Writing a book on saints, I’ve come to realize how much they have suffered. You would think that a person who lived a good life and loved God would be blessed with a peaceful, easy life. So often this wasn’t the case. Instead of enjoying a charmed life, saints endured conflict, criticism, persecution, not to mention bad health. Sound familiar? If this is the story of your life at times, take heart. You must be doing something right! Recall when St. Teresa of Avila was riding a mule and ended up sitting in mud. She prayed, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” Jesus did warn us that in following him we could expect persecutions and a share of the cross.
Besides the martyrs who obviously suffered physically for believing in Jesus, other saints persevered through pain and heartache. One long-suffering saint was St. Joseph of Calasanz, who lived in the sixteenth century. He began schools for the free education of the poor and from this sprung his religious order, the Piarists. Despite the good Joseph was doing, he was attacked by private school teachers who were jealous of his success, by rich people, and even by his own religious community. To top it off, at the age of 86, Joseph was arrested and made to stand trail before the Holy Office in Rome. His work was stopped, and his order disbanded! Only twenty years after St. Joseph died did the pope restore his order.
St. Julie Billiart, the founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame, was not exempt from extraordinary trials. She was paralyzed from her youth until she was in her fifties and some days couldn’t even speak. Then as St. Julie began and guided her new community, clergy thwarted her repeatedly and some of her own Sisters turned against her. Still, surprisingly, she was known as the smiling saint and “How good God is” was always on her lips.
Some saints suffered long, painful illnesses before their death. For the last four years of his life St. Peter Claver was too ill to leave his room, where he was neglected, physically abused and starved by the man hired to care for him. Unable to learn the language of the American Indians St. Rose Philippine Duchesne longed to serve, disappointed and sick, she returned home and lived another ten years, feeble and blind, before dying at 83 years of age. My good mother suffered one medical crisis after another in the last years of her life.
St. Jerome Emiliani noted, “This is the way God has dealt with all his saints. . . . If then you remain constant in faith in the face of trial, the Lord will give you peace and rest for a time in this world and forever in the next.” In other words, being a saint is dangerous but worth it.
Those who are “blessed” with suffering are closer to Jesus, who by undergoing torture and crucifixion redeemed the world. By uniting their sufferings with his, they help bring about the kingdom of God. Jesus promised that after these labor pains we will enter new life and have the joy that no one can take from us. Anticipating this destiny already gives us joy.
What thought gives you the courage to bear with suffering?