"If I must boast"
"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." That is what St. Paul said in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor11:30). Most of us would not boast of our weaknesses, nor would we even think of it as virtuous in society as it is today. In fact, such behavior could be perceived as whining. But this is not at all what Paul was doing when he boasted of his weakness. He was affirming the reality that his humanity was indeed weak, as it is in all of us, and therefore that he needed to rely totally on God. He had previously said that he had suffered all sorts of punishments and cruelty during his ministry. He did not say this because he wanted pity or to complain about it. Instead, Paul was saying that he understood that all of us are weak and can do nothing apart from God. And he was saying that he understood the pressures and difficulties that life puts upon us as we try to remain faithful to the Lord.
I have always believed that if something is good and worthwhile, if we really believe in it, then it is worth suffering for. So it is for parents when they have children. They make sacrifices gladly because they love their children. They willingly sacrifice time and money, as they work to feed, house, clothe, and educate their children. They do it because of love, not obligation. So it is for an adult child who takes care of an elderly parent when the parent can no longer care for him or herself. So it is for any caretaker of a sick or disabled spouse or child. And so it is for any disciple, “a worker in the vineyard,” who dedicates his or her life to evangelization simply by trying to live Gospel values.
What St. Paul is saying is that most disciples will live ordinary lives. (It seems he saw himself as ordinary, but with an extraordinary call.) However, we can make our lives extraordinary by how we choose to live our baptismal vocation as priest, prophet, and king. We can see our own ordinary lives as extraordinary because we see all as gift. Therefore we can be extraordinary because of the good that others experience in us by how we live our lives in response to the gifts we have received. Such a person cannot contain their love, mercy, kindness, care, and joy even when they are experiencing the suffering, which, as St. Paul said, is inevitable.
All of us, no matter what vocation we are called to, live lives that are ordinary. Being human makes us all ordinary. And as ordinary people we have the same ups and downs, joys and sorrows, excitement and boredom that everyone else experiences during life. All of us have times of pain, confusion and darkness, and we all question “what it’s all about.” This is simply part of being human. If we are alive, we will struggle.
Some people we now consider to have been very holy lived lives that seemed ordinary, yet upon further examination were far from it. These are people such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux who would have been forgotten except for the autobiography she wrote under obedience; or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who seemed like an ordinary young man on fire with love for Jesus, who as a layperson did great things for the poor without anyone knowing. There are people such as St. Gianna Molla who was an ordinary doctor and mother, who gave her life to protect the unborn child she carried rather than abort the child so that she might live; or Blessed Franz Jägerstätter who was an ordinary farmer and gave his life as a martyr rather than serve in the Nazi army. And there is St. Bernadette Soubirous who was illiterate and had no interest in becoming book-smart because all she wanted to do was love Jesus and Mary. She wasn’t just ordinary; she was totally unremarkable at first glance, yet she rose to sanctity because of her love for God.
It would be a mistake to think that anyone who serves God with all their strength and all their love is not pouring themselves out the way St. Paul did. We, as disciples, may not get notoriety, but we do pour ourselves out for Jesus, who also poured Himself out for us on the Cross. We want to share the message of Christ because we know the freedom He brings to those in bondage. We want to bring justice where it does not exist because we know that is the way of God. We want to literally share the wealth of His love and healing. We do it because we love Jesus and we want to love Him in return by loving Him in His people.
St. Thérèse Couderc, the foundress of the Religious of the Cenacle, once said: "We die by pinpricks." This saying made an impression on me (no pun intended) and I have reflected on it often. I think what she meant is that it is one thing to be martyred by giving one's life in a grand gesture of imitating Christ. But to suffer the little daily, ordinary pressures and stresses of life is the path to holiness that most of us are offered. The little things are really the proving ground of our holiness.
It is easy to talk about being holy, but when we are in the arena of our daily tasks it becomes more difficult. When driving a car do we find annoyances, (the often seemingly “idiotic” moves of the other drivers), to be events in which we can act as a Christian, or do we lose our temper? The path to holiness that we can take is that of patience and forgiveness. The neighbor's barking dog or the children who are noisy when we desire quiet, the disappointment of a friend who lets us down, the sink that backs up, the service-person who does a poor job, the disobedient or strong-willed child, the doctor who makes us wait interminably in his/her office, the car that breaks down, the argument that does not go our way, the disappointments in our own behaviors: all these little daily frustrations are merely part of life. We can let them eat at us and seem to ruin our lives, or we can choose to turn them over to God for help, asking for the grace to cope. These challenges are the fertile ground of our call to holiness. The good news is that we are never too far gone to start letting the Lord help us to hone our weaknesses into the strength that is really His.
What St. Thérèse Couderc said means that we are to die to ourselves by these pinpricks. In other words, the pinpricks can be the path to letting go of our will and letting God be fully in "the driver's seat." We can continue to ask ourselves if in the light of eternity the frustration we are experiencing is important or if we can let go of our will and let Him find another way for us. We can ask the Holy Spirit to send us the grace and wisdom to respond the way Jesus would have us respond. We can ask for the discernment to know if this is really all that important such that we let it go and move on, or if we need to make a big deal about something (such as an injustice). Then we need to ask how to deal with it with love.
The bottom line is this: ordinary events in ordinary lives make up the majority of our experiences. But every one of those moments has the potential to become extraordinary by inviting grace into it. We can see with new eyes and love with renewed hearts. We can become extraordinary simply by letting God mold us through those pinpricks, by accepting that every event is an opportunity for growth in our spiritual lives such that with St. Paul we can say: "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." When we do that we are showing that in our weakness the Lord is strong. It is He who gives us every good gift, and it is to Him that the glory belongs.
May we be filled with the grace to handle the little things with love! May we have the wisdom to know what is truly important in our lives, and to let go of the small, insignificant disappointments! May we have the ability to see ordinary things and ordinary people as extraordinary because we see the presence of God in them! And may we see the hand of God in ourselves, realizing that with Him we are truly strong! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, who in His extraordinary love for us, helps us to become more like Him. Peace!
The icon at the top is St. Paul the Apostle by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=280
The photo is of St. Thérèse Couderc, (1805-1885) foundress of the Religious of the Cenacle.
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