Suffering saints

by | Feb 12, 2020 | Across the Ages

“God our Lord will also give those who come to these regions the Grace to see themselves amidst dangers of death. This cannot be avoided without perverting the order of charity; but adhering to it, they will have to pass through them, remembering that they were born to die for their Lord and Redeemer; and this is the reason why they must be endowed with spiritual strength.”

We think of the saints as having such fortitude as if there is no disturbance in their mind or heart. They are invincible (we think), carrying on God’s will without doubts or fears. Yet their hearts, as our own, suffered. They were in the thick of the typical human experience even if their situations were untypical. Saints like Blessed Giorgio Frassati, Servant of God Mary Ward, and St. Francis didn’t live up to the expectations that others had of them.  Others such as St. Bernadette St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and St. Thomas Aquinas—the dumb ox–were ridiculed by their peers and family In order to pursue the immense projects given to them by God, they had to interact with charity towards people who felt superior, manipulated, or sought their demise (and death!). Whether overseeing other missionaries, priests or religious, or living their vocation in the public life, they had people constantly tugging at them, wanting something from them, not following directions given to them, or pitching so-called “better” ideas at them.

Perhaps similarly, though not as dramatically, we too suffer.

“Since I lack this strength and am in regions where I have much need of it, I ask you, for the love and service of God our Lord, to be particularly mindful of me, commending me to all those of the Society; for, if God our Lord has preserved me from dangers I believe most firmly that it has been due to your prayers and to those of the Society.”

We watch cable news and are dismayed at the violence of our times, the spread of evil perpetrators, the culture of death, the threat of our own liberty. We pray, but do we pray with dismay or with belief? This purity of intention, belief, is one of the salient features of a saint. Maintaining the belief God has already provided, for He has great affection for those who maintain fidelity while suffering.

It was four years ago that I left Portugal. During all this time, I have received only one letter from you in Rome.”

This young missionary, to whom it is attributed between 30,000-100,000 people were baptized, was never alone. Yet he clearly felt isolated in pagan lands. How isolated we too can feel when living our faith in these pagan times.

“I have nothing more to say about these regions except that you should send all those whom you can, since there is such a great lack of laborers in these lands. I thus come to an end [of the letter], asking God our Lord that, if we do not see each other in this life, we may do so in the next, with more tranquility than we have in this. “

From Cochin, January 27, 1545.
Your least son,
Master Franciscus.

Yes, these words of insight into the spiritual and physical battle being fought; these words of perhaps desolation as to his own spiritual weakness from fighting this battle; these words of isolation that, although overseeing numerous missionaries in as many countries, he was never alone and yet still felt he was in a spiritual exile…these words in a letter to St. Ignatius of Loyola illuminate the state of heart of our beloved St. Francis Xavier, one of the greatest missionaries in church history. Only 39 years old and a priest only 8 years at the time of this writing, yet responsible for overseeing the conversion of Asia, a task which involved witnessing the spiritual and physical martyrdom of his men. When we struggle, we are in good company.

In many ways, the lives of the saints are not too different from those of our parish priests. Multi-tasking, people coming at them from all directions with ideas, requests and criticisms; running a parish is like herding cats. You can begin to imagine the increased magnitude of it all for our Pope and bishops. Please pray for Pope Francis, all clergy and religious, and our worldwide church.

May we thank those Priests who serve the Lord so faithfully and for inspiring others to follow Jesus more closely. We pray that Jesus will continue to bless the work they do and surround them with His love. O God, fill our hearts with your love today. May we praise you with joy and serve you in our brothers and sisters. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. 😊