Joy in Suffering/First Day
St. Therese's Attitude Toward Suffering
(1) Her Views on God and Suffering.—The view which St. Therese took of God when He sent her suffering was exquisitely delicate and charming as well as true and consoling. God is not some cruel and heartless being who takes a malicious delight in torturing his helpless victim, but He is the tenderest of fathers. All comes from His boundless love. "Far from complaining to our Ford of the cross which He sends us," she wrote, "I cannot fathom the infinite love which has led Him to treat us in this way." And again: "This trouble is a tender considerateness on the part of Jesus…. What a favor from Jesus, and how He must love us to send us so great a sorrow! Eternity will not be long enough to bless Him for it." What a beautiful thought!
But she was human, and so she also asked: "How can the good God, who loves us so much, be happy when we suffer?" There is a touching tenderness and refinement in her playful answer: "Never does our suffering make Him happy, but it is necessary for us; and so He sends it to us while, as it were, turning away His face…. I assure you that it costs Him dearly to fill us with bitterness." From this her sensitive heart draws the loving conclusion: "The good God, who so loves us, has pain enough in being obliged to leave us on earth to fulfil our time of trial, without our constantly telling Him of our discomfort; we must appear not to notice it." It was the same delicate feeling that made her reprove a weeping novice, who said to her: "Henceforward my tears will be for God alone. I shall confide my worries to One who will understand and console me." To which St. Therese replied: "Tears for God! that must not be. Far less to Him than to creatures ought you to show a mournful face…. Our Divine Master comes to us in search of rest—to forget the unceasing complaints of His friends in the world, who, instead of appreciating the value of the cross, receive it far more often with groans and tears. Would you be as the mediocre souls? Frankly, this is not disinterested love…. It is for us to console our Lord, and not for Him to console us. His Heart is so tender that if you cry, He will dry your tears; but thereafter He will go away sad, since you did not suffer Him to repose tranquilly within you. Our Lord loves the glad of heart, the children that greet Him with a smile. When will you learn to hide your troubles from Him, or to tell Him gaily that you are happy to suffer for Him?" When will I…?
(2) Her Esteem for Suffering.—St Therese was not content to know that suffering comes from God's love, she also wanted to know what He desired to effect by it that she might the more effectively enter into His loving designs. She found three things:
(a) The proof of her love of God. She recognized in suffering the highest proof of pure and genuine love, for "there can be no love without suffering.' Hence:
"Under the pressure of pain
I prove my love by test divine!"
In proportion to our willingness to suffer for any one is the measure of our love for him. This, then, is the first thing that God desires to effect in sending us suffering—"that our souls may turn to Him alone"; "His thorns, as they wound us, spread abroad the perfume of our love."
(b) Oneness with God. But God sends us suffering also because "He longs to give us a magnificent reward." What is this reward? "He knows that suffering is the only means of preparing us to know Him as He knows Himself, and to become ourselves divine." What does this imply? "O my God, what shall we then see? What will be this life which will have no end? Our Lord will be the soul of our souls. O unsearchable mystery! 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.'" How do sufferings effect this? By conforming us to Christ Crucified, for "they greatly help to detach us from this earth, they make us look higher than this world." Besides, life and pain are short; "tomorrow, in a brief hour, we shall be at rest"; nay, even now "God already sees us in glory and rejoices in our everlasting bliss. I understand now why He lets us suffer."
(c) There is yet a third effect of suffering—the ransom of souls. "Jesus has for us a love so incomprehensible that He does not wish to do anything without making us His cooperators. He wills that we should have a part with Him in the salvation of souls." How? "From the day He raised His standard of the Cross, all must fight and win in its shadow. Far more by suffering and persecution than by eloquent discourses does Jesus wish to build up His Kingdom." Clearly perceiving this triple value of suffering, St. Therese esteemed every cross as a "mine of gold for us to turn to account," and, being overwhelmed with crosses, she cried out: "Jesus heaps His favors upon us as upon the greatest saints…. Ours is an enviable lot, and the Seraphim in heaven are jealous of our happiness!" Do I realize this?
(3) Her Insatiable Thirst for Suffering—St. Therese was logical and she was not a coward. She saw the immense value of suffering and had the courage to embrace it with her whole heart. "I can truly say," she wrote, "that Suffering opened her arms to me from the first, and I took her to my heart." In her thanksgivings at Holy Communion, while still quite young, she often prayed: "O my God, who art unspeakable sweetness, turn for me into bitterness all the consolations of earth." On the day of her religious profession she asked: "Give me martyrdom of soul or body. Or, rather, give me both the one and the other." Later she said: "When the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realized that, in order to become a saint, one must suffer much … always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of our Lord, to do much or little for His love—in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He asks. And then … I cried out: 'My God, I choose everything, I will not be a saint by halves. I am not afraid of suffering for Thee. I fear only one thing, and that is, to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.'" The reason was because her Love was crucified:
"No other joy my heart would know
Save immolation like to Thine!"
"Souls strong and pure, in life's dark night of sorrow,
Claim but one glory here—the cross to bear."
In her zeal for souls she sang:
"I love the Cross, I sigh for anguish,
Suffering for God is my desire:
If but one soul in fetters languish,
With thousand lives I would expire!"
This thirst became "more vast than the universe" and developed into a "veritable martyrdom," so that, thinking of the fearful torments of the martyrs, she exclaimed: "I do not sigh for one torment; I need them all to slake my thirst. My heart thrills at the thought of the frightful tortures Christians are to suffer at the time of Antichrist, and I long to suffer them all. Open, O Jesus, the Book of Life, in which are written the deeds of Thy saints; all the deeds recorded in that book I long to have accomplished for Thee!" Nor did she ever repent of her desire, for only a few hours before her death she said: "Yes, all that I have written about my thirst for suffering is really true. I do not regret having surrendered myself to Love." Nor will I if I do so…!
Dear St. Therese, how beautiful and true is the view you took of God when He sent you suffering! What tenderness of feeling in your love for Him! How blind I have been in the past! How often I have complained and murmured against God just when He was bestowing His choicest favors—crosses and trials—upon me! I have looked upon Him as "a hard and austere man" or as a father without feeling and sympathy, who regarded not the pains and tears of his child, and all the while in His love He was cutting most gently and tenderly, and that but to heal, "turning away His face meanwhile, lest He should be overcome by grief at my pain," as the most loving of mothers, though her tears flow fast and her heart is rent with grief, is yet driven by her very love to cause pain to her child, that its life may be saved. O St. Therese, help me to view suffering as you did, to realize that God never loves me so much as when He gives me the Cross as my portion, and obtain for me a delicate and refined love like yours. Pray for me, that God may give me the light to see the immense value of suffering for His own glory, for my eternal reward, and for the salvation of souls. May I, too, be wholly consumed by an insatiable thirst for suffering. I also recommend to you my special intentions in this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.