This text is published as Chapter 3 of How to Pray (Part One: Foundations), pages 19-30, entitled 'How to Persevere'. An introduction to the life of prayer with much practical advice about how to deepen your prayer life.
3 HOW TO PERSEVERE
EVERY PRAYER IS GOOD. FACING YOUR FEARS.
Points to remember.
Think of prayer as being more like ‘friendship’ than ‘medicine’. It’s true that prayer can work wonders, where there’s a ‘mustard-seed’ of faith, and perseverance; but prayer doesn’t instantly clear up every fear or phobia we have. It is, supremely, not a therapy, but a way of being in touch and staying in touch, very closely, with God Himself, Who gives us Divine Life, in Christ, and Who is more powerful than any number of healers or counsellors, though of course we ought to accept help from doctors and other experts when appropriate.
Remember the important thing: that God is a true Father to all who have put their trust in Him. He is constantly loving us: you and me; and He can lead us through our daily work and joys and miseries, giving more patience and calmness and real joy than we might have dreamed was possible.
Don’t become downcast because your joy and peace tend to get swamped, at each crisis. Every prayer is a good prayer, in one sense; but if we pray regularly and well, we shall find it easier to keep our balance in the difficult times - and shall be less pessimistic generally, since we shall be starting to trust in God, at last.
Remind yourself about honesty in prayer. An old motto is: “Do what you can and not what you can’t”. In other words - it’s no good pretending to be a devoted contemplative if all you can honestly manage at this moment of your life is a sincere but gritted-teeth “hello” to God when you fall out of bed each morning. So, too, it’s no good pretending that we’re not wounded, frightened persons if we are.
Never think of our loving God as being like an employer who only wants to talk to us when we’ve cleaned ourselves up, and have put on our smartest clothes. He’s infinitely holy and majestic in Himself, which is why we approach Him with honour and reverence; yet He’s infinitely tender as well as holy; and so He’s like a mother in His ‘attitude’ towards us: full of delight at our smallest efforts to respond to His invitations, ever-ready to listen to our sincere thoughts and confidences, and utterly joyful at seeing our attempts to live as children of God should live, as we try to show towards others the love and forgiveness which we know God shows perpetually towards ourselves.
Don’t let anyone persuade you that dress and gestures don’t matter at all. Modest and careful clothing, with reverent behaviour, is especially appropriate for the celebration of the Liturgy, where we praise God with the whole ‘Court’ of Heaven, and so employ especially-elegant language and customs.
Remember: God loves sinners: you too. Even as we fail in so many of our efforts to be loving, we’re immensely loved by God, Who delights in our efforts to begin again, and Who gives us strength and peace whenever we open our hearts to Him in sincere contrition and trust.
Look clearly into your own heart. It’s worth remembering that there’s one sure way of stopping progress in prayer: and that’s deliberately to refuse to make efforts to conform our behaviour with what we know, in our hearts, to be right. To be deliberately and determinedly selfish, whether disobedient to God or malicious towards our neighbour, is to make oneself a hypocrite in prayer and so to turn oneself away from God. But remember: He’s never turning away from us: and so we can turn back to Him, to start again, a hundred thousand times; and, each time, He’ll welcome us to His heart, whether or not we ‘feel’ it.
Remember also that life is short. There might come a time when it’s too late to turn back. Do it now.
Don’t keep looking for exciting spiritual experiences. That’s the other thing to remember: that we live by faith, and don’t rely on a diet of wonderful experiences to be kept going - though it’s true that God gives special gifts just when they’re most needed, because He loves us.
A few ‘hard sayings’.
Face up to difficulties in prayer, as well as in daily life. Don’t be afraid to read a few ‘hard sayings’ about how to draw even closer to God, day by day and year by year - when your ‘honeymoon’ of faith has almost ended and your difficulties multiply at each renewed attempt to be fervent and faithful.
Ask yourself about your true desires. If we genuinely want to draw closer to God, we must first remind ourselves that we’re already extremely close to Him, in the sense that He made us from nothing, and supports us in existence at every moment of our life. But, in the spiritual life, to grow closer to God is to become a truer friend of God - though astounded that we’re invited to be so intimate with God Himself, Who is so beautiful, powerful, wise and glorious.
