In A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (rendered in modern English by Mary Gottschalk), St. Thomas More discussed where one can find true comfort when afflicted by tribulation (pain or sorrow). This post will discuss one of More's comforts and some related ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, described by Peter Kreeft in Practical Theology, his book on the Summa Theologica.
More discussed different types of tribulation, including “the kind of tribulation that we voluntarily take upon ourselves, … affliction of the flesh or bestowal of our goods as we willingly undertake in atonement for our own sins and out of devotion to God.” This includes not only penance (for specific sins) but also the fasting and almsgiving that Christians perform during the penitential season of Lent (for our sins more generally).
More wrote that “the courage that … kindles your heart and inflames it toward that tribulation shall … give you in it such comfort and such joy that the pleasure of your soul will surpass the pain of your body.” To me, this echoes Psalm 51:7-8, where we ask God, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.”
According to Aquinas, almsgiving includes the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy (cf. http://scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2447.htm). Aquinas wrote that “we are bound to give alms of our surplus, and also to give alms to one whose need is extreme; otherwise almsgiving, like any other greater good, is a matter of counsel.” Kreeft commented, “The more generosity, the merrier, both for the receiver and also for the giver. If you are surprised to hear that, you’ve never practiced sacrificial giving and experienced its inevitable deep joy. Try it, you’ll like it.”
When I fast or serve others, I voluntarily endure a tribulation (such as hunger or just the loss of something more enjoyable). If I do this with love, selflessly, “for God’s sake,” then I will experience the comfort of joy.