Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sheer Joy and the Mark of Love

I wanted to post this passage from St. Raymond of Peñafort on his feast day, which was January 7, but I just didn't have time. It is one of my favorite readings from the Office of Readings, and on some days, I think it's my very favorite. 

I first heard it read by a speaker at a conference I attended many years ago, probably 35 years ago. I don't think that I was that crazy about it at the time. I had been involved in the Charismatic Renewal for a few years and had somehow decided that God did not want me to suffer. This was a Charismatic conference and I hadn't traveled for 15 hours in a van with 15 people and not enough rest stops to hear that the sword would fall on me with double or treble force, and that this should be considered sheer joy and the mark of love. It stuck with me, though. I suspect that day, that whole weekend, which was one of the most physically and spiritually difficult weekends I had ever endured, was a great turning point in my life.

Then came the January 7 when I woke up and discovered that a large part of my world had fallen apart in the night. I can't really talk about what happened, because it involves someone else's story, but it was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. Sometime, probably the next day, I sat down with my breviary and realized the date, and turned to this reading. Somehow, although it might not sound very comforting, it gave me great comfort. Partially, I think, it was because I knew that the Lord had prepared me for this time, and I was able to remain very peaceful for most of the next week, which was very difficult.

This year when January 7 rolled around, it came at a very joyful time, and the cause of the joy was directly related to the previous sorrow. It's almost like the deep magic that occurs in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan sacrifices his life for Edmund and Death starts working backwards. In fact, it's the same thing.

If there is one thing that has really been driven home to me in the past year, it's that joy and sorrow are the same thing, so intricately woven together that they can't be separated. I know that sounds crazy; it even sounds crazy to me. It is, however, the message of the cross--and the message that St. Raymond of Peñafort tried to convey in this letter.
May the God of love and peace set your hearts at rest.
The preacher of God’s truth has told us that all who want to live righteously in Christ will suffer persecution. If he spoke the truth and did not lie, the only exception to this general statement is, I think, the person who either neglects, or does not know how, to live temperately, justly and righteously in this world. 
May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet and free from care; those on whom the Lord’s chastisement does not descend; those who live out their days in prosperity, and in the twinkling of an eye will go down to hell. 
Your purity of life, your devotion, deserve and call for a reward; because you are acceptable and pleasing to God your purity of life must be made purer still, by frequent buffetings, until you attain perfect sincerity of heart. If from time to time you feel the sword falling on you with double or treble force, this also should be seen as sheer joy and the mark of love. The two-edged sword consists in conflict without, fears within. It falls with double or treble force within, when the cunning spirit troubles the depths of your heart with guile and enticements. You have learned enough already about these kinds of warfare, or you would not have been able to enjoy peace and interior tranquillity in all its beauty. 
The sword falls with double and treble force externally when, without cause being given, there breaks out from within the Church persecution in spiritual matters, where wounds are more serious, especially when inflicted by friends. 
This is that enviable and blessed cross of Christ, which Andrew, that manly saint, received with joyful heart: the cross in which alone we must make our boast, as Paul, God’s chosen instrument, has told us. 
Look then on Jesus, the author and preserver of faith: in complete sinlessness he suffered, and at the hands of those who were his own, and was numbered among the wicked. As you drink the cup of the Lord Jesus (how glorious it is!), give thanks to the Lord, the giver of all blessings. 
May the God of love and peace set your hearts at rest and speed you on your journey; may he meanwhile shelter you from disturbance by others in the hidden recesses of his love, until he brings you at last into that place of complete plenitude where you will repose for ever in the vision of peace, in the security of trust and in the restful enjoyment of his riches.


  1. That's the sort of thing that scares me.

  2. It is the truth. Thanks be to God.

  3. My reaction is more or less the same as Paul's. But also like Mary I think it's the truth.

  4. If I didn't think it was true, it wouldn't scare me!