“PATIENCE HATH A PERFECT WORK.”
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, let him take up his cross and follow me. These words of our Lord give us to understand that he who is not willing to suffer, but refuses the cross, must not pretend to be Christ’s disciple or expect to follow Him to Paradise.
“The world is bitter and it is loved,” says St. Augustine; “if it were sweet, how it would be loved!” The world is bitter because all its delights do not content the heart of man, and because they all ultimately terminate in bitterness and remorse of conscience; but still it is loved. Imagine, then, says the Saint, were it sweet, how intensely we would love it, and how completely forget the soul, Heaven and God! To wean an infant the mother puts gall on the breasts. It is thus God treats us. He makes the very pleasures of this earth bitter, that, by detaching our hearts from them, we may pant after the eternal delights which He has prepared in Heaven for all who love Him. It was for this end that our loving Saviour came on earth to suffer, that we might not refuse to imitate His example. Christ, says St. Peter, suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps (1 Pet. ii. 21). Behold how He invites us to follow: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Matt. xvi. 24). As if He were to say: He who is not willing to suffer, and refuses the cross, let him cease to pretend to be My disciple, or to expect to follow Me to Paradise.
The desire of pleasing God is the sublime end which a soul should have in embracing sufferings. Ecclesiasticus says that some show friendship only in the time of prosperity, and abandon a friend in his adversity: There is a friend for his own occasion, and he will not abide in the day of thy trouble (Ecclus. vi. 8). But the most certain testimony of love is to suffer with cheerfulness for the person loved. The sacrifice most agreeable to God consists in embracing with patience all the crosses He sends. Charity is patient …beareth all things (1 Cor. xiii 4, 7). Love bears all things: external crosses; loss of health; loss of property, of honours, of relatives, of friends: interior crosses, anguish, temptations, sorrows, desolation of spirit. It is by patience that virtue is proved. Hence, in the Lives of the Saints, we usually find a description of their patience under afflictions. It is thus the Lord proves our fidelity. The devil tempts us, and God also tempts us. The devil tempts us in order to bring us to perdition, God tempts us in order to prove us: As gold in the furnace he hath proved them (Wis. iii. 6). As gold is proved by fire, so God proves the love of His lovers by the fire of tribulation. Hence to be in tribulation is a sign that the soul is dear to God. Because thou wast acceptable to God, said the Angel to Tobias, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee (Tob. xii. 13). St. Jerome says that when God sends a person an occasion of suffering He confers a greater favour than if He gave him power to raise the dead to life. Because, adds the Saint, when we work miracles we are debtors to God, but when we bear afflictions with patience, God is, in a certain manner, our debtor.