The Devil’s Cross

Blessed are they who suffer persecution

for justice’s sake:

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10

By the time we reach this capstone of the Beatitudes, it has long been evident that true happiness is inseparable from suffering.

Of course, Christ continually refers us to the “kingdom of heaven,” in which our sacrifices are repaid a hundredfold (Mt. 19:29). Yet, a skeptic might press, human beings are hardwired to seek happiness in this life. Can a purely otherworldly orientation be compatible with our nature?

Recalling that the God who offers us this kingdom is the Author of our nature, and that Christ proclaims this “kingdom of God” to be “within” us (Lk. 17:21), we ought to challenge the assumption that his promises are merely “otherworldly.”

St. Thomas More, in his playful way, catalogues the ways worldly men struggle and strive for “goods of fortune,” which often do them more harm than good, even here below. “The more a thing is of its nature such that its commodity brings a man little surety and much fear,” he concludes, “that thing of reason the less we have cause to love.”

St. Catherine of Sienna relates a similar lesson delivered to her by God the Father. Since “created things are less than the human person,” and are in fact made for persons, no amount of them will ever satisfy us. Those too blind to see this “suffer in endlessly stretching their need!”

Always “afraid of losing what they have,” and hounded “with longing for what they cannot have,” these poor souls “have taken up the devil’s cross, and taste the pledge of hell even in this life.”

Since “the will alone is the source of suffering,” only those “stripped of their own will and clothed” in the will of God are able to find satisfaction. Though still confronted with “the troubles of the world,” from which they suffer physically, the blessed “feel no grief in suffering, but feel [God] in their souls by grace” and “are happy to endure pain for” their Lord.

In this world, the servants of God must be prepared for martyrdom at the hands of the devil and his minions. If this seems harsh, consider that those who seek to escape this fate by following their own will end up becoming “martyrs of the devil” in a different and much more horrific sense.

“So you see that even in this life the lot of the just is better than that of sinners,” though neither is without some form of persecution.

To the extent that we find ourselves bearing this “devil’s cross,” we need to screw up the courage to tell our current boss: “Not working for you no more!”

After which, we may seek employment with a Master whose yoke is comparatively sweet in this world, and in the next, pure light (Mt. 11:30).

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