Weak-Strength

I was speaking with someone after teaching a class recently about the role of human weakness in the spiritual life, and specifically about how the Catholic spiritual tradition has treated St. Paul’s famous passage from 2 Corinthians 12:

I was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

We had a great exchange about the various interpretations of this weakness-strength paradox, but it was my quoting of a saying coined by a friend of mine in Florida that really knocked his socks off:

We are made in weakness that we might supply for one another

“I have never thought,” he said, “of my weaknesses or failings as a ‘crying out’ for others to help me walk; or as a demand on them to help me walk; or even as a statement that only when I confess my weakness can Christ’s love can be shown to me through others. I always thought of it as a God-and-me direct thingy – weakness shows me I need just God, God alone; not God-and. But it sounds to me like the perfect recipe for humility and love and compassion in a culture that makes self-sufficiency and autonomy and independence the #1 values of life. Even the dislike for the image of ‘religion as a crutch’ everybody throws at me assumes that we should really need no-one to get where we’re going. I mean, it seems to me religion’s not really a crutch as much as it’s a demand to carry the weak and allow yourself to be carried by others and God when your weak. It’s like Paul’s saying boast about compassion — Christ’s, your’s, others’, by giving it and receiving it. Something like that. Cool.”

I thought this was very insightful and moving, and so I will leave it there as my proposed reflection.

{An aside: I want to thank my Florida friend, Ellen Murphy, for giving me that quote years ago and for her Hebrew-style proverbial wisdom. If you don’t know who Ellen is, she’s an amazing woman of God who can (as she puts it) go from zero to Jersey in 5 seconds. She’s a real character who, if I might dare say, is something like a cross between St. Edith Stein and Bon Qui Qui. A totally awesome person who shows that God’s grace demonstrates its artful elegance by building Christ into the details of each unique human personality. And she especially shows what it means to be a spiritual mother and human friend to many. Read more of her wisdom here at the YOF blog.}

11 comments on “Weak-Strength

  1. […] I was speaking with someone after teaching a class recently about the role of human weakness in the spiritual life, and specifically about how the Catholic spiritual tradition has treated St. Paul’s famous passage from 2 Corinthians 12: I was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. Source: Neal Obstat Theological Opining   […]

  2. Lisa B says:

    I’m a tad weirded- out that you know who Bon Qui Qui is, Dr. Neal, if nothing else because I’ve been saddled with the knowledge that I do as well …..

  3. Lisa B says:

    …. and well shoot, yeah, the Lord works THROUGH others to each of us, and he works ON us through the opportunity to let others be him to us … perhaps it’s just more clear to us at different times of our life.

  4. Br Patrick says:

    Ms Ellen is a holy woman. Thanks for her reflection!

  5. DZSJ-AMDG says:

    I was in standing in line for the sacrament of reconciliation yesterday night, and truly felt the weak-strength paradox. I felt weak in my sense of sin, and nervous and vulnerable about it. Weakness is hard to own, it is like the soft underbelly we try to hide with all kinds of masks and pretenses. It is risky to be weak – in the created world, this is how an animal is killed or eaten by another. Perhaps we still sense some of this ancient risk as we hide our weaknesses from one another, and in our human context, social weakness can be just as devastating, right? The message of the Gospel is so counter-cultural here. We look for power on the cross, on the crucified body of a Man who knew no sin. The sacraments bring us into the reality of that. In the sacrament of penance last night, I found that being weak, owning my weakness and need for grace was the strength I found. Praise God my strength and my shield.

    • AMDG – the sacrament of penance is a great example of this power poured into weakness, and your heart’s outpouring in praise is more eloquent than anything that could be said! Thank you for sharing this reflection with all of us, as weakness is hard to own and hard to share so honestly. A blessed Lent!

  6. oneview says:

    I especially appreciate your thought that we are made in weakness for one another. Isn’t that about the most difficult thing to accept, that we must reveal our weakness to others and ask for help?

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