Perfect Joy and Suffering

A short time ago, my blog came up in a conversation.  The woman I was talking to asked me what it was about, and I told her "About Catholic teaching life, and the perfect joy of suffering in Christ."  She sort of laughed, and said sarcastically,  "Oh.  That'll be popular!"

Yeah.  That's sort of the way I feel.

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi, and one of his friars asked him what perfect joy consisted of.  St. Francis (in a rather lengthy manner), told him that perfect joy was being cold, wet and muddy, hungry for both food and comfort, and then being TURNED AWAY FROM ONE'S OWN MONASTERY, as you mistaken for a beggar.   Really?  THAT'S "perfect joy"???

And yet, I know exactly what Francis was talking about.  It's not the miserable circumstances that bring joy, but recognizing that one is in exactly the same situation Christ was in (and still often is):  wholly open to the Will of God, and yet rejected, even by those closest to you.  That realization that you are being allowed, by the love of God, to taste even in the smallest way, Christ's life, is perfect joy.  As a Christian, I want to be more and more like Christ, and that is not possible without partaking in the suffering.

Let me illustrate.  Eldest Son, who is just getting ready to go off to college, has caused his father and me a great deal of headache and heartache.  This goes beyond the normal "teen years" stuff.  He committed a series of crimes that eventually caused him to be removed from our home, and lived in a therapeutic setting and then a foster home for several years.  The crimes he committed harmed a lot of people, both directly and indirectly.  

I can write about all this now with some sense of detachment and balance, but in the midst of those years, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.  My husband and I suffered spiritually, physically, financially and emotionally.  It was hard beyond words and imagining.  The depth of grief was often overwhelming, and my days were often filled with words, situations and circumstances that I had no experience in dealing with. 

So what does this have to do with perfect joy?  I was completely empty, and completely open to Christ at that point, and Christ never disappoints.  As hard as every moment of that situation was, there were ALWAYS (and I mean ALWAYS) moments of grace. 

Remember on the way to Calvary, that Jesus stumbles several times?  Simon of Cyrene lifted the cross for him.  Veronica wipes his face.  The women of Jerusalem wept in union with him.  He still had to carry the cross to Calvary, but there were moments of grace.  That's what I felt in those years.  It wasn't that my grief and suffering disappeared.  It wasn't that the situation disappeared miraculously.  It was still there, day after day, horrible and haunting.  But I knew that Christ was there, in the suffering and the sadness.  Suffering doesn't bring joy;  Christ's presence does.  That is  perfect joy.

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