The Narrow and Wide Gate: Taking Up Our Cross

“If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things;  one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” (Diary 1804)

Today, millions of Catholics, religious and lay people, continue to pray for the situation in Ukraine and Russia which does not seem to be improving. These beautiful pleas undoubtedly come from sincere hearts desperately praying for God to intervene. Why does God appear so indifferent to the matter which so greatly concerns us? The answer may be found in Fatima apparitions.

In 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to the children: Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, three times, to prepare them for their meetings with the Queen of Heaven.

Sister Lucia narrates what the angel said to them on coming the second time:

“‘What are you doing? Pray! Pray a great deal! The Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs concerning you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High!'” ‘How must we sacrifice?’ I asked. “‘Offer God a sacrifice of anything you can as an act of reparation for the sins with which He is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners. Draw peace upon your country by doing this. I am its guardian angel – the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and endure with submission whatever suffering the Lord sends you.’”

As mentioned above,  prayer alone seems not to be enough to stop a war, but something more is needed, namely what is the most difficult – to take up our cross daily in order to obtain peace of the world, the grace of repentance and conversion for poor sinners. God cannot forgive us if we are not sorry.  Nothing can save unrepentant sinners, for there is no contrition in their hearts. Adding insult to injury, they take pride in their numerous transgressions. Thus God feels deeply insulted and someone has to do it in their name. Hence, the  paramount need for atonement for the sins of humanity.

The eternal, wise and loving counsel by which God predestines men and women “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). By all means, not all of us are expected to die a martyr’s death, but we are all called to the pursuit of Christian virtue. Our Lord lived the ultimate example of a virtuous life. Therefore we know that to be heroically virtuous is to be Christ-like. Out of love for Jesus, loyal followers, regardless of whether they want to or not, have to face the disappointments, misunderstandings, contradictions, and  labours with greater resignation and patience. In short, the only thing that is left, seek to walk through narrow the gate, the way that leads to life!

Biblical Job can be a beacon of Christian resilience. Blow after blow falls upon him. He is deprived of his possessions and children, becomes gravely ill and disfigured. Notwithstanding, Job does not heap this affliction on the shoulders of his wife or friends. Neither whines and whinges thinking of no one but himself. He gives his consent to the physical evil which God sends him, just as he had previously accepted the contentment he enjoyed. Certainly Job could complain before God about the presence of unjustified suffering in the world, but had not done so. One of the most inspiring sayings of the Old Testament says “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1: 21) His case is no mere hyperbole. Christian tradition looks upon the figure of Job as anticipating Jesus Christ.

The Apostle, Saint Paul, profoundly understands that suffering for Christ’s sake purifies us of selfishness and has its redemptive power. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Col 1:24)

Saint John Vianney, one of the greatest pastors in the history of the Church, had one all-consuming desire: to help his parishioners become holy. “My God, grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer all my life whatsoever it may please thee to lay upon me; yes, even for a hundred years I am prepared to endure the sharpest pains, only let my people be converted.”

Over the years of religious life, Saint Faustina demonstrated her prowess in  embracing adversity as a chance of  steady spiritual growth:

When I came out into the corridor, a great suffering and humiliation, at the hands of a certain person, was awaiting me. I accepted it with submission to a higher will and snuggled closely to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, letting Him know that I was ready for that for which I had offered myself.”(Diary 138)

The redemptive value of suffering, accepted and offered to God with love was greatly appreciated by Saint Maximilian Kolbe. The Franciscan would often visit the hospital and say to his brethren: “You are in one of the most important sections [of the Franciscan Friary]. You are in such a favourable position, not seeing the fruits of your work, you live off what others will earn you. Moreover, the results of your suffering are hidden, therefore there is no place for self-love.”

Saint Pope John Paul II, like his Savior, was well acquainted with suffering. He perceived the experience of suffering to be a mysterious opportunity that is given to man by God, the unique chance to identify ourselves with his saving work of redemption. His 1984 Apostolic Letter “Salvifici Doloris” clearly expounds the dignity and the salvific power of physical and mental pain. “Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.”

Venerable Marthe Robin, French mystic and stigmatic, wrote in her notebook in 1927 “I test how sweet it is to love, even in suffering, and I shall say above all in suffering; for suffering is an unsurpassed school of true love … It is the living language of Love, and the great teacher of humankind. One learns to love, and one does not really love except in and by suffering, for true suffering instructs us, not through human delights, but through the stripping away and renouncing of self on the Cross.”

On May 30, 1987, contemporary Polish mystic, Alicja Lenczewska, recorded in her diary “Suffering is neither punishment nor evil. It is the sign of my special love and of call to intimacy with Me. You should rejoice in suffering because it purifies and enriches your soul.”

The Christian faith has a very rich history of sacrifice, including the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed, in relationship with God in heaven we shall truly know the value of redemptive suffering.

Fr. Dominik Chmielewski SDB strongly argues that “it  is especially important now, to accept daily suffering without mutiny against God, in expiation for other sins as well as our own.“

The situation in the world is very serious and its stakes are the highest.

Europeans fear that if the Russo-Ukrainian conflict does escalate, either Moscow decides to reduce cities to rubble, which appears to be its only path to victory, or NATO countries decide to intervene directly, then the potential for global catastrophe is far higher than most people realize.

Australians are naturally concerned about the security pact signed between the Salomon Islands and China which will clear a lane for the Chinese military presence in the South Pacific. Remote Taiwan, which China finds a “core interest” and a remnant of its unfinished civil war, could trigger at any time, a full-scale war, between superpowers. Moreover, Beijing has recently launched its first supercarrier Type 003 Fujian. There is no doubt that it was not built to deliver Kung Pao Chicken or Sichuan Pork by  People’s Liberation Army Navy.

How do we assuage an All-Powerful God who is provoked to wrath? Certainly not by taking a global action to reduce CO2 emissions. There are still far too few `victims of expiation`. We must not flee the crosses in our lives. Just as Jesus accepted beatings, torture, and ultimately death on our behalf, offering his sacrifices for the sake of the world, so we must channel our much smaller pains and sufferings for the sake of others lives. By imitating the children of Fatima, but not necessarily Marthe Robin or Padre Pio, that should  suffice. The penance of 1916 is the clarion call by God for mankind to repent and pray the Rosary daily, for the world to attain peace or face  chastisement from God.

Just as a postscript – but  very important to me and indirectly linked to this reflection – we have to turn our attention to the fact that there is abysmal lack of local vocations for priesthood in the Land Down Under which allegedly is to be remedied by ordaining women as deacons. It looks as if those who are dreadfully hungry for collars, vestments and the pulpit  have poorly understood the message of Fatima. Pride and complacency lead us to make our own path but definitely not to Heaven. Quo vadis beautiful Australia!

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24)