I recorded two homilies over the weekend both are included.
When you think of images of strength, what do you think of? Maybe you would think of people who are physically strong, or maybe strong in leadership skills, emotionally strong, or so many other types of strength. We hear Jesus tell us to strive to enter the narrow door, that many will try and enter it but will not be strong enough. What is the strength that our Lord desires? How can we be strong enough to enter that narrow gate?
As I reflected on these questions, I was brought to an image that I would never think of as being symbolic of strength. You may be familiar with the stations of the cross. They retell our Lord’s passion and death. While we could say Jesus was strong in lifting the cross by himself, at the same time he struggled under its weight. The image that I was reminded of was the fifth station. Jesus is struggling to carry his cross, and the soldiers press into service a passerby, Simon, who helps Jesus. Through the help of Simon Jesus can carry his cross to Calvary and be crucified.
This sign of strength is the opposite of the way our world thinks of strength. In the world’s view of strength, Jesus would be able to carry his cross; he would be strong enough to make it up that hill himself. To fall as Jesus would be a failure, as not being strong enough. Not only did Jesus fall but the stations tell us he falls three times. Even as Simon is helping him, he still struggles to stand upright.
However, I believe that it is precisely Jesus willingness to receive help in his weakness that he is made strong. Jesus, in His humanity, faces the same struggles and weaknesses that we do except for sin. Jesus isn’t the strongest man ever to live, and after being scourged at the pillar he is weak and struggles to carry his cross. We can relate to our lord’s suffering while carrying the cross and eventually being nailed to the cross. We may not have to face a physical cross, but we all face our crosses that bring struggle and weakness into our lives.
St. Paul tells us in scripture, that when we are weak, we are, in fact strong. We hear in St. Paul’s letters, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” What we hear is not so much that we need to be strong enough to enter the narrow gate, but rather we must be weak enough so that God’s grace can work in us. We see this in our Lord’s passion. Jesus in his physical weakness is not strong enough to make it to Calvary, but by allowing Simon to help him he can finish the journey.
As I reflect on this passage in my own life, I, in a way turn the image around. I can relate to our Lord in the passion, I have my struggles with my weaknesses, and my crosses are heavy as well. God sends help to me through someone like Simon. That help can come from anywhere or any person; we need to ask him for that help.
I believe our Lord can be like Simon was to Jesus in our own lives. There are crosses that we face that weigh us down and call us to stumble. There are things in my life that I struggle with, sins that I seem to always confess. As a young priest, there are things I struggle with and still have yet to grow into that may come naturally to other priests. I believe in this area God gives me help to carry this cross and strengthen me. There are parts of who I am that I may always struggle with and need God’s help. I have faith that God will always be there to lift me like Simon did with Jesus. All of us can look to Jesus in that way. Whatever our struggles may be don’t be afraid to turn to our Lord and ask him to help us in that struggle.
We can return to the question I brought up at the beginning of my homily, who is strong enough to enter the narrow gate? By ourselves, no-one is strong enough to enter into the narrow gate. We should not be discouraged by this or lose hope, because God gives us the strength to enter the narrow gate.
Finally, how do we receive this help from God? How do we recognize our weakness and allow God to work through us? First, the sacraments give us the strength to grow in our spiritual lives. If you haven’t been to confession in a while, I encourage you to go. In that sacrament, we bring our weakness and our brokenness before our Lord. He takes that and redeems it. We too can find strength in our brothers and sisters in Christ. If there is a struggle we have don’t be afraid to share it with others. Maybe you have a close friend who won’t judge you if you open up to them. Finally facing our weaknesses and accepting them as who we are can be a help to us as well. It can be easy to be ashamed of our weakness however if we see them as a place where God can strengthen us, our weaknesses can turn into our means to salvation.
I want to leave you with something to reflect on. St. Paul as well speaks about our weakness and how is it we are made strong. I encourage us during the week find a silent moment and reflect on these words. “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” ޚ���Q�k