The Joy of Suffering


By Fr. Aldo –

Saint Conforti is being honored and praised around the world nowadays. But he never expected to receive such treatment. In fact, no saint has wanted to be honored. No saints have wanted praise to be given to them which should rather be given to God.

Many saints have prayed to be unknown. The saints are content if God alone knows the good that they are doing. They were not slaves of the public opinion. Some saints have even prayed that people would look upon them us useless, or even as foolish, provided God alone knew of the good that they were trying to do.

One time St. Ignatius of Loyola was put in jail in Salamanca, Spain, because he was suspected of being a heretic (some priests, and others, thought that he was “strange”). When a friend visited him in jail and expressed his sorrow that he was undergoing a misfortune, St. Ignatius said, “Misfortune to suffer for Jesus? No. I wish that I could suffer more for Jesus. In all of Salamanca, there are not enough chains for me to wear for the sake of doing the work of Jesus!”

The saints are happy when nobody sees their good works, and even happier when some people mistreat them for doing good, just as some people mistreated Jesus himself for doing good.

Brother Leo, the constant companion of St. Francis of Assisi, once asked the saint what he would consider to be perfect joy in this life. St. Francis answered him, saying, “It would be perfect joy to me, if one day, all soaked with rain and numb with cold and covered with mud, and hungry, I came upon a Franciscan Monastery and knocked on the door, and I was told by the porter to go away. It would be a perfect joy to me if I knocked on the door a second time, and if the porter came out and hit me with his stick and knocked me down in the mud and closed the door on me. Brother Leo, to suffer like that after doing the work of Jesus would be perfect joy to me.”

I shared with you these thoughts because the saints have such a different approach to suffering. But even my grandparents and parents who are certainly less than holy would see suffering quite differently than most people do today. But, by no means would I sponsor the approach of the religious fundamentalists who turn violent, self-inflicting pain, justifying their acts, under the pretext of serving God.

My point is that too often we, who do a little work in the name of our faith and sometimes are misunderstood or criticized, become terribly discouraged and easily think of giving up. In fact we give up even the most sacred long-term commitments in order to avoid sufferings without realizing that the more we run away from suffering the more we take distance from real joy.

In this Sunday’s Second Reading (Colossians 1:24-28) St. Paul perfectly illustrates for us the way of the holy ones of God, when he says: “Even now I find my joy in the sufferings that I endure for you.”

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