From the book ‘The GreatRedeemer’ by The Very Rev. Thamer Toth Professor, University of Budapest Translated by V.G. Agotai Edited by Rev. Newton Thomas S.T.D.
SUFFERING BRINGS US NEARER TO GODWhoever has become accustomed to clinging thus to the cross of Christ the sufferer in hours of affliction, does not waver in his faith, or turn away from God through suffering; on the contrary, he is brought nearer to God by it.
A) While we are looking at the cross of Christ, our soul becomes more beautiful, nobler, stronger. An American commission decided to order 30,000 white marble crosses in Italy; the crosses were to be placed upon the graves of the 30,000 American soldiers who died in the World War. But the order depended upon an interesting condition, namely, that the men who carved the marble should not swear even once while they were working. The Italian workers made the necessary promise and they also kept their word. If it is not seemly to swear while carving a cross, then it is still less seemly to bear a cross and grow embittered beneath it, to bear a cross and spiritually collapse. On the contrary, bear your cross, and on Calvary come nearer to God.
a) On the days immediately following Christmas, we celebrate the feasts of holy martyrs. It is as though the Church were thus admonishing us that from the rocks of the Bethlehem cave the red flowers of martyrdom spring, or that following Christ means a self-sacrificing, disciplined life. Along the great highways leading to ancient Rome, tomb stood beside tomb; before a traveler reached the Eternal City, he had to pass long rows of these tombs of the dead. A highway of this sort leads to the eternal city of our God, a way lined with tombs: tombs covering the unruliness, the whims, and low instincts we have overcome.
b) Happy the man who, in the raging tempest of suffering, can hear the call of God's voice. Because suffering is in reality God's word, God's word calling us home. The German language conveys this thought most clearly when it calls a divinely permitted trial a Heimsuchung (a visitation).
B) Is all this nothing more than a flowery figure of speech, an elaborate fabrication? Is it possible that the millstone of suffering does not press down into the grave or into suicide, despair, or lack of faith, but that it raises up, ennobles, and purifies?
a) As answer, hear the following lines of a letter written by a refugee from Transylvania, a woman who at one time lived a distinguished social life. "Do not be surprised that poverty is so dreadful to me. To anyone who has enjoyed such a high standard of life as I. I had my country-house, my carriage, my automobile, my estate, and, at that time, many persons to respect me, poverty is much more difficult to bear than for one who has always been poor. In spite of this joyfully I write it now, here in this hut, I find more peace in my heart and in my soul than I did in the manor-house. Because my faith is greater. And if I look out from my little window upon the starry skies, I feel as if heaven were nearer to me than it was on my balcony. Quite certainly God is now nearer me, too."
When we see this living faith, which has become so bright through great suffering, we begin to have an inkling of God's plan with suffering. During a storm at sea, sailors have sometimes discovered an island which did not appear on any map. In the same way, in a spiritual storm many a man has discovered his own self, the previously unknown depths of his own soul.
b) If only we could sanctify all our sufferings in this way, and thus mount upward on pain's granite stairway! If only we could fill with Christ's spirit our every martyrdom — bodily and spiritual, small and great, extraordinary and commonplace alike! Much evil and suffering exists in the world. But if we were to sanctify every suffering with Christ's grace, this would develop into such a quantity of reparation in God's sight, that it could conciliate Him for all man's wickedness. Then let us not only suffer, for I think we all have to do that but let us gain grace by suffering. This is an art so few are able to acquire. Yet suffering which we do not sanctify with grace is a buried treasure, unprofitable capital. Let us learn the great art of sanctifying suffering from the cross of Christ. Those two hard pieces of wood made into a cross. Two pieces of wood; the one horizontal, the other perpendicular: a symbol of human destiny. Life consists of daring, soaring desires, plans, and aims in perpendicular lines; and then comes a horizontal line that crosses through everything. It crosses through everything, and from all our plans only a cross remains. What a difference between our Lord's cross and the cross of uncomprehending man! Uncomprehending man drags his cross, perhaps endures it, too; but Christ overcomes it. Man gnashes his teeth and rails against his cruel fate; but Christ recognizes the Father's hand even in the horizontal line crossing through human plans, and He forces the evil intentions that spring up from the depths of human depravity, as well as the formidable powers of darkness, under His victorious footsteps. "As