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Book Club – Journal of a Soul Week 8 of 12

October 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

On Suffering

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Journal of a Soul

I think the Lord Jesus has in store for me, before I die, for my complete mortification and purification and in order to admit me to his everlasting joy, some great suffering and affliction of body and spirit. Well, I accept everything and with all my heart, if it is for his glory and the good of my soul and for the souls of my dear spiritual children. I fear my weakness in bearing pain; I implore him to help me, for I have little faith in myself, but complete faith in the Lord Jesus. The white-robed army of martyrs praise you. 

There are two gates to paradise: innocence and penance. Which of us, poor frail creatures, can expect to find the first of these wide open? But we may be sure of the other: Jesus passed through it, bearing his Cross in atonement for our sins, and he invites us to follow him. But following him means doing penance, letting oneself be scourged, and scourging oneself a little too.

My Jesus, amidst the many joys of my episcopal ministry there are also continual opportunities for mortification. I welcome them. Sometimes they hurt my pride a little, but I rejoice at this suffering and repeat before God: ‘It is good for me to be humiliated.’ St. Augustine’s great saying is always in my mind and comforts me. – Journal of a Soul, pg. 292

I’ve spent much time on earth trying to avoid suffering. In fact, I’m one of those people who spends more time trying to avoid pain than pursuing pleasure. Attempting to cover all my bases, so to speak. But the truth is, in order to be a disciple of Christ, I must suffer. I can't avoid it.  And I shouldn't try so hard to steer clear.  The Lord says “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).  The fact is, mortifications – great and small – take place on a daily basis.  And I should see each of them as an opportunity to grow in sanctity.  Christ has shared a difficult truth – unless I actually embrace these mortifications, I cannot share in the glory of the resurrection.

Saint Paul spells it out for me in his letter to the Romans: “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:15-17). When I read my bible, I often gloss over that “provided we suffer with him” part. But this is actually an “If-Then” statement. IF I suffer with Him, as a fellow heir with Christ, THEN I can be glorified with Him. In that case, shouldn’t I be thrilled when I suffer even those annoying daily mortifications, such as interrupted sleep or an unexpected bill? I should, but I’m not. Why?

I think my aversion to pain and suffering boils down to my attachment to physical comfort, and to my very life. If I were to cling to Christ, and not to my material existence, I wouldn’t be so concerned for my safety or comfort; rather, I'd be focused on His glory.  In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Robert Barron posits that a willingness to suffer, and even to die, is a form of detachment. Detachment from life itself:

According to legend, St. Laurence, in the midst of his torture on a red-hot gridiron, said to his tormentors, “Turn me over; I think I’m done on this side.” On his way to Rome and a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to his followers urging them to let him be devoured quickly by the animals in the arena: “May the beasts become my tomb and may their teeth grind me like wheat.”  As he walked up the scaffold just before his beheading, St. Thomas More stumbled. Turning to the man who was accompanying him, More said, “Please give me a hand now; as for my coming back down, let me shift for myself!”  When Br. Bill Tomes of Chicago hears that a gang war has broken out, he puts on his colorful and distinctive habit, hurries to the site of the battle, and stands in the midst of the gunfire until it stops. What gives these people the courage to do what they do? How can they face the greatest dangers calmly, even with a sense of humor? Grounded in the center who is Jesus Christ, they are detached from even those things that strike most of us indispensable, even from physical life itself. Centered, they are free. – The Strangest Way, p. 49

Freedom has been a common topic in Catholic circles lately – religious freedom in particular.  And yet while religious freedom is critical, it doesn't compare with the freedom I will have when I submit myself to God’s will in all things – including pain, suffering and death.  This very thought amplifies the heavy burden I insist on carrying on a daily basis.  Nothing unusual.  Just the stress that life offers to those of us who “hang on,” refusing to take that last step in giving ourselves completely to Christ.  But submission is such a difficult concept to grasp – the irony of having to “lose my life to gain it” is a tough one. While intellectually, I accept it, emotionally, it's so hard to let go.  The “joy” of suffering is a mystery to me; but, it is one that has been illustrated beautifully through the lives of thousands of saints and martyrs who have gone before me.

Discussion Questions:

1.  Has suffering been a stumbling block for you?  If so , what do you do about it?  Do you agree that resignation and even joy in suffering is related to detachment?

2. Open forum – comment on any of the reading for this past week.

 

Reading Assignment:

Week 9: 1959 – End of Spiritual Testament to Roncalli Family (p. 298-337)

Happy Reading!