Think: are you willing to give your life to God, for Him to change you? Through God’s kindness, shown out in the teachings and life and death and resurrection of Christ, a great opportunity is being offered to us. We can hope to become - each one of us - an intimate friend of our Creator. Yet we have to do simple but brave things to bring about this intimacy, or, rather, to say ‘Yes’ to the intimate friendship which, throughout our life, is held out to us.
Look at the root of your fear. If we want to pray well, we have to want to be close to God. Many people don’t want this, because they know it will mean change and purification; and their fear and short-sightedness deter them even from hoping for such close union. They’re willing to pray every day, but don’t really want to become too ‘involved’ with God, because of what He’ll ask them to do; and they don’t want to lose what they see as their ‘freedom’.
Ask yourself if you’re willing to begin acting as if you are a true friend of God. Are you willing to express an attitude of friendship by trying to see and do God’s Will right now, at this very moment? Many people put Him on trial, so to speak, by demanding results and solutions before they’ll consent to love and serve Him.
Accept the truth, which is that we don’t grow closer to God simply by enjoying certain books or by being stirred by certain pieces of music, or by relishing elevated thoughts about God. These things can prompt us to begin praying or to do kind things, for God’s sake; but we grow closer by believing in Him, by loving Him enough to raise our hearts and minds to Him in prayer, and by loving our neighbour for God’s sake.
Be brave enough to face the truth. Just as explorers need to calculate what they must sacrifice to make possible their extraordinary journeys and discoveries, so you might need to admit that some of your television time, or conversation-with-friends time should be reduced, to leave a little time exclusively for God, in a new and valuable spiritual journey.
Loving God’s Will.
Listen to the Gospel message about faithfulness and obedience. It’s only through loving and serving God right now, here, in your own peculiar circumstances, that you can hope to open up the ‘channel’ which unites His heart with yours and through which He wishes to give you countless gifts such as joy, peace, patience, wisdom, courage and humility. Put your trust in Him, and give up all wrong-doing. This will bring joy to Christ’s heart and will allow Him to fill your heart and life with His holiness!
Be determined to discover and to do God’s Will in everything. If you’re not loving God’s obvious Will for you at this very moment, you’re quite obviously not loving God as you might, since - faith tells us - God’s infinitely wise Providence is drawing you through every single event and circumstance of life in a way which will bring you extraordinary growth and enormous graces: if you’ll consent to follow His path and not to pursue your own ambitions.
Don’t hide from the truth. If you’re not sure what’s sinful and what isn’t, buy a little catechism. Examine the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. Speak to a priest.
Ask God to make you long to be loving, obedient and holy.
Finding ‘truth North’.
Fulfil your plain duties, which are plainly God’s Will for you. More than anyone, God knows precisely how you can be guided and encouraged in the imitation of Christ’s love and Christ’s virtues, in your own era and your own particular circumstances; and God knows the precise ways in which you can most fruitfully love and serve the ‘neighbours’ with whom you might live for ever in Heaven, after your purifications.
Be glad that you’re given opportunities to prove your love for God, even though you experience loneliness or pain as you try to follow God’s Will. This is where you’re invited to shoulder the Cross which Our Lord spoke about. And He warned His followers: “YOU WILL BE HATED ... ON ACCOUNT OF MY NAME; BUT THE MAN WHO STANDS FIRM TO THE END WILL BE SAVED” [Mt 10:22]. Whenever we’re determinedly choosing to obey and serve God, we’re thereby proving our love for Him; and we can be sure that He’s pleased with our efforts.
Keep in mind that whenever we’re disobedient or selfish we’re saying to God: ‘No, I won’t do Your Will at the moment.’ We’re deliberately putting a halt to any growth in intimacy that might have been underway. By such an attitude, we’re freely choosing to turn away from Him.
Try to keep to ‘true North’. Try to avoid turning away from God. I’m not even talking, here, about serious sin. I’m saying that to turn away from God’s Will in the slightest degree is to turn away from God, as when a compass needle veers away from ‘true North’. It is we, by our turning, who can ‘cut off’ the graces and helps which God wishes to pour upon us at the present moment.
