A couple of years back I was talking to a man who was telling me about himself. He said that most things in his life were grand, except for one thing. He had a terrible temper, which was so frustrating. And he said, ‘If only I didn’t have this temper, everything would be perfect.’ I couldn’t help thinking that this weakness that was so frustrating to him, was probably also one of the things that helped him to stay close to God. If we thought we were perfect we would probably also think that we had no need for God. It is also true that when we are not aware of our weaknesses we can become terribly arrogant.
There is a priest known simply as Brother Andrew, who co-founded the Brothers part of the Missionaries of Charity with Mother Teresa. In one of his books about his experiences, he begins by saying: ‘Few people would believe the weakness on which the Missionaries of Charity are built.’ It is a strange statement for most people to hear when we think of people like Mother Teresa and the extraordinary work that she and the many other sisters and brothers do. Brother Andrewe speaks a lot about his own weakness, although he doesn’t say exactly what it was, except that he suffered from some kind of addiction. This weakness, which frustrated him so much, was also one of the things that made him holy. He doesn’t say that, but you can see it from his writings. The reason why God did such great work through him, through Mother Teresa and through so many others, was not because they were talented enough, but because they were aware of how weak they were and so they relied totally on God for everything.
The reason why God was able to do such extraordinary things through the saints is not because they were perfect, but because they were weak people who continually turned to him and so God was able to use them in an extraordinary way. It is very easy to get a false impression of what holiness is: Books can often give us the impression that saints were people who did no wrong. The truth is that saints were and are weak people, with just as many weaknesses as any of us, but they continually turned to God for help and as a result God was able to work through them in an amazing way. To understand this is key to growing in the spiritual life. If the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong, then very few of us could relate to them. But if they were weak people just like any of us—which they were and are—then not only can we relate to them, but it should help us to see that the same path is open to us, because it doesn’t depend on us being good enough, rather it depends on us continually turning to God. That is the key.
There is no one here who doesn’t struggle with weaknesses of one kind or another. It could be some kind of addiction, it could be a need to control, an emotional dependency, whatever. We all have something and as you well know it can be extremely frustrating.
I find it consoling that two thousand years ago St. Paul writes about the exact same thing (See this Sunday’s second reading 2 Cor 12:7-10). Paul was a very intelligent man, well educated and obviously very talented. And even though he had visions of Jesus which converted him and then he went and preached everywhere, he too suffered from some kind of weakness, although he doesn’t say what it was. In this second reading you can really sense his frustration as he says that three times he asked God to take this thing away from him, and three times God said ‘No, my strength is at its best in weakness.’ This weakness, whatever it was, obviously helped him more than he realised. It kept him humble and it meant that he continually needed to turn to the Lord and ask for his help and that is why he and so many other men and women were such powerful instruments in God’s hands, because they relied totally on God and not on themselves as they were well aware of how weak they were.
I have no doubt that all of us probably feel we would be much better off if we could overcome our weaknesses. But perhaps these readings will help us to see that the Lord knows what He is doing when He allows us to struggle with them. Yes, they are frustrating, but they can also be a gift in the sense that they make us rely on the power of God more than on ourselves. It also reminds us that it is not a question of being ‘good enough’ for God. We will never be good enough, but that doesn’t matter. As long as we know that we are weak then we will see that we have someone to turn to who really can and will help us.
So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me.