Tag Archives: weakness

The Ask

“The Ask” is a fundraising term meaning the moment when the fundraiser, gauging that the donor is sufficiently convinced in the efficacy and need of the cause that the donor is ready to actually make a financial commitment, makes the actual request for the person to make a contribution.

When “the ask” is of God, I find things seem complicated. On the one hand, Jesus assures us that the Donor will give: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [1] [Mt 7:7-8] Again, He says all we need is faith: whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. [Mt 21:22] According to Jesus, in dealing with God, it is always good if you’re not just being selfish, if this need is a communal need: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.[Mt 18:19][2]

With a non-profit here on earth, any donor wants to be certain, (a) that the cause is truly worthy of support, (b) that the need is great; (c) this organization is legit and actually does something to address this need, and (d) that the money will be used wisely and well for the purpose for which the donation is made, and not to pay exorbitant salaries or just to elicit more funds.

God is the same way. He (a) loves us unconditionally, (b) knows we need Him because He created us; (c) wants to be certain that we truly trust Him, and (d) that we show we believe in Him, and love Him by our actions: we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. [1Jn 3:21-22] And what pleases Him is that we love Him and show that love by loving everybody else: whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. [Mt 25:40]

When dealing with God, we have an “in” with the Donor; we go through the Donor’s Son. Jesus does “the ask” of the Father. “Jesus…[is] the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ [Heb 7:25]”[3]

Our own fear and bumbling cause us to make inappropriate “asks.” You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. [James 4:2-3] However, the Divine Factotum, the Specialist in Everything, Love and Truth Himself, the Holy Spirit, not only teaches us what to say but even makes “the ask” for us when we are dumbstruck before the majesty of God, or fixated on the wrong thing, or can’t figure out what we really need: In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rom 8:26]  And the Donor knows “the ask” is legit: The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8:27]

As the deluge of continuous mail from the same organization asking for money even when I have had no contact with it for years attests, persistence is the name of the Donor game. If one “ask” does not do it, keep at it and wear down the Donor’s resistance. Jesus illustrated this explicitly in one of my favorite parables, a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. [Lk 18:1-8]

By my persistence, I show God I’m serious, I am truly in need, His people for whom I am praying are in need, we all need His help, His grace, His mercy. Our cause is just and worthy of His assistance.

But, like Job, I am fearful of the LORD: I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more. [Job 40:4-5] I know that I do not know for what I should ask: Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:6] I am as fearful coming before God as Esther was coming before the King, but I desperately need God’s help: My Lord, you alone are our King. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my handdeliver me from my fear. [Esther Gk Version C: 14-30]

But, though His sacred word, God assures us of his love: But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth. [Ps 85:15, 103:8; 145:8; James 5:11] Therefore, we pray “Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.” [4] and “we dare to say: Our Father….”[5]


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[2] God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray….For where two or three…midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqê ’Abôt 3:3). NABRE Notes on Mt 18:19-20

[3] CCC 2634

[4] Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88. CCC 1037

[5] CCC, Pt. 4; Sect. 2, Art.2, I.

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Patience: Constrained Obedience

A time between the Finding in the Temple and the Baptism of Jesus demonstrates the amazing importance God puts on Patience. We are given the Finding as a Divine hint [some hints need to be a lot more heavy handed than others or we don’t seem to get the point] that Jesus was well aware of his mission way back when He was twelve. But to the Father, awareness and readiness were not the same thing. After his confrontation with his parents, Jesus gets the message. This is not what His Father wants Him to do at this time. At this time, he is to be subject to his earthly father and mother. He is under the supervision of guardians and administrators until the date set by his father. [1] [Gal 4:2]

So he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.[Lk 2:51] This was to be his boot camp in obedience. It may not have seemed that way, but think about it. If you knew you were the Son of God and were sent here to do one thing and one thing only, save humankind, don’t you think you would be chafing at the bit to get to it. Ok, maybe not when you’re a teen, but at least when you’re 20. How slowly those hidden years would have seemed to drag by. And His boot camp training wasn’t just a couple of weeks or months. It wasn’t even a couple of years. Think 18 years in the backwaters of Galilee.

And given his propensity for knowing exactly what was going to happen to him at the end and his constant references to His “Hour,” Jesus understanding of His ultimate mission was not limited by His human perception nor even by time itself. Consider what you would be like if you were literally, not just figuratively, “waiting an eternity” for something to happen. They have to put me in a padded room before the first week was up. While we are wont to compare good patience to that of Job, it was a grain of sand when compared with what Jesus had to endure.

