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, or indeed when we just launch out on our career, we start off full of zeal. It is exciting 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 our prayer life seems to dry up and we begin to discover that the community are not so easy to live with. 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. I know that similar things happen 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. This is the human condition, but it is ok to be like that.
There are two ways that we can react. We can deny that there is a problem and fight on with clenched fists (‘white knuckling’), 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 and all the other addictions 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. That is why it is so successful.
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 is not put off by our weakness. 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, or who never had any sins; but this is not true. 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, although they can be very frustrating for us. The comfort we receive from God is in realising that the Lord is just as much with us in our weakness as at any other time. St. Paul also says this in the second reading: 'May I never boast of anything except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.'
One of the most powerful things the Lord has given us to help us cope with the weaknesses that we have to face is the gift of confession. Each time we come to the Lord in confession we are not only unburdened of our sins but also encouraged to keep going and not give up. It is one of the lovely ways the Lord has given us to help us to be at peace. Through confession we are able to keep coming back to the Lord and be assured that the Lord is with us. He knows we struggle. He knows we are weak and that it is difficult for us and that is why He invites us to take comfort in him. Spiritually, you could say, the Lord is the one we turn to for a hug. Then we can also be united to Jesus each time we receive the Eucharist, again to strengthen and comfort us. That is why He gives himself to us.
The key to growing and blossoming as people, is not to be afraid of our weakness, but to turn to the one who can and will help us with them. He will help us to be at peace.
‘As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you.’