14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exactly three years ago, as I was preparing my Sunday homilies, I started my meditation or reflection by listening to a religious song titled “In Need.” The song speaks of someone’s need of God’s grace – in need of things that only God can give. And the song led me to pray like this: Lord God, I come to you in need of your grace – in need of your love and embrace, in need of your compassion and touch, in need of your peace and kiss. Loving Father, I am your child in need of you – for you are my refuge, you are my home. This is my humble plea: give me your grace and that is enough for me. Amen.
I chose that song because I had been somehow preoccupied asking myself “What do I need?” that time. In fact, that had been the subject of my prayer the past days. The song also helped me to personalize and internalize the message of the second reading that Sunday – which happens to be today’s second reading also – in which St. Paul is expressing his need.
Paul is mentioning something about “a thorn in the flesh.” We do not know what it is exactly, but it is some kind of weakness, some kind of affliction that is causing him difficulty and he wants it gone. It also implies persecution at the hands of his own people. In these circumstances Paul asks God to remove the affliction: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”
This experience was the catalyst for Paul’s understanding of the interrelationship of weakness and strength. And it is like this: The weaker the person, the greater the display of God’s power. “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Eventually, Paul comes to the full realization of this truth, so much so that he concludes his statement by saying, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He is not ashamed of his weakness. He was happy with his creatureliness.
Being content with our weaknesses is not an attitude that comes easy to most of us. Most of us have been brought up and educated to be content with nothing less than perfection. Perhaps, we still have this idea that God stays away from the weak or from those who are tormented by their weaknesses. Perhaps, we are thinking that God is displeased by our weaknesses, and that he is only pleased when we are able to overcome them. As if God would only accept us if we are ‘strong’.
But, like Paul, we have to learn that God is not like that. In fact, God is close to those who experience weakness, those who acknowledge and accept their weaknesses. As Paul is telling us: We are strongest when we are weakest, for then we open ourselves to the infinite power of God. Indeed, our failure and our weakness give God immense scope to act out his own purposes.
We witness many forms of weakness in our daily lives. We are challenged to transform weakness into strength. For example: The married couples who recognize the problems in their relationship can begin to solve them by allowing God to enlighten and direct them. Those dependent on drugs or alcohol or something else who acknowledge their addiction can start on the road to rehabilitation by surrendering completely to God and letting him give them the strength they need. Those who have made wrong or bad choices can take steps towards growth and maturity by allowing God to teach them lessons from those mistakes and failures. These examples may be multiplied time and again. They ultimately suggest that weakness need not be the final word. After all, God is able to use our faults as well as our assets. Weakness can become strength.
We should remember that Christ came into the world because we are weak and incomplete and we need his strength and power to complete us. When we experience weaknesses, hardships, and crises, it is at these points in our lives that we need to learn the art of abandoning ourselves to God. We are to open ourselves to God’s sustaining strength and ask the Lord to grant us the power of his grace.