What is love? It is seeing goodness in something, and then acting on that goodness. Chocolate is delicious and healthy (good), therefore I eat (action) chocolate. Therefore, I love chocolate. Very basic example. Ah, but the true example? The full example? The Cross. Christ saw the world, and He saw the hope and the faithfulness of humanity, but also darkness and death. He died on the cross to destroy the darkness and to conquer the death. He saw good, and He acted.
There is no love without suffering, and there is no suffering without love. They are linked, and inseparable. Think about it. Think about something (or someone) you love. Now imagine life without them. You feel pain. You suffer. Your heart goes into your throat and you want to cry or start throwing things. Because you love. But, you say, do we not suffer even when we don’t love? No, we don’t suffer when we don’t love (there is at least self-love.) We may feel pain, or anger, but do we suffer? Ah, but what is suffering? Is it merely pain? Discomfort? What do we mean when we say, “she did not suffer”? Suffering is more than just pain. Suffering is not just of the body, but also of the soul -- perhaps more of the soul.
The other night I had a dream. It was a nightmare, so terrible I don’t want to share the details here, other than that there was a car accident with my family members involved, including an infant brother that I don’t have. Weird how that happens in dreams. In my dream, the last thing that happened was I was looking at my hands and praying, saying I couldn’t handle it, it couldn’t be real. I forced my eyes open, and was so relieved to see my bedroom. I couldn’t even turn on a light because the power had been out for hours from a storm. Instead I prayed. In the darkness, I realized that what had happened in my dream had not happened to me, but similar things had happened to others, and could happen to me. I prayed for them. My suffering was the suffering of a few moments -- theirs would continue for a long time. And there was something I could do. I could pray, and I could offer my little suffering for them. I was given, for a few moments in a dream, the chance to love someone I have never met in my life. Perhaps that person, that baby brother, wasn’t real. Does it matter? The love was real. The love allowed for the suffering. The suffering allowed for a sacrifice. And, I pray, the sacrifice led to a little more grace for someone who needed it.
If love is the rose, and suffering is the thorns, than sacrifice is the stem that connects the two. Sacrifice is suffering for the sake of something good. The downside to the link between love and suffering is that it can make love more difficult and painful. The upside is that it can make suffering easier. Perhaps this is why suffering seems of the soul -- because it is our opportunity to sacrifice, and sacrifice truly is of the soul. There would have been no point, no benefit to Christ’s suffering dying on the cross had He not offered it as sacrifice for our sins. And, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, our suffering is united to His, on the cross and in every Mass. Every act of our lives that is not sinful can be offered as a sacrifice, and it is our suffering that holds so much merit. If we can only keep this in our minds and in our hearts! The more we love, the easier it is to suffer, because we know that our suffering has a point. It has value. It is worth it.
Who do you pray for? Family members? Friends? Are there those who you remember especially because of their trials? A sister with cancer? A friend who has left the faith? A cousin who can’t find work? There is no person without trials -- only people who are good at hiding their trials. Offer it up. Yes, your mother said it a million times when you were young. But I mean it. Offer it up. Offer up your sore back for your grandma who is sick. Offer up dealing with that nasty client for your friend who just lost her mother. Offer up your heartache for the one who has lost her faith. This is the essence of St. Therese’s “Little Way.” It is taking each trial and offering it to God. It is suffering for love. The pain may not be any less, but there is meaning in it. There is joy. Or, sometimes, just resignation. Without the stem, could you have a flower? The stem provides the nourishment for the rosebud, and the thorns protect it. And sacrifice provides nourishment for love, with suffering it's strength. And remember -- you can always put roses on your thorns.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us!