Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” II Cor. 8 – 9
Today’s readings reminded me of an insight I had that emerged over time when I began my ministerial priesthood. From the first times I heard confessions to the times when troubled people wanted “a word” with me, I noticed something in their personal struggles that resonated with me, we carry with us needless burdens and necessary sufferings. This was brought home to me when a recently married woman whose devoted and prominent Catholic family I knew well came to me for some help. She discovered her husband to be very abusive. Yet, she didn’t want to divorce him because of her strong Catholic faith. After months of struggle, she did divorce him. A couple of years later, the husband remarried and eventually killed his wife.
Needless struggles are those unresolved issues in our lives that we are unable to let go of even though we think God wants us to carry them. Some of these issues emerge from our sinful lives, infidelity, dishonesty, personal gain for economic and political purposes, unjust practices in our dealings with others. We put up with some of these practices, though sinful, because we think that the “end justifies the means.” We convince ourselves that we are doing this for a greater good. Eventually, we may find that we have dug ourselves a hole too deep for us to crawl out without causing great shame on us or our families. Ridding ourselves from needless struggles does not mean that it will be painless and easy. But making that decision to walk away and to make amends is the kind of grace that Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians. It is also an example of carrying our cross, seeking for forgiveness and redemption.
We also face necessary struggles that we cannot get rid of, just by walking away. For example, we cannot just get rid of an incurable illness or a chronic condition by ignoring them. These are our life-long sufferings that we unite to Jesus Crucified. Besides these kinds of life-long suffering, we sometimes choose to do the right thing by witnessing to Gospel values, knowing full well that we may suffer greatly socially, economically or personally. Gospel values are clear: we are all God’s children, love our enemies, we live by truth and justice for all, we are all responsible for one another, we are to love God and one another as Jesus has loved us. These are examples of God’s grace alive within us and also examples of picking up our cross daily and following Jesus.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, says: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mat. 6:24). So often, we try to be more clever than God. When we strive to live in both worlds, we find ourselves converting to that other way of life, easier to be dishonest, to be disrespectful, to be mean and uncaring, to be deaf to the cries of those who plead for justice and fairness.
But St. Paul says, the grace of God is stronger and more persistent than our sinful ways. When our conscience speaks to us in the depth of our hearts, to leave behind our sinful attitudes and ways, that is the grace of God lifting us up to the Cross of forgiveness. Yes, God’s grace is enough for us!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.