It might be a tough message to hear, but truthfully, it is often our very difficulties in this life that represent our greatest blessings. In fact, that is exactly what St. Paul tells us in his Second letter to the Corinthians.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
We should never become discouraged or fearful in the face of this Scripture verse. All of us have experienced some of what Paul is writing about in this litany of trials. Many of us have known or may be currently experiencing affliction, confusion, rejection or perhaps even persecution. There is simply no faithful follower of Christ who has not gone through his or her share of difficulties in this life.
Christ did not promise we would go through life without trials. Indeed, He warned us that we would in fact experience genuine tribulation.
“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Now it is true, that in this same verse Jesus promises us peace. But let’s be honest, we all have those times in life when this peace Christ promises seems very absent from our day to day experience. We might well wonder just what it is Christ is talking about when He tells us we will have peace in this world. After all, isn’t Christ aware of the troubles we are experiencing at different times? If we had to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that there are simply times in our life when we do not have this peace. So how can we reconcile our experience with Christ’s own words?
One of the great theologians and Fathers of the Church, St. John Cassian, had something to say about this loss of peace that we often experience. He pointed out that when we experience trials that seem to rob us of our peace, we can always attribute the situation to one of three factors.
First, St. John says, the experience can be the consequence of something we have done that is against God’s guidance and direction. This is actually the easiest situation to resolve, since we are the main actor. Stop doing what is causing the problem: ’nuff said.”
Secondly, we might be experiencing a genuine assault from our ancient enemy, the devil. His number one objective is always to lead us to discouragement and get us to stop praying. The enemy of our peace does not want us to be able to hear the Voice of the Lord speaking to us. If this is our particular situation, the response is also relatively simple—pray more. But we should also fill our minds and souls with a good deal of spiritual reading.
Finally, St. John Cassian explains that there are going to be those times on our spiritual journey when the Lord appears to have abandoned us and left us to struggle without His assistance. All the great religious figures in history relate having gone through these stages in their spiritual journey.
It might seem a strange way for Christ to treat us, but we must remember that the Lord is constantly at work trying to help us grow in both our desire for Him and our understanding of our complete reliance on Him. Our occasional experience of His absence and our apparent loss of consolation and peace is the only way we can grow in both these areas.
Through this difficult and sometimes painful process, we may wander about looking for consolation and peace in the things of the world. But, we will eventually come to experience what Peter expressed when he spoke these words to Christ:
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:68)
Returning to the two verses above, let’s look again at the key theme in both of them. In the Gospel reading from John, Christ points out that it is He who has overcome the world, not we. In Paul’s letter he also makes it clear that the “surpassing greatness and power” is from God and not from ourselves.
We will experience peace in this life only when we come to a true spiritual understanding that God is the One who is in control. He is always working in our best interest, and what we are called to do is seek Him, especially in times of trial and tribulation. This is not something we can ever fully grasp with our intellect—it must be understood deep within our soul and lived as a real experience of the living God.
There is one last point that might help us get the most out of this reflection. Many people hear that we are called to fulfill the Will of God, and this is true. But most people immediately perceive that this is done through our actions or the things we do to demonstrate that we ourselves are fulfilling God’s Will. Let me suggest that the first and more important fulfillment of God’s Will in our life is not found in our actions, but rather in our disposition. We must develop an attitude of faith coupled with hope and trust. This attitude will ultimately mature into charity and a genuine love of God. Fulfilling God’s Will, then, is more about the disposition or the condition of our heart, not the circumstances of our life or the actions we might take to change them.
No one can fully explain this to another person. It is something each of us must come to discover for ourselves. This mysterious truth, which will lead each of us to peace, is truly a “treasure hidden within these earthen vessels.”
Please take some time this week to pray that we might all find this hidden treasure in our own lives.
Copyright © 2019, Mark Danis
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