The Way of Salvation: Pain & Suffering

Brother Dominic O.F.M.

If we were to pick out two characteristics of the Roman Catholic Church, they would be, first, Her unshakable insistence on being the divinely instituted means of salvation for all mankind. This is Her divine mission. This insistence is not pride nor obstinacy, it is the truth. The Church is hated by man-made religions because man-made religions are always opposed to God.

The second characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church is that She does not cater to human weakness. Her spirituality is necessarily founded on the idea of suffering for this very reason.

Her greatest sons and daughters of every age have given testimony to this mysterious truth. The "perfect joy" of St. Francis leaves most people awestruck and perplexed. Suffering as a source of joy would make them look upon saints as candidates for a psychiatrist's couch.

The simple words of St.Theresa of Avila would frighten many people. During a moment of contemplative rapture, the Saint said: "Aut pati,aut mori". This means "Either to suffer or to die." In her supernatural closeness to God, this seraphic saint experienced the mystery of suffering as an expression of one's love for God.

Truthfully, what is it that we can give to God as a pledge of our love for Him? Actually, our willingness to suffer is the only thing that we have. Everything else we have received from God. To give back to God what He has given us is no great gift to Him.

Any number of examples could be given from the lives of the saints or from spiritual authors of sound spiritual principles to substantiate this peculiar requirement for sanctity.

This truth, so misunderstood by people of false religions and by the world (which is all the same thing) has given rise to the general picturing of Catholic life as morbid, mean and inhumane. It is a pity that many Catholics themselves fail to understand the purpose of suffering and foolishly look for consolations of the flesh, freedom from any and all physical illnesses and, generally speaking, all economic insecurity.

Nothing could be more of a stranger to followers of Jesus Christ than such a materialistic attitude. It is true that Jesus has said on several occasions that we ought to ask the Father anything in His Name and He, the Father, will give it to us. Jesus also expressed His disappointment at the fact that we have not asked for anything in His Name. He told us to ask, and that in asking we will receive. He also added that it is God's will that the answer to our prayers should make our joy to be full: joyful.

How can we explain this apparent contradiction that God and our Lord, Jesus Christ, desire our happiness and tie it in with the need to suffer? The Jews saw this and because of this, the cross became a stumbling block for them. It was such a terrible idea that they tried to stifle it by crucifying Jesus with the hope of putting an end to such an idea.

Let us consider just a few of the statements made by our Lord and by St. Paul on the subject of suffering. By doing so, we will not be able to avoid the conclusion that in some mysterious way the very existence of the Church is tied in with suffering.

Our Lord said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned to joy." (John, 16,20).

Jesus uses a common example to illustrate the point: "A woman about to give birth has sorrow, because her hour has come. But when she has brought forth the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for her joy that a man is born into the world." (Ibid.16,21).

Jesus is telling us that the life of a Catholic is a life of pain and sorrow like that of a woman in labor. That's very vivid, wouldn't you say?

Jesus does not stop there. He does not wish to discourage us by leaving us a kind of delivery room where there is only pain and anguish. He goes beyond that. He goes to the fruit of the pain and suffering: the positive blessing that can only come through the pain and suffering.

That is why He adds: "And you therefore have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you." (Ibid.16, 22).

A brief moment of peace is given to regain our strength and courage to confirm our faith.

Suffering and persecution either make or break the Catholic. Many fall by the wayside; many give up because the burden of their attachments holds them down. The lukewarm are vomited out of His mouth.

These are the souls whose spiritual vision has become dimmed by the things of this world and their own self-love. They waver in their faith because they have lost the brightness of grace. They live in the shadows and fail to perceive the Divine Intelligence and Will, the Divine hand and eye, so to speak, that watches and holds all creation in existence.

Faith grows strong in suffering, just as the body grows strong by exercise. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Nothing scares the devil and his hosts more than a single drop of a martyr's blood.

Our own faith can only grow when troubles assail us. This is why a time of persecution is a time of faith, even though it may also be a time of failure for many.