 

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts
For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • This, Vicki, I can identify with : “But submission is such a difficult concept to grasp – the irony of having to “lose my life to gain it” is a tough one. While intellectually, I accept it, emotionally, it’s so hard to let go.”

    And this is the very centre of the real fight with myself.  I know what I am supposed to do.  I also know, God will give me the necessary Graces to conquer myself, but, emotionally, I am tymified by the fear of fear of failing Him even in His Generosity of with the necessary Graces.  Does this make sense to anyone in this our “Family”????

    • Gomamut

       Very true Mary and Vicki

      “But submission is such a difficult concept to grasp – the irony of having to “lose my life to gain it” is a tough one”

      Your comments have reminded me of St. Peter who eventually chose to die in a manner like Jesus only he chose to die on the cross upside down..the sort of thing he was afraid to do. If you recall, he felt like he had given himself totally to Jesus but Jesus reminded him of a scenario in future where he would deny him. I guess he found it hard to fathom at the time. However, in the end, Peter matured to an extent of dieing to self to the point of death. It takes the grace of God to gather such courage as to conquer oneself..to conquer pain also like Stephen did when he was being stoned. There are a lot of little things or habits that must be shade off to die to self and to think of conquering death really calls for total submission to God’s will. We are to love him with all we are our mind, body, soul and strength.

      • Oh, Gomamut, did you ever watch that epic Movie “Quo Vadis?” Peter had been pressed by his Disciples to escape the City of Rome to escape death by the Romans as the killings  of the Christians intensifies. They did not want to lose their Leader whatsoever.  Reluctant at first, and yet, knowing how fearful he was, he eventually agrees and they smuggle him out of the City at night.  

        You then see him early in the morning – far away from the City – walking majestically in the opposite direction with the City on fire behind him in the background.  He then sees afar, a young slender man walking towards him.  Nearing him, he is shocked to recognize it is Jesus.  In his usual dictatorial voice, he asks Him. “Quo Valids?” where are you going?. Jesus, oh so  politely and humbly replies; “I am going to die for my sheep.” Whereupon Peter orders Him to turn right back and forget His dangerous decision. Typical impetus Peter as usual!!!!!!. 

         The Movie climaxes as we see Peter marching resolutely back to the City right into the arms of the Executioners who, having passed a Sentence of crucifixion on him, he declines to be crucified in the normal manner and asks them  crucify up-side-down.  He dies heroically having been set on fire as he hung down, bleeding and dying.

        I watched this Movie in early 1959 and I have never forgotten it. Partly because it was so well done and because Peter, along with Moses are my Heroes in the Scriptures since I read about them in my pre-teens.

        • LizEst

          Like Jesus, we have to set our face like steel, like flint, towards Jerusalem, towards our own passion. That is, we have to decide firmly for being obedient to God’s plan for us. Will that be pleasant? Not always…perhaps never. But, we can have joy in knowing that we are following his will. His will is our food and our heritage forever. There is no greater joy than carrying out His will; there is no greater privilege…just ask Jesus, the Blessed Mother, the holy angels and saints. God knows what is best for us. Doing His will is truly rejoicing in the Lord. It is truly supernatural joy, no matter how distasteful we think it is!

          • Yes, LizEst.  And my advanced age, I can tell you, is an advantage. So, always it is to Jesus, His Holy Mother and my Guardian Angel I turn when the thick fog surrounds me; when fear and anxiety strike and, worst of all – uncertainty when I have to discern what is God’s Will in a given unsettling situation.  Though I trust in Him that so long as I ask Him, He will give me the necessary strength and the Grace to accomplish His Will, the catch is  patience needed  for His Time and refrain from fretting  by wishing it comes sooner.  But I am slowly learning how to be cool, calm and collected as I await for His timing. But I can tell you, at times it is quite tough.

        • I have not watched Quo Vadis. I would love to watch it though. I will source it online. I was not around at the time: ) The movie I watched was also about Sts. Peter and Paul. The two of them inspired me in their martyrdom to the extent that I started pondering why it was difficult for me to detach myself from my own weaknesses such as failing to sacrifice my sleep for prayer while others sacrificed their lives for others.

          I admire Sts. Padre Pio and John Vianney who constantly were in spiritual combat most of their lives and they really suffered. I actually consider myself very lazy and without God’s grace I am not capable of dieing for others like St. Peter did and several other saints. On the other hand I am able to relate with St. Peter’s struggles about dieing to self and I must say that he has given me an example that I can overcome my cares and fear by the grace of God. I know in my heart that I need to cooperate with Gods will and not my own will to overcome my weaknesses. I must love God to overcome self.

