First Point.—The first condition required to change our sufferings to joy is to suffer for the faith. Even as Jesus must attain to glory and triumph by sufferings and humiliations, so also it was in the designs of God that the Church could not be established, nor could she be developed, except by persecutions. If the great ones of the earth had extended to the Church their powerful assistance, we might believe that her establishment on earth was a work purely human, and her existence was accounted for in the ordinary way; but by refusing all human aid, in founding His religion in spite of armed opposition and the ever active human powers, God has clearly declared that religion owed her origin and development to Him.
And it is precisely to show that she owes to Him her preservation, also, that God still permits, and shall permit to the end of time, His religion to be the object of attack from heresy, incredulity, and all the passions. If, therefore, you wish to be a Christian, if you wish especially to practice your duties, you must expect persecutions from the world. True, indeed, you have no need to fear persecution from the sword; the modern methods on which our civilization prides itself seem to shield us from this danger. However, if God preserved you from these fearful trials, if Satan should rouse again among you the persecutions which disturbed the first days of the Church, then recall the virtues which triumphed over them. Children of the martyrs, imitate the courage of your fathers, and dare as they did to resist even to blood; do not hesitate to follow them even that far, and prefer a glorious death to a life dishonored by apostasy.
Second Point.--A second condition required to change our sufferings into joy is that they should be the consequence of our fidelity in the service of God. In addition to the violent persecution to which Christianity is sometimes exposed, the Christian is liable to particular tribulations, less terrifying, unquestionably, but more difficult to endure, perhaps, by reason of their continuance. Besides, the world in which you live pursues you with its contradictions, its railleries, and its seductions. You must resist inclinations which attack you from within and passions which lead you away. The edifice of salvation is not erected as were the ramparts of Jerusalem, by employing one hand to construct and the other to defend them. If you have entered upon the ways of justice, you have already traversed a part of the narrow and painful pathway which conducts to heaven; but do not stop in your laborious career, and, after having surmounted the greatest obstacles, do not allow yourself to be cast down by the difficulties which yet remain to be overcome. On the contrary, at the sight of new difficulties take courage, for these are the very obstacles in your way which shall win the recompense. Every effort shall merit a new reward for you, and every victory shall add another jewel to the crown which is prepared for you.
But if you have hitherto walked in the ways of iniquity, your return to God will meet with special obstacles in your inveterate habits, in your passions, strengthened by long service in sin. Still, be not cast down. The difficulties you shall meet with shall be the most meritorious part of your penance. The more that the practice of virtues opposed to your vices shall cost the greater shall be the benedictions which you shall receive. If the sight of the barriers which obstruct the path of penance for you shall frighten you, then lift up your eyes to the hand which guides you and which shall help you to surmount them. The most difficult step is the first, and in proportion as you advance you shall feel the pathway grow smooth under your feet.
Third Point.—The third condition required to change your sufferings into joy is to suffer in a spirit of faith. When affliction falls on you, think that it is God who sends it to you, and that you must receive it with submission. Reflect that it is a law of our nature, then you shall accept it in patience; that it is the punishment of sin, and you shall receive it with resignation; that it is a chastisement, and then you shall accept it with gratitude; that it is a trial to which Providence subjects you and you shall accept it with courage; that it is the crucible in which Divine Goodness purifies you to make you more worthy, then you shall accept it with joy.
Jesus has spoken this word, which has ever been a subject of astonishment for the worldly and a consolation for the Christian: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. "When, therefore, afflictions fall on you, think that you have one consolation—they come from God. Go then, not to your worldly friends—you would but weary them without any profit to yourself—but go to your divine Consoler; present Him your tears, and He will wipe them away; present Him your sorrows, and He shall sweeten them and give to you the sure hope that every sorrow you experience shall be compensated by His graces.
Fourth Point.—The fourth condition required to change sufferings into joy is voluntarily to accept them as an expiation for your past offenses. We cannot hope to enter heaven except by the pathway which our divine Saviour Himself has trod. It is He who has declared this truth to us, that we must carry the cross. He has wished to suffer, the apostle tells us, in order to be not only our Redeemer but our Model. Think of all the saints who have gone before you on earth and who have preceded you in the blessed country, and you shall not find a single one who has been exalted except after a life of mortification. All have attained to glory through humiliations, to the supreme good by self-abnegation, to happiness by sufferings. Look about, on every side, and you will not find another way. Ask from heaven some precepts and ask from earth some examples, but they shall have none others to give you. Mortification of the body, by retrenching its pleasures, of the soul, bya subjugation of the passions, are the true means, the absolutely necessary means of sanctification; and, unhappily, we must add, the means but little known among men and rarely put in practice. Nothing is more common, even among those who believe themselves faithful, than a soft and sensual life, which is so opposed to the maxims and precepts and example of Jesus Christ. Because there are few mortifications especially commanded us, there are those who believe that mortification is commanded only in some general manner, and even the few practices of self-denial which the laws of the Church make binding on us are not observed. We are wont to moderate them rather than to observe them. The secret of this so-called Christian conduct appears to be to conciliate the commands of God with the pleasures and dissipations of the world: and we strive to content ourselves in the belief that we have conformed to the precepts when, although not violating them openly, we have had the unhappy facility of evading them. Never do this, but regard the law of penance not as a burden, but as a blessing, since its observance shall secure for you your best and most sacred interests.
Source: Short Instructions on the Feasts of the Year, Imprimatur 1897