Weakness and strength
WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
My column on vocations last Saturday received comments about the “hidden” life of the Augustinian Recollect Contemplative Nuns in the St. Ezekiel Moreno Monastery in Tangub, Bácolod. I am glad for that beginning of understanding and awe at their lives. One phrase evokes further digression because of its appropriateness to the Lenten Season.
I wrote that they look “so fragile and yet so strong”. Fragility is the delicateness of appearance so that the nuns really look harmless, non-threatening, to use the language of this world. As the Lady of
Fatima says “look at the eyes” because, to use the common wisdom, the eye is the mirror of the soul.
Weakness and strength are contradictory terms and in juxtaposition they conflict. For how can weakness be strength and strength a weakness?
There are two kinds of weaknesses; two kinds of strengths. There can be weakness of physique and yet strength in spirit or character. There can be strength in body but weakness in spirit and character. One can be strong in body and in spirit; similarly one can be weak both in body and in spirit.
It is easier to develop physical strength through exercise but it takes a lot more effort in self-denial, in concentration and contemplation to develop character and strength of the spirit. One need no great mind to get the former but it takes a lot of intelligence and prayer to get the latter.
Take the case of faith. Blessed Pedro Calungsod was a boy of 17 years and a catechist frail of body than the warriors who killed him and yet how many of us have the strength to give up life for something we believe in or think we believe in?
Look at our politicians, greedy businessmen and industrialists. How many of them have the strength of character and spirit to let go of their power and their wealth, especially if ill-gotten? How many people in government and private employment have the strength to refuse to give or receive a bribe?
Fr. Arman Onion last February 25 delivered a homily at my cousin’s funeral Mass and he said rightly that it is easier to love a beautiful woman – one needs no prodding – than an uglier one as it is easier to befriend or give to a rich man who can give back than to a poor man who cannot repay.
The strength of spirit and character requires a lot of intellectual and emotional effort. Self-denial or rejection of self-satiation, refusal to vice and greed, giving than receiving and surrender are the tests of strength of spirit and character.
Can a politician enamored of power, wealth and popularity refuse a multi-million peso bribe to amass more for the next election? The rampant incidence of graft and corruption – are they not signs of weakness of those who ought to be strong in the service of the people they swore to serve?
We find Catholics who continue to say they are Catholics and yet are weak in their faith because of secular and humanist (no God) principles that they are the true decision-makers of their lives. How many who profess faith in God act as if there is no God? Is their obstinacy in getting their way a strength or a weakness of their faith?
We tend to the least resistance but it takes a lot of courage to say no to sin, to vices, to undue pride, to greed, to self-love.
To embrace the priestly and religious vocation is strength, but we know that even these people who have been consecrated sometimes fall into weakness and forget their vows. Others, though, have the courage to admit their inability to continue and they leave. That also takes a lot of courage, if indeed they find that the consecrated life is not for them or they are unsuited to that kind of life.
It is weakness, however, for those who refuse to admit that they have lost their vocation and remain and inflict damage to the consecrated life and to the Church.
The strength of those who live the contemplative life is their total surrender and prayerful life. From our perspective it is difficult to live that kind of life, denying oneself of the allurements of the world, leaving behind loved ones and devoting an entire life to prayer and service. That is real strength that only a few are able to answer God’s call to vocation.
The lives of saints tell us numerous examples of their strength that the world considers weakness and yet theirs is peace and joy. Of course, we who live outside the convent and religious and priestly life undergo as much hardship that in Hamlet’s words, “all flesh is heir to” and the fear when “we have shuffled off this mortal coil” we don’t know where we will end up.*
back to top