          Indeed suffering for me becomes a means to an end where I recognise that I must in one way or another imitate Jesus Christ who only obeyed God’s will.

          In conclusion, it is in dieing to self that we are truly born anew and the process involves suffering to burn the chaff or purify us into pure Gold!!!. A nice example of what I am talking about is the life of St. Francis of Assisi who practically died to self by following the will of God in everything. Because of his love for Jesus, the Lord God Almighty took care of him like he took care of the birds of the air. One can only be Gods instrument once he dies to self as there would be no conflicts within oneself but to follow only his will and in this process suffering becomes inevitable.

        • Vicki

          BTW – this is a great book, too!

  • Peggykelly

    Such an interesting take on suffering. I can honestly relate as for the past couple of months I have been experiencing such severe panic/anxiety attacks like never before – especially at night and I know I am being attacked – the devil does not want me to do the work the work I am doing. And it is amazing  when I say the name of Jesus, they are gone. Jesus puts it all into perspective. 

  • Robert Kraus

    I hear you about the mystery of the ‘joy’ of suffering. I see it not only in this book, but I’m also slowly reading the letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The level of suffering she craves and embraces is so far beyond my modern capacity to understand. It was similar to The Spiritual Combat. I think it’s something I need to take in increments, and not think that I can suddenly think like the saints do, or view suffering like they do. In one sense I can accept suffering in that the joys I have today are a result of the sufferings that I had along the way.

    • LizEst

      Robert, you may think it is beyond your modern capacity to understand. But, it is not. This joy of suffering does not come from doing something distasteful or enduring a bad situation. The joy of suffering is not enjoying suffering. That is masochism and it is not healthy Christianity. The joy of suffering comes from doing the will of God even in a bad situation…and without looking for a way out.

      I am going to try to explain it with an example that is kind of a road map. It will, necessarily, pale in comparison. But, perhaps it can give you some kind of idea of the joy of suffering.

      Suppose your wife or parent has a progressively bad disease. You want to provide them with the best possible care you can. And, you’ve decided that care means you and your family become their caregivers in your own home (perhaps it is a financial situation that decides this, perhaps it is another consideration such as mental capacity). The longer the illness progresses, the more and more tired you become, the less time you have for yourself and for your family, the less help you get from others, the more your patience is worn down, the more distant your friends become, some may even mock you like Job was mocked, etc, etc. In the midst of all this, you receive little or no consolation from the Lord. As the psalmist says, “Friend and neighbor you have taken away: my one companion is darkness” (Psalm 88:19). 

      The great temptation is to beg the Lord to take this cup, this cross, away from you. Well-meaning people, as well as the devil, might suggest other ways out. But, you strongly believe, you know, this is what God’s will is for you. You don’t like your situation. But, because it is God’s will, you don’t ask Him to change it either. Instead, you say to the Lord, I am happy to do what you want, for as long as you want, in the way you want. And, you are truly joyful that the Lord has entrusted this to you and you can be His servant. This is the joy of suffering. It is the joy of doing God’s will in the midst of suffering (it is not looking back on the experience and believing you did the right thing). This is the point at which one begins to experience, on a very, very tiny scale, that supernatural joy that the saints have in heaven. The saints, while on earth, crave this kind of joy because, once they have experienced it, they know joy in a way they have never known it before. And, nothing can compare to that.

      So, anyway, I hope this gives you a better idea of the joy of suffering, joy in doing God’s will in the midst of suffering. Naturally, this type of joy is difficult to define… but one can get some understanding of it. Hope this helps. God bless you, Robert.

  • Christina Solt

    Mortification/Suffering can happen from an interrupted nights sleep? I hadn’t thought of it that way. In that case, I haven’t offered hardly anything for the sake of others…Often we only think of the larger sufferings. Any inconvenience, any annoyance, anything that pricks us to choose God way over our own way would be a mortification? Do I understand this? If that is the case, we have so much opportunity to help others through offering our sufferings…It would make clearer why we offer our sufferings for the Souls in Purgatory. If we all pursued suffering in this fashion, we could clear out Purgatory! Wouldn’t that be awesome!

    • Cecilia

      Christina, I understand that Cardinal Fulton J. Sheen once stated that if all patients in hospitals would offer all their pain and suffering, Purgatory would be emptied. Yes, that would be awesome for then these souls would be in heaven praying for us & especially for those who helped them to enter those pearly gates.

