The "royal road of pain" is a phrase that Fr. Owen Francis Dudley (English author of several Catholic novels) uses in his book, The Shadow on the Earth. In this work of fiction, the reader is introduced to Father Dudley’s iconic character, the Masterful Monk, also known as Br. Anselm. The novel begins with a mountain climber who has been injured on the Alps and is brought to the monastery of Issano where Brother Anselm lives as a monk. Having served as a doctor in the war, Br. Anselm is called, and it doesn’t take long for him to determine the mountain climber will be crippled for life. The “Cripple” as he is to be called undergoes a search for meaning in a life that has been stripped of all worldly hopes and possibilities for the future.
Three major players in The Shadow on the Earth are the Atheist, Optimist, and Pessimist, all of whom share their ideas about life with the Cripple. Dudley uses Br. Anselm’s character to refute these positions with Catholic teaching to reconcile a good God with a suffering world. While the Atheist, Optimist, and Pessimist all argue from different angles, the answer to their questions is the same. Br. Anselm confirms the goodness of God, Who contains all infinite perfections in Himself and shows that, when understood through the Crucifixion of Christ, suffering is redemptive and valuable. The Cripple’s witness of these arguments sets his mind working on accepting his own sufferings and lot in life through a gradual conversion from despair to hope. Despite the firm objections of the Atheist, Optimist, and Pessimist, the Cripple considers the claims of the Catholic Church, not because of Br. Anselm but because the Cripple has found God. And in finding Him, the Cripple is willing to endure all pain in union with Christ on the Cross.
The idea that inspires me most in this work of Dudley's is the concept of the royal road of the cross. Every suffering no matter how great or small is Jesus asking us if we will share His Cross with Him. To accept is to follow a royal road, a road that our King has chosen before us and laid out for us as the path to Heaven. Dudley's character the "Cripple" asks Br. Anselm, "Supposing you were in my position; supposing you knew that you had to lie on your back for the rest of your days, cut off from the pleasures of life, and having at times to suffer pain like this--how exactly would you take it?" Brother Anselm answers, "How would I take it? I would take it as an honour--an honour to be chosen for the royal road of pain; and I would take it as a privilege, to be asked to share so fully the Cross with Christ."
When seen in this light, suffering becomes a gift--a means of uniting ourselves more closely to God and offering these pains for the salvation of souls. Let us value suffering because through it we share in the great honor of resembling our God Who died for us.