This was ultimate Obedience, Jesus total giving of control of his life over to His Father, total subordination of His will to that of His Father. And not to His Father directly. That would have been much easier. When one in confronted with the Almighty, the LORD Jehovah, the Creator of the Universe, even Jesus, now the God-Man would be able to humanly rationalize the efficacy of letting His Father run the show. But remember, this was obedience to His human parents, to creatures of His Father, if considered from a scientific perspective, so vastly inferior to Jesus that only on the human level could there be any comparison whatsoever, and even there, major inequalities. However, this is precisely the point. This obedience to Joseph and Mary is a true demonstration of His obedience to His Father.

Think of it, 18 years out of the only earthly life of the God-Man he’ll ever have. We are tempted to think of it as such a waste; would not more years in the public ministry been a better use of Jesus time, Jesus talents, than spending them schlepping boards and bricks for His father, building houses and repairing furniture in the backwater, hick town of Nazareth, helping his mother around the house?

For the majority of Jesus life, we have no record of what He did, Salvation History gone blank…or is it? We are told that, like his cousin, John, and his ancestor, Samuel [See 1Sam 2:26], Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. [Lk 2:51-52] Good wine needs time to age. Good people do also. We know He was not yet truly wise at twelve; though He was listening to them and asking them questions and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers, [Lk 2:46-47] the teachers thought they had a prodigy, not a Messiah, on their hands. Knowledge, even understanding and wisdom are not the same thing. With wisdom comes empathy, tact, insight not immediately evident in the facts and figures of knowledge. He may have been a Bar Mitzvah, a “Son of the Commandments,” a “man” in the Jewish community, but, in their eyes, the eyes of his family and the world, He was also still a boy, and his learning, his knowledge, needed the seasoning of life to become wisdom.

That’s where the the advancing in age, the blessing of time, the revelation of experience comes into play. Being fully man as well as God, like every other person who ever lived, only with maturation through the practical, everyday experience of family and community life, of business encounters and festival gatherings, in the drudgery of the day-to-day routine of work and life and play and prayer and friendships and love and heartaches and death and anger and sadness and acceptance and carrying on in spite of it all would wisdom and maturity be achieved.

Why favor before God and men. As his encounter with his parents in the Temple demonstrates, Jesus needed the maturity of adulthood to hone of his people skills from the abrasiveness of adolescence to the tact, temperance and perceptiveness of manhood. Only through the experience of living would He gain the human empathy and understanding needed to know them all, and…not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. [Jn 2:24-25]

By using this knowledge as His Father directed Him, He did His Father’s will…always and everywhere in His “hidden life” until the day of his manifestation to Israel. [Lk 1:80]

Although we call it the “hidden life,” all that means is it didn’t rate minute by minute tweets, photo ops, headlines. He was not holding press conferences, nor issuing releases. He had no paparazzi, no followers. He was just the local carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…and…his sisters. [Mk 6:3] His cloak of anonymity was so complete, His hidden identity so engrained in His neighbors, that when He later revealed His preaching and His power, He lacked so much credibility in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house,… he was not able to perform any mighty deed. [Mk 6:4-5]

But finally, His patience was rewarded: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. [Is 49:8; 2Cor 6:2] And, just as the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert [Lk 3:2], when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son [Gal 4:4] to be baptized. It was there His patience was rewarded. It was there the Father and Holy Spirit manifested their love of Him and their recognition and commendation of the perfect humble obedience He had shown throughout His hidden life: the heavens…[were] torn open and the Spirit, like a dove,….[descended] upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” [Mk 1:10-11] The Spirit pins on the medal while the Father gives the speech.

Even then, They knew He was not quite ready. He needed his own personalized Camp Lejeune combat readiness training for the upcoming battles, and so at once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. [Mk 1:12-13]

Much of the rest of His life would be filled with this constant tension. On the one hand, He would cry out in frustration: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! [Lk 12:49-50] On the other, even to His mother who, of all people, knew Him best, He would try to thwart her request for pity on the wedding party: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” [Jn 2:4] Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [Mk 13:32]

This tension between wanting it over and waiting for His Father’s Hour haunts Him throughout his public ministry. Finally, on the occasion when Greek believers wish to speak to Jesus, He finally says: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…though he immediately clarifies that He recognizes that this glorification will have the appearance of exactly the opposite of what the world expects: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit….Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” [Jn 12:23-25, 27-28a] The glorification would be of His Father, for He would demonstrate with His life that love of and obedience to His Father are the most important things in the universe, more important than life itself.[2]

