“I do not Promise You Happiness in this Life…”

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January 29, 2014 by lucieromarin

In an apparition to St Bernadette Soubirous, Our Lady said, “I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.” This was recounted in some biography or another, and devout-but-disappointed Catholic women have been reciting it to themselves – or worse, have had it recited to them whenever they muster enough courage to express some sadness about their lives to a pious third party – ever since.

This is wrong.

Now, I know that the apparitions of the saint’s youth contained a message for the entire Church, but this was not one of those apparitions. This was not one of those apparitions! When Our Lady said, “I do not promise you happiness in this life,” she was not talking to us about our lives; she was talking to St Bernadette about her life.

Our Lady’s words aren’t an injunction to a numb resignation to perpetual disappointment. If we have to find some lesson in them, let it be to avoid romanticising vocation so much that we stop believing in the possibility of happiness without it – for it must be remembered that the saint was addressed thus when she was established in her vocation, and really had no alternative to the crosses that were part of that vocation. This is the complete opposite of being disappointed because no vocation has eventuated, and it’s also the opposite of having the options of moving home, studying, or applying for different jobs in order to change the misery of your present situation. (I don’t mean to imply that this is easy. I just mean that sometimes those options exist.)

This part of the saint’s life was shared with us so that we could avoid wasting our lives thinking that it would have been so much nicer to just be a visionary in a convent somewhere, rather than facing our dreary, meaningless jobs every day. Anyone who daydreams about being any kind of seer has failed to notice that genuine seers suffer horribly. Now, obviously, you don’t have to be a seer to suffer; the point is that if you are a publicly-known seer you will suffer. St Bernadette had to scrub floors and be verbally abused by her superiors when she was so wracked with bone-cancer that no one, retrospectively, understood how she could move at all. Blessed Jacinta Marto died in hospital, alone; she was only nine. St Gemma Galgani not only suffered through the deaths of both parents and four siblings by the age of 18, she also suffered meningitis, family bankruptcy, the stigmata, all kinds of internal and external injuries, and her sister’s mockery and taunting, all before her death-by-tuberculosis at age 25. Rozalia Celakowna got to work in the syphilis ward.

(Okay, I’ll grant you that the visionaries of Banneux and Beauraing lived fairly peaceful and undisturbed lives following their respective apparitions – but who’s heard of Banneux and Beauraing, and who could name the visionaries? Being visited by Our Lady did not lead these individuals to lives of comfort, popularity and book-deals; they were born poor, they remained poor, and they died in obscurity. So let us not throw visionaries, like fuel, upon the fires of our ‘druthers.)

So now I’m a little off-topic; the point was not meant to be so much that mystics have terrible lives, but that quotations should not be taken out of context and applied to persons for whom they were never intended. It is true that we are not to not let the pangs of disappointment overwhelm us, but Our Lady has never said that we should not try to make better lives for ourselves. If we must get our life-coaching from private apparitions, let’s remember that Our Lady told the children at Fatima to learn to read…and she told the teenagers at Kibeho to stand up straight and wash themselves!

2 thoughts on ““I do not Promise You Happiness in this Life…”

  1. Your main, intended point of this post is an excellent and very useful one. But I think your excursus on how real mystics generally suffer terribly is also helpful–it’s a reminder that, if you do happen to find yourself suffering, it’s not necessarily a sign that God is displeased with you!

    • lucieromarin says:

      Thank you! (I, unfortunately, fall squarely into the category of persons who need that reminder. It’s as though I’m a princess and He’s the cosmic butler who only exists to make sure my toast is never burned and my fingers are never fatigued by being lifted.)

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