Joy in Suffering/Fourth Day

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The Paradox, Joy in Suffering

(1) Not Insensible.—Pain for St. Therese was not a mere phantom, but a sharp reality. In fact, few have probably ever been endowed with such an extreme sensitiveness to pain in body, heart, and soul as she was. She confessed that, "It costs dearly to give Jesus what He asks," and that, "if on these occasions," i.e., when her anguish is at its height, "I repeat the more earnestly to the good God and the saints that I love them, believe me, it is in spite of what I feel at the first moment." She suffered intensely from the cold; her delicate stomach ever rebelled at the coarse food of the Carmel. So great was her constant desire to have just a word with her dear Pauline that she had to hurry past her cell and hold fast to the banister to keep from turning back; the effort she made to refrain from giving a stern look to a Sister who was ever fidgeting with her rosary caused her to be bathed in perspiration every day; when she was given a shower of dirty wash-water in the laundry, her first impulse was to show her displeasure; being falsely blamed for making a noise, she was "burning to defend herself," and had to run away to keep from doing so; her whole being was stirred up by the fearful aversion she felt for a certain Sister and her only escape often lay in flight; when she found her books, brushes, etc., in disorder, she had "to hold herself with both hands to keep from yielding to impatience" and sharply reproving the offender; if she sang of the joys of heaven, she sang only "of what she wanted to believe, since the real heaven seemed utterly closed against her."

St. Therese, then, was very sensitive to pain; her smile cost her much, and it was only by degrees and heroic efforts that she succeeded. In fact, in the beginning of her religious life she "had to console herself with the thought that all would be known on the day of judgment." Later she admitted: "At first my looks betrayed my effort; but little by little self-sacrifice seemed to come more easily without hesitation…. When I suffered much, … instead of a melancholy look I now answered by a smile. At first I did not always succeed, but now it is a habit which I am happy to have acquired." Why did she succeed? "I have always forced myself to love suffering and to give it a glad welcome." Here again it is true: "He that is faithful in little things, is faithful in that which is greater," for "in this path it is only the first step that is hard; yet God never refuses the first grace—courage for self-conquest…. In the onset we must act with courage. By this means the heart gains strength, and victory follows victory." And what gave her this strength? "It is such a joy to think that for each little pain cheerfully borne we shall love the good God more for all eternity." It is a joy for one who truly loves; is it for me…?

(2) Genuine Joy.—St. Therese knew that "God loveth a cheerful giver," and to those entrusted to her care she often repeated: "Jesus loves the joyous heart, He loves the ever-smiling soul." She herself was the first to practice what she demanded of others, and was ever joyous and smiling in the midst of her incredibly intense sufferings. "To suffer and to love is the purest of all joys," she said, and "suffering has been my heaven upon earth…. The only real happiness on earth is to strive always to think 'how goodly is the chalice' that Jesus gives us…." When she was pitied, she said: "Don't be so sad about me; I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me." When her face wore an expression of unearthly happiness, she was asked the reason and gave the astonishing reply: "It is because the pain is so acute now…. Nothing gives me such 'little joys' as 'little crosses.' I know of no ecstasy to which I do not prefer sacrifice. There I find my happiness, and there alone…. When we expect nothing but suffering, then the least joy is a surprise, and later the suffering itself becomes the greatest of all joys, when we seek it as a precious treasure."

"My joy I find in pain and loss,
I love the thorns that guard the rose;
With joy I kiss each heavy cross,
And smile with every tear that flows."

When Heaven refused her relief, she "thanked God and the saints just the same," and she "paid our Lord all sorts of compliments when He disappointed her."

She also knew how to use her faults and failings as a means of joy—a most important thing for every one striving for holiness, "I hasten to say to the good God: 'My God, I know that I have deserved this feeling of sadness (for my fault), yet, allow me to look upon it as a trial which Thy love sends me. I regret my sin; but I am glad to have this little suffering to offer Thee." "If Thou dost remain veiled—well, then I consent to be benumbed with cold, and I rejoice in the suffering, howsoever merited." Truly a heavenly prudence! St. Augustine said: "When one loves, one does not suffer, or if one does, the very suffering is loved." And so St. Therese in the midst of her trials cried out: "Thou hast given me, O Lord, delight in all Thou dost. For what joy can be greater than to suffer for Thy love?" Her clear and living faith gave her a very deep insight into the immense value of suffering and made her esteem it as the most precious of all treasures for God's glory, the salvation of souls, and her own eternal bliss. It was this lively faith, animated by ardent love, that explains her seemingly strange yet profound remark: "My feastdays are the days on which the good God tries me most." Are they mine too…?

(3) Refined Joy.—The joy which St. Therese showed in her sufferings was deep and sincere, but there must be no misunderstanding—it was not sensible joy, for in this her keen spiritual intuition penetrating the disguise saw clearly a form of delicate self-love: If you wish to know joy and love suffering, you are really seeking your own consolation, because once we love, all suffering disappears." The joy of which she spoke is quite different: "Here I find but one joy, that of suffering, and this joy, which is not one of sense, is above all joy."

This joy "is rather peace, for he who says peace does not say joy, or at least sensible joy: to suffer in peace it is enough to will heartily all that our Lord wills." It is a joy similar to that of the Divine Victim in His Passion: "Our Lord in the garden of Olives enjoyed all the delights of the Trinity, and yet His agony was none the less cruel. This is a great mystery, but I assure you, I can form some inkling of it from that which I myself am enduring." Her joy is utterly selfless, for she rejoices in the very fact of being without joy if this state gives joy to God: "My joy it is that joy is past and gone my Lord's consoling smile." "There are people who make the worst of everything. As for me, I do just the contrary. I always see the good side of things, and even if my portion be suffering without a glimmer of solace, well, I make IT my joy."

"If Thou leavest me too,
O my one Pearl Divine,
Without e'en a caress,
Then shall Thy joy be mine!"

"Did you but know how great is my joy at giving joy to Jesus through being utterly deprived of all joy! Truly this is the very refinement of all joy—joy we do not feel!" Is mine also such…?


Novena Prayer

Dear St. Therese, ever happy, smiling, and joyous in the midst of pain, in spite of your extreme sensitiveness to suffering, I rejoice with you in the glorious triumph which you have won over self through your tender love of God. Obtain for me the grace to walk in your footsteps, that I may always find a sincere delight in that which gives joy to God, even though it be the very fact of my being utterly deprived of all sensible joy. May that which pleases God always be pleasing to me. Help me to realize that the cross is His most precious gift, most priceless token of His love. I, too, wish to thank Him for all His gifts, even those which seem less beautiful than the ones He bestows on others. Above all, I desire to thank Him at all times for the crosses and sufferings He sends me knowing that one "Thanks be to God" in trials is worth a thousand in things according to our will. St. Paul bids us "give thanks in ALL things," and daily throughout the year the Church makes the priest pray in the name of every one of the faithful: "It is truly meet and just, right and salutary, that we should at ALL times and in ALL places give thanks to Thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God." O St. Therese, pray for me, that these words may sink deep into my soul and that I may truly give thanks and rejoice in ALL things, that thus my joy, like yours, may attain to the heroic, the very refinement of all joy, a joy pure and wholly unselfish. I also recommend to you the special intentions for which I am making this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.

Other Novena Prayers on page 46.