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Saint Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles once wrote “When I am weak I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). You might very well think, "What? Am I reading this right?" You are indeed! That’s the message of this essay!
In this time of great uncertainty in many quarters from the Coronavirus pandemic, and its aftermath, do you find yourself filled with anger or anxiety these days?
In a time where both our church and the world around us, not by any means coincidentally, seem to be on shaky moral foundations? Where you feel like you’re running in place just to try to take care of your loved ones with all the economic uncertainties on the rise?
When you’re being afflicted by these quite natural concerns, that’s a good time to say to God, in prayer, something like this:
Dear Lord, I don’t know what your plan is for me right now. But take my doubts and troubles and bring whatever good you can out of them and give me the grace of equanimity to bear them. You thought enough of me to have created me in your image. Help me to get through these trials. And help me to remember, in spite of the storms raging around me, that you are indeed in charge and desire only my good so that someday I may share Eternal Life with you in Heaven! Amen!
When you feel like a total loser, remember that you’re by no means alone! Both our Lord and St. Paul, for example, knew all about failure. Christ in His Passion experienced suffering and rejection on a truly heartbreaking scale, as we see when meditating on the Stations of the Cross.
And, in his extensive missionary journeys St. Paul (pictured above) experienced quite a few hardships, including being stoned, beaten, and shipwrecked during his mission to spread the Gospel to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and other parts of the Mediterranean.
And yet, as mentioned earlier, He actually boasts of his weakness (2 Cor 12:10), saying “When I am weak I am strong”.
And where did that strength St. Paul speaks of come from? From Christ Himself! A couple of verses earlier he notes that our Lord told him that His grace should be sufficient for dealing with some particular “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).
Jesus informed him “strength is made perfect in weakness.” The great Saint added “Gladly therefore I will glorify in my infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9).
Saint Paul echoes these themes in a couple of other letters, as when he wrote to the Philippians these stirring words that almost resonate like a short prayer one can say in times of confusion, doubts, or despair: “I can do all things in him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Christ was able to bring out great strength from St. Paul indeed! The "Apostle to the Gentiles" spread the Gospel far and wide in his missionary work setting up various churches all over the Mediterranean, Greece, and Asia Minor before his martyrdom in Rome around 67 AD. And his letters have brought inspiration, hope, and perseverance to millions of Christians worldwide over the centuries.
And speaking of martyrdom, he was by no means alone on that score! Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers wrote in the 2nd Century that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, and that was particularly true in the first few centuries after our Lord’s death and resurrection.
Yet Christ’s grace, serving as it does as a wonderful spiritual anesthetic in times of great physical or emotional pain, is not only for those shedding blood for our faith. He wants all of us to have it, and share it, in good times and bad!
And we can receive the graces he wishes to give us in large part through prayer and the Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist (at Mass) and Penance (in Confession). You can always make Spiritual Communions for those times you feel like asking God for help when you can't attend Mass. And remember what St. Padre Pio called the Rosary, his weapon! It can be yours as well in the battle against the devil, sin, darkness, and despair!
To sum up, God allows suffering as a natural offshoot from the sins of mankind out of respect for our free will. And many times, as hard as it may seem to fathom, God allows us to experience temptations so that we may grow stronger spiritually and draw closer to Him by resisting them.
Also, offering up unavoidable suffering to our Lord can help expiate both our own sins and those of others, and assist in the salvation of fellow sinners that we might not even know.
Many, if not most, of our misfortunes come from each other. Nevertheless, God can take our sufferings and use them for a greater good if we let him. Each of us has some degree of brokenness, some wounds that have been inflicted upon us in this life.
It’s what we do with those wounds that makes all the difference! As “citizens-in-training” for heaven we are called to imitate Christ here on earth both in His Heavenly Virtues and in His Suffering as well.
As St. Paul once said “I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake, and what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). In other words, our afflictions, if offered up to our Lord on the Cross, can help us and others achieve salvation!
Nonetheless, I’m well aware that many times we all feel too confused, resentful or angry, and turn our backs, not our faces (Jer 32:33) to God in adversity. Sometimes our heads get so filled with worry or self-doubts that turning our problems over to God is the last thing we want to do!
Instead we try to drown our sorrows, even if they get worse, in drink, drugs, sex, anger, envy, or other sinful emotions or diversions. These can take a considerable toll on one’s body and mind, to say nothing of imperiling one’s soul!
As salutary as our crosses can be to our holiness, the perilous and quite understandable temptation for many of us is to turn away not towards God when faced with varying degrees of angst or crises!
As Jesus Himself once told Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun in the 1920’s, in one of her many church approved mystical visions “Many are willing to entertain Me when I visit them with consolation. Many receive Me with joy in Holy Communion, but few welcome Me when I visit them with My Cross.”
This, by the way, is the great danger inherent in so-called prosperity or feel-good Gospels hawked by some Christian churches, that of course you have the right to be happy! Isn’t that what God wants for us?
Yes He indeed does, but He doesn’t promise us total happiness in this life but rather in the one to come, with Him in Heaven. Happiness is something we can certainly strive for here on earth while living in conformity with the Commandments and the Gospel message, but we should not assume it as a given in this life.
If we all could somehow obey God more naturally we would spare ourselves a great deal of misery. The Ten Commandments are laws of love after all, and yes, God is love (1 John 4:8).
If you can’t approach tragedy or defeat or other such tests with much needed composure and grace, at least don’t give up on God thinking he’s given up on you. That would be a tragic mistake! Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44) will be more than happy to shower you with bittersweet consolations encouraging self-destructive and sinful behavior!
Give your self-doubts, confusion, dread and even despair to God in humility, even if you think he’s not listening! Don’t give them to Satan! He will distort truth with enough falsehoods to encourage whatever confusion or anger he can in your soul!
Throw whatever negativity the devil tries to send you right back at him. Let it boomerang on him! Pray to God and the saints and our Blessed Mother for the much needed graces of perseverance and calm in the face of these hardships especially now. Let Jesus bring out strength in your weakness even if you don’t fully understand how and why he does so!
We at Our Catholic Prayers are praying for all of you during these tumultuous times, that God gives us all the grace to carry whatever crosses we may be carrying! And feel free to post a prayer request on the prayer requests page on our website if you think that might help. It never hurts to have others praying for you!