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Rejoice in Sufferings

by Fr. Maximilian Okapal, O.Praem.

 

We read how, when the blessed levite St. Lawrence was being roasted on an iron grill, he turned with a cheerful countenance to say to the Caesar Decius, “Look, you have me well done on one side, turn me over and eat.” Then he gave thanks to God and went to heaven.

The saints rejoice in their sufferings. How is this possible? Is it some strange and mysterious power to feel differently from the way normal folks feel? No.

Look here: Joys are supposed to follow from sufferings. The natural result of any suffering is a joy. Have you ever seen a graduate holding his diploma? A mother holding her newborn? An athlete crowned with laurels? They glow with joy. It’s actually pretty easy to see how the cross results in glory.

Okay, but, the truth is, actually, a lot of the sufferings we have we don’t see resulting in joy. We know they should be, but we don’t see it.

We need to be told, because it isn’t really obvious, that the sorrows of this life are always made up with joys in the next. That’s why our Lord said, “If it dies, it produces much fruit.” And so on. And we believe it.

So where’s the difficulty now? Why don’t we always rejoice in our sufferings? Why does the student gripe and the woman in labor cry out and the athlete at practice do both? If they—or we—fail to rejoice in our sufferings, it’s because we fail to see or know or believe or remember the joy which naturally follows.

It’s easier to see the connection when it’s closer. We all know the feeling of joy while opening a Christmas present. Why is a kid so happy to open a box? If I said, “Hey, kid, here’s a hundred empty boxes of nothing; get em’ all open,” then he’d be … not joyful. Opening boxes is work; it’s suffering.

But if I said, “Hey, kid, here’s a hundred Christmas presents for you,” then he’d joyfully start opening them before I’d finished speaking. And he’d be joyful while opening the boxes. He’d count the very opening of those boxes to be a joy. Because he could see how the gift is right there in it, he’d think nothing of the suffering of the present.

Now, if I told the kid that if he opened a hundred empty boxes, I’d afterwards give him a hundred unwrapped gifts, a smart kid would go for the deal, but with less enthusiasm. And if I said I’d give him nothing right now, but in ten years I’d give him a thousand awesome gifts, he’d have to be a wise kid to even go for it—even though it’s really clearly a good deal.

The martyrs go to heaven. Sufferings are a gift from God; all we have to do is unwrap them.

Now, I admit that I often forget this myself. When an annoyance shows up it’s easy to forget, “Oh, hey, I could offer this up and so get an eternal reward.” We’re too often like a very stupid kid, who on Christmas morning would say, “Ah, do I have to open another present?” It’s easy to forget.

But it’s also easy to remember. That’s why we repeat these verses over and over again. “The sufferings of this life cannot be compared with the glory to be revealed in us in the life to come.” “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” “Rejoice in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings.” So that we’ll remember, at least sometimes, to offer up at least some of our sufferings and labors.

That’s why we make an offering of everything to the Lord every morning. So let us remember the Presence on the Tree. Because if we keep our eyes fixed on the joys that lie before us, then we, too, can endure the cross and rejoice in our sufferings.

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