The world seeks to constantly make my life “easier”. Time after time I am surrounded by people telling me they have the answer to all of my problems, to make my life more comfortable.
A secular society has no reason, or purpose for my pain and it therefore can’t seek to even begin to relieve it. Merely stifle it, stimulate me so I forget about it or worse eliminate those who feel it, or the reason they feel it at whatever the cost.
Religion, however, does not shrink in it’s response to pain. On the contrary. I don’t follow a theory, I don’t follow a magical ideal that will make everything better. I believe in a person, I follow a man. A man, with a mum and dad – a family that knew pain, that lived it and did not seek to have that pain, or confusion relieved. They bore it, humbly, asking only for God’s grace.
When the Angel Gabriel told St Joseph that he must lead the holy family to Egypt Joseph did not reply with uncertainty or questions. Would anyone blame the saint if he had replied with such things as, how shall we get there, who will protect us from our enemies if we stay and for how long shall we stay? And what, still, about the Mother and new born baby? And why should I trust this Angel who, has no wisdom above the new born Christ incarnate who, surely, in His own way could have revealed this information to His earthly father.
It is only, suggests St Francis De Sales, our “too great care” for ourselves which holds us back from achieving perfection. St Joseph asked no questions, his humble obedience led him potentially into turmoil.
It’s this too great care which society seeks to glorify, to make us precious and pander to every small circumstance that ruffles our tranquillity.
But St Francis does have a point, life is messy and it’s tough and faith isn’t free of that. Jesus never said follow me and no one will ever question you, you’ll never find this difficult and you’ll never wonder why. In fact he said you are blessed when people speak evil against you, you’re blessed when they persecute you.
People would often tell me that this is reason alone to turn away from God and live a life full of earthly comforts and temporal satisfaction. There’s a great scene in one of my favourite TV series in which a girl explains that the devil is not red, hoofed and horned; the devil is beautiful and seductive. As such these “quick fixes” regularly cross my mind. What’s worse it’s often easy to try and justify these actions, because of my dejection or my misery. The (not so harsh) reality is that there is no “acceptable evil”. We all make mistakes, and some times we can look open another’s fault and sympathise because we’ve been in such a position where we’ve felt led astray in a similar way, but no matter how many people follow that same path of sin, it doesn’t and will never make it right. It is in these moments that we must repeat boldly the prayer of St. Michael, and ask for our guardian’s protection.
If we did not let our misery or dejection govern us, and instead governed ourselves by reason we would have to, I think, conclude that if it was good to serve God yesterday, in joy and prosperity, it is good to serve Him today in indifference and still good to serve Him tomorrow in struggling and in pain. It is this same reason that calls us to love our neighbour, though they may hurt us and stray from the path we know to be right (let’s face it, none of us are perfect) we are reminded that they are God’s children, and therefore worthy of love, even if we’re not sure quite why at the moment.
For these reasons, I have recently discovered, pilgrimage is essential. I’ve spoken many times before, in blogs, in testimonies, in conversation, about what pilgrimage means to me. I hadn’t, however, quite managed to pin down just what it was that had captured my soul on those journeys. It struck me however, upon reflecting on the Camino that it was really quite simple. We are earthenware jars (we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing…), when I walked the Camino I did everything at a base level. I ate and drank only to sustain myself, I slept through the night, no lie ins, I walked or I didn’t get dinner. I looked at those walking alongside me and I knew, in no small part, their pain, their struggle, their desperate prayer. Everything we did was simply to sustain ourselves, and anything over and above that was for the good of those around us; lacing up their walking boots, helping them on with their back pack, stirring their chocolate powder into their hot milk. During this time each of us, bit by bit, gave up on ‘self’ and the less of ‘self’ we have in ‘jars’ the more space we have.
In these holy spaces, where heaven meets earth, Christ is trying to fill us with His grace. What gets in the way is that “too great care”, its the umming and ahhing that St Joseph never had. The slothfulness which makes us procrastinate in serving the Lord and discerning His will is our destruction. We’re too scared that this path might interfere with our comfort.
Once we set this all aside, with no grumbling, God begins to fill us with His grace, because “God never uses any one greatly until he tests them deeply”. It’s through these tests, these struggles, this pain that He teaches us to make space for Him.
And this flooding of heaven to earth that we find in holy places such us Lourdes and Santiago, is the fuel that will sustain us, relying on His providence to remain firm in serving God boldly, bravely and without being swayed by temporal things. We are always called to fuel this flame in the Holy Scriptures, in praise and worship of His sacrifice at mass, in our penance and in our praise.
Here we find our tranquillity and our joy. For, as the Psalms say: Joy is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God. As this blog has been Salesian through and through I’ll leave you with one last quote
When the lake is very calm, when the winds do not agitate it’s waters, on a very serene night, the sky with all it’s stars is so perfectly reflected in it that, looking down into it’s depths, the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we looked on the sky.
So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares it is very capable of reflecting our Lord.