Madonna House

The Secret of the Saints

by Jean Fox

There can be no joy without pain. The two are companions of one another. Pain and joy, pain and love, pain and life, always go hand in hand.

We are prone to look at the pain when we are in the midst of it and forget that there is a reason for it. And it’s not because we are bad. It’s because God is trying to bring something forth, something that needs to be restored, renewed, and made whole again.

I’m going to quote from a book called The Sanctifier. It contains one of the clearest and simplest explanations of what God is doing when we have suffering and pain.

“How beautiful, how rich, are the designs of God concerning pain! Truly, a great part of our treasures, our prerogatives, and our happiness comes from it.

“Pain marvelously cleanses; the Scriptures say that just as gold is purified in the crucible, so are souls purified in temptation and pain.

“Pain enlightens; there are things we do not comprehend unless we have suffered, because grief sheds some special celestial light over our spirit.

“Pain is the sap of all the virtues; without it they cannot grow and reach their full maturity. Pain makes love pure and disinterested, makes us one with the beloved; there are no bonds comparable to the holy bonds of pain.

“It encircles our head with an aureole of glory and pours into our soul divine and exquisite drops of happiness.” (The Sanctifier by Luis M. Martinez, St. Anthony Guild Press, 1957, p. 233)

What is the secret of this pain and joy living together? The secret is surrender. We are all going to have pain in this life, and if we surrender to it in trust, like a little child, something happens. The pain does not disappear, but it is now wedded to God himself, and he produces from it a strange blend of joy and pain in our hearts and in our souls.

This is the secret of the saints. Until we learn this secret of surrender to pain, we live in deep anguish when we are in pain, and we are constantly striving to get ourselves out of this terrible, sometimes suffocating sense of not being able to live.

During a time of exposure to the root causes of our own woundedness and sinfulness, for example, we cannot help but uncover the pain in us, the source of which comes from original sin.

But gradually we must learn how to live with that pain so that God himself can produce in us an incredible blending of the cross with a strange mysterious joy that no one can ever, ever take from us.

I just want to paraphrase one or two other sentences from The Sanctifier because they take away that negative connotation where we feel as though if I have pain, I must be bad, I must be doing something wrong, there is something ugly and unlovable in me.

Wrong thinking! That is wrong thinking! Pain is an inevitable mark of the Christian life because it is the place whereby God himself is able to transform the old creature into the new creation.

Pain is the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. Therefore when we feel pain, we should trust that the suffering is a crucible and that what will come forth from it will be something more beautiful, more pure, more worthy of God.

But this is not the only consolation that pain bestows upon our soul. Jesus Christ sanctified pain by his contact with it. He desired to make use of pain to redeem the human race; as often as we suffer, we complete the Passion of Christ.

There is absolutely no possibility of us having union with God, except through the joy of the Cross. We may know this theoretically, but when we are in the process of it, we sometimes come close to despair and wonder if it will ever end.

Believe me, it will end. And that’s where we have to help one another, stand by one another, pray for one another, and seek a wise guide. For no one can go through this alone, unless they have very special graces.

Excerpted and adapted from a letter to the MH staff, November 3, 1998

The End