"Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice." St. John xvi. 20.
Who, my beloved Christians, could listen without trembling to the address of the Redeemer to His disciples before His ascension into heaven, wherein He tells them that their life would be a series of tears, suffering, and bearing of the cross, while the rest of the world would rejoice and make merry? Not as if the people of the world did not also have their troubles, because sorrow and consternation are the natural consequence of a bad conscience, and a disorderly life finds its own punishment in a troubled heart. The lot of the good Christians is entirely different from this: they must make up their minds to suffer and weep in this life, but their suffering and their tears earn for them a joy and a pleasure which are unlimited in extent and duration. On the other hand, the children of the world, after a few moments of enjoyment, mixed with much bitterness, follow the path which leads toward the eternal fire. "Woe unto you," says Jesus Christ to them," woe unto you who think of nothing but rejoicing, for your joys shall bring forth eternal sufferings in the abode of my justice." "Ah, blessed ones," He says to the good Christians, "blessed are ye who pass your days in tears, for the day will come when I myself shall be your consolation." I will now show you, my dear Christians, that the cross, poverty, contempt, and suffering is the lot of a Christian who wishes to save his soul, and who tries to be pleasing to God.
You must either suffer in this life or give up the hope of seeing God in heaven.
Let me tell you, that from the moment that you are numbered among the children of God you must take upon yourself the cross, and never lay it down until the moment of your death. When Jesus Christ speaks to us from heaven He never fails to remind us that we can only merit it by carrying the cross, and by suffering: "Take up thy cross and follow me, not for a day, a month or a year, but for thy whole life." St. Augustine says: "Leave the pleasures and amusements to the children of the world; but you, who are the children of God, weep with the children of God."
Sufferings and persecutions are of the greatest avail to us, because we can find therein a very efficient means to make atonement for our sins, since we are bound to suffer for them either in this world or in the next. The sufferings in this world are not unlimited, neither in intensity nor in duration: the merciful God chastises us on account of His great mercy toward us; He allows us to suffer for a time, only to make us happy for all eternity. However great our sufferings may be in this world, He touches us only with His little finger, as it were; while in the other world the tortures and punishments which we have to go through are dictated by His great power and wrath. There it will seem that God wanted to exhaust His whole power to avenge His offended majesty. There our torments will be infinite in severity and duration. In this life our sufferings are mitigated by the consolation and help which our holy religion offers us, but in the other world there is no consolation, no mitigation; on the contrary, there everything drives to despair. Oh, how blessed is the Christian who spends his whole life in tears and tribulation, as thereby he prevents the greatest misfortune that can befall him, and procures for himself everlasting joy. Job, the holy man, tells us that life is but a continuous misery. Let us go into particulars. Let us go from house to house, and we will find planted everywhere the cross of Christ. Here it is the loss of earthly possessions, the result of an injustice, which has thrown a whole family into misery; there a sickness, which holds a person on a bed of suffering; there it is a wife who eats her bread in tears and sorrow on account of a drunken, brutal husband. There, again, we meet poor old people who have been thrown upon the charities of this world by their ungrateful children. Here is a man bowed down with sorrow and shame because he has been accused of misdeeds which he never committed. And, again, there is a house filled with lamentations over the loss of a father or mother, or a child.
Thus our mortal life seems poor and miserable, considered from a human standpoint; but if we consider our life from the standpoint of our religion, we shall soon be convinced that we are miserable only so long as we brood over, and complain. about, our troubles from a human view of things.
Why are you so apt to consider yourselves unfortunate' Because you are thinking of those whose circumstances in life are better than your own. The poor man, in the misery of his poverty, instead of thinking of those who, on account of sickness, or, perhaps, having been put into prison or the poorhouse, are worse off than himself, lets his thoughts dwell upon the mansions of the rich and their earthly possessions and pleasures. The sick man, instead of thinking of the tortures suffered by those condemned by the just judgment of the Lord to eternal punishment, directs his thoughts only to the few lucky ones who have never had the misfortune of being poor or sick. That is the reason, my dear friends, why we consider our sufferings unbearable. But what is the consequence? The consequence is that our grumbling and complaining deprives us of all the merits which we might gain in heaven through our sufferings: on the one hand, we bear them without consoling ourselves with the thought that they open to us the hope for forgiveness; on the other hand, we increase our sins by our impatience and grumbling, instead of diminishing them by offering up our suffering in atonement for them. It is our impatience, our want of submission under the will of God, our want of confidence in Him, which make us so unhappy, and which are the cause of augmenting our sins instead of diminishing them, by offering up our sufferings in atonement. How unfortunate and full of despair is the life of him who forgets for what purpose God has sent him a cross to bear!
But you will say to me: "We have heard these sentiments expressed hundreds of times; they are merely words, not consolations; we say the same things to those whom we see suffer." But I say to you, my friends, look up, look up to heaven. Withdraw your hearts from the mire of this life into which it has sunk; tear asunder the clouds of mist which hide the heavenly reward from you, which you may obtain by means of your sufferings here below. Lift up your eyes and see the good Father, who holds ready for you a glorious mansion in His dominions. God chastises you only to heal the wounds which you, poor sinner, have inflicted upon your own soul. God sends you the suffering only to crown you with everlasting glory.
If you wish to know, my dear friends, how to take up the cross, handed to you by the Almighty or by your own fellow beings, let me cite to you as an example, how job took up his cross, how he never got discontented even at the loss of his numerous possessions and family, nor when the fire from heaven destroyed his flocks, nor when the thieves drove away the rest of his cattle, nor when a terrific cyclone destroyed his house and buried his children, but devotedly exclaimed: "Alas, the hand of the Lord lieth heavy upon me!"
