The Thinking 


May 2, 2016



St. Francis de Sales

A READER writes:

The past several months have been some of the most tumultuous of my life, and I can say that without fear of hyperbole. One advantage to such circumstances is the heightened sense of constant reliance upon my heavenly Father, my Savior, and our blessed Mother.

On that note, I wanted to ask you if you have any recommendations of a good book or books on the topic of suffering, especially redemptive suffering. I ask because of my struggle to find holy meaning in the events of my recent months, and especially my desire to be meek and obedient during this time.

Your website continues to be a source of education, inspiration, and exhortation for me. I recommend it to anyone with whom I speak if the topic of blogs/websites/the internet comes up.

May our Father bless you as you serve him, my distant friend.

Laura writes:

Thank you for your encouragement.

All times are difficult, but we live in extraordinary times, and you are not alone in your great hardships. While I am saddened by your news, I am also hopeful for you, confident that you will benefit from these trials and even be glad of them. You will love your crosses.

St. John Vianney wrote wisely in one of his sermons:

The saints, my dear brethren, all loved the Cross and found in it their strength and their consolation.

But, you will say to me, is it necessary, then, always to have something to suffer? …. Now sickness or poverty, or again scandal or calumny, or possibly loss of money or an infirmity?

Have you been calumniated, my friends? Have you been loaded with insults? Have you been wronged? So much the better! That is a good sign; do not worry; you are on the road that leads to Heaven. Do you know when you ought to be really upset? I do not know if you understand it, but it should be precisely for the opposite reason — when you have nothing to endure, when everyone esteems and respects you. Then you should feel envious of those who have the happiness of passing their lives in suffering, or contempt, or poverty. Are you forgetting, then, that at your Baptism you accepted the Cross, which you must never abandon until death, and that it is the key that you will use to open the door of Heaven? Are you forgetting the words of our Saviour: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Not for a day, not for a week, not for a year, but all our lives. The saints had a great fear of passing any time without suffering, for they looked upon it as time lost. According to St. Teresa, man is only in this world to suffer, and when he ceases to suffer, he should cease to live. St. John of the Cross asks God, with tears, to give him the grace to suffer more as a reward for all his labours.

What should we conclude, my dear children, from all that?

Just this: Let us make a resolution to have a great respect for all the crosses, which are blessed, and which represent to us in a small way all that our God Suffered for us. Let us recall that from the Cross flow all the graces that are bestowed upon us and that as a consequence, a cross which is blessed is a source of blessings, that we should often make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves and always with great respect, and, finally, that our houses should never remain without this symbol of salvation.

Fill your children, my dear brethren, with the greatest respect for the Cross, and always have a blessed cross on yourselves; it will protect you against the Devil, from the vengeance of Heaven, and from all danger. This is what I desire for you.

Well, what else can we do at these moments but turn with gratitude to the great psychologists and experts on suffering among the saints? St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Alphonsus de Liguori and St. John Vianney are some of the masters of the art of suffering well. It is in darkness that the light of God shines forth. Here are some great sermons in audio files that may be of benefit. I also recommend the The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross. The great mystic wrote in The Ascent of those who suffer from a “spiritual sweet tooth,” and who think that communion with God is achieved through feelings of communion and elation:

A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more toward suffering than toward consolation, more toward going without everything for God than toward possession, and toward dryness and affliction than toward sweet consolation.  It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps as seeking of self in God–something entirely contrary to love.  Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God.  Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means. [The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991; p. 170]

I read somewhere recently — maybe in St. Francis de Sales, I can’t remember — that suffering and affliction can be a sign of God’s favor. He may want a soul to be purified in this life instead of in Purgatory. He may abandon others to happiness and good times because He has given up on them. A surgeon refuses to operate on someone who is too far gone. Introduction to the Devout Life  and The Interior Life by St. Francis de Sales (or the various compilations of his works), Spiritual Combat by Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli and Growth in Holiness, or Progress in the Spiritual Life, by Fr. Frederick Faber are all great works on this and related subjects.

Many more works of spiritual reading can be found here. This website by a psychologist who says that in some cases, a certain type of psychological counseling is helpful, was recommended by another reader.

May your troubles make you stronger everyday.

— Comments —

 Paul A. writes:

You may recommend to your reader the story of Elisabeth Leseur.  Her story is about how she offered up her suffering for the conversion of her militantly atheist husband.  Through trials, she obtained her objective.  Her husband was converted and died a Dominican Priest.  Here is a brief article about her:

Her cause for canonization is proceeding in Rome.  You can obtain her diary from Sophia Press for more information.

Laura writes:

Thank you for the suggestion.

The fact that she is being considered for canonization by the Counterfeit Church is not something I hold against her.

Laura adds:

To clarify, I don’t mean the above comment as a snarky point, but a clarification.  Although I recall reading about her, I don’t know much about Elisabeth Leseur. I would approach her story with an open mind even though she is being considered for canonization by a false Church.

Paul C. writes:

Perhaps the greatest mystery of all is the suffering of the innocents, those who did nothing to deserve suffering. My pre-Vatican II Bible says we are called to bear the cross, the horrible suffering of Christ. Most people die suffering.

Let me offer a method that helps me through suffering, though I dare not compare my normal suffering to horrific suffering. Lie or sit down and begin breathing normally with your stomach, not your chest. It requires concentration, but don’t beat yourself up because your mind wanders, which it does during our prayers. (It is the devil at work.) Ignore the devil and move on. Then begin counting down from 10 to 1. Counting backwards helps one to focus because it is more difficult. As you inhale, count 10 and then very briefly hold your breath. This helps one to focus because breathing is vital to our survival.

After reaching 1, begin counting up and holding your breath very briefly after you exhale. After reaching 10, begin counting down and breath normally. Continue your stomach breathing (which requires concentration) and begin to concentrate on relaxing each part of your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Sometimes the whole exercise takes five minutes, but don’t get hung up on what it “should” require. Don’t make it a contest. Sometimes it takes me ten or twenty minutes or more. Your speed will increase (or not) with practice. We are all different. Whether or not you think you are relaxed, begin to visualize a pleasant experience in your life or a beautiful garden.

As a Catholic, I choose to visualize walking out on a grass-covered cliff facing the ocean. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and the temperature is about 68. And I see Jesus sitting on a bench in flowing white garments. I sit next to Him facing the ocean and turn to talk to Him, which begins with asking for forgiveness. I know what He says because I read a Catholic Bible. He says He feels every iota of what I feel and will remain next to Him and suffer for as long as I suffer. I know he has prepared an eternal banquet for me, a sinner.

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