As we have already remarked, there is no sea more
treacherous or more inconstant than this life. No
man's happiness is secure from the danger of
innumerable accidents and misfortunes. It is,
therefore, important to observe how differently the
just and the wicked act under tribulation. The just,
knowing that God is their Father and the Physician of
their souls, submissively and generously accept as
the cure for their infirmities the bitter chalice of
suffering. They look on tribulation as a file in the
hands of their Maker to remove the rust of. sin from
their souls, and to restore them to their original
purity and brightness. They have learned in the
school of the Divine Master that affliction renders a
man more humble, increases the fervor of his prayers,
and purifies his conscience.
Now, no physician
more carefully proportions his remedies to the
strength of his patient than this Heavenly Physician
tempers trials according to the necessities of souls.
Should their burdens be increased, He redoubles the
measure of their consolations. Seeing from this the
riches they acquire by sufferings, the just no longer
fly from them, but eagerly desire them, and meet them
with patience and even with joy. They regard not the
labor, but the crown; not the bitter medicine, but
the health to be restored to them; not the pain of
their wounds, but the goodness of Him who has said
that He loves those whom He chastises. (Cf. Heb.
Grace, which is never wanting to the just
in the hour of tribulation, is the first source of
the fortitude which they display. Though He seems to
have withdrawn from them, God is never nearer to His
children than at such a time. Search the Scriptures
and you will see that there is no truth more
frequently repeated than this. "Call upon me in the
day of trouble," says the Lord; "I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt glorify me." (Ps. 49:15). "When I
called upon the Lord," David sings, "the God of my
justice heard me; when I was in distress, thou hast
enlarged me." (Ps. 4:2).
Hence the calmness and
fortitude of the just under suffering. They are
strong in the protection of a powerful Friend who
constantly watches over them. Witness the three young
men who were cast into the burning furnace. God sent
His angel to accompany them, and "He drove the flame
of the fire out of the furnace, and made the midst of
the furnace like the blowing of a wind bringing dew,
and the fire touched them not, nor troubled them, nor
did them any harm … Then Nabuchodonosor was
astonished, and rose up in haste, and said to his
nobles: Did we not cast three men bound into the
midst of the fire? They answered the king and said:
True, O king. He answered and said: Behold I see four
men loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and
there is no hurt in them, and the form of the fourth
is like the Son of God." (Dan. 3:49-50 and 91-92).
Does this not teach us that God's protection never
fails the just in the hour of trial?
A no less
striking example is that of Joseph, with whom God's
protection "descended into the pit, and left him not
till he was brought to the scepter of the kingdom,
and power against those that had oppressed him, and
showed them to be liars that had accused him, and
gave him everlasting glory." (Wis. 10:13-14). Such
examples prove more powerfully than words the truth
of God's promise, "I am with him in tribulation; I
will deliver him and I will glorify him." (Ps.
90:15). Oh! Happy affliction which merits for us the
companionship of God! Let our prayers, then, be with
St. Bernard: "Give me, O Lord, tribulations through
life, that I may never be separated from Thee!" (Serm.
17 in Ps. 90).
To the direct action of grace we
must add that of the virtues, each of which, in its
own way, strengthens the afflicted soul. When the
heart is oppressed, the blood rushes to it to
facilitate its movement, to strengthen its action.
So, .when the soul is oppressed by suffering, the
virtues hasten to assist and strengthen it.
comes faith, with her absolute assurance of the
eternal happiness of Heaven and the eternal misery of
Hell. She tells us, in the words of the Apostle, that
"the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory to come that shall be
revealed in us." (Rom. 8:18). Next comes hope,
softening our troubles and lightening our burdens
with her glorious promises of future rewards. Then
charity, the most powerful help of the soul, so
inflames our will that we even desire to suffer for
love of Him who has endured so much for love of us.
Gratitude reminds us that as we have received good
things from God, we should also be willing to receive
evil. (Cf. Job 2:10). Resignation helps us recognize
and cheerfully accept God's will or permission in all
things. Humility bows the heart before the wind of
adversity, like a young tree swept by the storm.
Patience gives us strength above nature to enable us
to bear the heaviest burden. Obedience tells us that
there is no holocaust more pleasing to God than that
which we make of our will by our perfect submission
to Him. Penance urges that it is but just that one
who has so often resisted God's will should have his
own will denied in many things. Fidelity pleads that
we should rejoice to be able to prove our devotion to
Him who unceasingly showers His benefits upon us.
Finally, the memory of Christ's Passion and the lives
of the saints show us how cowardly it would be to
complain of our trials. Yet among all the virtues,
hope consoles us most effectually. "Rejoice in hope,"
says the Apostle; "be patient in tribulation" (Rom.
