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“MY YOKE IS SWEET AND MY BURDEN LIGHT” – HAPPINESS AND PAIN

God meant us to enjoy happiness even in this world, though it could not be the happiness which excludes all pain and suffering. Such complete happiness is reserved for the next life, when we are participating in the infinite happiness of God in heaven. As long as we are living in this world pain and suffering are inevitable, because of the fall of man and the general corruption of human nature that followed upon it. Nothing that men can devise will ever change that fact or bring us to an earthly garden of Eden. This has been attested in every stage of the world’s history and never more clearly than in these latter days of widespread misery, chaos and unrest.

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily (Lk 9:23)

So it was that when Christ Our Lord came on this earth to redeem us and to show us by His own example how we must live if we wish to have happiness both now and hereafter, He said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily,” and St Luke (9:23) prefaced the words, “He said to all.” It was to help and encourage us that He Himself took up His own Cross, an infinitely heavier one than any of us will be called upon to bear, so that because of His bitter Passion and Death He is known as “The Man of Sorrows”. But it would be a mistake to lay an undue or exclusive meaning on that title. Our Blessed Lord was in truth the happiest man that has ever lived on this earth: His human soul was the recipient of the greatest natural joys in His association with His Blessed Mother, with St Joseph His foster-father, with His relations and close friends. He found delight, too, in the world in which He lived, the beauties of nature, the hills, the fields, the flowers, in running water. Nothing of beauty escaped His sensitive gaze. He could find joy in the humble work of a carpenter, in all the trivial happenings of a peaceful home, in the simplicity of village life. Though He knew well the sufferings that were to befall Him, that terrible vision did not darken His life and leave Him ever fearful and depressed. For He had within His human soul the root of happiness – a complete union with His Father in heaven. His every activity in living wholly for God and in giving over His entire human will to the will of God ensured His happiness, a happiness that was not disturbed even when He hung on His Cross and suffered a death of the utmost anguish and pain.

The root of happiness

He wants us, too, to be happy even in this world but He knows that such limited happiness as this affords can only be attained by bearing our own cross and in facing courageously, in patience and without complaint, the ever-recurring trials of life. It is not enough to look upon Him crucified for us, but if His merits are to be productive of good in us we must shoulder our own crosses and find our happiness here below in so following Him.

Are happiness and pain really incompatible?

To many people it seems impossible that there can be happiness where there is pain. But a little reflection will show them their mistake. A mother will find happiness in suffering pain for the safety or life of her child. A brave soldier will be happy even when he is enduring hardships, privations, and perils to help his country’s cause. Many a man will undertake arduous work that puts a strain on his courage and is a cause of much present comfort, while at the same time he enjoys an inner happiness in the consciousness that he is attaining some great purpose. Again, to one who has been converted from a life of sin there is happiness in the thought that by bearing his sufferings, whether mental or physical, he is making reparation for the past [see also: Col.1:24] and gaining ever added merit [see also: Mt6:20]. Innocent and more spiritual souls, in whom there has been no serious sin in their lives, such as was the childlike Saint of Lisieux, will have joy in the knowledge that they become co-victims with Christ in the redemption of the world and in bringing others to God.

Lives of undisturbed calm

Pain is not in itself a good and is not something for itself naturally desirable, but in the inherited corruption of our human nature it can be recognised as a means of correction that redresses evil; and when so recognised adds to, rather than detracts from, that happiness that God would have us enjoy in this world. This is the explanation of the consolation and joy that the saints experienced even when subjected to multiplied suffering. A marked feature of their lives was their undisturbed calm and equanimity under the most distressing and painful earthly conditions. They forgot themselves in their love for God, and in so forgetting themselves they found the truth of His words – paradoxical as they may sound – “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.”

How to make one’s own hell for oneself

On the other hand, they who separate themselves from God and seek their happiness exclusively in this world, either in intellectual pursuits or, as is most commonly the case, in ministering to their passions and the demands of their lower nature, are sooner or later disillusioned and disappointed. Suffering and pain for them assume undue and exaggerated proportions. Their love of self brings its own nemesis and fills their lives with afflictions of soul they need never have known. They make their own hell, for the final result of living for self, when persisted in to the end, is the eternal loss of the One Supreme Good who alone can give us true happiness here and complete happiness hereafter.

My meat is to do the will of my Father (Jn 4:34)

Let us not forget, what has already been said, that the secret of happiness is what Our Blessed Lord by His own life and teaching disclosed to us. We must give ourselves entirely to God without reserve, even as He in His human nature gave Himself to His Father. “My meat” (that is, the very nourishment of His soul) “is to do the will of my Father” were His words (Jn 4:34).

