Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent: All About Weakness

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The teachings of Jesus Christ go against everything in our world and in our universe. Charles Darwin taught us that "only the strong [or fittest] survive." And certainly our physical world bears out the truth of that statement. It is the smartest, the brightest, the strongest, the most beautiful who rise to the top. We see this in nature, where the weak are devoured by the strong.  We see this in our culture everywhere: in the sports world, in academia, in the business world, in entertainment and, sadly, in religion.  

Adolph Hitler was one of many who led - or better stated, misled - an entire country with the philosophy which originated with the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche: weed out the weak and the helpless and create the Master Race, the "Übermensch".  Sadly, despite the defeat of Adolph Hitler, the world has continued to elevate this demonic philosophy in the practice of abortion and euthanasia, not hesitating to kill and destroy any person who does not measure up or is in any way "inconvenient."  

Yet, Jesus Christ told us just the opposite: blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn. Isaiah 66:2 tells us that God looks to " those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word." St. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 2:10, "when I am weak, then I am strong."

St. Paul's statement was personified in Jesus Christ when Our Lord hung on the cross.  His precious blood had drained from his body which was completely covered in cuts and bruises. He was unable to move or defend Himself in any way, barely able to speak. And yet, in that physically weak condition, He conquered our greatest enemies: sin and death.

The strongest Man on earth
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But how can this be?  How does weakness conquer strength?  And what does this have to do with Lent? 

I write this on Ash Wednesday, which is a mandatory fast day in the Catholic Church. All those who observe this day know the feeling of weakness that comes from fasting. We just aren't quite our normal selves. We feel weak. Sometimes we even feel sick. We realize our vulnerability on fast days, that our strength is temporary and fleeting, and that we are very fragile with a slim hold on life that can be easily broken.

That is one of the very deep meanings of Lent. One of the lessons we strive to learn during Lent is the fragility of our own lives and our complete dependence upon God for everything we need, most especially for eternal salvation. 

When we feel strong and in control, we push God out of our lives.  We feel strong, but in reality we are weak and defenseless because we are not relying on our only true strength, the Lord.  But as St Paul said, when we are physically, mentally and emotionally weak, then we are actually strong because it is then that we turn to our only real strength - Jesus Christ.  

As I stated above, no one ever looked weaker than Jesus Christ when He hung on the cross. Jesus had completely submitted His Will to the Father, as He stated, "Not my will but yours be done." He did not rely on His own human strength at all. Never did any human being look weaker, and yet never was any human being stronger than Jesus Christ on the cross.  

St. Thérèse de Lisieux said that “Holiness consists simply in doing God's will, and being just what God wants us to be.” How do we know what God wants us to be unless we submit our entire beings to Him, allowing Him to fully direct our lives? One of the quickest ways to submit to Christ is to realize our complete dependence upon Him for everything in our lives. "When we are weak, then we are strong."

We have to admit that we are powerless on our own, that sin is our master and eternal death is our fate, and there is nothing we can do to change that fact. But God in His Great Mercy and Love for human beings has given Himself to save us from ourselves. But there is the key - we must be saved from ourselves. 

The Christian life is all about being saved from ourselves. Our part in it is to be willing to say yes to God and no to ourselves and to the physical world around us. We must realize that with God is life, but everything in this world is dying, and if we place our trust in anything in the world, we will die with it.

When we fast, we feel the pangs of hunger, but we realize that even when we eat and satisfy that hunger, we are still going to die someday.  We look to money as the means to freedom from want, but we realize that someday we are going to die and that money won't save us.  Money can only help us when we use it for the good of others.  We enjoy the time we give to the pleasures of life, but we realize that those pleasures will not save us from the inevitable day of our death.  

So during Lent, we spend more intensive time turning away from the physical to concentrate on the spiritual. When we realize how weak we are, that we can do nothing without God, it becomes much easier to turn away from earthly pursuits. As St. Thérèse said, "joy is not found in the things which surround us, but lives only in the soul."

Are you willing to spiritually become a small child, completely dependent upon Jesus Christ for all of your needs? Follow the practices laid out by the Church during the next 40 days - self denial, prayer and almsgiving. Allow yourself to feel just how weak you really are. Only then will you know true strength.

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4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Alban, I accidentally removed your comment, for which I apologize. Here is:

      Thank you CiB for this beautiful, and challenging, reflection concerning Lent. As I age (not too gracefully) I become more aware of the truth that I am weaker than I thought. Certainly this is the case physically and, quite possibly, these struggles help me to realise my dependence on God's amazing grace in ALL aspects of my life.

      In closing, may I ask that you clarify what you mean when writing that "...sin is our master and eternal death is our fate..."? This seems to be pure Calvinism (or at least Jansenism)to me, and I'm sure you don't subscribe to either of these heresies.

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    2. Calvinism teaches that certain people are destined for hell and others destined for heaven, and there is nothing we can do to change our destinies. Jansenism teaches that human nature is completely depraved, and that there is no good in any of us, and like Calvininism, only a few select people will actually be saved. Janensism, like Calvinism, denies free will, that we are unable to choose right from wrong.

      I am not saying either of these two things. Certainly there is no one who is predestined for hell as Calvin taught. And since we are created in the image and likeness of God, there is much good in all human beings, contrary to the teachings of Jansenism.

      But our first parents, Adam and Eve sold us out, and therefore we are all born cut off from God and eternal life. And the only thing that can save us is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is available to every human being. I am trying to say it is only because of Jesus Christ's sacrifice and the Grace of God that we can be rescued from our sin and given eternal salvation. As St. Paul taught us, every one is either a slave to obedience or to sin. We can only be freed from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

      I hope that makes sense.

      Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you have a very holy Lenten season.

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    3. I am dismayed by the political choices of many Christian I thought were devout. It appears that they are super religious in keeping ceremony and ritual rather than the teachings of the sermon on the mount. This Donald Trump fellow allowed me to see that many Christians will support a man who is the antithesis of the gospel because he acts strong and will give them the worldly success they desire. I can now understand how Antichrist win the support of almost everyone. People do not want a humble or compassionate leader, one who fears God, but rather want a strong and ruthless man who will give them the world. Apparently having respect and compassion for outgroups is "politically correct" moralizing.

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