Monday, January 9, 2017

Why Does God Punish Me?

At times we all ponder the sorrows of this life, whether our own or that of beloved friends or relatives, and not only do we want to do something about the sadness, we want it to end!  Often we turn to prayer, and often it is not answered --- as we want.  And sometimes we question God’s role in the pain and sorrows:  Why do You, a loving God, permit this?  Why?
This morning I was reading a rather small book, a Christmas gift from a friend:  Letters of Blessed John of Avila, not an exceptionally well-known man (and yet a confidante of St. Theresa of Avila).  I read one of his letters to a widow, as he consoled her on the death of her husband, and his various letters to ill people, explaining how their sufferings are actually a higher calling of God --- a blessing!
He will have none but those who take up their cross
and follow Him, as sheep do their shepherd,
even though the path leads to death.
Those words struck me.  We all recall the parable of the Good Shepherd, and if we picture it in our mind, we see the Lord cuddling the small lamb in His arms, and we feel all warm and comfy at the thoughts.  We don’t often consider, however, as Blessed John of Avila wrote, that the shepherd’s path leads to death --- and this is a good thing!  He IS The Good Shepherd precisely because He not only leads us to death, but through death to eternal life.  It’s hard for us to ponder death and the life after, but we will all die, even as Jesus did, our Good Shepherd did. 
These are quotes from his letter to the widow:
It would be monstrous for slaves to refuse to obey a
law their master kept, or for an adopted son to rebel
against what the true son bore … Yet who was ever
afflicted with so many sufferings as He?  … How
ashamed should we feel at seeking to share His joys,
but leaving Him alone in His agony!  … as the King
of heaven entered His kingdom through tribulations,
we must reach it by the same path.
Oh! Blindness of the sons of Adam, who think nothing
of the future as long as they can enjoy the present;
who care not for what profits them, but only for
what pleases them.
Our Lord has sent you this trial to make you cling closer
to Him, since you have less on earth for which to care. …
He has taken your husband from you, that He Himself
may fill his place.  … Prepare yourself for that passage
from life which you have seen others take before.  Spend
not the time which was given you to gain eternal life
in mourning over death.  It is well to believe that our
Lord took him because he was ready for death, and
that you have been left here that you may prepare
yourself for it.
Blessed John of Avila wrote such consoling yet wise words.  Death is a parting not an ending, and suffering is not a punishment.  We have sorrows over things of this world, but all of us will pass from this world, and we will look back upon those sorrows as just a second in our eternal life.  The question Blessed John raises and strongly urges the suffering to consider is:  “Where will you spend that eternal life, and with whom?”  Your loved ones await you.
Thus, although your life may not be a very happy one,
it will greatly profit your soul.  … Take courage
to go on your way; you have a long road to
traverse before you can reach heaven.   … I pray
and hope that our Lord Jesus Christ may accomplish
all this in your soul.
Blessed John had one further example he wrote of, which I found most heartening:
A holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass by,
magnificently dressed and bejeweled.
He burst into tears, exclaiming:  “I beseech
Thee to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman
in one day takes more trouble to please men,
than I have done in many years to please Thee!
“Why does God punish me?” we sometimes ask.  But He is not punishing us but rather blessing us, taking our focus from the joys we seek in this world, to the joys we should be seeking in the next.  If suffering comes, if death intrudes, these should not be something we dwell on, but rather our eyes should be focused on the Good Shepherd.  He leads us to green pastures, even here sometimes, but certainly in eternity.

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