. Even while on earth, Jesus worked miracles of healing for countless people, curing blindness, leprosy, deformities and disease. It is clear our Lord wants us to be happy and healthy, not to suffer. But it is when we offer our suffering — the one thing most disagreeable to our human nature — back to the creator that it becomes a gift of inestimable value; drawing down from heaven more grace than any other action we can possibly make.
“We love only to the degree that we are willing to suffer,” says Jesuit Father John Hardon.
Instinctively we know this to be true. After all, if someone preaches to me I will not be as convinced of their love. But when someone comes alongside me and suffers with me, I know he loves me. We must never forget the defining moment of redemption for humanity was not when our Lord preached in the synagogues or healed the sick. It was when Love was nailed to a cross and drained of his blood. Love and suffering are inseparable, for love is proven through suffering and suffering is perfected through love. The perfect example of saving love is the suffering savior on the cross.
We as Christians are called imitate, to willingly forget self in order to make others happy. Thus we see the end of suffering, not for its own sake, but for the life it breathes into others through active love.
How does one love in daily life? One definition, which the church has used to define love, is “to will the good of the other, as other.” In other words, love is primarily an act of the will, which as Saint John Paul II notes, sees the other as a good in itself rather than an object to be used as a means to an end. Said another way, love is total self-gift, which is most manifest through spousal love (finding its source in the Holy Trinity).
To put it plainly, love is totally other-centered — it takes no account of cost to self. To love totally means to be totally forgetful of one’s own needs, and to be constantly searching to do all that is beneficial for the other’s soul. Therefore, to love is to will God (goodness itself) for every person we meet.
The trap, however, that many fall into, is reducing this notion of “self-gift” down to merely external works. We forget that Christ, our model, often spent entire nights in prayer, so that he can be first filled with the love of the Father before going back out into the world. This is how we make an offering of ourselves to God. To love and to suffer is our call, but it is only lived in deep prayer.
From the “Diary of Saint Faustina” we read: “From the moment I came to love suffering, it ceased to be a suffering for me. Suffering is the daily food of my soul.”
Saint Padre Pio taught: “Oh what precious moments these are. It is a happiness that the Lord gives me to relish almost always in moments of affliction. At these moments, more than ever, when the whole world troubles and weighs on me, I desire nothing other than to love and to suffer. Yes my Father, even in the midst of so much suffering I am happy because it seems as if my heart is beating with Jesus’ heart.”
I want to have my heart beat with the heart of Jesus. I see that this time the Lord has given me is a time to surrender, to love and to suffer with him, in him and through him.
Isn’t that what I have been doing all these years in Russia? Isn’t that the reason I have worn His Most Sacred Heart on my heart for these 25 years? I want my heart to beat with his. Let me suffer and love with you Lord. Only with you.