Never start to imagine that God is ‘intolerant’. Instead, reflect on the marvel of your relationship with Him. Here is God our Father, we can say, willing to live ‘face to face’ - as it were - with weak, pitiful human beings: and this privilege is ours because we have come to Him through Christ and Christ’s Sacrifice; and, yet how tragic it is that when we could be perpetually awed and grateful for ‘face-to-face,’ moment-to-moment prayers, with honest confessions and increasing friendship with God, we sometimes become fed up. We’re tempted to complain about God’s Will; and we feel humiliated at how badly we serve Him.
Remaining faithful and fervent.
Pray that you don’t lose your fervour. Ignore every temptation to glance ‘sideways’ at easier ways of life. Never choose to sin. Your Father in Heaven loves you with a love that never wavers, however terrible or foolish your sins might be. His love for you is total, fiery, fervent and unconditional; but don’t let that fact persuade you that your behaviour is of no consequence. Christ was crucified because of our sins; and it’s because the Father sent Christ to earth to die for our sins and to show us the way towards eternal happiness in Heaven that He’s now inviting us to repent of our sins, not to make excuses for ourselves. We rely on Christ to ‘make excuses’ for us, when we pray to the Father in His name and ask for forgiveness and Salvation.
If you fall into serious sin, don’t go searching for experiences which will give you warm ‘religious’ feelings and which will thus persuade you that you’re as close to God as ever you were, despite your immoral behaviour or dereliction of duty. Say you’re sorry. Go to Confession, and begin again. But it’s important not to go to foolish extremes, whether by apathy about the practice of virtue or by over-scrupulous attention to minor failings.
Good and evil.
Remember that, as Holy Scripture says, it’s a contrite heart which pleases God; and it’s when your heart is turned to God, contrite, in the present moment, longing to love and serve Him, that you can be sure that God’s graces are pouring lavishly upon you to help you, even if they’re unseen or unfelt; and these are the graces which can make our poor, struggling, pitiful lives glorious and fruitful!
Struggle for holiness, yet be on your guard. Think about temptation: but not supremely about the temptations we usually hear about. It’s true that lust, anger or disobedience are very dangerous; and we must turn away from them. But expect more subtle temptations. It’s worth thinking about what must be the attitude of the evil one - so named by Christ Himself - towards one of Christ’s own friends like yourself, who is trying to love and serve God as well as possible in definite circumstances, in the present moment. It’s worth recalling the old phrase: ‘Know your enemy.’
Don’t be surprised when temptations are hurled at you, precisely in order to draw you away from ‘the present moment’ in which a really amazing and fruitful contact can be made with God. The temptations will be aimed at both past and future. You will be tempted to regret past choices, to linger in memory on past injustices or to bewail an imagined lack of friends, opportunities or gifts. Then ‘the future’ will suddenly leap up within your imagination, presented by the evil one so colourfully as to make ‘the present’ seem dreary. Even better, from his point of view, the bright future - pictured so vividly - will be seen as impossible to embrace because of certain attitudes or plans of your relatives or friends, or because of Church doctrine or discipline. This is how the evil one can succeed not only in making you feel frustrated, but also in poisoning certain relationships, and thus killing charity, which is his enemy.
Take no notice of the mockery of those who speak lightly about sin and temptation. Perhaps there ought to be whole chapters written about temptation for the benefit of people who have never heard the word in religious instruction lessons, or who have only heard the word in connection with jokes about early-nineteenth-century ‘prudery’ or “outmoded Victorian attitudes.” Few people are convinced of the dangers of temptation when they don’t believe in the tempter; and it’s less and less common today, I’ve found, to hear people talk about good and evil, about Heaven and Hell, or about kindness and rebellion - as though in the world and the universe there exist only degrees of goodness, and no real danger: and as though, therefore, we’ve no need of talk about sin or the Cross or Salvation.
Never be ashamed to speak about the Cross, and about sin and Salvation. If ever you showed out by your attitude that we can be good without God’s help you’d be proclaiming that Christ needn’t have bothered to die for us, to save us.
