Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Acceptance of suffering makes
a man a hero
Informal meeting, October 26th, 1986. Without the author's revision.
There is a true paradox because, in general, when going to battle everyone knows he is taking a path that can lead to death. And death is not the worst thing he can meet: he can be maimed for life. For example, I would be horrified at the idea of going blind. It is the worst possible thing that can happen barring sin. Sin is worse than that. Anyone with half a brain can understand it.
Now, how to explain that in general, when you look at photographs of troops departing to war, in a given country that has declared war, the troops march joyfully, their families accompany them merrily, and the men depart happy? Usually, the families place flowers on the soldiers’ rifles to please them. Departure to war is a feast. How to explain this?
In my view, there is a certain disposition of soul whereby, at least in just wars there is likely a help from Providence in the sense that when the person goes to war he looks not so much at his individual destiny as to the cause and the victory. And he understands that his individual destiny is nothing and that the great thing is to help that cause to win.
If a man gave that help and was maimed or killed s a result, the important thing is that at a certain moment of his life, he made that effort.
I once saw in Paris, by chance, passing by the famous Place de l’Opera a huge crowd coming from all sides for a demonstration. But I found it strange to see in the crowd, a man without an eye, another with a crutch, etc. and asked myself: what demonstration is this?
- “These are wounded veterans, Sir!” someone answered.
But one could see there wounded veterans from two different wars. The younger were from the Second World War. They were protesting because their government pension was very small and so they demanded a better one.
I overheard two ladies talking, both married to wounded veterans…. I wanted to see what the psychology of those people was like, and kept listening. One lady asked another:
- “Didn’t so and so come?” I could see they were married to two wounded veterans.
- “He did. He must be around. He even brought his itinerant little shop with him.”
Then I figured that the ‘little shop’ was his whole set of decorations. It seems a little derogatory, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I saw that not one person there lamented the fact he participated in war. Everyone was reduced to a state of need, with little money because of the small pension the State paid.
Later on, my friend and I went down the Champs Elysées Avenue, and seeing a reasonable snack bar we went in to drink refreshment, as it was a very hot day. We sat down and saw a veteran who had come in with his wife. He was blind and came in led by her.
The blind man sat down. He saw nothing. They placed a bottle of beer in front of him, which he had ordered, and he took great pleasure drinking it. The rest for him meant nothing. He was animated and turned his head to one side and the other, albeit he saw nothing; that is how he drank his beer.
His wife much younger than him (note that he was the blind one!), who had not been to war, looked like someone who paid attention to nothing and saw nothing. He, a wounded war veteran, a blind man, was animated. She was only the hero’s spouse...
Note that both of them could well be bitter. He’s returning home, blind. Both know they will continue to live off a government pension, and that all governments pay pensioners’ poorly. And they know they are useless, no longer good for anything.
Can you imagine how bitter they could become? At the hour of heroism, they place a medal in his collection. If he goes blind, they send him home and he is now part of the nation’s garbage. Everybody knows it. Yet when it is time to go to war, they are enthused! I find this particularly beautiful.
I am painting reality as it is, raw. But I know that, however disconcerting it may be to you, such is the beauty of heroism! A hero knows they won’t even thank him proportionally. Yet he sinks into tragedy.
For us who have Faith, however, this takes on a whole different dimension. For when a man accepts this gladly to do the will of God, he knows his suffering is added to the treasury of the Church for otherwise completely lost causes.
Souls that cannot get out of a rut; countries with no solution in sight; causes no longer with any remedy... All this can only be solved by people who suffer and offer their suffering: “I am suffering, and suffering alone. I have no way out. My life will be a pain. But I want this pain, which I offer for the love of God and of Our Lady.”
You know how one of the most difficult things is to cure a catholic who is stuck and no longer gives anything. He does not apostatize but remains in the Church sterile, producing nothing.
A beautiful episode occurred in the last century. There was a group of non-Catholic Christians, a kind of local orthodox church in Mesopotamia, somewhere between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. They preserved their whole rite and liturgy compatible with Catholic doctrine. Their doctrine was more or less correct, but they had broken with the Holy See for centuries. And an apostle went there to preach [the true] Religion to them.
I don’t know who he was, but he was a man of great suffering and love of God; or he had souls with great suffering and love of God behind him, who were praying for him.
The fact is that, upon arriving he began to preach the Catholic Religion to these people. And he converted all of them – 200,000 people – to the Catholic Religion! Even their own little ‘pope’ – who was an archbishop or patriarch and had every interest, humanly speaking, not to subject himself to Rome, converted.
And then the [apostle] priest sent a report to Rome, announcing that the whole nation wanted to convert. The Holy See – this was the time of Leo XIII – sent apostolic visitors to see the situation in person. At that time the Holy See functioned like a charm. The visitors examined everything very thoroughly and saw that all was perfect.
So Leo XIII issued a decree reintegrating those 200,000 – they were called Jacobites – with their patriarch, bishops and faithful, into the Catholic Church. All of them renounced the Jacobite errors and began to belong to the Catholic Church.
