You may well be content to serve our Lord in illness, for when he calls people to suffer instead of working for Him, He is calling them to a higher state. During our earthly exile, it is most fitting that we should carry the cross with Christ, who loved it so dearly that He chose to die on it. We can do this better in sickness than in health, for illness is repugnant to flesh and blood and can never cause vainglory.
Great were the works of Christ in His mortal life, but greater far were His sufferings, which exceeded those of the whole world. This idea explains St. James’s words: “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations”; and again: “Patience hath a perfect work.” Receive your illness, then, willingly, and be grateful to our Lord, who sent it.
If you bear this cross and burden well, He will send you interior and more painful trials, which He keeps for His dearest friends, to conform them to Himself. For although Christ’s visible Cross was great, it was not to be compared with that which, unknown to men, He bore in His soul.
Although you may think that God has taken you away from other work because you performed it badly, thank Him nonetheless for doing so. To be corrected by the hand of so loving a Father needs rather humility to restrain our excessive joy, than patience to bear our punishment well. However, I fear lest you may not profit by this sickness as you should, for sometimes beginners become lax in their religious duties when suffering from an illness that is not dangerous to life. How foolish it is to change medicine into poison, and injure our souls with the thing God sends us for a remedy. Call on Him for aid with all your heart, that as He has weakened your body by His touch, your soul may run to Him the more swiftly. This infirmity is sent that your flesh may expiate its sins by suffering pain; so do not turn this chance of discharging your past debts into a time for incurring fresh ones.
Watch carefully over your conduct; do not think your body must have everything it asks for, but by the aid of the Holy Spirit, offer it to Christ crucified, and He who let Himself be placed between two thieves, will not drive you from Him. Although you cannot now keep up your customary reading and meditation as you would wish, still, do all you can without serious injury to your health. Our Lord is so good and so powerful that He gives strength to those He sees to be doing their best. Sometimes He bestows more favors on people who lie ill in bed and are unable to pray than on others who spend hours in prayer. Perhaps He will show you this mercy, which depends solely on His will.
In conclusion, I beg you, for the love of God, not to “be carried about by every wind of doctrine,” but to preserve your high esteem for those persons through whose hands you have received divine mercy. Imitate the man in the Gospel who was born blind: he considered his cure a proof of the goodness of his Master who had worked it and would let no one persuade him to the contrary. He said: “If he be a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” Although this man said: “If he be a sinner,” evidently he was convinced of our Lord’s justice, as is shown by his persistently maintaining it in his answers to the Jews, and also by Christ’s making Himself known to him in the Temple as the reward of his faith.
This article is from a chapter in Finding Confidence in Times of Trial: Letters of St John of Avila. It is available as a paperback or ebook from your favorite bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.