Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In Praise of Weakness

 Author's Note:

I realized after writing this that it may be cryptic for some. For those struggling with one of the themes, please consider this: to neglect, hate, or ridicule someone or something for weakness or simplicity is an error on your part. These are all strong words, to be sure, but I've heard far too many arguments along the lines of "he's a sinner how could you love him?" Even of the blessed St. Peter "he was a fool and serves as an example for us." Others may say "I hate myself because I keep messing up [in sin, etc.]." Others still have said that "the Church is just human authority filled with human weakness, I follow God alone."

Part of this is about patience and perseverance coupled with understanding and a willingness to change.

I ask, humbly, you reflect on those sentiments with this. This is hardly adequate for full but in the interest of your own attention and retention I cut this down significantly.
What are you talking about??  (Comment below if you feel that way)

I. Introduction

Those who do not share in the weaknesses of the body have no share in the body itself. For what body in this life is free from corruption and limitedness? Even the great Body of Christ is subject to weakness precisely because he subjected Himself to our weakness since “he took the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) and “was of human estate.” Even after the Resurrection His resplendent and transformed body still bore the wounds of his glorious crucifixion (cf. Jn 20:20). It should be noted even more that Jesus identifies Himself with the weak and broken for “what you have done for the least of these you have done for me” (Mt:25:40). Likewise Jesus identified Himself with those who were persecuted, ridiculed, and killed in His name. This is why He said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (cf. Acts 9:4, 5).

Paul said that “Christ is the head of the body the church.” (Col 1:18). We have seen, albeit briefly, that Christ shared in our humanity fully and willfully. We saw, through His resurrection, that He transformed our weaknesses while still keeping the physical marks of that weakness. They were not cast aside or hidden but present in plain sight. Jesus told Thomas “put your finger in my hands and in my side” (cf. Jn 20:27ff). The history of Christianity is a constant call to “place our fingers on the wounds of His body.” Thomas doubted the Resurrection, perhaps, because after witnessing the horror and shame of the cross (and living in his own shame) he asked ‘how might anything good come from this?’ Christ showed him precisely the good that came from it, namely His own person.
Caravaggio's famous painting not only represents the doubt of Thomas but that same doubt that we feel about our Church and her divine characteristics. Are we willing to address our doubts? Are we still willing to trust in the Church?

II. Sharing in Weakness

This is what I call each of you to do today: If you are to truly share in the Body of Christ do you share in its weaknesses? The weaknesses I refer to are failures in charity, excessive opulence, elements of the Inquisition and Crusades, sex abuses, and every weakness that we see in our own person. Blaming the past, however horrible—and indeed some things are horrible—is to separate fallen and weak humanity from the life of faith. Faith is not perfection but, in a manner of speaking, seeking perfection. Weakness is either self-generated or encountered, shall we shy away from either?

I rarely see this type of image, of Jesus as a fragile child being cared for. Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord, became as a little child out of love for us.
Christ met our broken humanity. He calls us through faith and baptism to share in His mission of transforming all of humanity. If we deny the humanity of the Body we separate ourselves from that Body. The Church is the Body of Christ beset by human weakness but all the same transformed by Christ and upheld by the Spirit.

When we recognize weaknesses and failures there is a twofold response: the first is active insofar as we seek to rid ourselves of that weakness (whatever it may be). The second, equally important, is to realize that we are not separate from our weaknesses. The weaknesses that we carry inform our actions for the future, even in healing. If we do not address our weakness actively we won’t change effectively. If we try to disassociate ourselves from our weaknesses we become insensitive to the weaknesses of others and we forget who we are.