There he had been lying on a dunghill for years, covered with sores, without help or consolation, deserted even by his own wife, who, instead of consoling him, only mocked at him with the words: "Why don't you pray to thy God for death, so that you may be delivered from all this misery; seest thou not how thy God, whom thou hast served so faithfully, how he tortures thee?" And he merely said to her: "Thou hast spoken like one of the foolish women; if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not accept the evil?"
But some of you will say, "I can not understand why God should visit us with such calamities; He, who is love itself and who loves us with an infinite love." You may as well ask me: "How is it possible that a father can chastise his own child, or a doctor give his patient bitter medicine?" Do you think it would be better to let this child live unrestrained than to lead it through punishment back to the path of virtue, and thus into heaven? Do you think that the physician should let his patient die rather than give him bitter medicine? How blind we are if we reason like that! God must chastise us, and if we are without cross, then we may be sure that we do not belong to the number of His children. Jesus himself said, that the kingdom of heaven would only be for those who suffer and fight until the end. And does He not always speak the truth? Contemplate the lives which the saints have led, look at the way which they have pursued; from the moment they ceased to suffer they feared that the Lord had deserted them, and that they had lost Him forever. "My God, my God!" cried out St. Augustine, in tears, "spare me not in this life, but let me suffer much. Show me Thy mercy only in the other life, and I am contented."
Most people who are afflicted with sufferings say: "What have I done to the dear Lord, that He should send me so much misery?" And I answer: "God sends you this affliction, because thou hast indeed done evil, my friend. Take all the commandments, one by one, and see whether you have not sinned against each and every one of them. Let all the days of your sinful life, since the innocent days of your childhood, pass muster in your memory, and then you will not ask what evil you have done, that God should so chastise you. Are the bad habits into which you have sunk for so long a time to count for nothing? And what about your pride? Do you think it is right that you should expect everybody to bow before you because you happen to have a few acres of land more than another, which may likely be the cause of your damnation? Have you forgotten that cupidity which keeps you forever in a state of dissatisfaction; what of that self-love, that vanity, that hasty temper, that thirst for vengeance, that intemperance, that jealousy? Have you forgotten your criminal neglect of the Blessed Sacrament, and all those religious obligations you should have performed for the benefit of your soul? Does your forgetfulness of all these and other facts make you less guilty? And if you are guilty, should not the justice of God punish you? Tell me, my friend, what penance have you done to atone for your sins, what fasting, what mortification? Where are your good works? When, after so many sins, you have not shed a tear, after so much avarice you have not given the smallest alms, after so much pride you will not suffer the least humiliation; when, after your flesh has served the evil one, you will not hear of penance, then heaven must step in and impose that penance which you did not practise yourself.
Oh, how blind we are! We would wish to do evil without being punished for it, or, in other words, we would rather that God was unjust. Indeed, O Lord! let the sinner lead a life of ease; do not lay Thy hand too heavily upon him; let him fatten like a beast of sacrifice, destined for that eternal punishment, where he will have time to make satisfaction to Thy justice; spare him in this life; he wants to have it so. He may do penance in the eternal fire, penance without merit, penance without end. O my Lord, do not let this misfortune befall us! "O my God," exclaimed St. Augustine, "increase my misery and my suffering as much as Thou wilt, only mete out to me Thy mercy in the life to come."
"Yes," says another one, "this is all very well for those who have committed these grievous sins, but I, thank the Lord, have never done anything of the kind." Such a person, therefore, believes that because he thinks that he has not committed these sins he need not suffer. But I say, that it is for the very reason that such a person tries to do right that God will send him trials and permit that he be mocked at, despised, and his piety ridiculed, because God wants to try him by sending him sickness and tribulations. Look at Jesus Christ, the true model of your life, and see whether He lived a single moment without suffering, and, in fact, suffering so much that the human mind has not yet been able to fathom it. Why did the Pharisees persecute Him and try continually to ensnare Him, so as to have a reason for condemning Him to death? Did they do it because He was thought wrong? Not at all; they did it because His miracles, His poverty, and humility condemned their pride and evil deeds. If we look through Holy Writ we see that from the beginning of the world suffering, reproach, and mockery was the share of the children of God-that is, of those who strove to lead a God-fearing life. Who, indeed, will deride and reproach those who fulfil the duties of their religion but a poor, miserable outcast from hell, who has been sent upon this earth for the purpose of trying to draw others into the abyss, which is his dwelling-place for all eternity. Let me give you a few examples. Why did Cain slay his brother Abel? He slew him because he could not induce him to do wrong, as he did himself. Why did Joseph's brothers throw him into the cistern? Because his God-fearing life was a reproach to their own dissolute way of living. What caused the persecutions of the Apostles, who were continually imprisoned, tortured, and maltreated, so that their life from the death of our Lord on was a continuous martyrdom? They all had to die in a most cruel and painful manner. And what had they done that they should suffer all that? They had sought only the honor of the Lord and the salvation of souls. If you are reproached, derided, mocked at, persecuted, though you have done nothing wrong, so much the better for you. If you have had to undergo no suffering in this world, how will it stand with you before the Lord on the day of judgment?
If you are persecuted and ridiculed and injured, though you have done nothing wrong, you are, indeed, on the right way to heaven. What did the Saviour say? "Take up thy cross and follow me; they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; but be not discouraged, rather rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven. He who is not ready to suffer all things, even to lose his life for love of me, is not worthy of me." Amen.