Way ahead of me in faith and in years, G. was a dear friend of mine who liked to make me happy taking me to visit some “magic” spot. Enchanted by the fascinating night view of the Island of St. Julius, in the middle of which rises the imposing monastery of the Benedictine nuns, I wasn’t listening to him anymore, taken up even more in my heart than in my eyes; I would have wanted to fly there, right away, forever…But he couldn’t have known it: it was still a “secret” between me and God. At a certain point, taking from the pocket of his jacket a little book, he began, as usual, to tell me deep, profound things, but almost instantly he finished: “It is still not time for you to read it. You couldn’t understand; it is for people who have suffered. You are still too young and inexperienced!” Who knows, perhaps he was right. But when I re-visited him seven years later, things had truly changed. The little girl of the past didn’t exist anymore; by now she had become a woman and a bride (of Christ).
That September 24th, our gazes crossed again, but with eyes wet with tears and soon we understood each other, without need for words. He told me only: “Now I believe that you are ready to read this.” I extended my hand to receive the same booklet that this time was spontaneously offered to me. It was the day of my brother’s funeral; he was only 22… Closed in my room, some days later, I began to devour the booklet, perhaps because a question about life’s meaning consumed me: suffering, WHY? To a similar question I understood that no one could have given me easy answers, nor magical solutions; and yet those pages spoke to me of a type of “alchemy”: They sustained that if I lived suffering “in a certain way”, mysteriously I would have seen it totally transformed…into Joy! I wanted to go deeper. I had to go deeper! Otherwise I would have remained trapped forever in my intolerable heartaches.
In the back of the book, I saw a little collection of phrases that struck me right away, because they were written by regular people, like me, like you, but that said to have grown precisely through suffering: “The darkness is ugly, and yet I know to not be alone: in my silence, in my desert, while I walk, He is here: He smiles at me, He precedes me, He encourages me to bring to Him some little crumb of love” (Benedetta Bianchi Porro). When in life all disappears from you, you will find Him faithfully faithful. He, the betrayed, to console all the betrayed, the failed to console all the failed; the empty to refill every emptiness; the melancholy, that cheers up every melancholic; the unloved, that substitutes divinely every love lost or not found” (Chiara Lubich). To those words, I felt that something began to move within me, or I should say: Someone. Yes, it was the discovery of this “He” to make the difference, to “inhabit” my suffering. What more was I waiting for? There wasn’t much to understand. There was to experience, to live: to entrust myself, of course! So, with all the little strength I could muster, I tried to embrace my suffering, until passing beyond the tough skin of suffering, as if I wanted at all costs to attempt to reach the most precious person in the world, and it happened to me that the pain effectively went dissolving and transforming into something different: it became love! I understood soon that it was not my effort to gain this change for me, but the very presence (the open arms) of Someone that mysteriously, but truly, with sweet impatience, expected me on the other side of the wall. Can you imagine those secret “trap” walls in the ancient castles that, if you accidentally push, catapult you into another room, into another dimension? Well, I simply had to push and the rest didn’t depend on me! Who knows if Jesus, in telling the parable of the seeds that sprout alone (Mk 4:26-29) didn’t want to tell us something also about suffering: “like a man that casts seed on the earth; whether he sleeps or wakes, night or day, the seed sprouts and grows,” likewise whoever “casts” his suffering in God will see it spontaneously bloom and progressively mature into love, “in a way he himself does not know.” It is that which happened to Benedetta Bianchi Porro, the medical student that succeeded at diagnosing her own illness before her doctors. For long years, completely paralyzed, from her bed of pain, she said impressive things: “Yes, I believe in love…I think all the time that I can’t do it anymore, but the Lord that does great things sustains me, and I find myself always standing at the foot of the cross…Now that he lives in my pain, everything in me is purified…I was aware, more than ever, of the riches of my condition, and I don’t desire anything other than keeping it.”
I know it is something mysterious and incomprehensible. But it seems that at a certain height joy and pain are the same thing. What height? That of God. While for man joy is the absence of pain, from God’s perspective there seems to be no distinction, because in God all is Love and also pain! How I would like to speak for many, many brothers that, finding themselves put to the test, could personally give witness to having experienced it…But I believe that already many, in humble silence, without going into discourses, make this visible in their existence. It is a matter of shining faces, notwithstanding everything, of a light that is not of this world; of gazes that already possess an intensity that knows of Heaven, where only love exists and where everyone, in his own transfigured body, carries visible signs of his personal “passion” (that is his pain/love lived in “His” arms). These “distinctive signs” will be how we recognize each other, as they were for the Risen Jesus, who made himself recognized through the wounds of his crucifixion (Jn 20: 24-29). This is because his wounds (our wounds) in reality are loopholes, openings into God’s eternity. So that if it is true that “suffering” will pass away, it is also true that “to have suffered” (“to have loved”) will remain forever. How great will be our joy then, when we discover that the space dug out today by suffering is the same that will be filled by the loving and overflowing presence of God.
“Those that have the immense privilege to participate with all their being at the Cross of Christ, cross the threshold, pass to the other side where they find the very secrets of God” (Simone Weil).