Approaching difficulties out of our control

Matthew Montag - Contributing columnist

For many, the Christmas season can be not only a time of joy, but it can also being a time of sorrow. It might be the death of a loved one, family members who have become estranged, or loneliness for various reasons. As we experience theses pains, we can look to our faith to help us through these times.

In another place, St. Paul encourages the Ephesians not to lose heart over what he is suffering, but that he seems to be able to recognize that this suffering is for “their glory.” (Ephesians 3:13) Paul reveals this glory in the following paragraph when he prays to the Father that the Ephesians might “have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” that they might “be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:1-21)

Commenting on this passage, a 16th century Spanish Carmelite named John of the Cross says that Paul is encouraging the Ephesians “not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth-to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with the fullness of God.”

One lesson we can learn from this is that of a holy attitude toward suffering. When God allows suffering into our lives, it will be difficult, but like St. Paul we can also cultivate a holy attitude. We too can ultimately even rejoice in our sufferings! We too can see tribulation not as a reason to lose hope, but actually as a gift from God to help us grow in love for him. This is not easy, but with the help of his grace, it is possible.

One analogy that might be helpful when understanding the life of faith might be that of a marriage or a close friendship. In a close relationship it is often the case that at the beginning things are great and very easy to maintain. But over time things happen that might make the relationship more difficult.

That being said, the more a relationship can endure, the deeper it grows. St. Paul speaks to this when writes “not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) God allows things that are difficult to endure, so that we can have the opportunity to grow in our trust and ultimately our love for him.

So how does this apply to our lives? A 20th-century Franciscan Friar from Detroit named Solanus Casey gave the Church a great model for how to approach difficulties that are out of our control. He would counsel those who came to him to not only not lose hope, but to have so much trust in God that they could even “thank God ahead of time” for whatever he was happening in their life. This would eventually become his spiritual motto, “thank God ahead of time.”

This Christmas season, as we encounter difficulties let us not lose hope, but rather offer them to God in trust and love, knowing that “all things work for good for those who love God.” If we trust God in the midst of trials and tribulations then when they finally pass we too will have grown in endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. Hope in a person produces trust, and trust is the foundation of love. This Christmas season, let us choose to love God, and one day we too will be able to join St. Paul in saying “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

If God is All-Loving, All-Powerful, and All-Knowing, then why is it that we suffer? Why does a loving God who can do anything not take away our suffering?

Talk about love and how God wants to bring us to a deeper love. The further you go, the more love becomes something you have to choose. The end of this is a deeper love, union with God.

Ephesians — not to grow weary

Spiritual canticle from second reading

Stairs are too hard, elevator — you can take the elevator — God picking up the little child, like a baby being brought into the arms of the Lord

Do little things with great love

The world is thy ship, not thy home

Man’s search for meaning – In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering, at the moment it finds a meaning, such as a meaning of a sacrifice — Victor Frankl

Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any how — God gives us our why.

This theme of the connection between suffering and its power to help us grow in love for God is a theme we find throughout St. Paul’s writings. In Colossians, Paul says “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” (Colossians 1:24) Later on in the passage Paul links these sufferings to the mystery being revealed, namely “Christ in us, the hope of our glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

Matthew Montag is Seminarian Intern at St. Columbkille Catholic Church in Wilmington.

This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association (WAMA).

Matthew Montag

Contributing columnist