PAINFUL things cannot indeed be loved when considered in themselves, but viewed in their source, that is, in the Divine Will and Providence which ordains them, they are supremely delightful.
Look at the rod of Moses upon the ground, and it is a hideous serpent; look upon it in Moses’s hand, and it is a wand of miracles. Look at tribulations in themselves, and they are dreadful; behold them in the will of God, and they are love and delights. How often have we turned in disgust from remedies and medicines when the doctor or apothecary offered them, which, being offered by some well-beloved hand (love surmounting our loathing), we receive with delight. In truth, love either takes away the hardship of labour, or makes it dear to us while we feel it.
It is said that there is a river in Bœotia wherein the fish appear golden, but taken out of those their native waters, they have the natural colour of other fishes: afflictions are so; if we look at them outside God’s will, they have their natural bitterness, but he who considers them in that eternal good-pleasure, finds them all golden, unspeakably lovely and precious. If Abraham had seen outside God’s will the necessity of slaying his son, think, Theotimus, what pangs and convulsions of heart he would have felt, but seeing it in God’s good-pleasure, it appears all golden, and he tenderly embraces it.
If the martyrs had looked upon their torments outside this good-pleasure, how could they have sung, in chains and flames? The truly loving heart loves God’s good-pleasure not in consolations only but in afflictions also; yea, it loves it better upon the cross in pains and difficulties, because the principal effect of love is to make the lover suffer for the thing beloved.
The Stoics, especially good Epictetus, placed all their philosophy in abstaining and sustaining, bearing and forbearing; in abstaining from and forbearing earthly delights, pleasures and honours; in sustaining and bearing wrongs, labours and trials: but Christian doctrine, which is the only true philosophy, has three principles upon which it grounds all its exercises,—abnegation of self, which is far more than to abstain from pleasures, carrying the cross, which is far more than tolerating or sustaining it, following Our Lord, not only in renouncing our self and bearing our cross, but also in the practice of all sorts of good works. But at the same time there is not so much love shown in abnegation or in action, as in suffering.
The Holy Ghost in Holy Scripture certainly signifies the death and passion which our Saviour suffered for us, to be the highest point of his love towards us.
1. To love God’s will in consolations is a good love when it is indeed God’s will that is loved, and not the consolation which is the form it takes: however, this is a love without contradiction, repugnance and effort: for who would not love so worthy a will in so agreeable a form?
2. To love the will of God in his commandments, counsels and inspirations is a second degree of love, and much more perfect, for it leads us to the renouncing and quitting of our own will, and makes us abstain from and forbear some pleasures, though not all.
3. To love sufferings and afflictions for the love of God is the supreme point of most holy charity, for there is nothing therein to receive our affection save the will of God only; there is great contradiction on the part of nature; and we not only forsake pleasures, but embrace torments and labours.
Our mortal enemy knew well what was love’s furthest and finest act, when having heard from the mouth of God that Job was just, righteous, fearing God, hating sin, and firm in innocence, he made no account of this, in comparison with bearing afflictions, by which he made the last and surest trial of the love of this great servant of God.
To make these afflictions extreme, he formed them out of the loss of all his goods and of all his children, abandonment by all his friends, an arrogant contradiction by his most intimate associates and his wife, a contradiction full of contempt, mockery and reproach; to which be added the collection of almost all human diseases, and particularly a universal, cruel, offensive, horrible ulcer over all his body.
And yet behold the great Job, king as it were of all the miserable creatures of the world, seated upon a dunghill, as upon the throne of misery, adorned with sores, ulcers, and corruption, as with royal robes suitable to the quality of his kingship, with so great an abjection and annihilation, that if he had not spoken, one could not have discerned whether Job was a man reduced to a dunghill, or the dunghill a corruption in form of a man.
Now, I say, hear the great Job crying out: If we have received good things from the hand of the Lord, why shall we not receive also evil? O God! How this word is great with love! He ponders, Theotimus, that it was from the hand of God that he had received the good, testifying that he had not so much loved goods because they were good, as because they came from the hand of the Lord; whence he concludes that he is lovingly to support adversities, since they proceed from the hand of the same Lord, which is equally to be loved when it distributes afflictions and when it bestows consolations.
Every one easily receives good things, but to receive evil is a work of perfect love, which loves them so much the more, inasmuch as they are only lovable in respect of the hand that gives them. The traveller who is in fear whether he has the right way, walks in doubt, viewing the country over, and stands in a muse at the end of almost every field to think whether he goes not astray, but he who is sure of his way walks on gaily, boldly, and swiftly: even so the love that desires to walk to God’s will through consolations, walks ever in fear of taking the wrong path, and of loving (in lieu of God’s good-pleasure) the pleasure which is in the consolation; but the love that strikes straight through afflictions towards the will of God walks in assurance, for affliction being in no wise lovable in itself, it is an easy thing only to love it for the sake of him that sends it.
The hounds in spring-time are at fault at every step, finding hardly any scent at all, because the herbs and flowers then smell so freshly that their odour puts down that of the hart or hare: in the spring-time of consolations love scarcely recognizes God’s good-pleasure, because the sensible pleasure of consolation so allures the heart, that it troubles the attention which the heart should pay to the will of God.
St. Catherine of Siena, having from our Saviour her choice of a crown of gold or a crown of thorns, chose this latter, as better suiting with love: a desire of suffering, says the Blessed (St.) Angela of Foligno, is an infallible mark of love: and the great Apostle cries out that he glories only in the cross, in infirmity, in persecution.
Treatise on the Love of God ~ St. Francis De Sale ~ Page 275-277