There are more than one “hour” occurring simultaneously, Jesus Hour of His Father’s Glory and the hour, the time for the power of darkness. [Lk 22:53] These converge and culminate as Jesus hangs on the cross between heaven and earth. It is only, after gifting His own mother to John and to us and knowing that…from that hour the disciple took her into his home.[Jn 19:27]…, only then, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” [Jn 19:28] For what did Jesus thirst: “the fourth cup which for all practical purposes is the climax of the Passover.”[3] He needed to conclude the Passover Meal, for he said: I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. Now was the Kingdom of God established on earth for all eternity….When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished. And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” [Jn 19:30]

The patience obedience had been completed, His Father’s will had been fulfilled, His Father was glorified by His ultimate sacrifice of Jesus of Himself, His life, of everything as testimony to His Father as His God, His all, His Everything.

Et tu, Brute? And what of me? To what part of this magnificent panorama of divinely human patience can I aspire to, hope to emulate. Me, in my timidity, my weakness, my humanness, my drive to control, my intolerance of expectation, my demand for immediacy, my today-and-now impatience. On the contrary, I am the poster child of impatient disobedience. Can I change? Indeed, I am the most pitiable…of all. [1 Cor 15:19] ““Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them [and me and you] and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” [Mt 19:25-26]

Patience! We’ll get there, with God’s help. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] A truth revalidated again and again over the centuries by the blood of martyrs, the life long vows of religious, the lives of the saints.

[3] Scott Hahn, The Fourth Cup, The Sacrament of the Eucharist, http://zuserver2.star.ucl.ac.uk/~vgg/rc/aplgtc/hahn/m4/4cp.html

The Standard Expected of Me

“Living God, stand by me. Hold me up. Be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless. Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for. Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.”

—Edwina Gately[1]

This is a lovely prayer. I certainly relate to calling on the Lord to “be my strength when I am tired, my inspiration when I am bored, my life when I am listless”… and to calling to my Divine Dad when I no longer can hold myself up as an adult “when I fail…,when I stumble,” and I need to crawl up and rest in His lap.

However, the sentence that caught my attention was: “Living God, I cannot always meet the standard expected of me, cannot always be the personality I am known for.” Am I always playing up to “the standard expected of me,…the personality I am known for?” And who is doing the “expecting” and “knowing”?

Three possibilities present themselves: God, others and myself.

 

God:

The sentence starts by a petition to the “Living God.” Thus, one would expect that He was the one setting the standard, measuring the personality. But is this the case?

Certainly, Hebrew Scripture testifies that God knows us intimately:

  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. (Jer 1:5) [2]
  • It is you alone who know the heart of every human being. (1Kgs 8:39)
  • The One who fashioned together their hearts is the One who knows all their works. (Ps 33:15)
  • The LORD knows the plans of man; they are like a fleeting breath. (Ps 94:11)
  • He searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their secrets he understands. (Sir 42:18)
  • I, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart, giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds. (Jer 17:10)
  • LORD of hosts, you test the just, you see mind and heart. (Jer 20:12)

Jesus certainly did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. (Jn 2:24-25)

And, indeed, we know that God set standards for us to meet. Being created in His image and likeness, one of His most frequent analogies is you shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. [Lev 11:44] In case we didn’t get the message, He repeats its it in the next sentence: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 11:45] and later in the same book, when outlining the rules of conduct: The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy. [Lev 19:1-2] and, in case we missed it: you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy [Lev 20:26] Finally, in case we don’t read Leviticus, the Holy Spirit has Peter in the New Testament state in his First Epistle: as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” [1Pet 1:15-16]

More generally, He expected us to obey Him because we love Him. Love the LORD, your God, therefore, and keep his charge, statutes, ordinances, and commandments always. (Deut 11:1)[3]

So, God knows me intimately and sets standards for me…Is He the one to which the author of our prayer refers? Certainly a viable candidate. But before answering that question, we ought to at least look at the other two candidates: myself and you.

 

You:

The you is really the “we,” the society in general. We certainly set standards…for just about everything, from how green and weed free my lawn can and, by implication, should be, to what insurance I should carry if I am smart and wish to save money. Everything from the underwear I “should” be putting on in the morning to the pill I “should” be taking at night to be better in bed is standardized, set out for us to admire and approve. Note that in each advertisement to which we are subjected, the implication is that if I don’t choose this particular product, I am behind the times, not in with the in crowd, certainly not too swift and definitely, definitely not to be invited to the next do, whatever that is.