Is it possible to bargain with God?

Even some substantially good Catholics make the mistake of thinking that they can make a sort of Concordat with God, conceding to Him the fulfilment of certain essential religious duties, such as hearing Mass and frequenting the Sacraments, but God in return is to secure their salvation, while they keep certain reserves for themselves, some inordinate attachments to persons and things in which God does not enter, attachments which, though not necessarily sinful, create a barrier between their Maker and themselves. Their religion thus becomes a wretched compromise, and as such precludes that happiness which a whole-hearyed acceptance of God’s rights over them would ensure

Complete surrender, complete union

Such persons fail to see that religion must enter into every single part of their lives, that it must be a duty to God not at certain times only of the day or the week but one that is interwoven with everything they think, say, or do at all times and at every moment of their lives. If they would know joy and happiness under every variable condition, whether of pleasure or of pain, God must be realised as the One Supreme Good whom with all the intensity of their intelligence and with all the energy of their will they embrace as wholly lovable and desirable to the exclusion of everyone and everything that threaten their complete union with Him.

“Not only for canonised saints”

Let it not be thought that only those who reach to the heroism of canonised saints can fashion their lives to this pattern. It is within the power of every fervent Catholic to do so. What holds back most is their inordinate fear of pain, their unwillingness to accept the Cross, their constant but futile endeavour to escape suffering whenever it rears its head. But of this they may be assured, that by earnest prayer and by the right use of the Sacraments, the grace of God, once their hearts are fully given to Him, will so transform them that they will realise and understand in their own lives the truth of the words in the Imitation:

Love is a great thing, yea in all ways a great good; for it alone maketh light all that is heavy and beareth with even mind every uneven fortune; for it carryeth a burden while counting it no burden, and maketh sweet and of good savour every bitter thing.

It is this love of God which, entwined with the Cross, gives a true conception of what religion means, and will enable all of us of goodwill, in spite of so much that is distressing and difficult in the world to-day, to possess even now happiness in our lives, while, still exiles on this earth, we look forward to the lasting union with Him “who will give us life without end in our fatherland” in Heaven.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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PASTORAL LETTER FOR LENT 2013

BY THE MOST REVEREND PETER SMITH, ARCHBISHOP OF SOUTHWARK

PASTORAL LETTER TO BE READ ON THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME; SUNDAY, 10th FEBRUARY 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will begin the season of Lent. The scripture readings at Mass will speak to us of fasting, weeping and mourning; the need for prayer, and almsgiving. At a purely human level, we might be forgiven for feeling a little daunted and despondent at the prospect, first of a day of fasting and abstinence, and then six weeks of penance to come! Yet there is also a message of great hope from the prophet Joel: “Let your heart be broken not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent.” In the first reading today, we have listened to the call of the prophet Isaiah whilst he was at prayer in the Temple, and having an overwhelming experience of the majesty of God. Very conscious of his unworthiness and sinfulness, he nonetheless accepts the prophetic vocation God calls him to: “Here I am, send me.” In the gospel, Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch of fish is to want to distance himself from Christ as he realises his own sinfulness and unworthiness: ” Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.” He is conscious of his weakness, his inadequacy and frailty, yet Jesus calls him to become a fisher of men nonetheless. In time, Peter will discover that in union with Christ, he too will be empowered to perform miracles well beyond his own human resources.

Reflecting especially on the gospel reading today, I was reminded of the words of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter to the Church at the beginning of this new millennium in which he said that all of us who are disciples of Christ ‘must gain a new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37). We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naïve expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication.’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte n.29)

He goes on to say, ‘There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in this truth. It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and holiness. When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? We then share the experience of the disciples in the Gospel story of the miraculous catch of fish: “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (Lk 5:5). This is the moment of faith, of prayer, of conversation with God, in order to open our hearts to the tide of grace and allow the word of Christ to pass through us in all its power: Duc in altum! [Plunge into the deep!] On that occasion, it was Peter who spoke the word of faith: “At your word I will let down the nets.” (ibid.)’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte n.38)

So as we begin Lent, we should all be asking the question, “What shall we do?” Lent is a time when we are called to repentance, and to put God more consciously at the very centre of our lives once again. The traditional ways of repentance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us how to go about it. “Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice…when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” And again in respect of our prayer, Jesus says: “Do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them… But when you pray, go to your private room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret, will reward you.” Likewise, when it comes to fasting he says, “When you fast, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do; they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know that you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”

