Monday, December 29, 2014

On Self-Denial and Love of the Cross

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. ~ Matt 16:24

I admit readily that I have a very difficult time carrying any cross. I suffer from chronic migraines and this year has been better than previous years, and still I've complained. Dec. was a tough month but it took me a while to give thanks and praise to God and sadly it was more with a spirit of resignation than that of rejoicing. However, this month, with St. Alphonsus' help I've been able to look at the many blessings that come with this particular cross. 1. Letting go of expectations. 2. Lying in bed in prayer. 3. Scribbling in my notebook -- pouring out my heart to God on the page. 4. Awaiting Him. Come Lord Jesus. 5. Offering it as a sacrifice for the conversion of others. 6. The time to contemplate what is to come. 7. Watching my husband and children care for each other and me.
We are so conditioned to do things, it's hard to just be. This is when I remember how sweet it is to waste time with God, just like I did when Michael and I first met and we wasted hours together, doing absolutely nothing but simply being together.
The words of the great Spanish mystic, John of Avila, come to mind: “Do not think now of what you would do if you were well, but be content to remain sick as long as it pleases God. If you are seeking the will of God, what matters it whether you are sick or well?” St. Frances de Sales (patron of writers) maintained that we can serve God better by suffering than by laboring. And I have to remind myself of this every time I get hit on the head with Harry.
My cross is not that heavy when I compare it to others' but it is mine to carry. I have wondered why suffering is the way to God; wouldn't it be easier if the path were more pleasant? More people would walk it. But it is not the way of our Lord.
St. Alphonsus begins this chapter with, "The love which our Divine Master Jesus entertained for the cross was so great that He embraced it from the first moment of His Incarnation. The will of His heavenly Father had decreed that His life on earth should be the way of the cross; accordingly, He began His sorrowful journey to Calvary's Mount the very moment that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’.
"Hand in hand with the love of the cross is the virtue of self-denial, for he who is attached to the comforts of life or to himself lacks courage to walk in the bloodstained footsteps of the suffering Savior.”
Peace of Heart
"Patience hath a perfect work, says the Apostle James (1:4), for by patience in bearing the crosses of life we make a perfect sacrifice to God. ... Patience is to be preferred to the courage of the hero. Many a man will display great courage in undertaking and bringing to completion some pious work; but he may not have patience enough to bear with the little annoyances and contradictions he encounters. For such a one it were better to be steadfast in patient suffering than courageous in great undertakings. ... In a word we all have something to endure ...
“Accordingly, we can enjoy true peace of heart only when we carry our cross with patience and resignation.
Value of Suffering
"If you are forced to acknowledge, dear Christian reader, that you have offended your God, and you wish at the same time to sanctify your immortal soul, you should rejoice when God sends you suffering. ... When God gives you something to suffer, says St. Augustine, He acts as a physician, and the suffering He sends is not a punishment but a remedy. ... But suffering is not only an excellent means of atonement for past sins, it is also an abundant source of merit.
Proof of Love
St. Alphonsus says, “Suffering is the touchstone of love. … Love is patient, says St. Paul, it beareth all things (1 Cor. 13:4). It patiently carries the external as well as the internal cross: for example, the loss of health, of fortune, of honor, of relatives and friends; anguish, temptations, pains and spiritual aridity. By patience virtue is tried. … “Because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee (Tobit 12:13).”
To Suffer is to Pray
“You say you cannot pray? Why not?” asks St. Alphonsus. “What prevents you from turning your eyes to Jesus Crucified and offering Him the sufferings you must endure? The best prayer you can say is to resign yourself to the will of God in the midst of your sufferings, uniting your pains to the pains of Jesus Christ and offering them as a sacrifice to God.”
Spiritual Aridity
I wanted to share this bit because we all go through periods of spiritual dryness. I’m still in a honeymoon period since our conversion, but I know there will be greater trials and I want to remember these words of St. Alphonsus. “There is a great need of patience in bearing the cross of spiritual abandonment, for it is one of the hardest trials that a soul who loves God can endure.”
Patience again!
“By means of spiritual aridity, God unites Himself intimately with the souls He loves in an especial manner. What hinders us from being truly united to God is attachment to our inordinate inclinations. When God, therefore, desires to lead a soul to His perfect love, He endeavors first to free her from all attachment to created things. To this end He deprives her little by little of earthly goods such as riches, honors, relatives, bodily health and so forth. Then follow contradictions and humiliations of every sort. These are so many means that the Lord makes use of to divest the soul of all attachment to creatures and to self.
“In the beginning of the soul’s conversion, God often gives her a flood of consolations. In consequence of this, the soul is gradually weaned from attachment to creatures and gives herself to God; but not as yet in a perfect manner, for she acts more for the sake of the consolation of God than for the God of consolations.”
This describes me so well. I only pray that my will be strong to do what is pleasing go God. Let us therefore place our unbounded trust in God.


Mirka Breen said...

Suffering, when it has meaning, is more bearable. "Every one has a cross to bear" is an expression that well illustrates the connection to the Christian tradition.

Johnell said...

I hope you feel better soon. Thank you for your thought-provoking posts.

Marcia said...

Sometimes protesting that we "cannot pray" is really saying we cannot be eloquent, profound, rote, or "proper." The protest is pride in yet another guise. We don't need to be those things. We can be real, we can say the name of Jesus, we can open the Bible and murmur scripture if we don't have words, we can even just groan to him. There's a whole new, higher world of prayer that goes beyond "cannot pray."

Vijaya said...

Mirka, without God, the suffering has no meaning. I remember well in my atheist days how callous I became to suffering.

Johnell, I am better. Thank you.

Marcia, you are spot on. One time I complained to a priest about dissolving into tears whenever I tried to pray and he said, "don't you know that each tear is a prayer?" Sometimes there are no words.