How is this achieved? Through people who suffered and prayed. A Carmelite nun in the shadows, a Passionist, a Mercedarian, a TFP member who suffers perplexities, affliction and all kinds of sensations, even one of isolation. He suffers a lot of things but says, “I want to suffer! My Mother, Mistress of heaven and earth, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I want to carry the Cross of Christ with me. It is hard, but I will sacrifice myself.”
I will finish by recounting a beautiful episode that took place in Spain.
As they sought to implement the Second Vatican Council’s novelties among the Carmelite Sisters, one of them, incidentally with a beautiful name: Sister Maravillas de Jesus, an intelligent and capable nun but above all very zealous and endowed with a great spirit of sacrifice – raised objections and created a current of sisters inside the Carmel that wanted to preserve the old spirit of St. Teresa of Jesus and to have nothing to do with Modernism. And this sister fought so valiantly against this current that even the Holy See respected her and declared: we are not getting into this; let it stay the way it is. Let those who want to change, do so; let those in the current of Madre Maravillas stay the way they are. This is a signal victory!
The sisters sent me a picture of Madre Maravillas (1891-1974). Look at it. She is above all a serious person, who goes to the very bottom of the ‘well of sacrifice.’ The opposing nuns derogatorily dubbed those in her current as ‘the maravillas,’ the ‘marvelous ones.’ Sister Maravillas died but her current remained. And one of those ‘marvelous’ sisters is the sister of a lady supporter of the TFP who has played a notable role in our supporter conferences here. This lady explained all about the TFP to her sister and asked her to pray and suffer for the TFP.
A little while after, or before that, I am not sure – she became gravely ill and the mother superior called her and said: “Sister, you have an incurable cancer. You need to prepare yourself for death.”
She then wrote me a marvelous letter saying that she offered her life and death for the TFP. And I wrote her a [thank you] letter overflowing with gratitude.
She also informed me that another nun from the Mercedarians, interned in the same hospital, offered her life for the TFP as well. And she sent me as a gift, a rosary with which Madre Maravillas and she herself had prayed.
I will tell you something: I have much more enthusiasm for this kind of people than I would have for a man who has won a battle. Because to overcome an enemy is one thing; but to accept being crushed by pain, to accept to descend into the grave for the love of Our Lady and to purchase souls, is a perfect imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ!
If Our Lord had preached the Gospel as He did; if he had founded the Church as He did; if He had done all He did but had not died on the Cross; if he had not rescued us, all of it would have been to no avail. In other words, without the Cross there is no forgiveness. And when we accept to suffer on this account, then things move!
Now, imagine the position of a combatant about to engage in battle. He knows the least sacrifice he makes will lift to heaven one of his tears or a drop of his blood, and offers it up to Our Lady. And Our Lady, who is the necessary Mediatrix of all graces, presents them to Our Lord. One of these drops can be worth more than one hundred universities, two thousand newspapers, five thousand TV channels or anything else. Yet, it is one single soul who suffered.
So when we look at such panoramas, seemingly full of light but then kind of scary… just notice the silence in this room… then we should tell Our Lady:
“My Mother, I do not know what Thy design about me is; but whatever this design is, I ask that Thou give me the strength to bear it. Drive away from me the pains that it is not Thy intention that I suffer; I even ask Thee to make miracles in this sense. But I ask Thee another miracle: give me the strength to bear the pains that are in Thine intentions for me to suffer!” This forms a serious TFP member.
I find this substantial. To thus love seriousness and suffering is to love the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; it is to conquer Heaven for others and for self.
I finish with a phrase from the Old Testament that I like very much: The brother who saves his brother, saves his own soul and will shine in Heaven like a sun for all eternity.
For example, a saint who takes his or her suffering all the way to the limit saves not only his soul but the soul of many brethren! He will shine in Heaven like a sun for all eternity!
This gives us the courage to become a hero. I do not want heroes who do not open their eyes to suffering but throw themselves into pain like fools. This is not what Our Lord Jesus Christ did at the Garden of Olives. He gauged everything and even sweated blood. He said: Father, if possible, take this chalice away from Me; but let Thy will be done, and not Mine! And an angel descended from Heaven with a chalice for Him.
As a result, when His executioners approached to begin His Passion, He was a certain distance away. With the manly and resolute step of a King, He went to them and asked --“Whom seekest ye?”
With these words, he opened up the whole torrent of pains of His Passion. They answered:
“We seek Jesus, the Nazarene!”
He said: “It is I!” And they all fell to the ground.
Now, see His goodness. It was not His intention for the Apostles to be crucified with Him. And those people obviously wanted to imprison the Apostles as well. The latter were trembling and panicking. He said: “Let these go!” The soldiers had no courage to mess with the Apostles. They all fled and He gave Himself up alone.
In other words, at times it is not Our Lord’s intentions to ask us for a great sacrifice; he assigns us something lighter. Let us ask Him, if it be His desire, to make His Cross lighter upon our shoulders as He did with the Apostles at the Garden of Olives. But if that is not the case, that He give us the honor to carry the Cross with Him: to grasp the Cross and forge ahead!
Above: Cel. John Walter Ripley (June 29, 1939 – October 28, 2008) was a United States Marine Corps officer who received the Navy Cross for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War.