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Persevere in the struggle


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

First, I encourage you to support the St. Patrick Ham Dinner hosted by the Church of St. Paul at the Zumbrota VFW this Sunday, March 27! The meal will be served from 10:30am – 1pm.

The month of March is dedicated to increased devotion to St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Virgin Mary and Foster Father of our Lord Jesus. Let us go to St. Joseph, open our hearts to his love for us and experience his great kindness! This weekend I share with you a reflection on Patience and desire to grow in holiness. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:

“Patient Struggle against Defects - The paralytic at Bethsaida. Constancy in the struggle and in the desire to improve: (In the Gospel of John, chapter 5, we learn) about a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years, and who is hoping for a miraculous cure from the waters of the pool at Bethsaida. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him, Do you want to be healed? The sick man replied in all simplicity: Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me. Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your pallet and walk. The paralytic obeyed. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. (John 5:1-16)

The Lord is always willing to listen to us and to give us whatever we need in any situation. His goodness is always in excess of our calculations. But it requires a corresponding response on our part, with a desire to get out of the situation we are in. There can be no pact with our defects and errors, and we must make the effort to overcome them. We cannot ever ‘get used to’ the shortcomings and weaknesses which separate us from God and from others, on the excuse that they are part of our character, or that we have already tried several times over to tackle them without positive result.

It is the heart which moves us to improve in our interior dispositions through that conversion of the heart to God and to works of penance, thus preparing our souls to receive the Graces God wishes to grant us.

Jesus asks us to persevere in the struggle, and to begin again as often as necessary, realizing that it is in struggle that love grows. The Lord does not ask the paralytic in order to learn - this would be superfluous - but to make his patience known to all, for that invalid for thirty-eight years had hoped, without ceasing, to be freed from his illness. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, 36)

Our love for Christ is shown in our decisiveness and in the effort we make to root out as soon as possible our dominant defect, or to obtain a virtue which seems to us difficult to practice. But it is also shown in the patience which we exercise in the ascetical struggle: it is possible that the Lord will ask us to struggle over a long period, perhaps for thirty-eight years, to grow in a particular virtue or to overcome that particular negative aspect of our interior life.

A well-known spiritual author has taught the importance of being patient with one’s own defects so as to develop the art of profiting from one’s faults. (J. Tissot, The Art of Profiting from our Mistakes) We ought not to be surprised - or disconcerted - when, having used all the means reasonably within our reach, we have not managed to reach the goal we had set ourselves. We must not simply get used to it, but use our faults to grow in true humility, in experience, in maturity of judgement. The man (of this Gospel event) presents to us was constant over thirty-eight years, and we may suppose that he could have so continued to the end of his days. The reward for his constancy was, above all, the meet-ing with Jesus.

Patience in interior life. Return to the Lord as often as necessary: Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. (James 5:7)

It is necessary for one to know, to hope and to struggle with persevering patience, realizing that this is what pleases God. St. Francis de Sales used to say: One has to suffer, in patience, the setbacks to our perfection, doing whatever we can to make progress in good spirit. We hope with patience, and instead of getting frustrated at having done so little in the past, we try diligently to do more in the future. (J. Tissot, loc. cit.)

Moreover, virtue is not normally attained through sporadic bursts of effort. Rather is it in the continuity of the effort, the constancy of going on trying each day, each week, helped by Grace. To win the battles of the soul, the best strategy often is to bide one’s time and apply the suitable remedy with patience and perseverance. Make more acts of Hope. Let me remind you that in your interior life you will suffer defeats, and you will have ups and downs - may God make them imperceptible - because no one is free from these misfortunes. But our all-powerful and merciful Lord has granted us the precise means with which to conquer… All we have to do is to use them, resolving to begin again and again at every moment, whenever necessary. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 219)

The heart of constancy lies in Love: only with Love can one be patient (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q136, a3) and struggle, without accepting failures and defeats as inevitable, as baffling difficulties that do not have a solution. We cannot become like those Christians, who, after many skirmishes and battles, find their strength has come to an end; their courage has failed them, when they are only a couple of steps from the fountain of Living Water. (cf. St. Teresa, The Way of Perfection, 19, 2)

To be patient with oneself while uprooting unwholesome tendencies and defects in character implies both an unyielding approach and an acceptance of the fact that one will often have to present oneself be-fore God like the servant who had no resources with which to pay (cf. Matt. 18:23) - with humility, seeking Grace anew. On our way to-wards the Lord, many will be the defeats we suffer; many of these will be of no consequence, some will. But the atonement and contrition for these will bring us even closer to God. This sorrow and reparation for our sins and shortcomings, are not useless moods of gloom, for they are sorrow and tears born of Love. It is the heavy thought of not returning as much Love as our Lord merits; it is the sorrow of returning evil for good to One Who so much Loves us.

Patience, too, with others. Taking their defects into account. Patience and constancy in the apostolate: In addition to being patient with ourselves, we have to exercise this virtue with those we must frequently deal with, and especially so if we have a special obligation to give formation, to help them in an illness, etc. We have to take into account the defects of those who are around us. Fortitude and understanding will enable us to remain calm, correcting when necessary and at the right time. Waiting a little while before correct-ing, giving a positive reply, smiling… all this allows our words to touch the hearts of these people, hearts that would otherwise have remained closed. Now we can help them much more, with greater effectiveness.

Impatience makes mutual relationships difficult, and renders any possible help and correction ineffectual.

Continue making the same exhortation, St. John Chrysostom recommends, and never lazily. A lways act amiably and pleasantly. Do you not see how often painters will erase their sketches and at other times retouch them, when they are trying to portray a beautiful face? Don’t let the painter be one up on you. For if they make so much of an effort for a bodily image, how much greater reason do we have when we try to form the image of a soul, leaving no stone unturned in trying to perfect it. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 30)

We ought to be particularly constant and patient in the apostolate.

People need time, and God is patient: at every moment He gives His grace, He pardons offenses and encourages progress. He has had, and continues to have, this limitless patience with us. And we ought to have it with those whom we wish to bring to Our Lord, although it might seem on occasions that they are not listening, or that the things of God do not interest them. We cannot abandon them just for this reason. On these occasions it will be necessary to intensify both our prayer and our mortification, our Charity too and our sincere friendship.

None of our friends should ever be able to speak to Our Lord in the words of the paralytic: I do not have anyone to help me.’ This, unfortunately, could be said by many who are spiritually sick and paralytic, who could be useful - and should be useful. Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls. (J. Escriva, Furrow, 212)

Let us examine ourselves today in our prayer, to see if we are sufficiently concerned about those who accompany us on our journey through life; let us ask ourselves if we are concerned about their formation, or if we, on the other hand, have got used to their defects as something we have come to regard as incorrigible; are we really patient towards them?

It would also be good this Lent to recall that with mortification we can also atone for the sins of others and, in some way, merit for them the Grace of Faith, of conversion, of a greater dedication to God.

In Jesus Christ lies the remedy for all the evils of which humanity complains. In Him everyone can find life and health. He is the fountain of those waters that give life to everything. This is what Ezekiel the prophet tells us: This water flows east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it make its waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings heath, and life teems wherever the river flows. (Ezek. 47:8-9) Christ converts into life everything which was previously dead, and turns shortcomings and error into virtue.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)

Through the intercession of Mary, Refuge of Sinners, St. Joseph, the Terror of demons, St. Michael, St. Paul, and our Guardian Angels, may our good Lord grant us the Grace to patiently grow in holiness!

In Christ through Mary,

Fr. Kasel