Resolve to give up sin, now, for ever. Don’t let others bully you into sin. Sacrifice whatever endangers your faith. Avoid situations where you know you will be violently tempted to sin, unless, perhaps for charity’s sake, you’re required to take risks.
Say sorry, whenever you sin. Turn to God our Father, whenever you fail, and He will forgive you, immediately. If you should ever commit serious sin, go to a priest. By Christ’s power, he can reconcile you to Christ and to Christ’s Body, the Church. What joy you’ll receive, after your act of humility!
Leave your prayer-time utterly determined to love God and to do His Will. Out of love for God, and not from sentimentality, try to love and serve your ‘neighbour’. Be gentle and compassionate. Never speak unkindly about anyone.
Say truthful things, gently but fearlessly, in private, where correction is needed. Then shut your ears to gossip and rumour-mongering.
Forgive all who upset or offend you. Treat each person with respect, as if he or she were Christ.
Try to put wrongs right, but never grumble aimlessly.
The present moment.
Remember, the present moment is the only moment in which we can “touch” God! Here! Now! God exists! We can turn to Him and speak to Him! What is past is finished, though perhaps we ought to give belated thanks for something, or make amends for a past wrong. What will happen to you in the future, only God knows. This is certain: in every “present moment” God our Father loves to hear us and help us. He draws us closer to Heaven, if we consent.
Try to imitate Christ from moment to moment, in patient obedience and carefree trust.
Beware of discouragement. Don’t be someone who habitually “SITS ABOUT WITH SCOFFERS” [Ps 1:1]. There’s no need for you to neglect important duties or social obligations; but beware of immersing yourself in atheistic chatter or un-Christian opinions or the complaints of disobedient people.
Don’t judge anyone’s heart; but don’t be afraid to say that good is good, that evil is evil, and that the Church gives us Christ’s own teaching. Without the Church, we are lost.
Every day: get up and start again. Ask God for more faith, hope and charity.
Never cease to ask for God’s help in your attempts to keep the Commandments and the laws of the Church, since Christ said: “IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WILL KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS” [Jn 14:15]; and Christ said to His disciples, and so to the Church, once and forever: “ANYONE WHO LISTENS TO YOU LISTENS TO ME” [Lk 10:16], which is a call to obedience. Whatever seems puzzling about the practice of our Faith is explained by the Holy Father and the other bishops who are in Communion with him, and by the priests who represent them.
Give honour to God through your good behaviour. Be simple, in all you do: pure, loving and truthful. There is great joy, even now, in living as a ‘child’: a child of God, with a peaceful conscience. Innocent or forgiven, but trusting, we can love other people, simply, daily, with the love and grace and steadfastness of Christ, Whom we meet in Holy Communion.
Realise that we can love the Father as Christ loves Him: when we are unafraid, simple, trusting and reverent, at last, truly praying “in Christ’s Name” on earth, and then in Heaven. If we accept His invitation, we can live in an undeserved but totally blissful union, even amidst temporary pains and difficulties - with the most perfect and loving Person who has ever existed: Christ: God-made-visible, Whom we hope to see clearly, when our work on earth is done.
Be faithful in completing, if you can, all your normal, ordinary duties. Word hard. Enjoy your rest, and thank God for it. Try to do good, even if you should suffer for it. Imitate Christ, Who loved the needy. Imitate Christ, Who loved the rich young man, too. Love every person who is plagued by some problem, sadness, disappointment or fear.
Love the whole human race! Pray for all people. Do what you can; but don’t try to solve all their problems or to do work which God intends for someone else.
Be on your guard. Conceit can drive us to tackle work far beyond our capabilities, or to do work which ‘belongs’ to someone else. We please God by doing His Will for us; and His Will is usually that we love people ‘close’ to us. First, we give generous help to people who have a special claim on us, perhaps a claim of family, a claim of conscience, a claim of spiritual kinship, a claim of need, or a claim of local fellowship, in certain circumstances. God places His willing friends and servants - ourselves - next to people who are in need of help. Other people have other duties. Our task is to fulfil our duties, in our particular location and era.
