The Reality of Suffering & the Hope of Salvation

by E. Daniel Box

Every now and then I come across young people who are on fire for the faith. They inspire me. They give me hope. About a year ago I was speaking in Chicago and met an “about to graduate” law school student named Daniel Box.

After the talk, I went out with him, his wife, and a couple others to continue the conversation started at my lecture. Daniel struck me as a man entirely devoted to our Lord, and I’m happy to share one of the articles he has written. It’s a great reminder about the reality of the Catholic life, especially as we enter into Advent.

Keep an eye on him, as I think he’s going to do great things for our Lord. And you can do that by checking out his blog at https://edanielbox.weebly.com/.

Blessings,

Matthew


The Reality of Suffering & the Hope of Salvation

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

It has been said that Christianity is not an electric blanket that coddles or warms a person gently to sleep.  In reality, it is a cross that each and every one of us must bear.

Sacrifice, suffering, and death—these are essential in our journey toward salvation, and they are at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  This is an idea repeatedly found in the message of Christ: God’s prophets are almost always killed by the masses (Mt. 23:37); Jesus warns his disciples that, because they do not belong to the world, but instead have been chosen by God, they will be hated by the world (Jn. 15:19); and Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me” (Mt. 5:11).

Brothers and sisters, I am of the opinion that one of the greatest threats to the Church today is not simply the assaults that She endures from without, but a cancer that assaults Her body from within.  And this cancer is the misunderstanding and distortion of the Gospel by believers of Jesus into a watered-down, “feel-good” narrative—a narrative of a God who is just a “nice guy” and who, because He is so loving and forgiving, makes no real demands on our daily lives; a narrative that says that we can all reasonably expect to make it into heaven, as long as we generally avoid doing harm to others.

But this is not the Gospel.  No, the Gospel is a love story.  And true love is always sacrificial.  True love always involves pain and death, not because others—our spouses or neighbors—are so difficult to love, but because our selfish nature makes it difficult for each of us to escape our tendency to love ourselves inordinately.  In other words, loving others necessarily entails the grind of constant self-denial, which is why St. Josemaría Escrivá explained, “As long as we walk on this earth, suffering will always be the touchstone of love.”  Once one understands this truth, it becomes clear why so many today—Christians and non-Christians alike—fail to see the importance of sacrifice, suffering, and death in the Gospel: they fail to understand what love truly is.

Contrary to what popular culture would have us believe, love is not about me and my self-expression, my finding a companion, so that I can find fulfillment.  Love is about service to another.  Christian love emulates Jesus, who “hand[s] himself over for [His Bride] to sanctify her” (Eph. 5:25-26).  Again, therefore, love is not self-serving, but is self-sacrificial.  When the Christian loves and marries, he or she no longer lives for themselves, but for their spouse, looking out above all for their spouse’s wellbeing, even to the detriment of their own.  Love makes demands on us.  In fact, loves demands everything from us, because it demands that we hold nothing back.  We know from Scripture that “love does not seek its own interests…it does not brood over injury…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:5-8).  It never fails.

It is clear, then, that love is no schmoopy virtue for the weak or faint of heart.  To be called to love is to be called to bold and tenacious virtue, because love requires self-sacrifice, perseverance, and living for another.  In a word, love requires suffering and death, and cannot exist without these.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” says Jesus (Jn. 15:13).  And because God is worthy of the greatest of love, He calls his followers to “deny [themselves], take up [their] cross daily, and follow [him].”  We must suffer and die to ourselves, in order to free ourselves from our passions and vices and so to be able to love God without reservation.

In his spiritual masterpiece, Dom. Lorenzo Scupoli warned Christians to take seriously this struggle against the passions and in favor of self-denial, by saying, “The fight against the passions will last a lifetime, and he who lays down his arms will be slain.”  We see, both in Scripture and throughout salvation history, that the holiest of men and women toiled in prayer and even subjected themselves to corporal pains up to the day of their deaths, and never dared to presume themselves to be a “shoe-in” for heaven (e.g. 1 Cor. 4:4-5).  Who then are we to think and do otherwise?

