In Christ We Are Strong
Today is a unique day because it is Sunday and the fourth of July—Independence Day in the United States. I think for us Catholics it is even more unique. Many years ago, I said that I felt God was purifying his church. I said then that I believed difficult days were coming and he needed a strong church to be there. I have also said since then that those difficult days have arrived.
We are living in a unique time in our country. Over and over again we hear people saying that whether it is due to the virus, the political issues, the cancel culture, the changes going on in our country, we see we are living in a unique time. Some are warning of a right-wing conspiracy and others are warning of a left-wing conspiracy. Some worry about a radical change in our culture against Judeo-Christian values and others are warning of a radical direction in our culture for Judeo-Christian values on steroids.
Here we are the Catholics attending Mass after it was virtually forbidden for many months and we are attending Mass while others long-abandoned Catholic ideas for secularism that is growing stronger and stronger. People embraced science not with faith but instead of faith.
Here we are. And we can ask in the midst of this: Where is God? Are we not supposed to be a strong Church that people know that when she speaks all must listen to the risk of imperiling their own soul? Are we not supposed to be a church so strong that all world leaders listen to what she says and obey her every word?
The answer is NO.
There is the famous quote by Joseph Stalin: “The Pope how many divisions does he have?” Meaning what is the size of his standing army?
Stalin’s quote obviously indicated his faith in military might not in any Church.
As Americans, we too have faith in our military might.
Last week as a kind of in your face to each other: According to RT/America, The Russians held military drills off the coast Hawaii while NATO held military drills off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea and a British ship was served warning shots by the Russian Navy. While the US scrambled Navy Jets over the Russian ops. Both speaking of their might and power.
However, God’s power shows up in weakness not in power. We hear talk about God striking people dead who commit grave sin and never have we seen that. God shows up in weakness.
When we are strong we are too strong to see God working in our world. We are too strong being strong. When we are weak, we have to rely on God and this is what St. Paul says in the second reading. He was weak. Some will say it was a disease others will say it was a habit of sin.
Paul laments his weakness, but in prayer, he discovers that when he is weak, then God is able to work through him.
We have to see the deeper reality in this reading. Paul has intense mystical experiences that lead him to understand truths deeper than you and I can. So that he does not pride himself in his intimate knowledge of all things, he suffers this weakness. He has to rely on God and not on his own strength.
What about us as Catholics. I thought of something this week that surprised me in reality. All this time I have said that God needed to purify our Church over the last twenty years so that we may be strong in difficult times. However, we forget that we are strong when we are weak because at the point God works through us and his strength comes into the world through our weakness.
Jesus defeated the forces of the Devil not by overpowering him but by becoming weak to his strength and the devil’s own strength defeated him.
Pope St. John II said that the weakness of Peter and Paul clearly shows that the Church is founded on the infinite power of grace. That is the key.
When we are strong in our own strength, we rely on ourselves and we can see how disastrous that can be. However, when we are weak then we have no other choice but to rely on grace. We must rely on prayer, on our pursuit of holiness and to pursue holiness we have to maintain our reliance on our relationship with God.
We cannot pride ourselves on our own strength to be holy. We have to rely on God. We have to trust in the intervention of Jesus and Mary. More than a few people have told me that over the years. We have to just keep focused on Christ and moving forward and God will use our pursuit of His ways to do great things through us.
We can figure out a thousand ways of how we might be a strong church and fight the battles of our culture but is that what God wants. We can instead focus on being holy and let God’s grace do his work and his will.
One of the more unique incidents that happened in our country was the event on January 6th at the capital. What was that? It was a poorly organized show of strength and how effective was it. None at all. Yet, how many participated as people of faith. It was an embarrassment because it was all about showing and relying on force and strength. That is not our mission. Meanwhile, I spoke last week of a powerful moment. The Bishops address the possibility of denying communion to pro-choice politicians and unexpectedly a group of politicians wrote a powerful letter explaining how much communion meant to them. This as I said last week, opened a door, that was a moment of grace. Pope Francis calls us to what is known as Irenicism which is to open dialogue without compromising our understanding in this case in grace. We can only do that as people of prayer.
Stalin built his soviet union on his strength and it fell for it had no grace. Ironically what brought it down? The power of grace. Polish leaders General Jaruzelski stood beside the Pope on his first visit to Poland and PBS noted the general’s knees were knocking.
This is a unique independence day for Catholics for this is a day that we must realize that our mission in our country works when we become channels of grace to a culture that believes in peace through strength. We believe in peace through the Prince of Peace and only by his grace which works through our humility.