Fr. Robert Goulet, a French-Canadian priest I knew once back in the late 1980’s, said to me when his age-related infirmities relegated him to a nursing home: “All I have to give God now as a priest is my feebleness. And the Mass. Yet, I’ve never had more to offer.”
I used to come to his room every morning at 5:30 a.m. for a private Mass, assisting as his “personal server” for a whole summer. It was one of my life’s most beautiful experiences. He was deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary, and would constantly share his offbeat insights into her various approved and alleged apparitions. He’d celebrate Mass drooling, wiping his mouth with the purificator, and would stare at the Host and Chalice with childlike tenderness for at least a minute during the elevation in the Institution Narrative. It was my first and best lesson in what could rightly be called a “mysticism of feebleness,” that path to perfection that is found in the embrace of one’s un-chosen limits.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel often says that a faith-filled embrace of the darkness that can surround debilitating infirmity, old age or terminal illness has the potential to transform one into a great saint in a short time. Archbishop Sheen’s lament that the Church’s fruitfulness is hampered by “wasted suffering” points to the need for an active apostolate within the Church to encourage (and walk with) those who bear the burden of life’s painful limits to help them discover in those limits a path toward intimate union with Jesus-transfixed, whose weak-power transfigures our every debility into a supreme ability. I think here also of the beloved story in the early church of St. Lawrence the Deacon who, having been commanded by the Roman Prefect to bring the Church’s sizable alms-treasury for the pagan emperor’s building projects, brought to him the decrepit, the blind, the lame, the maimed, the lepers, orphans and widows, and declared: “Behold, the treasure of the church!” Truly, these weak and defenseless “least” are, in the Kingdom of the Crucified, the greatest; “our masters,” as St. Vincent de Paul adjured his fellow priests to name the poor.
Kari Jobe, one of my very favorite contemporary Christian singers, sings well about this mysticism: