The answer to this question, unless we have been singularly privileged by Almighty God, is that we have experienced them often enough – too often – and we know that we may well do so again. For this life is lived in the shadow of the cross, in which shadow even the Blessed Virgin Mary had to kneel and suffer as sword of anguish pierced her Immaculate Heart. (cf. Lk 2:35) The Salve Regina rightly sings of this “lacrimarum vale”, this valley of tears. There is much in our world and in our lives about which to weep. And sometimes it can seem that striving to persevere in the Catholic Faith simply increases our sorrow. We are unable to deal with the difficulties that confront us.
And that is perfectly true: alone and isolated we are inadequate. The crosses that are laid upon us are impossible to carry. Their weight is capable of extinguishing breath and life from our mortal bodies.
My brothers and sisters, our Holy Mother the Church knows the sufferings of we, her children, only too well. But so too she knows the reality of which St Paul teaches in the Epistle of this Holy Mass: “the power at work within us” which “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” For through our Baptism we have been given a share in the life of God, won for us by the infinite merits of the excruciating suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, so that we – weak men and women that we are, continually labouring under the effects of original sin – may in fact be able to draw upon His strength in bearing the burdens of this day, and of every day. We have been given God’s grace: His very life and love dwell in us.
As we know, we can place obstacles in the way of the operation of God’s grace in our lives. Sin eclipses it. Mortal sin kills the life of grace in the soul. And we must have constant recourse to the sacrament of confession to clean away all obstacles to the operation of God’s grace in us, and when necessary even to resurrect it.
So too, we must optimise the working of God’s grace in us through daily prayer and works of charity and self-denial. This coming Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the traditional September Ember Days: they are God-given opportunities for a renewal of the life and love of God in our souls and our bodies.
For if we are attentive to the removing of obstacles, if we have the humility to seek God’s mercy and the restoration of His grace when we have sinned, if we are diligent in our prayer and charity and self-denial, we shall indeed experience the power of God at work within us, even – especially! – in times of great suffering and trial. For this is how the “great” saints about whom we know much have endured persecution and martyrdom and all manner of difficulties in persevering in the faith. It is also how the innumerable “hidden” saints whose names are known to God – and who are equally celebrated in heaven – have borne the crosses that have been theirs in this life.
All of the saints have lived according to the truth that the darkest shadows of the Cross are cast by the light of Easter morning. Accordingly, they have persevered, no matter what has confronted them. So must we. We do not seek suffering. Crosses are laid upon us; we do not seek them out. But the victory of Christ over suffering and death that is the Resurrection has ensured that the power of God can work within us in carrying them if we but remove the obstacles that are it its path. And in so doing, in carrying the cross today, and in embracing it again tomorrow – indeed in sharing in the sufferings of Christ Himself – we shall find our salvation.
The author of the ancient collect of this Holy Mass (it was in use by the eighth century, as the Gelasian Sacramentary attests) asks that God’s grace may always go before us and go after us, that we may be continuously zealous in good works. Let us revisit this collect and daily beg an abundance of this grace for that necessary good work of perseverance in the face of all that threatens us, so that with St Paul, in this Holy Mass and always, we may be able to worship Him, “who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think...”
“To Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” +