In order to do as the Lord asks of us, our hearts must be united with his heart; we must come to know him, and abide with him ever more deeply and with ever greater commitment, day by day. Lent is a “favourable time” for me to ask myself some pertinent questions about where I stand with God, and how I am responding to the commission he has given us. I cannot do that fruitfully unless I become more attentive to the word of God in the scriptures and through spending some time each day in quiet prayer. I cannot, from my own resources, produce the fruit that will last, unless I allow the living word of God to nurture my faith and trust in God who loves me unconditionally and with a steadfast love, and who looks on me in my weakness with great mercy and compassion. That living word of God not only informs my mind and heart, so that I come to know him, but is also able to transform my life so that I can indeed become “the light of the world”, “salt of the earth.”

Wishing you a fruitful Lent and let’s pray for each other,
+Peter
Archbishop of Southwark
Given at Southwark, 4th February 2013

 
 

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CONTEMPLATING THE LORD’S SUFFERINGS – A WAY OF THE CROSS

Give yourself up contemplating, imitating, and tenderly pitying the all-holy life, sufferings and death of our Saviour Jesus Christ… Leave all that perishes and gather that which is eternal… There is no knowledge half so momentous as the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His mysteries, nothing which is of more immediate and practical use to men.

THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

(Before each station, please pray: “We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You. Because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world.” After the suggested Bible reading and stated prayer, please pray for each station: “Lord, by Your Cross and Resurrection You have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.”)

The Stations can be prayed in any Catholic church; every church has the images of the 14 Stations displayed. Alternatively, you can meditate on the Stations at home, reading the Bible passages, praying, reflecting, meditating on each Station – preferably for at least half an hour every day.

FIRST STATION

Jesus is condemned to death

Reading: Jn 19:4-16

Lord Jesus, if I have to judge, let me do so with justice, mercy and selflessness.

SECOND STATION

Jesus takes up His Cross

Reading: Mat 11:29-30

Lord Jesus, I wish to take up my cross with you daily. Help me to bear patiently whatever comes my way.

THIRD STATION

Jesus falls for the first time

Reading: Is 53:6-12

Lord Jesus, may the suffering You endured restore hope to a fallen world, bringing healing and comfort to those who suffer.

FOURTH STATION

Jesus meets His Mother

Reading: Lk 2:22-35

Lord Jesus, You willed that Your Mother should be with You on Your way to Calvary: give me an undaunted spirit to face life’s trials as Mary Your Mother did.

FIFTH STATION

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His Cross

Reading: Is 52:14

Lord Jesus, give me a generous heart to accept my duties and responsibilities even when they seem too heavy to bear.

SIXTH STATION

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Reading: Is 53:2-5

Lord Jesus, imprint on me Your virtues of compassion, kindness, love, meekness, patience and forgiveness.

SEVENTH STATION

Jesus falls for the second time

Reading: Heb 5:7-10

Lord Jesus, when all my efforts seem to fail, help me to trust in Your help.

EIGHTH STATION

The women of Jerusalem mourn for Jesus

Reading: Lk 23:27-32

Lord Jesus, You found the strength to console the women of Jerusalem despite Your own sufferings; give me strength to bring comfort to those in sorrow.

NINTH STATION

Jesus falls the third time

Reading: Rom 7:15-25

Lord Jesus, when anxiety and fear cause me to lose heart, give me support that I may walk steadily in Your way.

TENTH STATION

Jesus is stripped of his garments Reading: Jn 19:2-24 Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to detach my heart from all sinful vanities, so that I may seek only You, my supreme and eternal happiness.

ELEVENTH STATION

Jesus is nailed to the Cross

Reading: Lk 23:33-43

Lord Jesus, help me to heal the wounds caused by hate and to witness to Your love that did not count the cost.

TWELFTH STATION

Jesus dies on the Cross

Reading: Lk 24:44-49

Lord Jesus, Your death brought life into the world. Grant that my life may be a source of joy to those whose paths cross mine.

THIRTEENTH STATION

Jesus is taken down from the Cross

Reading: Mt 27:55-58

Lord Jesus, help me to approach death unafraid, confident that I have tried to do Your will.

FOURTEENTH STATION

Jesus is placed in the tomb

Reading: Mk 15:42-47

Lord Jesus, give us strength to endure our daily frustrations and sufferings, and make us understand that You give meaning even to our death. Amen.

 
 

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