This Lent, come nearer to the wedding feast of heaven
February 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – One of the worst distortions perpetuated about the saints, by “pious” authors and enemies of the Church alike, is that the saints were a gloomy bunch, bent over under the weight of grim penances, banishing the sunlight from their chambers, closed off to joy, laughter, and playfulness.
Anyone who knows about the saints, or anyone who has met a saintly person, would never for a moment recognize them in such a description. In fact, one of the signs necessary for a person’s canonization is cheerfulness!
St. Francis of Assisi went into raptures over God’s goodness in creation, he played and did antics, singing out his joy as he walked the roads of Italy. St. Catherine of Siena, a stigmatist, had enough gumption to tell the Pope to keep his mouth shut for prudence’s sake. St. Lawrence made a joke on the gridiron: “Turn me over, I’m done on that side.” And what of the sometimes mischievous St. Philip Neri and St. Thérèse of Lisieux? If one reads the Magnificat of Our Lady, there is not an ounce of gloominess there.
The saints knew one crucial secret that most people no longer know: joy is rooted in the love of God. Modern people try to be happy without God, but this is sheer folly, because God is happiness. God is identical to happiness, He is infinite blessedness, and whenever we attain any degree of joy or peace it is only because we have drawn nearer to Him. To seek happiness elsewhere is the result of an illusion, a deception.
We have to keep in mind that God did not create suffering and does not want His children to suffer. Suffering is an evil, it is not good for its own sake. The world as God made it is good through and through; it is man who introduces evil into this world, and the sins of certain men have proved to be the cause of great suffering for others. God does allow this suffering because through it He can purify us of our own sinfulness and make us more worthy of His boundless love. Indeed, God imposes sufferings on us and expects us to seek out the voluntary suffering of penance because He knows we are in serious need of weaning from disordered attachments to the goods of this world and that we will grow “in wisdom, stature, and grace” (cf. Lk 2:52) through this process. That is the whole point of Lent: we will never taste the spiritual joy of resurrection if we are wallowing in the filth of sins, if we are tarnished with the residue of past evils, or preoccupied with our worldly needs and comforts.
Scripture tells us that King Hezekiah was “sick even to death,” when he repented and “wept with great weeping” (Is 38:1–6). This sickness and the weeping it entailed were his salvation. Jesus says to his disciples about Lazarus (Jn 11:4): “this sickness will not be unto death” but unto life, for it will manifest the life-giving compassion of Jesus Christ, “the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). All of our suffering, met with faith, will bring us nearer to the Savior who wept at the tomb of Lazarus—and the nearer we are to Jesus, the nearer we come to the marriage feast of heaven, where every tear shall be wiped away from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).
As the saints teach us, suffering is to be borne for love, for the sake of deepening and extending the kingdom of God, for the sake of loving Jesus more, who suffered on the Cross out of love for us, for each of us. That is the reason why it is bearable and even joyful, and why the saints have such a surplus of love that they can suffer willingly on behalf of those who refuse to suffer.
The happiness of the modern world is papier maché and glitter—attractive from a distance, but, looked at closely, hollow and cheap. The joy of love, which is never without tears but worth them and oceans more, is true as steel and bright as gold. It will not give way in the next gust of wind but abides forever, rooted in the Heart of Christ, the rock, the foundation, the burning furnace of love. “Throw your care upon the Lord, and He himself will nourish you” (Ps 54:22).
Our wrestling with the mysteries of life must all be finally offered up to God: faith will silence all useless questions and every vain struggle. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps 50:17). Both our sins and our ignorance envelop us in darkness, but contrition for sin and faith in God opens the soul, letting light pour in, the light of mercy and the light of truth.
A proud heart is broken by grace only to be opened up to something far greater than pride can possess. Pride wants mercy in order to glorify and gratify itself, it wants truth as its own private possession. But truth yields itself to those who love it humbly for its own sake, and mercy is granted to those who give up the proud wish of self-glorification.
In all of this there is a divine pedagogy at work, helping us to throw our cares upon the Lord, to open our mouths to the food he wants to give us, which is always better than the food we can provide ourselves with. A broken spirit, a hungry soul, is the only spirit that has been healed, the only soul that will be fed.