Living in comfort, those of us in the West can be slow to learn the true cost of discipleship. We can mistake our material ease, freedom to attend Mass each Sunday, our access to healthcare and longer lives, and relative safety as being what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can start to think following Christ means an easy life.
In reality, we are promised hardships, trials, sufferings, and periods of testing in order to prove our faith and love of God and in order to share the Good News with others. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI puts it so well: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” We are called to holiness and that has never been a path of comfort and ease.
Learning to Empty Ourselves
There is no comfort in learning to empty out ourselves in love. It’s always risky and it requires the painful process of dying to self. It means we will be rejected by others for following Christ. We are called to lay down our lives for Christ all the way to the Cross. God will test us to purify our love for Him and others. It means that Christ will assign each one of us Crosses in this life so that we may become more like Him and unite our sufferings to His.
The path to holiness is paved with hope and joy, but it is a battle against self, the world, and the Evil One. This life is a slow stripping away of our attachments to things that do not lead us directly to God, and as we progress, even good and holy things can be taken from us in order to make us turn ever more ardently in love towards God. It is then that we must proclaim the same words as Job: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”
Many of us — myself included — do not fully comprehend what will be required of us if we truly desire to become a saint. In many ways, it is a great mercy on God’s part to reveal this path to us slowly, lest we lose heart and fall away.
When Ordeals Visit Us
In this life we will not only suffer justly, as in the case of when we sin, but we will suffer unjustly. There will be times when our faith will cost us, including in our relationships with family and friends. There will be times when our bodies will fail and we have to endure affliction. This suffering can come in many forms both bodily and spiritually.
We cannot be surprised, even though most of us are, when these tests arise. There isn’t a single saint in our Tradition who has not undergone intense trial, but those trials are marked by tremendous blessings as God comes to dwell ever more fully in a holy soul.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you. But rejoice in so far as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).”
There will be many periods throughout our lives when we will be called to endure what God sets before us or allows to happen in our lives. We can even find ourselves spiritually alone as God seeks to draw us more closely to Himself, so that we give even more of our lives over to Him in love and trust. It is because of our love for Him and the hope we have in Him that we can progress, even in periods of darkness.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).”
This is an important reminder to all of us in these dark days for the Church. There are times we can be blindsided by the failings of human beings and the wickedness of the Evil One when we forget that this life is in fact largely a spiritual battle. We are rightly angry for the evil committed, but we shouldn’t be surprised at the weaknesses that pervade Fallen human nature. We cannot be surprised at our own failings in times of trial, but we must always turn back to God and the unfathomable mercy He pours out upon us and the Church. God is working in us so that we may obtain salvation.
The path to holiness will not be paved with comfort, but it will include periods of great joy. If we willingly accept the high cost of discipleship by giving God everything and embracing the Cross then He will lead us to our true home. The less we come to expect comfort or worldly approval, the more prepared we will be to endure the trials God sets before us in both body and spirit. We will then be able to praise God both in season and out of season and progress in joyful hope.