Nothing disturbs us so much as weakness or powerfulness. It is so painful to find ourselves unable to do the good that we so eagerly want to do. Nothing can be as disappointing as seeing others exhibit their own weakness when we expect them to excel. Last week I heard a story that reminded me of the reality of personal weakness and weakness in others and the proper response that we should have toward it.
On Easter Vigil of 2008, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI baptized 8 adults, bringing them into full communion with the Catholic Church. One of these converts was Magdi Allam, a prominent Muslim journalist. He embraced the faith with enthusiasm and took the baptismal name Christian. He described the Catholic faith as the home that he unknowingly longed for all his life while a practicing Muslim. Only last week, barely 5 years after his high profile and excited conversion from Islam to the Catholic faith, Magdi announced that he was leaving the Church because, according to him, the Church was “too weak in condemning Islam.” He resented the fact that some years ago Benedict XVI prayed in a mosque in Turkey and Pope Francis said that Muslims also worship the one true God.
There may be other reasons why Magdi abandoned the faith that he so enthusiastically embraced 5 years ago. But we can be sure that he perceived weakness in the Church’s stand towards Islam, a religion he had come to despise, and this caused him to abandon his faith. His story left me asking, “How do we react to weakness? What is our view of weakness in ourselves and in the Church?” Isn’t it so easy for us to perceive weakness only as a lack of power? Don’t we easily see our powerlessness as a sign that maybe we have been abandoned by God? Don’t we easily look at weakness as having the final word in our lives? We are not comfortable with weakness in ourselves or in the Church. We are people who are on the lookout for only powerful people, powerful institutions, powerful churches, powerful liturgy, etc.
Today’s solemnity of Easter teaches us that by the Resurrection, all things have been changed – man and his own experiences, including his weakness. God has transformed human weakness in Jesus Christ such that weakness is not just absence of power or sign that we have been abandoned by God; but in and through Jesus Christ, weakness has become the necessary first step to glory. Jesus Christ came to us in weakness as an infant in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He lived in weakness, depending on her for his nourishment, nurturance and protection. Though He worked many miracles during His ministry when it came to the time of our salvation, He chose the way of weakness. He allowed Himself to be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, abandoned by his disciples and followers, mocked and scourged by the Romans, crowned with thorns, led to Calvary and crucified between two thieves. But He rose from the dead after three days just as He had foretold to remind us that in Him, and in Him alone, weakness is not just the absence of power and weakness does not have the final word; but weakness has become in Him the very first step to glory.
In the Gospel passage of today’s liturgy, the women so see in Christ’s weakness on the Cross the final word that they come to the tomb with spices to anoint the one whom they thought will remain in the grave forever. The men in dazzling garments tell them, “Remember Jesus words that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” Jesus told them that He “must” be handed over to sinners and be crucified before He can enter into His glorious Resurrection. Though He is truly the all mighty God, though His Father is always with Him, it remains a must for Him to take the path of weakness as an indispensable first step to His glory. Even when the women shared their story with Jesus’ disciples, “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe.” They could not see weakness of Jesus on the Cross as anything but apparent powerlessness, abandonment by God and the final word in His life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not strangers to personal weakness and how it can really discourage us and even threaten our faith in God. How many in the Church’s history have abandoned the faith because of what they perceived as human weaknesses in the Church? We can only think of Martin Luther who led the Protestant revolt because of the perceived weakness of the clergy who abused indulgences in the Church. The scandal of weakness that Christ Jesus shows on the Cross continues in the Catholic Church until the Christ’s glorious return. Magdi lost the gift of his Catholic faith because of what he perceived as weakness in the Church’s stand towards Islam. But we must remember that in Jesus Christ, man and his experience of weakness have been transformed such that weakness cannot and will not have the final word. In Jesus Christ, weakness is much more than an absence of power; neither is weakness a sign that we have been abandoned by God. But weakness has now become a first step to glory as long as we continue to open ourselves to His love and grace in our lives in our struggle with weakness.
I strongly believe that the evil one, the father of lies, is busy today amplifying the weakness of Christians and the Church to discourage Christians. He is showing us the good that we fail to do and turning our attention away from the good that is being done. How easily we hear people say only what they see as weakness in the Church? “The Church does not evangelize! The Church does not tend to the poor! The Church maltreats women! The Church is not tolerant! Etc. The tirade against the Church is endless. For sure, the Church can always do things better. But should we abandon our faith because of what we perceive as weaknesses in the Church? In dealing with our weaknesses, let us not forget the fact that in and through these weaknesses and apparent powerlessness, we walk the path to glory with Jesus Christ.
How then do we participate in this weakness of Christ that is the first step to glory? The first way is through baptism. St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s epistle that “those who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death.” We become so weak that we were “indeed buried with Him through baptism into death.” However this weakness is much more than the absence of power and it is not the final word because “if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His, we shall also be united with Him in the Resurrection.” In and through baptism, as in all the other sacraments, we are united with the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we enter into His own weakness and death so that His glorious life may be manifested in us. There is nothing automatic about the sacraments. They do not take away our weakness but bring us into Christ’s own weakness and death on the Cross so that we journey with Him to the glory of the Resurrected life. It is only in and through contact with the crucified and risen Jesus Christ that weakness becomes a first step to glory.
The second way is by the gift of faith. We need to look at weakness with the eyes of faith. We cannot just look at it as the final word or a proof that God has abandoned us. We must look at it with faith that is enlightened from the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus was crucified not because He did not have power to avoid it or because He was abandoned by the Father. But His crucifixion has added a new dimension, a deeper reality to human weakness embraced with faith. His death and Resurrection assures us that, if we continue to open ourselves to His love and grace in the midst of our weaknesses, personal weakness is not the final word and it will not consume us but it will be for us a step in the direction of sharing in His own glory.
Let us earnestly beg our beloved Mother Mary for this type of faith. Mary is not mentioned in any of the Resurrection appearances of the Gospels. She is not among those who come to anoint the one whom they thought was dead. Neither is she among those who considered the story of the resurrection nonsense. Why? Simply because she is a woman of faith. She had experienced His own weakness and shared it with Him to the end. She held the God-Man as a helpless infant in her loving arms, heard Him cry for food or feel the cold of the manger in Bethlehem, fled with Him into Egypt, nurtured Him during His life, etc. She stood underneath the Cross at the moment when at the height of His weakness. She was not scandalized by the weakness that Jesus showed in His passion and death on the Cross but she waited patiently for His glorious Resurrection. Nothing, no amount of the helplessness that she sensed on Good Friday could dim the faith that she had in the words of the Angel Gabriel about Jesus, “He will be great.”
Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord of life, comes to us as usual in weakness today under the form of bread and wine in this Eucharistic celebration. He does not come to take away our weakness but to bring us into His own weakness in death that leads to life. This Eucharist, as all other Eucharists, draws us into His paschal mystery. He will surely bring us to His glory if we continue to open ourselves to His love and grace and come to see that weakness is not the absence of power or abandonment by God but the very first step to eternal glory.
I wish you all a blessed Easter.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!