Enduring this Trial
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Every Friday, but especially during Lent, we recall the suffering Jesus Christ endured for our salvation. We do so remember His love for each of us and to be encouraged in facing our own suffering. Below is a brief reflection on how we can grow stronger through our experience of suffering. I hope that you find it encouraging as we all go through this current trial.
With my prayers,
ENDURING TRIALS by Fr. Jacques Philippe edited and adapted
How can we face up to trials and suffering in our lives. To this question I obviously don’t have any magic solution. But I would like to propose some very simple reflections, which can help provide guidelines.
First of all: don’t be afraid. Let’s not be afraid of life or difficulties or suffering. Obviously these things are not easy to face up to; they often leave us diminished and weakened. But they are part of life. We have to accept them, we have to “play the game,” so to speak, full of trust. Remember, as St Paul teaches, “All thing work for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Rms 8:28) And as St. Theresa says, “Everything is grace.”
We can encounter all sorts of different trials in our lives: unemployment, health problems, marriage crises, the death of someone close to us, failures. . . We can also go through depression, a dark night of the soul, crises in our relationship with God or in our vocation. There is a huge variety in this field. It’s clear that different kinds of trials must be faced differently. Someone who suffers from depression is not in the same situation as someone who has lost a loved one. Each must be helped in a specific way, based on the nature and particular circumstances of his or her suffering.
That said, there are points common to all trials, and this is what I would like to look at now, because it may provide some light. Every trial, no matter what its caused and characteristics are, is a trial of faith or of hope or of love. All three aspects usually are involved, with particular stress on one or the other.
Every trial is a trial of faith. If I am a believer and I am going through a difficult time, I will unavoidably ask myself at some stage, “What is God doing in all of this? Does he really love me? Is he present in what I am living through?” No matter whether its sickness, unemployment, or something else, trust in God is put to the test, called into question; and to that question we always give, consciously or unconsciously, some answer. We may doubt God’s love, we may accuse him of abandoning us we may rebel against him. These things often happen. However, it is possible—and this is beautiful and constructive—to see this time of trial as a call: a call to have a more determined, mature, and adult faith.
The specific question we are faced with—What is God doing? Is he really faithful? Can he draw good out of what is happening?—is simply a question of faith. We are invited to respond by deciding to have faith: “I believe! I continue to trust God! Even though I can’t see, even though I don’t feel anything, even though appearances are against it, I decide to believe. I will believe that God is faithful, that he will not let me fall, that he can draw something positive out of everything that is happening to me.” Trials are painful and mysterious; they have many aspects that cause scandal or are inexplicable, but they can also be understood as calls to make an act of faith, which then takes on immense value. Faith, says Scripture, is more precious than gold purified in the fire.
Every trial is also a trial of hope. This is closely linked to what I’ve just said about faith, but there are some important points to add. When we are having a difficult time, one of the questions that comes up is this: In this painful experience, what do we rely on? What are we counting on? In what or in whom do we place our hope? How are we thinking of getting out of it? The answer we’re invited to give is: I’m counting on the Lord, I’m expecting help from him. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to apply all the human resources available, but at the deepest level I abandon myself into God’s hands, and it is in him that I hope.
Another way of putting the question of hope is this: What is our security based on? When we go through a time of trial we become fragile. We are impoverished, having lost certain things we’d relied on before, such as good physical health. Or perhaps someone who was a support for us, whom we depended on, disappears or lets us down. Suddenly something has gone missing from among the things we counted on—our human possibilities, money, friends, education, skills, qualifications, everything we normally depended on.
Finding ourselves poorer, we see more clearly the limitations of our human confidence. For instance, we may have been relying on a particular institution, and we find that it is defective. We had been idealizing our spouse or our community, and we realize that they are frail, that people are the same everywhere. Often in a trial this sense of fragility is especially painful. No longer do we know what to lean on, which saint to pray to. And the worst of it is that we can no longer rely on ourselves either, for we discover our own extreme fragility. We realize that we are more sinful than we thought, with less patience and less strength. We realize that we easily fall into anxiety, discouragement, and all the other negative feelings that can occur at such times.
