MARY: A Word For The Weary
By Fr. Claude Williams, O.Praem.
"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
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
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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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