...Strength & Weakness, Success &
Failure in God’s Kingdom...
(from a Feb. 1, 1981 Homily)

God’s ways are not our ways, and the standards by which we judge success or failure are not the same as God’s.  Our judgments as to when a person’s life is satisfactory or not may be quite different from God’s, and not necessarily in the sense that God’s judgment is more stringent than ours.  The world in which we live admires forceful, active, strong-minded people, people who make an obvious success of their lives and are seen to be strong and capable and effective.  There is nothing wrong with being strong and capable and effective in the affairs of this life, and we ought to try to be so.  However the value and usefulness and success of a life are not to be judged by these qualities.
Our true success in life is to be measured by the amount of use God has been able to make of us for His own purposes, purposes that may sometimes involve apparent failure.  God can only make use of us for His purposes if we let Him do so.  It sometimes happens that a very forceful, active, busy, successful person is so immersed in his activities in the world that he leaves no scope for God to use Him in the way He wants to.  Sometimes a weak and indecisive person, who seems ineffectual, is much more open to God’s influence.  It depends on good will in either case, but it is fairly obvious that God often chooses the weak things of this world to achieve His greatest purposes, and through failures like the Cross that He achieves outstanding success.  Being strong, efficient, and energetic is good, but being self-determined can easily mean being self-willed and, therefore, not God-determined.
What sort of person does God choose when He wants His own important work done?  He chooses as a rule the type of person who is despised by the world, despised in the judgment of the man in the street, a person who is regarded by others as being unsatisfactory.  This has always been so.  “Seek the Lord,” says the prophet Zephaniah, “all you, the humble of the earth, seek integrity, seek humility.  In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people, and they will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.”  This is not a call to the strong, self-possessed, successful, self-sufficient, powerful characters of the world.  They don’t feel they need to take refuge in the Lord.
St. Paul, speaking to his converts, says something similar:  “Take yourselves, for instance, brothers.  At the time you were called, how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families?  No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that He chose what is weak by human reckoning.  Those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones God has chosen, those who are nothing at all, to show up those who are everything.”
Our Lord makes it clear that the man worthy to enter God’s Kingdom accepts his poverty and emptiness, his creatureliness, his complete dependence on God.  Such a man does not find poverty and weakness of body or mind repugnant or judge himself unsatisfactory as a result of them.  He is happy about them if they are not the result of present, deliberate, personal negligence, softness, or sin.  The person who knows God knows that only if he is poor and receptive and flexible in God’s hand can God really work through him.  God does not need human success.

It is the despised, the poor, the old, the weak, the gentle that God can make use of.  . . .  They are blessed in the beatitudes.  They are the privileged subjects of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  What is more, these despised people, very conscious of their own defects and weakness and lack of personal gifts and possessions and influence—it is these who get things done, the things God wants done, the things worth doing.  It is such people who really thirst for true justice.  It is such people who bring consolation to others and work for peace among men in God’s hands, even if only by prayer and suffering and resignation to God’s holy will in their lives.  Blessed are the poor, the gentle, the mourners, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peace makers.  These are the qualities of a Christian.
Most of us are very aware of certain great weaknesses in ourselves.  If they are the weaknesses of the rich, the unjust, the trouble-makers, the aggressive, then they are weaknesses we must get rid of.  But very often the weaknesses we feel distressed about are in fact a source of strength in God’s service, because they force us to depend on Him and to be open to His influence.  He often chooses the weak and even the hopeless in order to get His own way in things, and the weak and the hopeless may have great goodness despite their poverty.  It is our good will, our good intentions and desires that God needs.
We should think of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) whenever we look at our own success or failure in life, and by that standard decide whether we belong to the Kingdom of God or not, whether we are blessed or not. . . .
We need never feel that we are failures; we need never feel that we are unsatisfactory, despite our imperfections and faults and failings, if we make our boast in the Lord.  A person in the state of grace is eminently satisfactory in God’s eyes, even before he has achieved any great holiness or virtue.

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