God's dealings with us in this mysterious way confounds us. We do not want to understand that He has made suffering a condition for sanctity. Our lives are like a novitiate on earth; a time to learn the ways of the purgative life so that that we might make our eternal profession in heaven.

We read in the Book of Wisdom: "But the souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was judged an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself." (Wisdom 3, 1-6).

The prophet Zacharias says: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate, says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be dispersed, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In all the land, says the Lord, two-thirds of them shall be cut off and perish, and one- third shall be left. I will bring the one-third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested. They shall call upon my name, and I will hear them. I will say, `They are my people,' and they shall say, `The Lord is my God.'"(Zacariah 13, 7-9)

At one end of revelation, God speaks through His prophet and declares that "two thirds" of mankind will be destroyed and damned together with the false shepherd who should have been His `associate.' At the other end of revelation (The Apocalypse), God reveals that two thirds of the angels remained obedient, while one third was cast down to earth.

This would mean, then, that the one third of humanity will replace the one third of the fallen angels that were cast out of heaven. Out of every three people, only one will be saved. We do not know who that one might be, just as we do not know who the other two might be. We do know this: That the Holy Scriptures are the word of God and that God does not talk into the wind.

If the just man is tried "as gold is tried in the fire," we can form some idea of where we stand in relation to the two-thirds and the one-third.

One-third of heaven was emptied when the disobedient angels were cast down to earth. One-third of mankind will gain heaven to replace the vacancies through self-sacrificing obedience.

The prophet Zacariah speaks of two-thirds being destroyed together with the false shepherd who should have been the Lord's "associate." Who, should have been the Lord's "associate" but was not?

The answer ought to be very simple. Who is the `Vicar of Jesus Christ' on earth? Who is the visible head of the Roman Catholic Church? It is a true Pope. A true Pope is the "associate" of the Lord because only a true Pope has the charisma of infallibility in declaring on matters of faith and morals. No one else. If this "associate" is false, the sword of the Lord strikes him down and the sheep are scattered. As they are scattered today. At least two-thirds of the Catholic world has followed a false "associate" of the Lord.

As the history of the world develops, more and more people are falling away from God. We should not think of heretics as though they were with God. All heretics have abandoned the true faith and are enemies of God.

Even these heretics will be given a chance to return to the true Church near the end of time by only one means: By means of suffering. Only when their illusions are destroyed by suffering and pain will they have a chance to be saved.

God allows so much suffering because this is the only way that people turn their thoughts to God. Human attachment to this temporary life is so strong that it blinds people to the true purpose of life. The answer of the Catechism is still correct.

To the question "Why did God make you?" the answer will always be: "God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in eternity."

We cannot be children of God if we are attached to the fleeting things of this world. Suffering is often the only way to detach the individual from clinging to the things of this world. Even when the individual refuses to use the things of this world in moderation, God wisely inflicts greater or smaller afflictions for the purpose of awakening and warning that soul of the dangerous direction taken. No one is immune to Satan's shrewd suggestions. No, not even holy men or women.

The Church will never find peace in this world until the Second Coming of Her invisible Head, Jesus Christ. It is only then that each faithful member and the Church on the whole will triumph over evil.

Our Lord has warned us many times that "If they did it to me, they will do it to you" and still so many refuse to listen; still they search for a `salvation' that will permit them to follow their vices and offend God.

What kind of religion can it be that would have a God Whose guidance leads its followers into Hell?

The more God loves someone and has a special mission for that person, the more heavily He prunes and purifies in order to bear more fruit and be more glowing as gold.

What is the invitation that Jesus extends to everyone? It is not to eat, drink and be merry for death will end it all, but to take up one's cross daily and to follow Him. This is the mystery of the cross.

St. Paul who once persecuted the Church and later was persecuted by his own had this to say: "For the doctrine of the cross is foolishness for those who perish, but to those who are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God"(I Cor.1, 18).