The question therefore presents itself with particular urgency: Where have we placed our ultimate security? The answer we’re invited to give is: My ultimate security is God. I rely on him alone.
Our only real security—and we have no other—is that God’s mercy is unlimited. God is infinitely good and faithful. That is our only rock, to use the very concrete language of Scripture. All the rest—health, education, qualifications, friends, our own strength, our virtues—can leave us. We must be realistic! All those things are of course very good. A certain income, emotional security, faithful friends, a spiritual companion, good education, plenty of experience, a community we’re happy to belong to, and so on: all those are valuable things. We should welcome them and seek them insofar as we can, but we should never make them our security. For God alone is absolute security. All the rest is relative. That is a fundamental point about trials of hope: we may experience a certain impoverishment, fragility in certain areas, precisely so that we learn to find our true security more fully in God. And God can never forsake us. Scripture says this endlessly: “My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, Who has compassion on you.”
The sense of insecurity and fragility that we often experience in trials is admittedly very unpleasant and can produce a kind of panic, but it is also an opportunity: a call to become more firmly rooted in God. As an expression found so often in the Bible puts it: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.” That will give us true freedom in the end.
Every trial is also a trial of love. Perhaps our relationship with God is in crisis or perhaps our relationship with our neighbor, in our marriage, for instance. But often the difficulty also concerns our relationship with ourselves, our love for ourselves.
For example, sometimes we may lose a taste for prayer. What does that trial mean? It is a call to continue praying all the same, because we don’t pray just because we enjoy it or experience satisfaction, but first and foremost to please God. When we find great pleasure in it, that’s fine, but when prayer is difficult, we need to keep going just the same! That purifies our love for God, which becomes freer, more disinterested, more genuine, and not just a selfish search for ourselves.
It’s similar in what concerns our relationship with our neighbor. You loved your wife when she was young, pretty, well-behaved, pleasant, and answered all your expectations. Now you notice that she is sometimes bad tempered, that she has a few wrinkles; do you continue to love her? Do you love her for yourself or do you love her truly, with a love that consists of wanting her good, and not only seeking your own satisfaction? We are constantly faced with this kind of trial in which we confront the demands of loving another person as he or she is, loving them freely and disinterestedly, forgiving them, etc.
Sometimes our love for ourselves is called into question. You loved yourself when you were satisfied with yourself, when everything was going well, but now, seeing your inner poverty and sinfulness, you begin to hate yourself. No! Accept yourself in all your poverty and limitations.
I could cite endless examples showing that in every trial there is also a certain purification of love: love for God, love for ourselves, or love for our neighbor. It’s not to destroy love, but so that love becomes deeper, truer, more evangelical and, basically, happier. We should not be afraid of crises. These days for instance, as soon as a married couple hits a crisis, they separate, and each looks for someone new. How sad! Perhaps that crisis was the very opportunity they needed to deepen their relationship and adjust things to make their love truer. Every crisis is a chance to grow, an invitation to undertake a certain kind of work on ourselves.
The conclusion of these reflections is that in every trial it is essential to ask oneself a question along these lines: What act of faith am I being invited to make in this situation? What attitude of hope am I being call to live by? And what conversion in relation to love, leading to a love that is truer and purer, am I being summoned to undertake? If we ask ourselves these questions honestly, we’ll always find an answer. We’ll discover some kind of call from God at the heart of our trial, and that will give it meaning.
What enables us to overcome a trial is not a magic wand that solves everything, but the discovery of what call it is that’s being addressed to us, how we’re being asked to grow. In understanding and responding to that call, we find new strength, enabling us to get through the trial and make something positive of it. Every trial can become a path of life, for Christ has risen from the dead and is present everywhere, sowing the seeds of new life in every situation. Even in those that seem most negative and most desperate, God is present.
on Friday, March 20 at 2:50PM