III. Examples of Weakness Transformed

St. Peter is our first example and our guide. He was filled with faith and he was blessed personally by Christ (cf. Mt 16:16-20). But he had his faults too. He was rash and at times overzealous. This zeal, coupled with his predispositions about what the Messiah was supposed to be, led him to deny Christ three times while He was being humiliated. He abandoned his friend and the one whom he loved. “He wept bitterly” (cf. Mt 27:75). After the resurrection Christ called out to him and Peter responded. Christ confronted Peter’s sin, fear, and weakness not by shaming him but by asking him, “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asked him this three times for every time Peter denied him. Peter recanted three times saying “You know that I love you” (Jn 21:17). Peter is a man whose strengths and weaknesses are on full display. Just as God had chosen Moses, Abraham, and David before He chose this time to call a simple fisherman to greatness. These patriarchs and this king themselves sinned, doubted, and failed. Through it all they carried out what God had asked of them. Only Peter, however, was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19).
Despite his brashness and weakness Christ still pulled him from the water. Despite his denial Jesus came to him and Peter grew in understanding, wisdom, and love because of Christ's example.
Our chief example, and one that has given me pause for years, is the Eucharist. I believe in Christ and I believe in Christ risen. I also believe that at the Last Supper he gave us a model to follow: he took the bread, broke it and said, 'take this all of you and eat this. This is my body which has been given up for you.' He also said of the wine 'this is my blood.' This I believe with my whole heart. This sentiment is in accord with all that has been said above. Truly, to our senses it appears as mere bread and mere wine. Then I recall with wonder that “he emptied himself … coming in human likeness and found in human appearance” (Phil 2:7). Likewise that “he had to become like his brothers in every way” (Heb 2:17).

Indeed, the Eucharist is regarded as the Son of Man, present sacramentally in ordinary bread and wine which has been transformed by the prayer that Christ entrusted to His Apostles and their successors. The Eucharist is both a glorification of the Cross and a sacrifice that dips into the eternal moment of Christ's one sacrifice and shares fully in it. It is something that stands outside of time. Something so grand, God Himself! in ordinary, daily food. Christians have praised the extraordinary in the ordinary as well as paradox from the beginning insofar as “Jews look for signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22-23).
This is what we exalt. Do you?

Furthermore Jesus Christ Himself is “the living bread that came down from heaven that one may eat it and not die. I AM the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:50-51). I could occupy an encyclopedia set with the richness of these verses. The word “eat” (phagein) has no spiritual connotation. It literally means to chew and physically eat. By eating this living bread we shall not die. Then Christ follows by saying “ego eimi” which means “I am.” But this is no mere “I am” but rather a direct reference to God speaking about Himself in the Old Testament. It is a proclamation of authority and power—this is something we should listen to. He said “I AM the living bread come down from heaven.” He then says “Whoever eats/chews this bread will live forever.” He further says “the bread which I give is my flesh,” Literally my earthly flesh. The simple bread which He gives is his flesh. For the time being let this entirely inadequate account suffice. No “ego eimi” statement in Scripture is a metaphor or an opinion. It is Jesus speaking in the authority of the Father on an intrinsic reality.

IV. Share in Weakness, Share in Glory

What is my purpose in saying all of this? Proceeding from the Eucharist and the example of the Apostles (chief among them Peter) Christ gave us two simple and lowly things and transformed them. He transformed bread and wine into His flesh and blood. He transformed simple fishermen into philosophers, teachers, and bearers of His message. Though they were of human estate they were transformed and “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4).

The Church is the Body of Christ—it is subject to weakness. The Eucharist is bread and wine made the Body and Blood of Christ—it is common and ordinary yet mysterious and sublime. The Apostles were chosen by Christ Himself to bear unique witness to His teaching and mission—they were “also human beings” (Acts 10:26). Jesus Christ identifies with the poor, persecuted, and the oppressed in an intimate way—they are lowly and 'worthless' in the eyes of the world. Finally, Jesus Christ Himself, was born of a virgin in poverty. He was a helpless child and a man subjected to ridicule and cruel torture. A man who took on our every weakness.

By eating His flesh and blood, and through baptism, we join ourselves more fully to Him so that we may share in His suffering. In our own flesh we “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). When the Church, or even her members, do evil the whole suffers. By our personal and communal work, love, and suffering we correct the wounds of that Body and also “share in our master's joy” (cf. Mt 25:14-23).
Follow their hands and their eyes. They are looking at Christ, yes. They are looking at the Eucharist.
Join yourself, then, more fully to Him and His Church, for those who do not share in the weaknesses of the Body will separate themselves from the Body. In rejecting weakness and wickedness as unlovable they move away from the God “who so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (Jn 3:16a).