For contemporary man the inevitability of suffering is an evident reality, but it is difficult for him to understand its necessity for salvation and above all the profound benefits it confers on those souls who accept it with good dispositions. In the face of pain, questioning and non-conformity tend to arise, not infrequently followed by lamentable revolts…
Suffering can be an effective way of making reparation for faults committed, or even a means God uses to call to himself erring souls who, seeing themselves plagued by afflictions, often abandon sin and turn to their Creator and Father with humility and repentance. Indeed, Scripture says: “the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prv 3:12).
Now it is also according to the ways of God to cause those who are innocent to suffer, and violently! How can this be explained? Why is tribulation sent those who deserve no punishment?
“How is it that you sought Me?”
“When the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. After three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Lk 2:43-47).
When the Passover festivities were over, the Holy Family prepared to return to the little town where they lived, Nazareth. The Child Jesus probably left Our Lady at the very beginning of the journey. As it was customary on such occasions for men and women to group together in different parties, Mary Most Holy was not concerned by Jesus’ absence, thinking that He was in the company of her virginal spouse.
It was only after a day of intense walking, when the families assembled again to spend the night together, that Our Lady realized that her Son was not with St. Joseph. Was He with other relatives? The Holy Couple immediately set out to find Him. But, alas, the Divine Child had disappeared!
In her distress, Our Lady wondered what had happened. God had entrusted to Her the greatest of all treasures; how could She have lost Him? Could it be that her Son wished to precipitate the august moment of His Passion? These and many other questions tormented her mind, but at no time did She lose her peace of soul or her emotional composure, nor did her faithful husband, who took care to strengthen Her in this perplexity. In the end, they decided to return to Jerusalem as soon as dawn broke to search for their lost Pearl.
Back in the Holy City, they went directly to the Temple, because a supernatural intuition told them that the Child had gone there. In fact, their Hearts had not been deceived. As they searched the sacred halls of the Temple, they found Him among the teachers, who dispersed when they arrived. At last, they had found their Beloved!
Nevertheless, Mary did not suspect that an even greater trial was to come. When She approached her Son and asked the reason for His actions, She received a reply which, like a sword, pierced her soul: “‘How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them” (Lk 2:49-50).
Great was the mystery surrounding this response. Did Jesus have no regard for the affliction He had caused His Mother? Or was He displeased with Her, so that He withdrew from her presence and, when found, did not want to give Her any explanation? Such would be an entirely nonsensical hypothesis, for this Child was God himself: He had known Mary’s most holy soul from all eternity, and as Man He had experienced her love. Why, then, did He act in this way and hide the meaning of this perplexing episode from Her?
A new degree of union with God
The sufferings of Mary Most Holy on the occasion of the loss and finding of the Child Jesus, as the Venerable Mary of Jesus of Ágreda1 tells us, surpassed those of many martyrs at the moment of their sacrifice. The reason for this lies in the fact that the purer the love, the more one suffers from the loss or absence of the beloved; and the more closely united the two are, the more painful is any misunderstanding that may arise between them.
The explanation for this suffering inflicted on the most innocent of creatures is that God can “hide himself” from a person not only through their fault, but also to fulfil a superior design, which consists in a sublime manifestation of His divine love.
In fact, Providence often wounds His Saints and subjects them to terrible trials because, in His eyes, the more they suffer, the worthier they are of love. In order to pour out even greater gifts upon their souls and unite them to himself with even closer bonds, the Lord makes them suffer. Their sweet submission to the divine will and their innocent effort to grow still more in holiness give Him incomparable glory and result in a singularly perfect love.
So it was with Mary: God desired to fill Her with even greater graces! By subjecting Her to this harsh trial, He was able to raise Her to a much higher degree of charity. Her Immaculate Heart, accepting the divine will without understanding, addressed to the Most High a hymn of the purest love and supreme unselfishness, which may well be translated in the famous words of St. Bernard: “I love because I love, I love to love.”2 Visited by suffering, She who was quintessentially the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38) offered Him once again her fiat, whose unconditionality proved for all history that her will was in no way different from God’s will.
“Per crucem, ad lucem!”
On an infinitely superior plane, the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Innocent and the Perfect One par excellence, imparted the true explanation and meaning of suffering to the history of creation. If before this most august event man could consider it as a secondary aspect in life, after contemplating the Divine Lamb hanging on the Cross no one has the right to deny that Heaven is only attained through it. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me” (Jn 14:6).
The true Catholic must see in every suffering, great or small, not a tedious obstacle to be endured out of duty, but a unique opportunity to be united with God. If we put ourselves in this perspective, our alliance with the Creator will become much more deeply rooted, and all the beauty of divine love – essentially unselfish – will be imprinted on our soul.
Following the example of Our Lady and through her maternal intercession, let us keep alive in our souls the notion of this alliance between suffering and holiness, because whenever God sends us a cross, He wants to grant us light! ◊
1 Cf. VENERABLE MARY OF JESUS OF ÁGREDA. Mística Cidade de Deus. Ponta Grossa: Mosteiro Portaceli, 1995, v.III, p.21. She is a 17th century Spanish mystic who received several revelations from the Blessed Virgin on the mysteries of her life.
2 ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX. Sermones sobre el Cantar de los Cantares. Sermón 33, n.3. In: BALLANO, Mariano (Ed). En la escuela del amor. Madrid: BAC, 1999, p.207.