Only those who have willingly embraced suffering and the cross can comprehend the wisdom of God that does not live in words, but in works.

One Jewish rabbi once made this statement on television to mock the Catholic Church. Its purpose was to ridicule St. Francis: "The religion of a little man with a sentimental attachment to a dead man hanging on a tree." This is how the Jew looks at Jesus Christ and at every Catholic. To the Jew, Jesus is nothing more than "a dead man hanging on a tree."

And here is what St. Francis had to say: "My brethren, constantly keep before your eyes the way of the Cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ has led us. A soul that is still a slave to its passions and to self-love has no relish for this doctrine. It does not wish that in order to arrive at perfection it should be necessary to cling to the Passion of the Lord and to be partaker of His sufferings. It believes, in fact, that it can reach perfection by an entirely different way. These ways, however, are not ways, but abysses.

The more one conforms one's self to Jesus Crucified, the more will one become like unto God. Follow this safe way, therefore, my brethren, this way on which you will infallibly become partakers of the grace of God, which He denies to those presumptuous persons who by other means, which are only deceptions, wish to unite themselves with God without ever leaving themselves, and who finally fall into abysses in which they miserably go to ruin." (St. Francis of Assisi).

St. Francis never met this New York rabbi. There are more than 800 years between these two human beings. Yet, which of the two sounds more credible, St. Francis or the rabbi?

St. John of the Cross has this to say of `spiritual poverty':

"Wherefore, the more the soul desires obscurity and annihilation with respect to all the outward or inwards things that it is capable of receiving, the more is it infused by faith, and, consequently, by love and hope, since all these three theological virtues go together.

But at certain times the soul neither understands this love nor feels it; for this love resides, not in sense, with its tender feelings, but in the soul, with fortitude and with a courage and daring that are greater than they were before, though sometimes it overflows into sense and produces gentle and tender feelings. Wherefore, in order to attain to this love, joy and delight which visions produce and cause in the soul, it is well that the soul should have fortitude and mortification and love, so that it may desire to remain in emptiness and darkness as to all things, and to build its love and joy upon that which it neither sees nor feels, neither can see nor feel in this life, which is God, Who is incomprehensible and transcends all things.

It is well, then, for it to journey to Him by denying ourselves everything. For otherwise, even if the soul be so wise, humble and strong that the devil cannot deceive it by visions or cause it to fall into some sin of presumption, as he is wont to do, he will not allow it to make progress; for he set obstacles in the way of spiritual detachment and poverty of spirit and emptiness in faith, which is the essential condition for union of the soul with God." (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross).

The final condition of the Church just before Her eternal triumph is one that is most bleak and terrifying.

In chapter 12 of the Apocalypse, we see what the Church can look forward to: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child, cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered."

By this woman, interpreters commonly understand the Church of Christ, shining with the light of faith, under the protection of the Sun of justice, Jesus Christ. The `moon' symbolizes all the changing things of this world and these are under the feet of the Church because the Church raises the affections of the faithful above them all.

The twelve stars that form the crown are the twelve Apostles who are the spiritual guides of the Church and through whom by their successors, the bishops, the Church continues to teach and govern.

The woman (the Church) is in labor and pain while She brings forth her children, and Christ in them in the midst of afflictions and persecution.

The Church flees into the `wilderness' that is, into obscurity where only those among the elect recognize Her. She is still persecuted and afflicted.

And how are we to recognize the elect? The elect overcome Satan by their close resemblance to the slain Lamb and the word of their testimony which is nothing more than the true faith which they keep even at the cost of their lives.

That we are in these times can be seen by the many evils that have increased and continue to increase. There is no thought of doing any kind of penance or practicing mortification today in what was once the Roman Catholic Church. Those who seem to be the visible successors of the Apostles say nothing against the evils promoted by evil governments. They content themselves to flatter the `beast from the earth' _ the false pope - who in turn flatters the antichrists and prepares the way the Antichrist.

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