we have to suffer, whether we want to or not, it is better to lighten the blows sent us by God, by patience and the hope of reward, than to make them heavier by angry impatience. The more a trapped wild animal turns and twists, the more firmly does it draw the noose round its neck; the more a netted bird struggles, the more does it entangle its wings: there is no hard yoke which is not borne with less harm, by calmness rather than by tossing and turning" (Pazmany). Christ on the cross. This is the final solution of the terrible problem of suffering. A blessed example for afflicted man of how, even among the ruins of a broken earthly life, even in the bitterest disappointment and grief, he can still struggle up to the eternal world, to the peaks of a higher life, to nearness to God, and say: Whatever comes, whatever disappointment, affliction, grief, or suffering, I know that my Father has not abandoned me, and I will endure without complaining, as God wishes me to. The Poles have a beautiful legend about the creation of the skylark. When the Lord God saw how bitterly the first two human beings, driven forth from Paradise, had to work, and with what sad hearts they bowed their heads while at work, He took a little clod of earth into His hand and tossed it up into the air. Behold, the clod thrown high by God's hand changed into a little feathered bird, into the first skylark, whose marvelous trilling lifted the tired man's head toward the sky, and since then its song has cheered the plowman at work. The singing skylark of our earthly life is our faith, unwaveringly set in God. When our weary heads sink earthward, this faith lifts them up. When the waves of suffering almost break over us, this faith gives us courage. And when life's suffering nails us to the cross, again only this gives consolation and alleviation. The legend continues. The little skylark wished to be grateful to God, and while Christ went His way through Palestine, teaching, it flew to the Virgin Mother's window every day, bringing her news of her divine Son. And when the Savior died on the cross, the little bird alighted upon His bleeding hands and tried to draw out the sharp nails with its tiny beak. It attempted to, but was unable to do so. It perched, therefore, beside the sorrowing Mother and, with its touching song, consoled her in her great grief. Our faith fixed in God and our eyes raised to the afflicted Christ are not able to draw the nails out of our life's cross, it is true; but at least they speak consolingly of another life, of everlasting life, the door of which is opened for us by calmly borne suffering. And then, even though grief's night of Egyptian darkness should envelop us, upon our souls the consoling glow of eternal life will still shine. Amen.
SUFFERING AND ITS ETERNAL REWARDA FEW years ago a great Hungarian nobleman, Prince Ladislaus Batthyany-Strattmann, died. He was a man of saintly life, whose religious home life, great love for mankind, and reputation as an oculist were well known in the land. God blessed the prince with ten children. This prince-physician, from his private fortune, maintained his own hospital and restored sight to thousands of persons. This man, who lived such an exemplary life, for more than a year before his death lay in a Vienna sanatorium suffering from a most painful disease. In similar circumstances, many would have collapsed spiritually, they would have complained against God: "Have I deserved this, I who have been faithful to God all my life? I who have done so much good to others?"
But the afflicted prince did not entertain such thoughts. He acquiesced in God's will entirely and was able even to smile in his terrible pain, and he himself consoled his anxious family. As a doctor, he well knew the incurable nature of his illness. Yet those who came to his sick bed went away purified and elevated in soul. On the last day of his life, he finished his usual morning prayers. Then he fell into a coma. In the evening he recovered consciousness. He looked at his watch: a quarter past seven. Every day at this time the whole family was accustomed to pray the rosary together. An altar to the Blessed Virgin, decorated with flowers, stood at the side of his bed. Before it knelt his wife and children and, together with the dying man's clearly audible prayer, they said the rosary. In this way the prince died: in his hand the rosary, his glazing eyes fixed upon the picture of the Mother of God among the lighted candles. I recount this edifying story to you at the beginning of my sermon today because I wish to lead you to the well whence this superhuman power, triumphant even in death, gushes forth: to Christ's suffering. In three words I wish to join together those wells of strength which flow from the cross-bearing Christ toward humanity bleeding under the cross of suffering. These words are "faith" and "life everlasting." This is Christianity's final answer to the great problem of suffering. Fear not, only believe; believe in life everlasting.
Nihil Obstat: Sti. Ludovici
die 18 Oct. 1937
Imprimatur: Sti. Ludovici
die 21. Oct. 1937
Joannes I. Glennon