Today is the feast of the English Martyrs here in the UK. The gospel may be different based on where you live – but given the state of things throughout the world today, the message from Jesus is incredibly timely and relevant.
We’re all called to suffer.
In fact, many are suffering right now, either through health, the loss of a loved one or financial hardship. What we must remember is that He equips all of us during these times. What matters most is how we conduct ourselves before and during our own times of trial as it can be the difference between experiencing anguish or enduring the trials with His joy.
Let’s choose joy.
Here is the reading from Matthew 10:17-20
The Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans.
But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.’
Our hard road through Calvary
The way of the cross, His way, always goes through Calvary. If we are to follow Him, we must embrace this. Jesus tells us that we will experience trials and suffering for His sake – just as He experienced trials and suffering for ours. We can’t claim to be His followers if we aren’t prepared to do this – as scary as this may seem.
Padre Pio once wrote, “no suffering will go unrewarded in eternal life.” We always have the opportunity to unite that suffering with that of Jesus’ passion and know that our reward awaits. In other words, there is always a happy ending for us, however hard the experience might currently be.
Most of the difficulty we face doesn’t actually lie in the suffering itself – it lies in the anticipation of suffering. The very idea of suffering has probably already provoked that anticipation – that nervousness that comes with the potential of future suffering. Kind of like when you’re at the dentist or doctor and you know what they’re about to do will be uncomfortable, may even hurt. Everything inside you tightens up. The magnitude of that discomfort pales in comparison to what we may be asked to endure for Jesus’ sake. Suffering for Him and mirroring what He has done for us is a very different level.
Worrying means suffering twice
Paulo Coelho wrote in his book, The Alchemist:
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity”
The very anticipation of suffering, as Coelho points out, is not only a doubling of the suffering but actually even greater than the suffering itself. Worrying about what is to come, then, gets in the way of our encounter with God and with eternity.
When we think back to any time we have suffered, the actual event itself was usually not as bad as we may have dreamed it could be. Why is that? Because we had help. We always have the help we need when we need it. The same will be true for any suffering to come. The problem is, when we anticipate the suffering – we don’t anticipate the help we’ll get.
I’ve heard it said once, “worrying is a waste of our imagination”. We imagine difficulties far greater than they may ever be – and we don’t imagine the heavenly help and support that will be at our disposal. Jesus will be present with us in those trials, uniting our Calvary with His.
Speaking in you
When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, aware of the passion to come, even He asked God to take the cup from Him. In our following of Him, we need to be just as quick as He was in acknowledging that “not my will but Yours be done” and take that resolve into whatever it is we’re called to face with the help we know and trust will be given.
In the gospel above, Jesus goes further than simply saying that we’ll have help. We actually get a stand-in. It will not be us speaking but the Spirit of the Father speaking in us. At the very time of our trial, the hardest part will be taken on by God, not us. This is the part that is always missing when we worry, and what we notice whenever we look back to past difficulties and trials.
Shifting back to the present
If we know that the help, the stand-in, will be there with us when the difficulty comes, let’s decide to forego the worrying, anxiety and anticipation. Whatever we’ll need, whenever we need it, will be given to us – so let’s just wait for it to come. This is a great act of trust, and one that allows us to come back to Him in the present moment and reorient on how it is He needs us to serve today.
It should come as no surprise that our enemy is behind the encouragement to worry about what might come. Our enemy is continuing to try and take us away from our God – and if our God is with us in the present then of course he’ll try to focus our attention on hurts from the past or worries of the future. The better we can resist going to the past or future through an act of trust, the more readily we can serve in the present – thwarting his attempt to separate us from God.
The truth in all of this is that Jesus is continually flooding us with the graces and support we need to do what He needs of us in every present moment of our lives. This was true in all of our past challenges, it’s true right now, and it will be true in every future moment to come. It’s us who come and go – floating between the past, present and future in our minds. He remains, waiting patiently for us to remain with Him.
Abiding in Him
At all times of our lives, every single moment, Jesus wants us to be with Him. He is there waiting for us, waiting for us to join Him. When we try to be self-sufficient, when we wallow in our own self-pity, when we delude ourselves of our own strength and power, we ignore His presence and set ourselves up for another fall. Each time, He’s there, waiting to welcome us back and hoping that we learn to walk with Him in each moment to come.
It is in this very moment that we serve. It is in this very moment that we can hear Him, feel His spirit working through us, speaking through us – but only if we let Him. We must make an act of our free will to invite that to happen. He does not force Himself on us.
The more often we do this, the more united we are to Him in all things and the better we can serve in the way He designed us to serve. To “abide” means “to accept and act in accordance with”. Abiding in Him means we accept Him and all that He asks of us, and that our actions are in accordance with these teachings. The joy that comes with doing His will is showered on us and continues so as long as we abide in Him on a continual basis.
In John 15:4 Jesus says “Abide in me as I abide in you”. Jesus accepts us and wants to act with us – He needs us to do the same. Let us strive to always abide in Him.
Orienting your attention in time
If we’re to quit worrying, it’s far easier to put our attention towards doing something else than it is to keep our focus on “not worrying”. Simply telling ourselves “I will stop worrying” is a very hard thing to do – so instead let’s focus on what it is we can do that will result in our worries disappearing.
It all comes down to our attention and where we place it. Throughout the day it drifts and many things might prompt it to drift to something new. Being more aware of these thoughts in the first place is important so that we can recognise “where we are” at each given moment. Over time we’ll want to be able to “relocate” based on where we are, but first we need a sense of orientation. If you find that a particular source of noise or influence continually triggers your thoughts of the past or future, become more diligent in how much time you spend there.
Throughout your day, just pause and try to determine, “are my thoughts stuck on something from my past? Am I worrying or thinking ahead to some future possibility? Or am I focused on what’s happening right now?” Don’t judge your answer, just take note of it and carry on. The more often we do this, the more we’ll start to recognise it as it’s happening and can begin to catch ourselves from getting too stuck in the past or too anxious about the future.
Inviting Him into the details of your day
This practice will sound very familiar to those who have tried meditation, either of the eastern varieties or more modern methods. As with all things that began as Christian and “good”, the enemy has distorted it to no longer provide the clarity & protection it was intended to give. What was removed must be added back – Jesus’ presence in this process.
A very helpful technique for being in the present more often is a simple and quick prayer to Jesus. Acknowledging His presence in you, His waiting, and inviting Him to join you in whatever you’re about to do. Come back to this frequently throughout the day and not only will He help you remain in the present, the sense of direction and clarity that you’ll have in all things is magnified because you’ve invited Him to do it with you.
To make a game of it, set yourself a challenge to count how many times in a day you can come back to Him, inviting Him to join you. On your phone or in a journal, keep tally and keep working towards a personal daily record.
The more we do this, the more we build strong habits of remaining with Him at all times. We believe and trust that He won’t leave us, so why should we leave Him?
Regardless of where our string of present moments lead us – including times of suffering – this union provides us the clarity and joy that I’m sure many of the saintly martyrs were blessed to experience.