12:12), thus teaching us that our patience is the
result of our hope. Again, he calls hope an anchor
(Heb. 6:19), because it holds firm and steady the
frail barque of our life in the midst of the most
Strengthened by these considerations and by God's
unfailing grace, the just endure tribulation not only
with invincible fortitude, but even with cheerfulness
and gratitude. They know that the duty of a good
Christian does not consist solely in praying,
fasting, or hearing Mass, but in proving their faith
under tribulation, as did Abraham, the father of the
faithful, and Job, the most patient of men. Consider
also the example of Tobias, who, after suffering many
trials, was permitted by God to lose his sight. The
Holy Ghost bears witness to his invincible patience
and virtue. "Having always feared God from his
infancy, and kept his commandments, he repined not
against God because the evil of blindness had
befallen him, but continued immovable in the fear of
God, giving thanks to God all the days of his life."
(Tob, 2:13-14). We could cite numerous examples of
men and women who – even in our time – have
cheerfully and lovingly borne cruel infirmities and
painful labors, finding honey in gall, calm in
tempest, refreshment and peace in the midst of the
flames of Babylon.
But we feel that we have said
sufficient to prove that God consoles the just in
their sufferings, and therefore we shall next
consider the unfortunate condition of the wicked when
laboring under affliction. Devoid of hope, of
charity, of courage, of every sustaining virtue,
tribulation attacks them unarmed and defenceless.
Their dead faith sheds no ray of light upon the
darkness of their afflictions. Hope holds out no
future reward to sustain their failing courage.
Strangers to charity, they know not the loving care
of their Heavenly Father. How lamentable a sight to
behold them swallowed in the gulf of tribulation!
Utterly defenceless, how can they breast the angry
waves? How can they escape being dashed to pieces
against the rocks of pride, despair, rage, and
Have we not seen unhappy souls lose
their health, their reason, their very life in the
excess of their misery? While the just, like pure
gold, come out of the crucible of suffering refined
and purified, the wicked, like some viler metal, are
melted and dissolved. While the wicked shed bitter
tears, the. just sing songs of gladness. "The voice
of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles
of the just" (Ps. 117:15), while the habitations of
sinners resound with cries of sorrow and despair.
Observe, moreover, the extravagant grief of the
wicked when those they love are taken from them by
death. They storm against Heaven; they deny God's
justice; they blaspheme His mercy; they accuse His
providence; they rage against men; and not
unfrequently they end their miserable lives by their
own hands. Their curses and blasphemies bring upon
them terrible calamities, for the Divine Justice
cannot but punish those who rebel against the
providence of God.
Unhappy souls! The afflictions which are sent for the
cure of their disorders only increase their misery.
May we not say that the pains of Hell begin for them
even in this life? Consider, too, the loss which they
suffer by their murmurings and impatience. No man can
escape the trials of life, but all can lighten their
burden and merit eternal reward by bearing their
sorrows in patience. Not only is this precious fruit
lost by the wicked, but to the load of misery which
they are compelled to carry they add the still more
intolerable burden of their impatience and rebellion.
They are like a traveler who, after a long and weary
journey through the night, finds himself in the
morning further than ever from the place he wished to
What a subject is this for our
contemplation! "The same fire," says St. Chrysostom,
"which purifies gold, consumes wood; so in the fire
of tribulation the just acquire new beauty and
perfection, while the wicked, like dry wood, are
reduced to ashes." (Hom.14 in Matt.1). St. Cyprian
expresses the same thought by another illustration:
"As the wind in harvest time scatters the chaff but
cleanses the wheat, so the winds of adversity scatter
the wicked but purify the just." (De Unitate Eccl.).
The passage of the children of Israel through the Red
Sea is still another figure of the same truth. Like
protecting walls the waters rose on each side of the
people, and gave them a safe passage to the dry land;
but as soon as the Egyptian army with its king and
chariots had entered the watery breach, the same
waves closed upon them and buried them in the sea. In
like manner the waters of tribulation are a
preservation to the just, while to the wicked they
are a tempestuous gulf which sweeps them into the
abyss of rage, of blasphemy, and of despair.
Behold the admirable advantage which virtue possesses
over vice. It was for this reason that philosophers
so highly extolled philosophy, persuaded that its
study rendered man more constant and more resolute in
adversity, But this was one of their numerous errors.
True constancy, like true virtue, cannot be drawn
from the teaching of worldly philosophy. It must be
learned in the school of the Divine Master, who from
His cross consoles us by His example, and from His
throne in Heaven sends us His Spirit to strengthen
and encourage us by the hope of an immortal crown.