Belief in God and trust in His mercy does not prevent us from suffering. If anything, it may be that we are more likely to suffer; but with belief in God, our suffering can at least have purpose and it can acquire a sanctifying quality depending on what we do with it.
In the Old Testament, the Psalms often express a sense of misery and despondency – often, the Psalmists call out to God with what sounds like anger and frustration, so overwhelmed are they by the situations in which they find themselves at various times. In Psalm 44, the Psalmist calls out –
“You make us like sheep for the slaughter..
You make us the taunt of our neighbours,
the mockery and scorn of those around us..
Why do You hide Your face,
and forget our oppression and misery..
Stand up and come to our help!
Redeem us with Your merciful love!”
We can probably all empathise with this sense of frustration, to some degree or another. We shout out to God as though He has forgotten us, as though He – rather than we ourselves – is the author of our misery, as though He has caused it. We are very quick to blame the Lord for our misery; but interestingly, we aren’t always so quick to give the praise to Him when good things happen to us. Psalm 51, commonly called the Miserere, is the cry of one whose sin is before them. Here, the Psalmist know what is is that the Lord asks for – “My sacrifice to God, a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart You will not spurn, O God” (Ps.51:19). Perhaps here the Psalmist is seeing something of what the Lord desires that we take from these moments of suffering.
In St Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord tells His followers – “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt.16:24). We read the same counsel in Chapter 9 of St Luke’s Gospel. Discipleship will cost us dearly, in one way or another.
When we look across the history of the Church and at the lives of the Saints, we see suffering there, too – in fact, one holy person is supposed to have said “It’s no wonder You have so few real friends, Lord – You treat them so badly!”. Yes, the Saints suffered too – and often very greatly, even to the giving of their lives.
For most of us, we will not be asked to offer our lives; but we are asked to do as the Lord says in the Gospel text above – to take up our cross daily in order to follow Him. And that cross comes in many shapes and sizes, and it is different for each one of us.
At the very least, our personal cross will take the form of all the duties of our state in life. For the mother with young children, the cross might require her to keep smiling and keep moving forward despite feeling exhausted and depsondent. For the working man, his cross may be to work hard and honestly even while colleagues abuse time and resources, and the boss never offers a word of thanks or encouragement. For the young adult, the cross may ask them to try to balance personal desires with what is asked of us by those in authority – parents, teachers and the Church. And for the poor person with no clear sense of identity or dignity, their cross might be to keep believing that they are loved by God, even while ignored and rejected by neighbour and community.
Many of us will experience a sense of interior despondency – either because of our own personal situation at a given moment in life, or as a result of situations in the world around us. All of these factors can – and frequently do – leave us with a real feeling of despondency, the sense that everything is against us; sometimes, we can feel that this includes God, too.
In the Divine Mercy devotion, the Lord has something to offer us to support us in moments such as these.
In the later part of Saint Faustina’s Diary, she records the ‘conversation of the Merciful God with a suffering soul’. Here, the Lord listens intently to a soul pouring it’s heart out before Him, laying out all the situations and issues which weigh heavily upon that soul and which pull it down. Who amongst us has not felt this at times!
The Lord reminds the soul that He will ask nothing of us which He is not willing to bear Himself –
“Know.. that the darkness about which you complain I first endured in the Garden of Olives when My soul was crushed in mortal anguish.. a suffering should is closest to My Heart.” (para.1487)
The Lord tells the soul that is suffering –
“I see that you suffer much.. so I will speak to you. Even though your sufferings were very great, do not lose heart or give in to despondency.. Reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them, and your sufferings will become a source of your sanctification.”
And echoing His own words in the Gospel, He says this –
“My child, do not be discouraged.. There is no way to Heaven except the way of the Cross. I followed it first.”
Despite the great graces and heavenly revelations granted to her, Saint Faustina herself was not immune from suffering and she was not preserved from the common lot of misery, misunderstanding, and discouragement. She wrote in an earlier section of her Diary –
“Temptations are strong .. doubts beat against my sound discouragement stands by.. The Lord, however, strengthens my will, against which all the attempts of the enemy are shattered as if against a rock. I see how many actual graces God grants me; these support me ceaselessly”(para.1086). But she added – “In times of interior desolation, I do not lose my peace, because I know that God never abandons a soul”(para.1315).
What is clear is that the Lord never abandons us, no matter how it might seem or feel to us; He is always there with us and He is constantly supporting us with His divine grace. All things are in His plan and work toward our good, one way or another, even if the way seems so dark and mysterious to us. Our sufferings, whether physical, moral, spiritual or some other form, are a means of sanctification for us, if only we will cling to the Lord in trust, and allow His grace to act within us and upon us.
Saint Faustina records these words of the Lord –
“I see that you suffer much.. so I will speak to you. Even though your sufferings were very great, do not lose heart or give in to despondency.. Reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them, and your sufferings will become a source of your sanctification.” (para.1487)
Here, then, is the secret – the Lord asks us to trust Him entirely and to open ourselves to Him and to His merciful grace. In doing so, whatever despondency, misery or desolation we bear – if borne for love of Him and of neighbour – will contribute to our sanctification. But we must not lose heart; we must trust the Lord.
Having read all this, let us renew our appeal to the Lord to remain always close to us, and us to Him, that He might strengthen and support us with His grace and use our sufferings to sanctify us.