“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).
When Christ died upon His Cross, He destroyed sin. Through His death we are saved. While we may have to suffer in this life, if we persevere to the end, He will reward us with eternal salvation. As faithful followers of Christ, we must take up our cross daily, as He urged us. We can take it up in many ways, some of which may seem glorious and others not. Yet all crosses faithfully carried are pleasing to our Lord.
It can be tempting to judge the merit of our sufferings by others’ perception of them. But to do so would be to succumb to worldly wisdom, which is “folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Perseverance in God’s will requires faithful trust in His plan, even when it does not conform to our expectations.
Christ’s love for humanity, displayed on the Cross, is incomprehensible. But on that first Good Friday, almost no one thanked Him. One of His closest friends betrayed Him and crowds of men mocked Him. He was beaten, scourged, and defiled. But He persevered in purchasing the salvation of those who wished Him death.
What caused Jesus Christ to suffer so much, for no benefit for Himself? Only love. Love for mankind. Christ willed our good, desiring only our love in return, despite not needing it. Our love for God benefits us more than it does Him because, by it, we attain eternal salvation. By His love for us, Christ manifested His love for the Father. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4:34). By saving mankind, He pleased the Father perfectly, giving us an example. Imitating Him, then, our nourishment must be to do God’s will constantly.
Through an awareness of our sinfulness and unworthiness, we can grow in love for God. Despite our evil tendencies, God loves us to death, and wants us to continually endure these trials for His sake. In Christ’s sufferings, we see that “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:6). The Lord allows us to undergo trials so that we can prove our love for Him by patient endurance in obeying His commandments. We do not suffer any temptations which He does not give us the strength to resist. Despite our weakness, we can trust that the Lord will deliver us from all evil, no matter how much we suffer. He puts us through trials to make us trust and love Him more. By denying ourselves what is immediate and physical in favor of what we cannot see, we make an act of love for God. Our actions must arise from charity, and be oriented towards the Lord’s greatest attribute – His infinite mercy.
While focusing too much on sin can lead to despair, a healthy focus on the reality of sin and how to avoid it at all costs reminds us of the need for God’s mercy. If we fail to grasp the pain sin inflicts on Christ, or the eternal consequences mortal sin incurs, then we gradually grow complacent in our relationship with the Lord. By surrendering to the mercy of God, we give Him the greatest thanks we can. We “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). This does not mean we deny the once-and-for-all redemption His sacrifice accomplished. Instead, we acknowledge that salvation has still not come to many: those who do not know Christ and those who have rejected Him, and that God wants us to participate in spreading the salvation He offers to all. By our sufferings, we labor for their salvation, and our own. We become little Christs, uniting all our sufferings and sacrifices to His Most Sorrowful Passion.
No matter the merit our sufferings accrue, they only do so in the measure that the Lord has enabled them to. In other words, in the end, His mercy suffices for everything. The Good Thief became the first canonized saint (canonized by Christ Himself) when He threw himself upon God’s mercy, even in his final moments. On this side of eternity, it is truly never too late for us to repent. Therefore, while we have the time, let us take up our cross. If we do everything for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls, we will be doing God’s will to perfection. However, while we ought always to strive for this perfection, we realize that we are sinners, constantly in need of God’s never-failing mercy. By our faithful perseverance in carrying our crosses, we will gradually become long-suffering, faithful examples of this loving mercy.
The next time we are struggling with persevering through our sufferings, let us recall the Passion of Christ and His great love for us, as well as our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Realizing our unworthiness, let us humble ourselves, trusting in the Lord. The next time we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, let us talk to Christ honestly, surrendering everything to Him. Our life flourishes “like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps 103:15-17). Therefore, let us persevere in God’s mercy, patiently bearing all things, knowing that at every moment, we stand at the door of eternity.
Image: MECHELEN, BELGIUM – JANUARY 31, 2015: Stained Glass window depicting Jesus and Mary on the Via Dolorosa, in the Cathedral of Saint Rumboldt in Mechelen, Belgium. Shutterstock/jorisvo