'Father, Let This Chalice Pass From Me'

GOD USES US in ways we cannot comprehend, and frequently with a purpose beyond ourselves, to teach others. Sorrow and its meaning seem to have a high priority in the pedagogy of God. Few of us escape sorrow; so many need to understand it.

The lucky ones are those whose suffering brings them spiritual insights allowing them to take rank, in a small way, with the mystics of the Church. Suffering without at least some faint light of understanding is an abominable waste.

A man and a woman lose a child. The natural inclination is to shake a fist at heaven, as the taste of sorrow flows into the mouth, salty and bitter. Pity those who defy the fact that God loves them so much as to give them this kind of attention. Pity them their lifelong curse—their abdication of faith and distrust of trust itself.

But raise the choirs of heaven for parents who look on the death of their most precious love as the return to God of what was already His; of its return in pristine purity, never to become sullied in the normal course of living. The mother and father rise ultimately from their knees, turning to each other with the single thought: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." Thus, death serves man by building a bridge to God.

One must fall to such a depth of pain to gain that sense of intimacy with Him who suffered still far greater pain because it was multiplied by the numbers of those born and yet to be born. No one can even begin to imagine the intensity of such pain—except those who sorrow. And for them it is only the beginning of understanding. They only know—in the non-intellectual way in which God speaks to us—that there was and is meaning in suffering, meaning that is centered on the call to “follow Me,” the call most frequently heard and heeded by the suffering.

Then there is the young person dreaming of conquests in the world of literature, art, or commerce. Every juice of devotion is poured into a career but, for a reason known only to God, the gift is spurned and he or she languishes among the lesser known, a failure by the world's every benchmark. There is just so much that the human spirit can take before it bends and breaks. Every prayer is denied, the person believes, as one failure mounts upon the other. In his misery, he fails to see what he's being forced to do, almost constantly: to pray. This is lesson number one in God's manual, How I Use People.

So He used Louis Evely, for example. A Dutch priest, Evely wrote prolifically in the 60s, becoming a casualty of that tempestuous decade. He left the priest-hood. But even as he abandoned his calling, God has been using him to this day as souls in search of spiritual comfort are drawn by Evely's words, in material written as if coming directly from God:

“Yes, I have shattered your projects; I have annihilated your pride. Nobody needs you; you live without self-contentment; you are before me like a lamp which shines for the satisfaction of nobody—you are ‘without any purpose.’ But you are my love and my glory; I have placed my delight in you, you are the portion reserved to me, and so well preserved that you are wanted by nobody else. You do not even think of being useful. You are my purest reflection because you have become the saint you did not want to become."

The history of Christendom is full of those who have chosen suffering, but one cannot help wondering whether they did not retract once they were first visited by hardship. The point is, suffering is not the natural ambition of men. All the same, one must have pity for those who have gone through life without knowing it. For wisdom begins in suffering, and becomes sanctity for the persistent. Suffering deliberately sought out, for the most part, is pointless. Suffering will come to most of us all by itself, in one form or another.

But whether one has been given the apparent grace of God's full attention or only minor irritations, one thing and one thing alone matters most to God: the immortal soul. And scriptural evidence abounds that for its well-being the Way of the Cross must prevail. Some, like Simone Weil, have learned this lesson well.

Simone Weil, who was Jewish, died in 1943. It is doubtful that she ever actually embraced the Catholic Church, but her letters and essays suggest that she must certainly have been baptized by desire. She wrote: “Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell. Akind of horror submerges the whole soul. During this absence there is nothing to love. What is terrible is that if, in this darkness where there is nothing to love, the soul ceases to love, God's absence becomes final. The soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then, one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as is the case of Job. But if the soul stops loving it falls, even in this life, into something almost the equivalent of hell."

Few speak more eloquently on the subject than Louis Evely and Simone Weil—except for Scripture: “Father, let this chalice pass from me, but not my will but Thine be done."

John Vitello is based in Covina, Calif.