Sunday, 10 February 2013

Joy in Suffering

St. Therese of the Child Jesus once wrote to her sister Celine the following words: 
I must forget this world.  Here everything wearies me – I find only one joy, that of suffering, and this joy, which is not one of sense, is above all joy.  Life is passing, and eternity is drawing near.  Soon we shall live the very life of God.  After we have been filled at the source of all bitterness, our thirst will be quenched at the very Fountain of all sweetness.
Elsewhere, she writes the following: 
Jesus suffered with sadness. Could we say that a soul was suffering if it did not experience sadness? And could we then claim that we are suffering generously, nobly... what an illusion that would be!
How could one have both joy and sadness about suffering? I think it comes to a distinction which I have made before, between the will, which is spiritual, and the passions, or emotions, which are sensible. On the level of the emotions, one may experience great sadness; and this is to be expected. Indeed, as St. Therese implies, one cannot even be said to be suffering if one does not experience sadness. And yet, she says the her one joy is that of suffering. We must conclude then that her joy in suffering is on the level of the will and the spirit, rather than the emotions.

Another thing worthy of note here is that in order to become a saint, one must, on the level of the will, desire and love suffering - not in itself, indeed, but insofar as it is the Will of God, tending to one's own sanctification. If one genuinely desires suffering in this sense, than one cannot be rejoice in one's suffering when one does have it. And again, this does not mean that one will not be sorrowful emotionally speaking, for one can hardly help that; indeed, such sorrow is necessary and essential to the notion of suffering, as explained above. But will indeed have a joy of the will, a spiritual joy, and it is this that matters most.

What I personally would ask at this point is this: what will this feel like, this joy of the will, this spiritual joy, simultaneous with sorrow of the emotions? It seems quite impossible to conceive. And indeed, here I must confess to having little to say in reply. Sometimes, yes, the act of the will may seem very cold and dry; but this is only because it is unaccompanied by warm and pleasant emotions. But this doesn't tell me much... I try to think of what it is like to rejoice without emotions, and it is supremely difficult. I don't have much of an answer here. Perhaps the answer can only be had by experience. Perhaps one must actually go through that process in order to know what it really is like... Or perhaps the answer simply hasn't occurred to me yet.

But despite this ignorance, I still have the ability, by God's grace, to aim for this goal, a joy of the will. I can still desire to suffer for the love of God, to love that suffering for the love of God... and because joy is a consequence of love and desire, I have the ability to rejoice in that suffering, for the love of God. And so I must place my trust in God entirely, and persist in my efforts to allow God's grace to work in me.


  1. Is it not possible to experience two or more emotions at once, even if they seem to conflict?

  2. Perhaps... I'm not sure. But in any case, the joy that St.Therese is talking about in that first quote is not a "joy of sense," or an emotional joy. So it's not two conflicting emotions for her.