"Ladder to Heaven" Icon of 13th century
From the book "Unseen Warfare" originally written by Lorenzo Scupoli in 1589, but adapted and translated by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse.
Chapter "One should love those opportunities of practising virtue which are particularly difficult"
On no account, beloved, must you flee from what may he a chance for acquiring virtue. On the contrary, whenever such a chance offers itself, you should accept it with joy, regarding as best and most welcome such things as are unpleasant to your heart and evoke no sympathy in you. I predict that, with God’s help, you will actually do so, if you engrave deeply in your mind the following thoughts.
First, you should realise that the opportunities for virtue you meet with are the best means you can have for acquiring it, given you by God in answer to your prayer. Having formed a desire to gain virtue, you have, of course, prayed God to grant it to you; and in praying for it, you could not avoid praying also for the methods and means of acquiring this gift. But God does not give, for instance, the virtue of patience without afflictions, nor the virtue of humility without humbling occasions of degradation and dishonour. So, after your prayer about these virtues, He sends you corresponding opportunities. What are you doing, then, in running away and avoiding them ? You reject God’s help for which you prayed, and mock the gift of God.
So decide to welcome gladly the chances you meet for virtue, and the more gladly, the more difficulties they offer. For in such cases our virtuous actions evoke great courage and reveal great moral strength; and through this we make each time a considerable step forward on the path of virtue, which alone should be our constant aim.[...]
Secondly, make firm in yourself the conviction and faith, that all things happening to us happen according to God’s will and for our profit, so that we may gain thereby a certain spiritual fruit. Although we cannot suppose that some things, such as our sins and those of other people, are a direct result of a willed action of God’s, yet even they do not happen without God’s leave, as means of admonishing and humbling us. As regards sufferings and afflictions, which are our own fault or due to the malice of others—God Himself sends them, desiring us to suffer and be tormented by then), in order to gain the blessing of virtue, which we are bound to earn if we endure as we should the trial He has sent us. The same applies to other judgments of His, hidden from us, but doubtless right and blessed. Thus, convinced that God Himself wishes you to endure the hardship and grief, which assails you, either arising from the evil nature of other people, or invited by your own wrong actions, you will cease to think and say as some others do: no, this does not come from God, it is unjust and criminal, and God does not want crime and turns away with loathing from it and from those who commit it. By this they want to justify their lack of patience and the gusts of anger and feelings of revenge they feel at the sight of injustice; but in actual fact the only thing they achieve is to rebel against God’s ordinance and to attempt to cast off the life-saving cross, imposed on them by God for their own good, instead of shouldering it with a good heart, which would undoubtedly be pleasing to
Him. ... So make it a rule for yourself:— when you meet with injustices, injuries and attacks, pay no attention to them, however wrong your offenders may be, but keep your attention firmly on one thing alone—that God let this happen for your good and that you will deprive yourself of this good if you admit impatience, irritation or contention in connection with it. And do not try to analyse the exact reason why God has allowed this. Do you believe that God is always right and merciful? Then believe that on this occasion too He shows you justice and mercy, although you do not see how. ...
The Lord has laid it on your shoulders in the present grievous case. Do not say, it is too heavy; God knows better the measure of your strength. To some God sends trials and sorrows, brought about by circumstances and in no way dependent on people; these are more easily borne. To others He sends those causes by people, and they are harder, especially when we cannot take the grief caused to us as unintentional, and still harder when we have done some good to those people. The last case is the hardest to bear. If God sends you this, know that it is precisely what is most useful for you, and to this realisation add the inspiring thought: God sees that you are strong enough to bear it and expects you actually to bear it with a good heart, without complaining. So do not disappoint God’s expectation.
I must add that God prefers us to endure afflictions coming from the evil nature of people, especially from those to whom we have done some good, rather than those which are the accidental result of unfavourable circumstances. Why? Because our native pride is more easily subdued and exterminated by the former than by the latter. And also because, if obedience to God’s will is the chief thing in our spiritual doing, there is no better way of provoking and manifesting it to a greater degree than in such cases, if we bear them with a good heart, giving warm thanks to God for sending them, since they are truly a great blessing, thus testifying to our complete obedience to the Divine will, and to an ardent zeal in conforming ourselves in everything to this will.
This disposition precedes the visitation of rigorous trials. Seeing the birth of such a disposition and wishing to make it stronger and more deeply rooted, God sends us a cup of the strongest temptations, which, when borne with willingness, good heart and gladness, always brings this blessed spiritual fruit. Therefore, knowing this, wishing and seeking it, we must accept this cup from the hands of God, shutting the eyes of inquisitiveness, and, with complete faith, clearly see in it the great love of God for us and the assurance of our spiritual progress. Thus we must drain it with joy, the more willingly the more bitter is its taste.