Remember: one kind act is better than a thousand promises. One unseen moment of understanding is worth more than a thousand public ‘fasts’ or visible achievements.
Love for the needy.
Aim for service, not for glory. In quiet and persistent care, help those whom God has brought near to you. Show an especial reverence towards the ‘little ones’ who don’t receive reverence from their fellow men and women. Whatever good you do to another person is as if done to Christ in person. Alas, whatever evil we do to one another is as if done to Christ, also. Listen to the Gospel stories, and learn.
Being a witness.
Be happy to speak with others about your faith and about the Church. We know about Christ through the living Tradition of the Church, and through the Holy Scriptures. We know what Christ wants of us. Long ago, He entrusted His task of teaching to Saint Peter and the Apostles. Their successors teach us now, with wisdom and authority which come from Christ, Who is alive and is guiding His Church.
Don’t worry about explaining your faith. Believe in the existence and goodness of God. Believe in salvation through Christ. Believe in prayer, service, holiness. Explain what you can. Tell people honestly, sometimes: “I know this is true, but I can’t explain all of it.” Send enquirers to an expert. Serious enquirers will “follow through.” Others might be touched by your humility.
Continue to make responsible plans for your life, for your work, leisure and family. But be ‘flexible’, since God’s plans are better than ours. Some of our ambitions are silly or even dangerous. Ask for more faith, so that you can recognise and accept God’s Will, and so that you can be stronger, and can even love God’s Will! God is always at work in our lives (if we consent) through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, Who trains us, steers us, opens ‘doors’ to new heights of holiness, touches our hearts, warns us through conscience, or gives us His peace. It is He Who sends certain persons into our lives to guide or guard us.
Love God, and try to please Him. Be happy to pass unnoticed. But don’t let false humility keep you from prominence, if the work needs you, and God calls you. God our Father sees and rewards every good work, every good thought, and every little sacrifice we make to please Him and to help our neighbour. What an incentive for us to do more!
Keep your faith alive by prayer and good thinking. Christ our Saviour is thrilled by every little prayer of ours and every tiny effort to be good. Remember: the present moment is the most precious moment in life.
Holiness and humility.
Hope to resemble Christ. He can make you like Himself, through His powerful graces and your co-operation.
Read the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, to find what we call the ‘Beatitudes’, in which Christ provides us with a word-picture of the sort of people we should hope to resemble because they’re on their way to true happiness. How deeply Christ longs to see us poor in spirit, to see us mourning the temporary triumphs of evil, and to see us hungering and thirsting for holiness. How He longs to see us being merciful and pure in heart, and acting as peacemakers, and even willing to be persecuted, mocked or slandered for His sake.
Ask yourself: are you making sacrifices in order to be faithful to Christ’s teaching? Are you gentle, kind and patient? Do you forgive those who hurt you? Do you usually fight against temptations to sin or give in at the first invitation? Do you always speak the truth? Are you chaste, in your thoughts, acts and attitudes? Perhaps these questions will help you to realise how much we all need God’s help, and so how important it is that we go to Him frequently, in prayer, in order to receive that help.
Think how much more joyful your prayer-time will be, if you’ve confessed your sins and have a peaceful conscience! Christ welcomes all our prayers, and loves us no matter what ‘state’ we’re in; yet He longs for us to be happy; and by repentance and trust we can be more and more at ease in His presence.
Reward and punishment.
Don’t listen to those who mock you for your trust. They speak about ‘pie in the sky’; but we know that Christ Himself has spoken about reward and punishment. Don’t be disheartened. He sees and rewards every good work you do, and every good thought, and every little sacrifice made to please Him and help your neighbour. What an incentive for us to do more! Keep your faith alive, by prayer and good thinking. Christ our Saviour is thrilled by every little prayer of ours and every tiny effort to be good.
Remember: the present moment is the most precious moment in life; and God ‘needs’ you for His work! Even now, you draw others along with you, by all your little acts of patience, and by your hard work and your silence in suffering. You draw others, invisibly, towards Heaven, by your loving ‘sacrifices’. We will see all the ‘results’ one day, if we persevere.
