Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beset by Weakness

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin...He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness."

Before I entered the Jesuits, my spiritual director gave me an article entitled "Because beset by weakness..." by Fr. Michael Buckley, SJ. I think many of my Jesuit brothers are probably acquainted with this beautiful reflection which I link here for your reference. In this article, he advocates the position that all those who desire to enter the priesthood must be beset by weakness--a man open and capable to the experience of suffering and utter helplessness--one completely touched by the frailty of human nature, and thus one who can be in touch by the weakness and frailty of others. If he does not understand that pain himself, how can he ever serve and minister to those who grapple with pain all their lives?

My spiritual director probably gave me this article since the tapes that ran in my head (and still do, although I now have a greater awareness of how the dark spirit works in this regard) often said things like: "I'm not good enough"; "I'm not strong enough"; "I don't pray enough;" etc. etc. In giving me this article, what my spiritual director was really trying to tell me was that those sources of weakness that I saw in myself are exactly the places in which God paradoxically brings out great strength. My own experience of suffering and weakness can help me to connect to those who have experienced similarly. This is probably what Anthony de Mello meant when he said: "Be grateful for your sins. They are carriers of grace."

I find for myself that the people that I tend to gravitate towards and highly respect are those people whom I sense have an understanding of this weakness in their own lives. They are not perfect people by any means, but I also wouldn't have it any other way. A number of recovering alcoholics that I have met exemplify this weakness par excellence. I am fascinated by their experience of hitting rock bottom, of losing complete control of their lives, and the realization--really the conversion moment--that they will not be able to correct the course in their lives until they have the courage to tell themselves that they need help, help that they cannot give themselves. When you meet someone who has been sober for something like 25-30+ years...those kinds of people you cannot help but admire and respect. And indeed, you find those types in the Society.

I especially admire those who carry their weakness with great humility.

The one beset by weakness I believe is ultimately one who is able to truly embrace the world despite its many flaws. The one beset by weakness does not scoff at the world or constantly pick at the splinters in his neighbors' eyes. In the end, he can love the world many deem unlovable.

It is perhaps fitting as we enter Holy Week to contemplate the weakness experienced by Christ during his journey to the cross. The sort of weakness he must have felt when the people condemned him to die, or the weakness he felt as he looked into the eyes of those who drove the nails through his flesh. Yet, it is precisely this weakness through which Christ was able to display his great love for the world. His moment of weakness became the source of our greatest hope.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Row towards your life

You are young. So you know everything. You leap

into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.

Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without

any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.

Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and

your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to

me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent

penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a

dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile

away and still out of sight, the churn of the water

as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the

sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable

pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth

and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls

plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life

toward it.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Glimpse Into My Prayer-Relationship

I've been thinking about my relationship to God lately during this season of Lent. What is my relationship like at the current moment? What are the hopes/desires of the relationship? Have I allowed myself to listen and be receptive of God's movements, or am I doing most of the talking in this relationship?

Like anything, it's one of those things where I say: "well, it could be better."

In many ways, I feel that what I often desire in my relationship with God is what I often desire of my closest relationships: intimacy (in the non-sexual sense of the word), authenticity, openness, understanding...a relationship that is stripped of the masks, where I can genuinely share not only life's struggles but also life's joys. A relationship open to growth and to challenges rooted in love. A relationship where I can simply laugh, smile, and be grateful for the time spent together.

Sometimes some of the most profoundest moments of a relationship can be spent in utter silence.

I have found myself particularly grateful for a number of shared moments I have had with some brother Jesuits. Deep, spiritual conversations on the subway, random hallway chatter, esoteric philosophical/theological debates, daily crossfit exercises, shared prayers before the Lord's table, even playful "pwnings." When I look back at these moments in prayer, I cannot help but simply say "thank you" and bow before holiness clothed in ordinariness. For, in those moments, I often find glimpses of the living Christ, glimpses which often go unrecognized until conscientious prayer moments bring them into the light.

If there is one thing I have been recognizing lately, it is that I have been very much learning about my relationship with God because of what I have been learning about my relationship to those around me. Good, healthy relationships take time to develop, and I very much feel that way about my relationship with Christ. It is a relationship I strive to tend to everyday, but of course, some days are better than others. But, God has always been there, always offering His unconditional love whether I take notice or not.

On the flip side, I have also noticed that my relationships with others is greatly improved when my relationship with God is in right order. When I have not been tending to my prayer life, I notice a stark difference in the way I am able to relate to others. Symptoms include irritability, heightened sensitivity, and even a little "bitchiness."

In my experience, a healthy relationship with God leads to a greater ability to do works of love, and works of love are the bricks through which the earth becomes built like heaven.