On Sunday, our pastor gave an excellent sermon on suffering. He drove his sermon home with a final nail in the bulletin by including a quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen on suffering and love.
Thanks to this quote, I finally figured out what I am readingfor Lent.The lesson of the Crucifix is that pain is never to be isolated or separated from love. The Crucifix does not mean pain; it means sacrifice. In other words, it tells us, first, pain is sacrifice without love; and secondly, that sacrifice is pain with love. Firstly, pain is sacrifice without love. The Crucifixion is not a glorification of pain as pain. The Christian attitude of mortification has sometimes been misrepresented as idealizing pain, as if God were more pleased with us when we suffered than when we rejoiced. No! Pain in itself has no sanctifying influence! The natural effect of pain is to individualize us, center our thoughts on ourselves and make our infirmity the excuse for every comfort and attention. All the afflictions of the body, such as penance, mortification, have no tendency in themselves to make men better. They often tend to make a man worse. When pain is divorced from love, it leads a man to wish others were as he is; it makes him cruel, hateful, and bitter. When pain is unsanctified by affection, it scars, burns up all our finer sensibilities of the soul, and leaves the soul fierce and brutal. Pain as pain, then is not an ideal: it is a curse when separated from love, for rather than making one’s soul better, it makes it worse by scorching it.
Now let us turn to the other side of the picture. Pain is not to be denied; it is not to be escaped. It is to be met with love and made a sacrifice. Analyze your own experience, and do not your heart and mind say that love is capable of overruling, in some way, your natural feelings about pain; that some things which otherwise might be painful are a joy to you when you find they benefit others. Love, in other words, can transmute pain and make it sacrifice, which is always a joy. If you lose a sum of money, is not your loss softened by the discovery that it was found by some very poor person whom you loved? If your head is racked with pain, your body wasted and worn from long vigils at the bedside of your child, is not the pain softened by the thought that through your love and devotion, the child was nursed back to health again? You could never have felt the joy, nor had the faintest idea of what your love was, if that sacrifice had been denied you. But if your love were absent, then the sacrifice would have been a pain, vexation, and annoyance.
The truth gradually emerges that our highest happiness consists in the feeling that another’s good is purchased by our sacrifice; that the reason why pain is bitter is because we have no one to love and for whom we might suffer. Love is the only force in the world which can make pain bearable, and it makes it more than bearable by transforming it into sacrifice. If the dross of pain can be transmuted into the gold of sacrifice by the alchemy of love, then it follows the deeper our love, the less the sense of pain and the keener our joy of sacrifice. But there is no love greater than the love of Him Who laid down His life for His friends. Hence, the more intensely we love His holy purposes, the more zealous we are for His kingdom, the more devoted we are to the greater glory of our Lord and Savior, the more we will rejoice in any sacrifice that will bring even a single soul to His Sacred Heart.
The Eternal Galilean