We even package the news so that I will (a) hear only about certain events we consider important and shaping the future of the world in which the “we” have determined that they do, and by implication, everyone else should, want to live and (b) hear only the interpretation or spin on those events which we deem to be the “right” or “left” one, depending on our political persuasion. Of course, by implication, if I do not listen to the formatted news, believe without question the highly edited edition they dole out, follow their norm, the guidelines set by the majority of society or at least a “non-discriminated against minority” of society, I will, forefend, not “always meet the standard expected of me.” Horrors!!! How much different than the freedom of conscience, of will, of choice, of action, preached by the Pope…[4]

The same, of course, goes for “the personality I am known for.” If, according to you, I can’t quite make the grade, ah, too bad, I guess I’m just not quite with it, not texting with the in crowd, not surfing the “in” sites, not smiling with perfectly aligned ivories. Of course, coming up to this standard personality is what society doles out pills for, either to ease into the grade or to escape from the reality that imposes such stringent models to mimic. Little depressed, need something to take that cutting edge off of society’s scalpel for a while. We have an Rx for that. Aren’t quite jolly enough, high enough, enjoying yourself enough, we’ve got something for that too…not quite legal, but hey, everybody’s doing it…so how about me? Is that the personality I wish to be known for?

 

Me:

Well, society certainly has standards it expects me to reach, keep, whatever. But does it truly know me…do you truly know me. “Indeed I do!” comes the indignant reply, “I can pigeon-hole you precisely: you are one of 7.325 billion people on this planet, of 320.09 live in the United States, and of 625,741 in Vermont. Of these, you are one of the 596,292 that are Caucasian, and of the 293,649 that are male. You are one of the 9,391 who are between 70 and 74,…etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum…”until society and you come down to “You are Paul who live at this address with this wife and these dogs and you do such and such….” But do all these statistics, individually or combined, define me? Would the equivalent define you? My point exactly! So, you haven’t walked a mile in my moccasins or circled my earth in my capsule…been through all my sorrows and joys, all my sins and all those guilt driven repentances, etc.

But this is not the exterior that you may imagine you see.

“I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water’s calm and I’m in command and that I need no one, but don’t believe me. My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness….I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing and that you will see this and reject me. So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within…A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls….Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.”[5]

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to know me. As Finn points out in his poem, your “glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.”

 

You and Me….

Of course, part of my problem is that the very standards to which you and society expect me to adhere are the ones that I assimilate, acknowledge and attempt to abide by. You and I set them up and therefore you and I are both the judge and the judged.

But if, simultaneously, you are “my only hope” and I am yours, we are caught between a rock and a hard place…you will judge or accept me and ditto for me judging or accepting you, and we may scorn one another when we “cannot always be the personality…[we are] known for” or we may love each other as we are which is what we do to our family, friends and relatives, but not necessarily or at least not automatically to anyone else, especially our enemies.

Realistically, being human, we will probably do both, accept and reject each other, love and scorn each other. But as Jesus points out, this is a cop out: if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. [Lk 6:32-33] Since we are sinners, He has our modus operandi pegged perfectly. From Cain and Abel onward, even blood brother has turned against brother. You and I do not always love each other as neighbor as ourselves. But that’s nothing new. Neither do I love myself as I should nor probably do you love yourself unreservedly. And that is something with which we will have to live. “Following God’s commands is rarely a cakewalk. Love my neighbor? Has God met the guy next door?”[6] This doesn’t mean we can’t strive against judging and for loving. Just means that the striving doesn’t always win out.

The problem is that our personal striving is also played out in society, between the right wingers and the left wingers, conservatives and radicals, coal miners and conservationists, legals and illegals, white and black. And on the international stage between Palestinians and Israelis, Russians and Ukrainians, ISIS and anti-ISIS, USA and Russia, the insurgents and the entrenched, the rebels and the governments.

So, we seem to have exhausted the possibilities without coming up with a satisfactory solution. “We often do not know why God brings certain events into our lives. When circumstances are tough to bear or people are hard to love, we might ask whether God has our best interests at heart.”[7]

 

St. Paul’s answers

So, how can we answer whether God has our best interests at heart. And more to the point, do those best interests can address this stupid, unrealistic, unattainable standard expected of me, this personality for which I am known but which is, in reality, not really me?…St. Paul offers two answers to this conundrum: weakness and faith.