  • Bernadette

    I have been trying to come to grips with suffering as a joy. For me, I have found a practical means for doing this. I find prayer to be the key. For example, when I am saying the sorrowful mysteries and contemplating the ‘Crowning with Thorns’, I ask Jesus that I receive all my humiliations, misunderstandings, insults – (mortifications) with joy knowing that I can offer these to Him for the conversion of sinners. I ask Him that I be unoffendable so that my soul will not be wounded and instead have joy in my offering to Him. I believe if one persists in this practice, it becomes easier to do. In this way, we can especially unite with Jesus’ sufferings for us by contemplating the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and with each mystery, we can offer up all our specific sufferings daily in imitation of Him, the Suffering Servant. Fasting or giving up something you love are other means of mortification. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long way to go in this regard. This is why I appreciate the RCSD site for all the practical helps and knowledge provided here. Thank you so much.

  • Anon

    I admit I do not understand this concept of suffering. Does this mean little, day to day problems are really our opportunity to suffer and be sanctified? I am sorry to sound so dense, this is hard to understand. So I am unhappy in my job but have found no other job yet, I drag myself to work and struggle to get through the day (and I do my job rather poorly no matter how hard I try to do better because I am so discouraged). Is that a kind of suffering I can offer to Jesus for other souls?

  • Cecilia

    Vicki, the 1st quote from Pope John really spoke to me. Many years ago when I was pregnant w/my 2nd child & for the 2nd time very ill, I thought, “for something that is to be so beautiful–a child–why am I so very sick?” This led me to read C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain” which then led to more reading and eventually into the healing ministries of the Charismatic movement.

    I think if we take all our pains, ailments, upsets, etc. and place them under the one heading of “suffering” it becomes overwhelming and any attempt to understand what we are experiencing becomes lost. Fr.John H. Hampsch, cmf wrote a little booklet on suffering which enumerates a number of reasons for suffering.

    In His mercy and love for us, God may be trying to get our attention and bring us closer to Him. Many years ago I suffered a minor stroke. He had been telling me to slow down and spend more time with Him in prayer & my response was “not now, I’m too committed & too busy!” So w/one stroke of His brush everything stopped and I was given the time to re-evaluate my life to what He wanted for me.

    Maybe the Lord wants to give us new virtues, new graces. By suffering an employer’s anger or unkindness, we may strive to grow in patience, understanding, compassion for others. We may be called to be intercessors praying for those who cause us so much grief and suffering. He may want to open our eyes to thank Him for small gifts He grants us each day thru possibly boring and repetitious tasks.

    I’ve read that the first 5-7 years of our lives we suffer traumas & the rest of our life is spent trying to understand what occurred during those early years. Possibly the Lord as the Divine Physician wants to heal those wounded areas in our lives.

    For me, joy really does not come in the pain but in work I’m called to. I say, “Lord thank you for allowing me, a really miserable instrument, to help You salvage souls whom You love so much.” I imagine the Lord taking a headache, the pain of a splinter, etc and using it in some mysterious way to bring a soul to His Father. Then the Lord says to this soul, “many suffered w/Me to bring you home so soul, rejoice for you are safe for all eternity……

  • When I read you Responses, I feel truly humbled.  You have read so much about our Great Saints and I, in turn, learn a lot from you. Your theological and intellectual exchanges are truly invaluable to me.  May God bless you all and our beloved Website.

    Yes, I first began to understand the meaning of suffering in the Salvation Mystery the age of 6 and 7  years while taking the First Holy Communion and Confirmation Catechism Lessons at the feet of my Father who was a Teacher/Catechist/Catholic Lay Leader/Community Leader/Family Counsellor.  Later I was properly mentored and grounded in our Catholic Faith by the Consolata and Loreto Sisters in their Convent Schools. 

    But  reading the life of our 1st Saint of the Third Millennium, Saint Faustina Maria Kowalska, the Secretary and Eucharist Apostle of Divine Mercy, has enriched and brought me to full maturity about the value of, and the salvific Graces for the salvation of souls through Suffering in imitation of our Saviour. Her conversations with Jesus, recorded in her 600-Page Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul – has  re-directed my Spiritual life to the Ministry where God has called me to serve Him as an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy 
    I was finally taught exactly how to surrender my whole Will and conform it to God’s Will always, and in all situations and circumstances, through the generosity of Dan with the two Books he recently so kindly sent to me – Spiritual Combat and the little Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence.

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