The profound problem of evil is a scandal that keeps many people far from God and drives many others away from him. Is it moral evil and sin at work? Yes, but there is more at work. Is it moral evil among those who should be setting an example? Again, yet, but even more so, it is physical evil and suffering. This is evil that we all witness. Take war, for example, with its deliberate destruction of cities and its unjustifiable slaughter of the elderly and the innocent, of women and children. Such is the scourge of war. Then there are diseases and calamities of all types: earthquakes, floods, droughts, and monsoons which produce massive, multifaceted suffering. Children are torn away from their parents and families are broken up.
How often I have heard my friends express their thoughts on this problem! They ask: “Do you think that, if God existed and were omnipotent, he would allow such slaughter? Would he tolerate the triumph of evil and let thieves live in peace? Would he permit deceivers to get the better of decent people? Would he let human passions be the strongest force on earth?” The problem of evil, as we can surely see, is the most profound of problems. Understandably, therefore, Christ wanted to resolve this problem. Accordingly, he willed to live here on earth for several years and then, engulfed in suffering, to die in public. […]
There are two ways of dealing with suffering. The first way is to eliminate its causes by taking every precaution against it. When it does come, we try to whisk it away or suppress it by all the means at our disposal. However, there is a second way to deal with suffering: we can “baptize” it. […]
Christ knew that this [first] way of dealing with suffering is simply a kind of stopgap measure, and does not strike the root of the evil. It can work for only a few hours or days or months. Christ adopted another way—a deeply divine, definite way. Christ converted suffering into happiness. Suffering can still come, but it is no longer a sadness. Christ has taught us to overtake suffering at its source. There where it springs up, we can seize and transform it; there we can change its nature and make it a source of happiness. Since Christ chose suffering for himself, suffering is not a curse or a plague to be avoided at any price. Christ welcomes the cross and even said, “He who wishes to come after me must take up his cross every day and follow in my footsteps” [Lk 9:23]. […]
Saint Teresa was well aware that God afflicts those whom he loves when she said: “Oh to die and thus to see you! But, if you will for me to live longer here on earth, then please grant me suffering so that I will not waste the time” [Cf. The Book of Her Life, ch. 40, no. 20] Life without suffering is a waste of time. Every hour not united to God’s will is an hour squandered. Trials can take many forms, such as strict silence, distasteful duties, exhausting work, and very trying acts of obedience, Yet, every trial we evade represents time lost.
I call on you, my God, and on you, ever Virgin Mary, for you have never wasted your time. I call on you, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of the Child Jesus for you have never wasted the time given to you for your own sanctification and for God’s work of redemption. Teach me to love. Teach me how to implement the beautiful motto, “Aut mori, aut pati” [“either to die or to suffer”]. Oh, to die, my God! But if you will that I still live, then grant me suffering, which becomes the source of happiness, as suffering baptized. Amen.
Conference 10, “The Cross: To baptize suffering and happiness”
Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Eight
Friday evening, 10 September 1943
As you see in our featured image, on 5 May 1945 the United States Army’s 41st Reconnaissance Squadron and 11th Armored Division liberated Mauthausen concentration camp; it was where Père Jacques had spent most of his time condemned to hard labor since his arrest on 15 January 1944 in the middle of the school day at the Discalced Carmelite friars’ boarding school in Avon, France. When the Allies found him, Père Jacques was still alive, but beaten down by his captivity. From Mauthausen, he was sent to Linz, Austria where the Discalced Carmelite friars had a convent and could look after him. He was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Linz, his condition was so poor: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; his weight had dropped to 75 pounds (34 kg). On 2 June 1945, he passed quietly, in solitude, as he desired. His last words were: “for these final moments, let me be left alone.”
In his retreat conference to the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Pontoise, Père Jacques referred to a famous passage in the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila that became associated with her as a sort of motto: “aut mori, aut pati”. It appears in The Book of Her Life, chapter 40. We present the paragraph to which he refers in its entirety:
Sometimes I worry because I see I do so little in His service and that I must necessarily take time for a body as weak and wretched as mine, more than I would want. Once I was in prayer, and the hour for going to bed came; I was feeling many pains and had to induce the usual vomiting. Since I saw I was so bound to myself and that my spirit on the other hand wanted more time, I got so wearied I began to weep freely and grow distressed. (This has happened not only once but, as I say, often.) It seems to me I became angry with myself in such a way that I then truly hated myself. But usually I know I don’t hold myself in abhorrence, nor do I fail to do what I see is necessary for myself. And may it please the Lord that I do not care for myself more than is necessary, as sometime I’m afraid I do. This time of which I’m speaking, the Lord appeared to me and greatly comforted me and told me I should suffer and do these things for love of Him because they were now necessary for my life. So I think I was never afflicted afterward, because I’m determined to serve this Lord and my comforter with all my strength; even though He allowed me to suffer a little. He consoled me in such a way that I don’t do anything in desiring trials. So now it seems to me there is no other reason for living than to suffer trials, and this is what I most willingly beg of God. Sometimes I say earnestly to Him; “Lord, either to die or to suffer; I don’t ask anything else for myself.” I am consoled to hear the clock strike, for at the passing away of that hour of life it seems to me I am drawing a little closer to the vision of God.
Jacques, P 2005, Listen to the silence: a retreat with Père Jacques, translated from the French and edited by Murphy F, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.