Our Lord Commands us to Suffer in order to follow Him
In the Gospel of St Luke, at the moment when “great multitudes” followed Him, our Lord turned to them and said
If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Lk. xiv. 26)
Interpreting this passage, St. Gregory says:
We rightly hate our own soul when we indulge not its carnal desires, when we subdue its appetites, and wrestle against its pleasures. (Catena Aurea)
Our parents and relatives—even our own spouse—is here used by our Lord to show examples of our attachments to this earth. Through suffering, we renounce all earthly attachments (a godly hatred) in order to adhere to Jesus Christ alone. As He says in another place He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me (Mt. x. 37). Only when we renounce all attachments can we then love others for God’s sake.
So that the heart belongs to Jesus Christ alone
Suffering is caused when we are attached to some convenience, desire or person. This attachment means we are relying on this earthly thing to make us happy. When they inevitably fail, it causes suffering because they are not making us happy. When this happens, most Christians try to soothe their emotions with psychology instead of accepting the cross.
Instead, Christians must understand that suffering is a blessing from God. When the emptiness of creatures is discovered through suffering, our heart’s attachment is loosed, so that we can adhere to Jesus Christ alone. In Him alone is all our happiness, for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Heb. xiii. 8). He says Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you (Mt. xi. 28).
When your attachments cause you suffering, Jesus Christ says come to me. When your desires are not fulfilled, Jesus Christ says I will refresh you. Accept this suffering and give yourself to Jesus Christ alone.
Loving others for the sake of Jesus Christ
If we renounce our attachments and adhere to Jesus Christ alone, we can then truly love others. When we have attachments, we want others to make us happy and do our will. When we renounce these attachments through suffering, we are not seeking happiness in others. Instead, by placing all of our desire in Jesus Christ, we can then love others for the sake of Him, not ourselves.
Try this with your spouse, friend or child. Just for today, renounce all expectation of happiness from them. Detach yourself from every earthly happiness they can give you. Then only love them to please Jesus Christ. You will soon lose interest in what you want, and find yourself focused on what Jesus Christ wants. Then your love for them will become more and more selfless. Then whatever joy they give, you can receive as a gift from God. Then your love can be pure because you will find your true happiness in the Uncreated, not the created. Here is rest for your soul, and true happiness unto eternal life.
For further reading on this topic, I recommend the perennial classic, Imitation of Christ. Also, Joy in Suffering according to St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. Visit the Resources page for more information.
Timothy S. Flanders