I read of a marathon runner who testified to a strength coming to her she knew wasn’t all hers. In the 22nd mile she felt an exhaustion and pulled over to the side, totally spent. But in the seconds standing there, she felt this urge to reach back for something she knew was somehow more than her. And sure enough, a new strength did surface from somewhere, a resiliency she knew wasn’t totally hers. Leaning back on it, she let it flow and went on to finish the race.
In the gospels, Jesus lays out behaviors and commandments that set a very high bar. Each of the measures he names can put a person under a heavy burden. There are his charges to move past justified anger and extend forgiveness, to channel sexual drives in a faithful way, to be honest and straightforward especially when under pressure to fudge things. These and similar challenges can bring a person to the brink of his or her moral strength.
This is where the example of “reaching back for something more” enters the picture — better, enters the faith-picture. The scriptures testify to the existence of a strength beyond ours, a resilience that’s more than we can summon up on our own.
We hear it from St. Paul, writing about a wisdom that reaches further than ours. Not found on the front pages of the media, this kind is “mysterious, hidden, there even before creation itself.” (1 Cor: 2:6) It comes from beyond and arises from within.
In Paul’s poetry, this unique wisdom is something “eye has not seen nor ear heard.” This strength, courage, resilience and perseverance, Paul insists, “is what God has prepared for those who love Him.” From The Holy Spirit, it is infused into us to the extent we open ourselves to receive it. It’s that extra something spelling the difference between following the Lord Jesus and falling off His Way.
A man once related a version of this come-from-behind assistance. Five years into his marriage, the relationship had fallen apart. Try as he and his wife might, they saw no way it could be fixed. But to the surprise of them both, their bond somehow revived. Looking back at that stressful period, they knew they couldn’t have gotten through on their own, couldn’t have lasted, unless something else had been present — a reservoir of strength coming from beyond them. That was his personal testimony to this “hidden, mysterious, there-before-the-ages” wisdom of which Paul speaks.
Many people can look back to times when limits were reached and yet somehow, they kept on keeping on. These were these precipice, no-way-out situations where “something more” entered the picture to carry them through.
Along with so many others, St. Vincent witnesses to this “extra,” the saving presence of the All Good God. In a 1641 letter to Bernard Codoing, he writes, “May we continue to believe that Our Lord alone has carried on the work of service to the poor and is constantly carrying on the business of our family.”
Under modern-day pressures to bring the Good News to the poor, may the Vincentian Family continue to rely on that Something More.