Weakness:

We know from Paul’s writings that he continually battles the temptation of pride: And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 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. [2Cor 12:3-7] He is dealing with the reality of his blessings, the “revelations” which are the “truth,” and he knows he himself is “this person” about which he might “boast.” But he knows deep down in his heart that equally real is the fact that these are not truly “his” accomplishments, but God’s, that he did nothing to merit them, that they were a completely gratuitous gift which were given from God’s Providence, not earned by him.

God, however, helped him cope with this temptation, again through His Providence: Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh[8] 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. [2Cor 12:7-8] This bears reflection that the bad things that happen in my life are probably there through God’s Providence, for a purpose.

And God even explains to Paul why He is leaving the affliction: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Two reasons: (a) God never asks us to do anything for which He does not give us sufficient grace to accomplish, Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God [2Cor 3:5] and (b) the second part of the sentence makes more sense if we add identifiers to “power,” and “weakness”: for God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”[9] The Greek is: “for My, i.e. God’s, power is being perfected in [your, i.e. Paul’s] infirmity with the greatest relish[10].” Paul says the same thing slightly differently in another famous verse: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Phil 4:13]

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. [2Cor 12:9] Thus, for Paul and for us, weakness, failure, the ever present lack, the emptiness, is what is glorious, it is in what he exalts, he relishes, he boasts about. Why? Because, then whatever good is shown forth, whatever love is demonstrated for all to see, whatever wisdom, charity, humility is on display in his words, his actions, his life, is not from fumbling feeble, finite Paul but the direct result, a potent witness to the power, the grace, the justice and peace of Christ dwelling in him shining forth.

He can then say without being completely nuts, over the top or irrational: Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ. [2Cor 12:10] Why? Because in all these seeming failures, these inabilities, these setbacks, these obstacles, his own finiteness is blazingly evident; but the fact that they all ultimately lead to advancing the cause of Christ, spreading the Kingdom, witnessing that there is more at work here than just mortal powers, means they were indeed done for the sake of Christ, His Kingdom, His Word, His Glory, for they were done by His power, the power of His Spirit working out the salvation of the world through, with and in the limitations of mankind. Thus, Paul can say without hesitation, without need for explanation or interpretation, as a statement of reality: for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2Cor 12:10]   As he says in another place: But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. [2Cor 4:7]

Thus, that “standard by which I am to be judged,” both by myself and by God, if not by the world/society, is not success, glistening teeth and a plastic smile, but weakness, obedience to the best of my limited and finite ability, regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether either what I undertake or I myself am a success or failure, remembering that even God’s only begotten Son’s crucifixion was evidence of the greatest failure in history before the resurrection. I will therefore trust in God that He has the outcome which is most loving, most caring, and ultimately will lead to my greatest happiness. That personality for which I am known, the persona I drag around with me and haul out whenever I am confronted with the same “society,” that stage mask I flip on in public, is no longer necessary, can be junked, and I can just let all of the real me hang out…for that is who God lovingly created, who God cherished and died for, I am who God loves.

Faith

What about faith as an answer to false standards and pseudo personalities? Perhaps the answer is at least hinted at in the last line of the prayer: Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence. Weakness certainly has to do with failing, with stumbling, but how about faith…is that resting in Your presence, God?

Let’s look at faith as freedom from the law[11]. Paul dealt with this conundrum in Romans. He first points out, using the example of covetousness, that the law is what identifies, defines, makes explicit, what thoughts, words and deeds are sinful: What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. [Rom 7:7-8a] He even goes so far as to say that apart from the law sin is dead, [Rom 7:8b] that is, sin requires the law to define itself, to give it existence, potency, essence.

While normally when Paul speaks of the law, he is usually referring to the Mosaic Law, he does not let those who did not know that particular form of the Law off the hook: For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus. [Rom 2:14-16, see also Heb 10:16; Jer 31:33]

Thus, Jews and Greeks, Judeo or Christian, Believer or non-Believer, we all are hard-wired to know right and wrong through the law that is written in our hearts and conscience.

