Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 23, 2017
Reading 1WIS 12:13, 16-19
Responsorial PsalmPS 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Reading 2ROM 8:26-27
AlleluiaCF. MT 11:25
Gospel MT 13:24-43
22/23 July 2017 finding strength in prayer
The 2nd reading today is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The 8th chapter of Romans teaches us a lot about the Holy Spirit. It has several familiar passages, and I would encourage you to read it all the way through or listen to it on your favorite electronic device.
This reading describes how the Holy Spirit strengthens us during times of weakness. It can be uncomfortable to think about our weaknesses but they are part of our human nature. Most of us start and end our lives with many limitations and weaknesses. Most of us could not have survived on our own from birth to adolescence. As we age, many of us will physically depend on others for several years before we die. In the time that St. Paul lived, the average life expectancy was less than 40 years old.
Throughout his letters in the New Testament, St. Paul would brag about his weaknesses. He was stoned, beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. In 2nd Corinthians chapter 12 God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul goes on to say “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This is certainly counter-cultural today but we know “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.
Since we can’t avoid weaknesses in our lives, it’s important to find a way to deal with them. Our weakness may come in many different forms: sickness, addictions, temptations, division in families or financial problems. If we try to face them on our own, anyone of these challenges can be overwhelming. Fortunately we don’t have to. Jesus has an intimate understanding of human weakness from His short life in this world which is why He sent the Holy Spirit to help us. With strength from the Holy Spirit we can start to see things from God’s perspective and find the fortitude we need to keep moving forward.
This strength, or fortitude is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that helps us deal with our weaknesses. One way to gain this strength from the Holy Spirit is through prayer. Our reading from Romans gives us a clue: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes.”
If you think about it, it’s no surprise that we need help in prayer. Since we don’t know the future we could easily pray for something that would make things worse. We can’t comprehend God’s plan for us or the world and need the Holy Spirit to intercede for us.
When we are really struggling or facing tragedy, the best prayer may be one that has no words. We might be in such anguish that we are beyond words. Our heart and soul can only cry out and this is exactly where the Holy Spirit can help us the most. If we cry out to Him, He will intercede for us, translate our prayers to God and bring us the strength and patience we need.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book in 2013 simply entitled “Prayer”. He devoted a whole chapter to prayer in the time of weakness and wrote a wonderful reflection on the teachings of St. Paul. The Pope said, “In prayer, therefore, let us open our soul to the Lord so that He may come and inhabit our weakness, transforming it into power for the Gospel.”
He went on to say: “God…works miracles precisely through our weakness….We must therefore have the humility not to trust (merely) in ourselves, but to work, with the Lord’s help, (In the Lord’s vineyard,) entrusting ourselves to Him as fragile “earthen vessels.”
So I will end with St. Paul’s visual image of an “earthen vessel”. It compares our earthly life to a fragile jar of clay. Our jar may have cracks in it but if we offer ourselves to God in prayer with all of our frailties and flaws, His light will fill our broken jar and shine through us.
May God’s light always shine through our cracks and brighten the world around us.