Although, God knows, I am grieved at your pain, on the other hand, I am glad, because it will profit one whose progress I have so much at heart.
Ever keep the Cross before your eyes, and unite your heart to Him who placed Himself upon it. Do not be satisfied until suffering becomes sweet to you, for that is the sign of true love. You must not think you are to be pitied; both in Heaven and in this world there are many who have a warm affection for you, and your sufferings come from the loving providence of God.
Let not your faith and love be weakened by your pain and trouble. A large fire is increased, rather than quenched by the wind; so, although a weak love of God is, like a candle, easily extinguished by the first puff of air, true charity gains force and courage by its trials. This is the fire that comes down from Heaven which no water of tribulation can extinguish.
Our Lord bids you love Him; this does not allow self indulgence. You must deny and mortify yourself to honor Him and make yourself pleasing and acceptable to Him. If you love and wish to enjoy Him, you must resolve to forget yourself. You must pass through sharp trials before you can see God face-to-face. If you desire Him to dwell in your heart, empty it of yourself and of all creatures.
The Almighty does not wish you to feel lonely and sorrowful out of any ill will He bears you, but because His blessed Son was afflicted, and God would not have us unlike Him. Nothing pleases Him so well as to see in us a resemblance to His only-begotten Son. What so touches the soul as to see our Lord upon the Cross, tortured for the love of us? The more afflicted and deformed by pain He appears, the more beautiful He seems to us; so the more we suffer for Him, the better will His Father love to look on us.
Our hearts must be changed in order to satisfy God; they must be purified as gold from which the dross is melted by fire before it comes from the crucible bright and glittering. We would be ashamed of our weak efforts to please God, if only we realized the importance of gaining His approval, for we ought to be willing to shed our blood to gain His love.
While pondering over this truth, a holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass by, magnificently dressed and bejeweled. He burst into tears, exclaiming: “I beseech Thee to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman in one day takes more trouble to please men, than I have done in many years to please Thee!”
The love of God does not consist in mere words, but in sorrow and bitter sufferings, in being despised by the world, abandoned by all creatures, and, it may seem, at times, in the withdrawal of even our Creator’s favor. In spite of all these trials, the Christian’s courage must be firm; he must not complain, nor lose heart; he should imitate the martyr who, while they were disemboweling him and tearing the flesh from his bones with iron hooks, had no word on his lips but the name of Jesus, nor any thought in his heart but “Blessed be God.” He was willing and resolute to bear even greater torments, if it pleased God to send them.
Affliction, when borne for Christ, is both a gift and a grace, which He bestows only on His favorites. It is an act of great mercy to let off with a few cuffs a criminal who has been sentenced to a flogging; and if we can expiate the punishment due to us in the next world by suffering here, let us endeavor to satisfy God’s justice on earth, so that at our death we may behold His face without delay. Let us lead lives of penance during our exile here, that when we die, we may enter at once into our heavenly country.
St. Augustine says that it wrongs a martyr to pray for him after his death, for martyrdom makes the soul fly straight to Heaven. Let us strive to be martyrs by patience, for although our pains may be less severe, they last longer. We ought not to wish for a happy life, but prefer a martyrdom on earth; it was our Lord’s portion, and He wishes ours to be the same. Some have died as martyrs for the Faith, and others have gone to Heaven without doing so, but we must all be martyrs of love, if we wish to arrive there.
This love must be a torment and a pain to us, because of the offense given to God by ourselves and others; it must deprive us of all comfort in life and load our shoulders with the cross. It must make us embrace hardships and overcome them by the burning charity God has kindled in us. This love so carries us out of ourselves that it makes us perfectly insensible to dishonor, as wine takes away the reason of a drunkard. Like all strong affection, it makes a man forget himself and care only for his Beloved, who, in this case, is God Himself and His most holy will. Although this affection seems to treat us cruelly now, what mercy will it not gain hereafter for the soul that has been its living martyr! We cannot fully realize the strength of the love that tortures us here and will console us in the next world.
Let us believe what God has told us of it and walk in the faith of His word, for we have still a long journey before us. Whether your afflictions be light but last long, or short and severe, from one or the other you cannot escape. Do not grieve at this, for if God sends you many sufferings, it is because your sins deserve them, and through them you will atone for your faults, as I pray God you may do.
Christ died for love of us; let us suffer for love of Him. He carried His Cross: let us help Him to bear it. He was dishonored; therefore, I renounce honor; He suffered torments; let them come to me. He lived wanting many necessaries; let me go destitute. Jesus made Himself a stranger for me; let me have nothing in which my heart can rest. He died for me; may my life be a continual death for the love of Him.
Oh! that I might say, “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me” — and that, Christ crucified, agonized, and abandoned by all save God. Behold Christ whom I love! Upon the Cross I seek Him, and away from it I do not wish to find Him! He may do with me what He will; I choose sorrow for my portion for His sake. Let Him decide whether to reward me or not; to suffer for Him is all I ask. The greatest boon I beg from my Savior is to send the suffering, for it will prove my love for Him, and His for me, if He put me on the cross on which He stretched Himself. Although I seek nothing for myself, it is certain if I stay upon the cross, He will bear me to His Kingdom.
To Him be glory, world without end!
This article is adapted from a letter collected in the book, Finding Confidence in Times of Trial: The Letters of St John of Avila. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.