So, how are we to get out of this conundrum? As soon as I recognize the law within and/or without, I become subject to it and, if I transgress it, I sin. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death. [Rom 7:9-11]

I am then caught up in a moral Catch-22: We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. [Rom 7:14-17] I know that the Law is spiritual, that the Law is Good, that I want to follow the Law. But somehow the signals get bollixed up inside me and I do the opposite. I am just like a teenager, if there is a curfew, it gnaws at me until I test it; a boundary I am not “allowed” to cross is like a red flag waiving in front of a bull, it is there to be charged. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.[12] [Rom 7:22-23]

But there is hope and that hope is in our faith, our belief in Jesus Christ, that He is our salvation, our justification. Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have achieved it, that is, righteousness that comes from faith; but that Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law?[Rom 9:30-31] Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith. [Rom 10:4]

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. [Eph 2:8-9] It is not the works of the Law, the keeping of the Law, that we will be saved; for as we have seen, that is impossible, since Law revealed the boundary which we transgressed, the sin in which we are mired. However, if we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. [1Jn 1:9]

On the other hand, faith as shown in works, not of the Law, but of the Lord, the works of charity: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [James 2:15-17] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1Cor 15:58]

So the standard expected of me is not the standard of the world, it is not the standard even of myself, it is Jesus’ standard of charity by which we will be judged: Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. [Mt 25:34-36] For whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1Jn 4:20]

For if Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith, [Eph 3:17] if I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me, [Gal 2:20], then truly whatever I did for one of these least brothers of mine, I did for Jesus, Himself. [Mt 25:40] This is the standard that, unfortunately, I cannot always meet.

And what about “the personality I am [suppose to be] known for:” if Christ has made his home in me, if I am crucified with Christ, that is, if I have died to self and I no longer live but He lives in me, then it is His personality which I should be known: I have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. [Col 3:10, 12-14]

Unfortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So I “cannot always be the personality I am known for.” It is at that juncture, that oft occurring fall from grace that we must continually pray the rest of Edwina Gately prayer: “Abba when I fail, Abba when I stumble, I will rest in your presence.” Have mercy on me. Amen.

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[1] Quoted from “Prayer,” “First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, Mt 8: 23-27,” Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, June 30, 2015

[2] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[3] The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with this if/then refrain, i.e. in return for loving and obeying Him, God will… Dt 7:12–14; 10:12–13; 28:1–14; Lv 26:3–5; Jer 5:24; Ps 104:14, is but a sample.

[4] “Be free people! What do I mean? Perhaps it is thought that freedom means doing everything one likes, or seeing how far one can go…. This is not freedom. Freedom means being able to think about what we do, being able to assess what is good and what is bad, these are the types of conduct that lead to development; it means always opting for the good. Let us be free for goodness. And in this do not be afraid to go against the tide, even if it is not easy! Always being free to choose goodness is demanding, but it will make you into people with a backbone who can face life, people with courage and patience…. Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others.” – Pope Francis, “The Culture of Good,” The Church of Mercy: His First Major Book: A Message of Hope for All People, 135-136

[5] Charles C. Finn, “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” September 1966; poetrybycharlescfinn.com/pages/please-hear-what-im-not-saying

[6] Brian Harper, “God’s Good Grace,” “The Lord will provide.” Gn 22:14; Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, July 2, 2015

[7] Ibid. “That said, most of us can also recall instances that, while painful, led to unforeseen blessings. In Abraham’s case, a demonstrated willingness to follow God at all costs brought new depth to his faith.”

[8] “Variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation.” Note on 2Cor: 12:7 New American Bible, revised edition [NABRE] (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., 2010), as posted on the USCCB site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/2corinthians/12#55012007-1

[9] See Ps 28:7-8; Is 12:2; 33:2; 40:29-31; 41:10; Hab 3:9; 2Tim 1:7; Acts 1:8; Heb 4:16, etc.

[10] “with the greatest relish” is normally seen to modify Paul’s boasting in the next sentence and is translated most gladly. However, while I do not know Greek, at least the juxtaposition of the adverb to “is being perfected” may raise the wonderful possibility, if remote, that it is to God’s enjoyment of perfecting us that ἥδιστα refers. To me, this makes more sense, for it seems more in keeping with God’s love and concern shown in His explanation to Paul.

[11] Note that the “law” can also be the mores of society, those written, but especially those unwritten codes by which we navigate our way in our world.

[12] And we are all in the same boat: All have gone astray; all alike are perverse. Not one does what is good, not even one. [Ps 14:1–3; Rom 3:10–11; Ps 53:2–4; Eccl 7:20.] John puts the nail in our coffin when he says: If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [1Jn 1:8]