Try to talk with Christian friends, if you are isolated. It’s hard to be the ‘odd one out’. We need encouragement.
Learn about the Saints who were just like you and me in the sense that they were weak human beings who hoped to be holy with Christ’s holiness. They were mocked for being “fanatical” or too “intense”. Be cheerful, if you can, like them. We have such a short life, and so great a reward promised to us. Heaven is forever! Never forget. It’s true that sin is punished. But keep your eyes on Christ, Who longs for you to be happy. ‘Run’ in His direction, always, and draw your friends and family along with you towards Goodness and eternal joy.
Picture the whole world; picture large towns and poor villages; picture people in caves, huts and house-boats; and realise that on every continent, as families sit by lamp-light, early, or stay up all night, ‘lit’ by electricity and T.V., God still asks the same questions. God is asking, through Christ, whether we’re willing to accept His Divine Life, and to be re-born, filled with His Light. He asks if we’re ready to live in His Spirit’s power. He tells us that it’s by His Spirit’s power that we can love and serve Him, and love and serve our neighbour, guided - in the best way - by the Catholic Church. God is asking if we’ll be obedient to His Laws, which will shape us to be perfectly happy, upright, holy and Christ-like.
Thank God for His Church, through which Christ shares His divine life with us and makes us (even us!) pure and holy.
Pray for vocations. Pray for Bishops, priests and deacons. Pray for all Religious and all single persons. Pray for all married people and all parents. Encourage others who struggle to be faithful. Never give up. Jesus loves you! He shows us the way to Heaven. Many people have half-glimpsed Christ’s path, helped by conscience, and by the wisdom of their people. How good is God! How marvellous: that so many people are close to Him; yet how wonderful it is, that God has established a safe haven, on earth: a place of sanctuary for us, His Holy People: the Holy Catholic Church.
Think how great a privilege it is that Christ lets us do His Work of drawing people towards Him, so that they too can be members of His Body. How great a danger we face if we become careless, lukewarm or idle, when there is no other Way but Christ’s Way to true, everlasting joy.
Don’t be troubled by people who say “This is nearly the twenty-first century: religion is out-of-date”. God never changes. He is still guiding and strengthening His martyrs everywhere (martyrs in bearing humiliations for love of Him or martyrs by physical death). God is at work in those who love Him now, in England, just as He was in first century Rome in St Peter, in fifth century North Africa in St Augustine, in fifth century Ireland in St Patrick, in eleventh century Scotland in St Margaret, in sixteenth century Spain in St Teresa, in sixteenth century Japan in St Paul Miki, in seventeenth century Peru in St Rose, in nineteenth century Uganda in St Charles Lwanga, and in twentieth century Poland in St Maximilian Kolbe. So many thousands of others, too, have been faithful. Shall we give up before we have really begun?
Don’t imagine that the truths of the Faith are changed by new discoveries about the marvels of God’s creation, by new powers put into human hands, or by a more acute observation and manipulation of God’s laws.
The Hope of Heaven.
Abandon your criticism. Look to Jesus and Mary if you want models of holiness. They are patterns of goodness, for our living and our dying. They are loving companions in the spiritual life, loving friends in the darkest night: loving hosts who will greet us tenderly one day, when the ‘door’ of Heaven opens.
Remember: Our Lady is truly the Mother of God. Think about the task of this lovely, obedient woman. Without Mary, we would have no Christ, no saving Sacrifice, no Sacraments, and no Church. Without Christ our God and Saviour we would have no hope, no salvation, and no way to Heaven. What a marvellous Father we have, Who rescues us! Thank Him for giving us Christ and Our Lady. Don’t be ashamed to pray simple prayers.
Remember: Heaven awaits those who are faithful. Listen to the message which Christ gives to us through His Church and through the Holy Scriptures. Live in hope, but don’t neglect the Way to Heaven. Be faithful to Christ, to His Commandments, and to prayer, and so allow His Spirit to change, strengthen and transform you and to bring you safely to God’s heart, for all Eternity.
‘As pure as Christ’.
