I have always been curious about the fact that when soldiers are dying on the battle field, they will often start crying out for their mother. In spite of all the training to be tough and ruthless, they end up calling for the one who can comfort them. In times of crisis instincts come to the surface. And as you know, when a child is small the first place it will go when anything is wrong, is to its mother and bury its head in its mother’s lap. Our instinct tells us that we will find comfort in our mothers, and we do. I also love to hear on the radio all the requests for ‘the best mother in the world’. There are a lot of them out there and it is always lovely to hear people talking about their mothers this way.
In the first reading today we are given this beautiful image. God tells us that He will comfort us, just as a mother comforts her child. But what is God comforting us from, or for?
When we begin to live a new way of life, such as married life, or religious life, we are usually full of zeal at the beginning. Everything is wonderful, and so it should be. But before long various weaknesses start to come to the surface that maybe we thought were gone, or that we didn’t realise were there at all. In religious life it may be that one’s prayer life seems to dry up and we begin to discover that there are far more weaknesses in us than we thought; so much so, that people often begin to doubt if they are able for religious life at all. This is where a bit of direction from someone who is further down the line is very important. The same thing happens in married life, but in a different way. You begin to notice that the other person has a whole lot of weaknesses that you didn’t know about before, perhaps even something as destructive as an addiction. What is happening? What is happening is that the Lord is helping us to grow up. He is beginning to show us what we are really like. Probably the hardest part for any of us when we are faced with the darker side of ourselves, is to learn to accept the fact that we are far from perfect and that we will always struggle with weakness.
There are two ways that we can react. We can deny that there is a problem and fight on with clenched fists, although this will eventually destroy us; or we can admit that there is a problem and that the solution lies in turning to one greater than ourselves; namely God. This is what the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is all about. It is the whole spiritual life summed up in twelve steps. We are powerless over our weakness and we need to turn to one greater than ourselves, who can and will help us.
I think that the hardest part for any of us, is to accept the fact that we are as weak as we are; and yet ironically that is also the key to coping with it. God allows us to see what we are like, so that we can turn to him and realise that God is the one who can help us. Yes we are weak, and it is very frustrating, but God doesn’t mind that at all. If we can accept that, then we will grow and we will learn to be at peace.
We are often given the impression that very holy people are basically people who have overcome all their weaknesses; but this is not true. Very holy people are the ones who have learned that they are weak, but that they can be at peace as long as they continually turn to God. Our strength lies in God. This is what the Lord means when He tells us that He will comfort us just as a mother comforts her child. Our weaknesses are not a problem for God, but that is something we find very hard to believe. The comfort we receive from God is in realising that the Lord is just as much with us in our weakness as any other time.
One of the signs of this denial of our weakness today, is the fact that we are slow to go to confession. That is a denial that we need to acknowledge our weakness before God. I’m always amazed at the amount of people who will tell me it is several years since their last confession, but that they have no sins. You can be sure that we have sins, but we have denied them so much that we are no longer aware of them. Ask your husband or wife, or the people you work with if you have sins, and they’ll tell you pretty fast; and they’ll probably be able to give you a much longer list of them than you could! God offers us the help we need, but He can’t force us to take it.
The key to growth in our life, whether we are married, single, or religious, is to face our weaknesses, painful and all as they are, and to turn to the one who can and will help us with them. But first we have to acknowledge our sins, confess them. It doesn’t mean that they will all go away, but we will learn to live with them and to be at peace.
‘As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you.’