Many of us live in cultures in which seeking help from others is frowned upon and viewed as weakness. We are told we should be able to go it alone and we define strength as one’s ability to do everything themselves. It should become readily apparent that this type of thinking is diametrically opposed to Catholic thought. First, we are created to be completely dependent on God. Second, He gave us the Church, His Mystical Body, as a guide on the journey. Third, within the Mystical Body are our fellow sojourners on the path to holiness. We are meant to walk together. We are united by the power of the Holy Spirit to our Head, Jesus Christ. This unity means that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer at an ontological level.
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
To echo St. Paul, we are not meant to go it alone nor are we meant to appeal to some disordered understanding of individualism as we go through the battles, trials, and sufferings of this life. We are meant to come together and to walk the path to Calvary together.
The reasons many of us do not seek help during trials may vary. I think many of us are infected with the idea that we are supposed to be able to do it ourselves, as our culture tells us. I also think it comes down to pride. We use the excuse that we are a burden to others, but really it boils down to our own pride. We don’t want to have to ask other people to help us. We want to be able to do it ourselves. In reality, many aspects of our lives require help from our fellow members of the Mystical Body. This is especially true in periods of immense suffering and trial. Here are some things we need to think about in realizing our need to turn to the Mystical Body for help.
Humility is an indispensable part of the spiritual journey
Suffering is a great equalizer. It comes to every person who has ever lived, is alive today, or will live. Death is inevitable and it is the climax of our suffering here on earth. Suffering also teaches us humility. It teaches us that we must turn to God in all things. We must depend on Him entirely. Without Him our journey turns into a form of nihilism or existential dread as we await oblivion. In giving everything over to Him, we are able to bear our burdens through Him and with hope.
In learning to become dependent on God, we also become dependent on our neighbor. He shows us our need for other people. When we are sick, homeless, jobless, or suffering in a whole host of other ways, God reveals to us how much we rely on the help of the Mystical Body. We are not islands. We are human beings connected to one another at the deepest level of being. We are also social creatures by nature. We depend on one another and this dependence goes beyond the walls of our family homes. This is always true, but it comes quickly into focus when tragedy strikes. We need people to walk with us, guide us, and help with material, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. It is in learning humility that we are able to rely on others, rather than focus on our perceived loss of freedom. Humility allows us to say “yes” to God and to our neighbor.
Charity binds the Mystical Body together
We are united to one another in charity. This love guides us in the service of our neighbors and also in reception of love from others. There can be a tendency to view others as a burden. This proclivity must be fought against. Our culture has a bad habit of treating the suffering among us as an expendable burden, hence the rise in euthanasia and abortion. We ourselves can give into similar thinking when we view our suffering neighbor as burdensome. That man, woman, or child sitting next to us in the pews is not a burden. They are our brother or sister in Christ. Love requires sacrifice. This means helping someone we don’t necessarily want to help. Charity demands that we freely give to others and that we not make people who are suffering trials feel even worse. We are not meant to increase the burden of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to lighten the load, not matter how small.
Pray for fortitude
In understanding our duty as members of the Mystical Body, we will learn quickly that we must enter into the Crosses of our neighbor. This may mean visiting the sick, helping the homeless, feeding the hungry, aiding when natural disaster or violence strikes, babysitting for the family in need, doing jobs around an elderly person’s home, or even just sitting beside someone who is hurting. We are called to be present to our fellow members of the Mystical Body. We must give freely of our time, materials, and spiritual wisdom. This requires great courage. It is not easy to watch other people suffer. It reminds us of our own frailty. It reminds us of our own weakness and powerlessness, but it teaches us to turn completely over to God. We can’t fix the suffering of our neighbor, but we can love them. Nobody is asking us to fix it. Stop trying, just be. God is “to be” itself (St. Thomas Aquinas) and we are made in His image and likeness. We must learn to be present to others. We must frequently pray for the fortitude to walk the path to Calvary with our neighbor. It will be deeply difficult, but it will transform us and them in the process. It will help us to move further along on the path to holiness.
Christ has united us to one another through His Church. We are called to walk together through the valleys and the peaks of this life. We must learn humility so that we can seek aid when needed. We must learn to love our neighbor as ourselves and to avoid treating others as a burden. When we choose to walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must pray for fortitude so that we can bear their suffering alongside them through the grace of Christ. We are truly one body, let’s start living this reality every single day.
image: By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Monique K. Hilley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons