This is a time of year when we celebrate ordinations. It is also the time of year when I recall a homily preached by a Jesuit Provincial, “Am I weak enough to be a priest?” he asked. This year I wanted to refresh my memory of the homily but was disappointed to discover that my copy got lost when I moved to my present assignment.
So I did what I normally do – search the internet. What a rewarding search! I rediscovered an article by a Vincentian priest, Fr. Jim Cormack. “Reflections on Service to the Poor.” It popped up in the search because the second of seven hallmarks of Vincentian service raises the question, “Am I weak enough to serve?”
HALLMARKS OF THE CHARISM OF SERVICE
In order to describe the Vincentian charism of service, we may ask a number of questions. These questions give shape and form to the charism. Though none of these is a direct quote from Vincent, I am confident that they are questions he asked himself and those he gathered around him to serve the poor of seventeenth-century France. Let me pose these questions to help sharpen the image of what the charism of Vincent de Paul means.
2) I am convinced that Vincent asked himself, “Am I weak enough to serve?” Are we weak and needy, not sick or incapacitated? To be needy means that we too are open to help; we are not self sufficient and absolutely independent. One who serves, a man or woman called in love to serve the poor, must be weak, must not be so strong that they do not need or can always help, always know what is right, or always have the resources and energy available. No one is so perfect or has everything that he or she does not question or hurt inside. More personally, how can I be open to suffering and pain if I do not know it myself? St. Paul asserts that it is in weakness that the power of God reaches completion and is sufficient. So we know and live the truth that in our task of service the life of Jesus is enough.
Often a life of service with its demands can overwhelm. Trying to be clever, wise, powerful and resourceful is not an answer. We need to look first to the Lord who empowers us as we are and gives us what we need to serve in this broken world. A servant doesn’t do everything, solve everything; a servant serves and trusts. In weakness he or she strains and struggles to help, to console, to change, to forgive. A servant who trusts is not afraid of weakness and therefore is not overcome by it. A servant who is weak and knows the Lord gives what is needed, gives and gives again and is never used up. One who is weak enough to serve never quits, though tired; never despairs, though overwhelmed. One weak enough to serve trusts enough to join the dying of the Lord so as to bring the rising of the Lord to those to whom he or she is called and sent. Such weakness, while it rejects strength and self-sufficiency, does need courage.
The rest of the article raises questions that are worth considering. But for now, we might each ask ourselves:
- How in tune am I with my weaknesses?
- Can I really understand the weakness of others if I do not allow myself to accept my weaknesses?
PS. Henri Nouwen had a phrase for this – the wounded healer.