“Joy is the net, which catches souls.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Have you ever picked up a children’s book of Catholic saints and seen Saint Sebastian gazing upward toward heaven aglow with eyes of love, then been a little horrified to see he had bloody arrows in his chest portraying his martyrdom?
Did you panic a little when you learned about our hero Mother Teresa’s decades-long dark night of the soul period, when she didn’t feel the Lord’s presence even as she so clearly did His work serving the poorest of the poor?
I think if we authentically take these icons to heart, it’s natural to squirm.
When he was still in preschool, my son shocked me by asking “If I want to be like Jesus, does that mean I have to die on a cross too?”
It ached to hear that question from his sincere little heart that I wanted so badly to protect, but it also made sense since he’s a perceptive kid. We took him to church every Sunday to worship an image of our Lord being violently murdered on a cross – naturally, he noticed it and had questions.
Don’t we all have questions about suffering at some point of our lives? If we serve a loving God, why is there so much pain in the world? What’s the point of following the Lord if it can lead to such horrible outcomes like it did for some of the saints? Why did Jesus even have to die on the cross, when He had the power to avoid it?
As He was preparing the apostles for his death at the last supper, Jesus said “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
Jesus wills our joy because He loves us – it really is that simple, even though it doesn’t feel like it when we’re struggling. Jesus Himself compared suffering we experience on earth as being worthwhile like having a baby. “When she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because the joy that a child has been born into the world.” (John 16: 20-22)
We can rest assured that Jesus allows our struggles for the sake of a greater good, whether we ever fully wrap our heads and hearts around that difficult truth or not.
Saint Augustine explained it well “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”
When we have faith, being loved by God can bring us immense joy, even in the face of suffering. No one forced the martyrs to offer their lives for the Lord. They did it from a great joy, love and faith within them, trusting that God would bring good out of their ultimate sacrifice.
Instead of fearing the sacrifices our faith may require of us, we should be praying for the grace of that joy, trust and faith the heroes of our faith posessed, which is ultimately the most liberating gift we can receive.
Having experienced the juxtaposition between awe inspiring miracles and encounters with the Lord and a fair share of hearache – I have wrestled with these questions, especially in light of wanting to share a healthy faith outlook with my children.
I don’t remember how I answered my young son’s question at the time. But thanks to his innocent contemplation of the cross, I have been motivated to find peace with the whole concept of suffering and faith, even when it comes to my precious boys.
Where before, I took my kids to church with a secret agenda of hopefully preventing them from ever suffering in their lives – Now, I bring my boys to church with a conscious agenda for them to be filled with the grace and joy it will take to realize that no matter what challeges life throws at them, their faith can give them the strength to respond with God’s love, which creates beauty out of the ashes.
I try to infuse the Lord’s strengt into them through my prayers, words, actions and attitude every single day. It’s a simple concept, really. What’s more important: What happens to you or how you respond? Will you respond with faith or fear? We always have a choice.
Don’t get me wrong! I still pray happiness and protection over my family every single day, but I also accept that the journey to the greatest joys God has planned for them will probably require them to work through some suffering, whether I like it or not. It actually already has! And it’s all good because every struggle we go through as a family solidifies our faith in God’s Divine Providence and ability to create beauty out of struggle.
Jesus, You said “In this world you will have trouble, but take Heart I have overcome the world.” We need your grace to help us accept the reality of suffering in our world. Please fill our hearts with such an outpouring of Your Love, Joy and Peace that Your Grace overflows into everyone we encounter throughout our lives. Help us to know Your love and trust You on such a deep level that we are willing to bring Your Truth into difficult situations, even at personal expense. Give us the grace of Faith to truly believe in Your loving to create beauty from ashes. Help us to always live in the Light of Your Promises and experience the fullness of Your life and joy through it all. Amen.