The Bible tells us that Paul physically “pummel[ed] [his] body…for fear that, after having preached to others, [he himself] should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).  Paul—a person who healed others, who lived a life of celibacy for Christ, who traveled the world to spread the Gospel, and who was stoned, shipwrecked, bitten by poisonous snakes, imprisoned multiple times, and finally martyred for the faith—informs us that, even in the final days of his life, he continued to “work out [his] salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

  • Brothers and sisters, what kind of suffering have we willingly embraced, in order to spread the Gospel?
  • How regularly do we deny ourselves our desires—not just the sinful desires, but even the non-sinful desires—in an effort to train ourselves not to be ruled by our passions?
  • Are there things in our lives that we might refuse to give up, even if we were to hear the voice of Jesus calling us to follow him today?
  • When was the last time you fasted during Advent (or anytime outside of Lent)? Jesus tells us that there are certain temptations that can only be eradicated through fasting (Mk. 9:29, Mt. 17:21).
  • As Catholics, we know that we can offer up any suffering we experience for the salvation and conversion of others (see Col. 1:24, Rom. 8:17, 1 Cor. 1:5-6). How often do we actually do this?  More importantly, how often do we seek out and pursue suffering, so that we might offer it up for others?

We all hate suffering.  I pretend to be no better at it than anyone else.  But because suffering is integral to love, and because love is necessary for salvation, suffering too in a manner of speaking is necessary for salvation.  St. Thomas More summed up this idea nicely in words that he was fond of repeating to his children: we cannot “go to heaven in featherbeds.”

When we Catholics study Scripture and history, we should find ourselves humbled to discover a majestic spiritual heritage of holy brothers and sisters who were willing to give up everything for Jesus—even their own lives.  We should find ourselves inspired to live out Jesus’ call that we “take up our cross daily” and “lose our lives” when we reflect on the witness of St. John the Baptist, for example, whose martyrdom we celebrated Tuesday in the Church; or when we reflect on Bartholomew’s being flayed alive; or Stephen’s being stoned to death; or Ignatius of Antioch’s being fed to the lions; Lawrence’s being grilled alive; Francis’ stigmata; Joan of Arc’s being burned at the stake; John of the Cross’ dark night; Fr. Miguel Pro’s being executed by firing squad; Maximilian Kolbe’s being starved to death at Auschwitz.

It is wrong—in fact, in today’s Gospel, Jesus identifies it as satanic—to think that suffering has no place in the Christian life.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when reflecting upon today’s reading, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”  All of us, as Christian men and women, must die to ourselves, we must be martyred for the sake of this faith—certainly figuratively, but perhaps one day even literally.  This is the cost of discipleship.  Like John the Baptist, we must decrease, so that Jesus may increase (Jn. 3:30).

So ask yourself, today and every day, what kind of Christian will you be?  And take refuge in the favorite Scriptural words of Pope St. John Paul the Great: “Be not afraid.”

E. Daniel Box

To learn more about Daniel and read more of his thoughts on the Catholic life, check out his blog at http://edanielbox.weebly.com/.

Also, if you want to hear more about the topic of suffering, check out Episode 15 of the Art of Catholic podcast titled “Exploring the Mystery of Redemptive Suffering with Jeff Cavins.”

071: Understanding Indulgences…Finally

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We’re not supposed to talk about them.

They’re supposed to be like that embarrassing uncle no one mentions by name at family functions. But that’s crazy.

In this episode of the Art of Catholic podcast we’re going to unveil the beautiful theology and practice of indulgences. Far from being an indefensible leftover we’d rather sweep under the medieval rug, indulgences are a powerful witness to God’s mercy. They are an incredible help in our journey to heaven.

But we need to understand them.

So as to help us make use of the Church’s treasury of merit (and really understand what in the world the “treasury of merit” even is), I brought in Mary Moorman. She’s a brilliant lady who recently wrote a pretty thick book on the topic titled, Indulgences: Luther, Catholicism, and the Imputation of Merit.

