One of the great mystics of the Church, St. John of the Cross, used to keep a prayer journal where he would write down insights, wisdom, and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. He was faithful to long hours of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament every day. But for many years, he would write down just one word in his journal each day: “Nada.” Nothing.
This great saint and mystic would go years without a single inspiration, without a single experience of God. Day in and day out, he prayed and prayed. He wanted to love God, but he was going through the “Dark Night of the Soul” where it felt like God was distant, abandoning him. And so he waited…and waited… and waited. Every day he would sit in silence before the Lord, without speaking (for he had long since exhausted his words) and would wait for Him.
And after many years, he finally had an experience of God’s love, which propelled him on to the final stage of the spiritual life, which is total union with God.
Perseverance is the key to the spiritual life. We cannot attain holiness if we would give up at the first sign of difficulty!
It is precisely this virtue of perseverance that these disciples did not have. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? Because they gave up. Jesus had died, so they thought the story was over. They were going back to their regular life. Now, these were intimate friends of Jesus’ — one of them, the one named Cleopas, his wife (or daughter) was actually at the foot of the Cross! In fact, there is an ancient tradition that said that Cleopas was the brother of St. Joseph, which would have made him Jesus’ uncle. But despite this familial closeness to Our Lord, they gave up — they walked away from Jerusalem.
Perhaps the saddest phrase in Scripture is the one that Cleopas utters: “We had hoped…” We had hoped that Jesus would be the Messiah, but He let us all down. They gave up hope because they gave up faith — they did not believe Jesus to be who He said He was. And thus they were walking away.
At times, all of us are tempted to give up. Perhaps we’ve been struggling with a particular sin for many years, or even decades. Perhaps we try to be faithful in our prayer but it seems dry. Perhaps we love our faith but haven’t had a deep experience of God. Perhaps we have tried to be faithful but all we receive is suffering.
My friends, Easter should teach us that God works best when it seems like all hope is lost. If you are struggling, perhaps going through your own Good Friday, or when God seems silent like on Holy Saturday, we must keep our eyes on Easter. As St. Augustine said,
“We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”
Look at how Jesus responds to their lack of hope. He reminds them that there was a much larger plan for the salvation of the world. He goes through the Scriptures to show them that all along, the suffering and death of the Messiah was prophesied and necessary for our salvation.
When we are tempted to give up, we must remember the same — our lives are part of a bigger plan. But God’s plan is not mysterious: He has made it clear that everything works for our sanctification and salvation. If you have to wonder, “God, what are You up to in my life, in my suffering, in my frustration” — the answer is simple: the redemption of the human race, and the salvation of your soul. Boom — that’s the plan!
So we persevere. We keep praying, even when it seems fruitless; we keep trying to avoid that sin, even though we’ve fallen a thousand times; we keep loving our neighbor even when it seems like they are not loving us in return. As the Protestant pastor Charles Spurgeon said,
“The saints persevere in holiness because God perseveres in grace.”
And there is one more important place to persevere — we keep faithful to our Catholic Church even when the Church seems flawed, imperfect, out-of-touch. A recent Pew survey from 2015 found that 52% of American adults raised Catholics left the Church at some point (and only 11% return!).
In a special way I want to urge our young people – do not abandon the Church! Although she may seem flawed and imperfect, it is here that we find Christ most fully in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist!
The Catholic Church is the surest path to salvation, as she is the one Church founded by Jesus Christ on the faith of Simon Peter — persevere in her! I have always prayed, since I was young, that I would live and die as a Catholic. May God help you to persevere as a faithful Catholic until the day of your death.
So don’t be like Cleopas. Persevere in hope, because God is faithful.