Today is the 12th anniversary of my paralyzing car accident. It is also the feast of St. John of the Cross, the real Dark Knight. Coincidence? I think not. This writing from a spiritual Canticle of his sums up much of what I have learned over the course of the last twelve years:
“[T]he apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God…Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much [interior and exterior] suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there is consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.
Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowable, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.
Sometimes it is necessary for us to experience the thickest darkness in order to finally be able to see the light. We are like gold that is tested in fire – the fire of God’s love. A fire which, though it burns, is not meant to destroy us but to soften our ugly, sinful, hardened hearts so that the Divine Goldsmith can more easily shape them into something beautiful:
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” -1 Peter 1:6-7
We can’t follow Jesus Christ without sharing in His Cross. This is the “narrow gate” through which we must travel in order to merit eternal life. Many avoid this gate because it can be so very painful, but we do not travel alone. In his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict speaks of Christ the true shepherd in this way:
“The true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through.”
It is not fleeing from suffering that heals us, but our willingness to accept it, mature through it and find meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love (Spe Salvi, 37).