Hope to resemble Christ, one day. Listen to what Saint John has written about this:- “THINK OF THE LOVE THAT THE FATHER HAS LAVISHED ON US, BY LETTING US BE CALLED GOD’S CHILDREN; AND THAT IS WHAT WE ARE” [1 Jn 3:1]. “MY DEAR PEOPLE, WE ARE ALREADY THE CHILDREN OF GOD BUT WHAT WE ARE TO BE IN THE FUTURE HAS NOT YET BEEN REVEALED; ALL WE KNOW IS, THAT WHEN IT IS REVEALED WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM BECAUSE WE SHALL SEE HIM AS HE REALLY IS. SURELY EVERYONE WHO ENTERTAINS THIS HOPE MUST PURIFY HIMSELF, MUST TRY TO BE AS PURE AS CHRIST” [1 Jn 3:2-3].
Don’t be embarrassed, as you think about your state-of-soul. Many of us who read the words of Holy Scripture are tempted to doubt God’s power. Which of us can be as pure as Christ? Of course, it’s not possible for unaided human beings. But if we’re willing to pray in Jesus’ name to God our Father in prayer and to ask His Holy Spirit to guide us in all our thoughts and actions, and if we meet Christ in the sacraments, and if we let Him scour our hearts of all that is self-seeking or impure, we can be confident that He will change us.
Don’t imagine that your past struggles and miseries have been ‘wasted’. Christ is delighted by every effort we make to please Him. He’s pleased with every good thing done out of love for Him and for every wrong thing avoided. That’s why I’m bursting to say to every spiritual brother and sister who is wondering if our battles are worthwhile: “Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Although you don’t perhaps realise it, it’s at this very moment, as you’re plodding along in spiritual darkness and yet are still battling to remain faithful for a minute at a time that you’re proving the depth of your faith and love.”
Have confidence that Christ is at work today. It’s right now that Christ is doing great work through your faith and perseverance. Right now, and for as long as you hang on to Christ, even in darkness, your soul is actively being purified, your faith, hope and love are being strengthened, and the precious people in your heart are being helped, whatever you see or don’t see. The Church on earth is being made stronger through your faithfulness and love, the souls of Purgatory are helped, and the Saints and Angels are given greater cause for joy. Christ delights in your love, the Holy Spirit sees that His work in you is fruitful, and the Father of Light and Glory - your Heavenly Father - is glorified, and draws you more surely towards Himself so that you can one day share His Bliss and Glory. On that day, these torments will seem like a dream - or will be seen as mere pebbles over which you once stumbled, briefly, on your journey to Heaven!
Accept my assurance that I’m speaking from the heart about these things because I know from experience that they’re true. I haven’t yet reached Heaven, but I’ve ‘reached’ the Father, “in Christ”, through Christ’s merits; and so I’ve learned about our trials and their true significance. It’s because the Father loves us so tremendously that He draws such a great good from our ‘bad’ times as well as from the good, if we only trust in Him and endure, until the time when He chooses to give us consolation.
Look to the Saints once more for an encouraging reminder that Christ has transformed His penitent friends throughout many centuries. By His power, Christ can fill our souls and hearts and lives with His holiness and purity.
Think about sanctity, which doesn’t depend on anyone’s age, intelligence or learning, but is solely a question of what degree of Divine Charity burns within a soul who either is very innocent or who has finished his purifications; and the most holy are usually those who are both self-critical and self-forgetful. They are ‘ordinary’ in being obedient to God, willing to admit their faults and to start again, kind and gentle, simple and uncomplicated, and shy of rushing in to judge or to organise other people or to satisfy curiosity. Holiness and glory are wholly pure, free gifts from God given in the end to those who have believed in Him and who have turned to Him in willingness to be of service and to accept purification.
Think about meeting Christ, when you die. You will be amazed at how much He has done for you, because He loves you. Will you be sad that you did so little to please Him, were so hesitant in His defence, and so grudgingly helped your neighbour? Or will you leap gratefully into the arms of the One Who has loved you without ceasing and Who has gently drawn you through misery, failure, and embarrassment into a more staggering beauty and joy than you could ever have begun to imagine, at the heart of God: the Most Holy Trinity!?