There are many painful experiences that are a part of our lives this side of heaven. These can be emotional such as disappointment, heartache, betrayal, sadness, loneliness, frustration, righteous anger and indignation. Or they can be physical sufferings from disease or injury, from torture, starvation or various other trials. The pain can be intensified when the victim is someone you love, or can even become overwhelming when a person you trusted is the source of the tribulations.
None of our earthly relationships are immune from suffering. It can be inflicted by strangers, co-workers, friends, family members, or even from those within the Church. Through it all we need to resist the temptation to become discouraged, disillusioned or to despair. We cannot let these situations defeat us. We especially cannot allow these events to cause us to lose fervor for the vocations God has given us. We must persevere and stay focused on Jesus Christ.
During these difficult times we can also look to our heavenly friends for prayer and consolation. Two shining examples for me are St. Paul and St. Francis de Sales. By contemplating their words of wisdom, I have received great comfort in the midst of earthly afflictions.
St. Paul and Lessons in Suffering
St. Paul is a powerful witness of what it truly means to be a Christian. His love for Christ and His Church is palpable in his writings. Paul demonstrates the humility, obedience, love and sacrifice required of all those who desire to live an authentic Christian life. He also teaches us how to embrace the inevitable suffering of this life with joy and to resist despair.
Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth of the suffering he endured. “We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8).” But, Paul understands one benefit of suffering is we learn to focus on God alone. He wrote, “Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)”
Paul later listed more specifically some of the trials he endured (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), including being harassed by someone who was like a thorn in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7). But Paul emphasizes we are never alone because Christ is always with us giving us the strength we need to persevere.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
We are called to bear crosses in this life, and Paul teaches that through them we can develop endurance, character and a hope that will not deceive us (Romans 5:4-5). He shows us how we can also offer up our own sufferings for others (Colossians 1:24) in imitation of Christ. And Paul tells us God will bring about good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28) but this is not going to be without great suffering (Romans 8:17). Finally, Paul encourages us:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Romans 8:35-37).
We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
St. Francis de Sales and Christ our Unchanging Lodestar
Another man of wisdom is a Saint form the sixteenth century – Francis de Sales. In his writing On the Devout Life (Part IV, chapter 13) he reminds us that in this world, there is constant change. “No two days are ever exactly alike” and, for man, “he is never long in any one condition.” Then he continues:
…his life on earth flows by like the mighty waters, heaving and tossing with an endless variety of motion; one while raising him on high with hope, another plunging him low in fear; now turning him to the right with rejoicing, then driving him to the left with sorrows; and no single day, no, not even one hour, is entirely the same as any other of his life.
All this is a very weighty warning, and teaches us to aim at an abiding and unchangeable evenness of mind amid so great an uncertainty of events; and, while all around is changing, we must seek to remain immoveable, ever looking to, reaching after and desiring our God. Let the ship take what tack you will, let her course be eastward or westward, northern or southern, let any wind whatsoever fill her sails, but meanwhile her compass will never cease to point to its one unchanging lodestar. Let all around us be overthrown, nay more, all within us; I mean let our soul be sad or glad, in bitterness or joy, at peace or troubled, dry and parched, or soft and fruitful, let the sun scorch, or the dew refresh it; but all the while the magnet of our heart and mind, our superior will, which is our moral compass, must continually point to the Love of God our Creator, our Saviour, our only Sovereign Good.
He is exhorting us to never forget, throughout this life, whether we are experiencing consolation or affliction, we must firmly grasp the unchanging love of God. In doing so, we will be enabled to remain unshaken and unmoved. There will be no tempest too great and no darkness inescapable. Christ is our unchanging lodestar. We are to rely only on Him and nothing will overtake us.