Among other issues, we’ll discuss:

  • What an indulgence is and how to obtain one
  • Pope St. John Paul II’s insightful take on indulgences
  • The very important difference between sacraments and indulgences
  • Why indulgences can be a (very) surprising bridge between Catholics and Protestants
  • Why Martin Luther should have loved indulgences…but didn’t
  • The deep connection between almsgiving and indulgences
  • Why you can’t understand indulgences without understanding the nature of sin

As with so many topics we cover on the Art of Catholic podcast, this one is both theologically rich and eminently practical.

And just to round things out, I’m once again bringing in the brilliant Bible scholar, Curtis Mitch, to add a little “somethin’-somethin.'” It’s another incredible installment of Next Level Scripture. He provides some unbelievably cool Old Testament background on the whole subject that brings the whole topic into focus.

Any way you slice it, this is a great episode. Hope you enjoy.

God bless!

Matthew

P.S. If you liked this episode, you’ll probably like these, too:

047: The Secret Back Door out of Purgatory Nobody Talks About

048: How Almsgiving Can Save Your Life…Now & Later


 

8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life Cover ImageAll who have been lost were lost because they did not pray.” St. Alphonsus Liguori.

Don’t be lost! Grab your FREE copy of my quick guide to deeper prayer 8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life! 

It’s an easy step-by-step summary of the spiritual giants of the Church designed to help you rocket to God!

 

Don’t miss a show! Subscribe to The Art of Catholic by clicking this link and then clicking “View in iTunes” under the picture and then “Subscribe”!  (I listen to my podcasts on using Overcast. It’s free and works better than the Apple Podcast player. Get it here.)

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus! Check out the new video about my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2018!  It’s the trip of a lifetime!

Click here for trip details.

 

069: Answering Luther: Finding (Catholic) Faith in Sacred Scripture

featuring Curtis Mitch

Twenty years ago, I lost my faith.

I didn’t lose my belief in or about faith, but I officially gave up the certainty that I had enough of it to be saved. It was Easter Vigil, 1998.

That’s when I became Catholic.

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Rebell…I mean, Reformation. It’s been a catastrophe. There are now more than 40,000 Protestant denominations…and counting.

As a result, Christianity has become the poster child for hypocrisy. The religion that professes one faith in Jesus Christ, can’t even agree what faith is.

Not since Martin Luther, anyway.

He had some strange ideas about it, ideas most of our Protestant brethren don’t even really understand. And to be honest, a lot of Catholics don’t really have a firm grasp of the topic either.

So we’re going to set the record straight.

I brought in my biblical bazooka named Curtis Mitch. You remember him. He’s the guy who wrote the commentary in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.

He was also my guest on the extremely popular episode 54, explaining the extreme violence in Sacred Scripture.

This time we’ll explore:

  • What the Catholic Church actually teaches about faith
  • The pivotal doctrine of Luther most Protestants don’t understand (and don’t even really know)
  • When ecumenism is actually destructive
  • How Luther’s doctrine destroyed the family motif of faith
  • Why primacy of faith (in its true sense) is a Catholic, not Protestant doctrine
  • A proper understanding of the obedience of faith

As you’re going to see, Curtis Mitch is a theological and scriptural blitzkrieg.

And this is a conversation and topic that every Catholic needs to hear and understand. Not just because it helps us to dialogue with our Separated Brethren.

But because a correct understanding of the virtue of faith is at the heart of the Catholic faith itself.

God bless and enjoy!

Matthew


If you liked this episode, you’ll probably like these, too:

Episode 022 – Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger

Episode 039 – The 7 Core Beliefs of Catholicism…in Hebrews?


8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life Cover ImageAll who have been lost were lost because they did not pray.” St. Alphonsus Liguori.

Don’t be lost! Grab your FREE copy of my quick guide to deeper prayer 8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life! 

It’s an easy step-by-step summary of the spiritual giants of the Church designed to help you rocket to God!

Don’t miss a show! Subscribe to The Art of Catholic by clicking this link and then clicking “View in iTunes” under the picture and then “Subscribe”!  (I listen to my podcasts on using Overcast. It’s free and works better than the Apple Podcast player. Get it here.)

 

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus! Check out the new video about my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2018!  It’s the trip of a lifetime!

Click here for trip details.