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Featured Article: Our Black Shepherds - Given the traditional European/American profile of the Church in the United States, there has always been urgings from the smaller ethnic groupings, Hispanic, African American, Italian, Polish, Asian, etc to have episcopal representation. And each group has its own story to tell with getting bishops appointed. Read Full Story

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 NBCC : Black Health & Wellness

MARY: A Word For The Weary

"In the world," our Savior tells us, "we will have trouble." Sadness, exhaustion, loneliness, interpersonal conflicts, and failure are just some of the common troubles we Christians experience at various points in our lives. Too often, these challenges rob us of God's priceless gift of joy. "The joy of the Lord," we know from Nehemiah and Ezra, "is our strength." So we rightly seek to make sense of the the sort of trials and difficulties mentioned above so that we can hold fast to our joy and better fulfill our purpose in the world.

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There are many 'answers' to the problems of life and many of these answers we have discovered on the natural level are very good at overcoming the challenges we face in our lives. For instance, the mood of sadness can give way to happiness with more time spent in the sunshine, a better diet or the right song. The feelings of loneliness can leave when a loved one loves back or smiles back. In so far as they go, natural answers can be very good. The problem we encounter, however, is that natural solutions do not go as far as we would have them. In other words the solutions offered by this world come and go.

Thankfully, for those of us who have put on the mind of Christ, we are able to understand the realities of this present world in light of the realities of the world to come. When we experience some evil or negative situation in our lives, we rightly ask 'Why?' This is not the angry 'Why?' of a wounded sense of entitlement. Rather, our questioning stems from our natural desire to know the cause of anything that exists. Asking 'Why?' does not arise so much from our personal experience of pain or disappointment, rather it comes more from our knowledge that God is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful.

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We know that "God orders all things sweetly" and this includes the way he directs us during the difficult times of life. Even when we know this is the case, we do not always grasp that truth on an affective level. Whenever we find our emotions out of sync with precepts and promises of God, it is very important that we decide to trust what He has revealed in spite of how we feel. We find great help doing this in the teachings and examples of many of the saints. The Apostle Paul, for instance, gives a very important reason for our sufferings when he teaches that "power is made perfect in infirmity." He says, "I will glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . for when I am weak, then am I powerful." This reality of power (not only being present in the midst of weakness, but also being perfected in the midst of weakness) can be hard to understand at first. It is a bit counter-intuitive to give thanks to God for a "thorn in the flesh," but it is precisely this wexample of gratitude in the midst of affliction that we have received from St. Paul.

The way this all works out can be illustrated in the natural order in a very common sort of athletic competition: arm wrestling. Let's say we are spectators to a long series of arm wrestling matches between two unevenly matched contenders. Watching the underdog struggle and lose over and over could come across as a sorry sight. The key to seeing how great such a spectacle is in fact, is to understand it, not in terms of winning, but in terms of getting stronger. More important than the comparison between the strength of two wrestlers is the strength each can claim as his own. The weaker of the two may never 'win' a match. He can, however, get much stronger by competing well. Every time he strives to defeat his opponent by employing good form, following the rules and exerting the little strength that he does have, he gets stronger. His strength, to borrow St. Paul's words, is made perfect in weakness.

In a similar way, when we persevere through trials and tribulations, we grow stronger spiritually. God is not concerned primarily with whether or not we are 'winning.' Rather, He is concerned that we are struggling and, thereby, becoming stronger in charity. In fact, this process of getting stronger is the sure sign that we are winning where it matters. It is our strong love for God that will ensure our ultimate victory at the end of our earthly lives. So, understanding the great and lasting value of our passing trials and tribulations, we respond as such an understanding demands: with gratitude to God for the gift of our struggles.

In the Gospel of Luke, our Savior admonishes us to "struggle to enter through the narrow gate, for many... will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." More often than not, the ordeals we go through are not all that pretty to watch. sometimes we get so beat-up that even those on the sidelines are embarrassed. Be that as it may, our Heavenly Father is looking long-term, and we do well to take our cue from Him. God is looking way beyond the temporary humiliations of His saints as He sees the everlasting exaltation that awaits us. He is looking towards our happiness beyond that narrow gate. Whenever troubles overwhelm us and we feel our weakness, even when we feel only our weakness, that is the moment to keep striving. That is the moment to get stronger in God. If we persevere in this struggle here below, then God will not fail to crown our labors in Heaven where the strong ones, His saints, will rejoice forever after having passed through the narrow gate.

Disponit Omnia Suaviter

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