We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up – Romans 15:1-2
One of the things that I struggle with, but that I am actively working to overcome with the grace of God, is to sympathize with the weaknesses of others. I tend to be very critical of the others when they are not strong like myself in specific areas, especially when it comes to the faith. I think many of us are like this or know people who are like this. These are the people who always see the flaws in others methods of prayer, knowledge of scripture, doctrine, etc. Now, in my slight humility, I admit that I fail in many areas and this realization has greatly helped me in healing this personal weakness but nevertheless I find myself falling into this trap. The intent of this post is to reflect on this passage from Romans and how we need to better utilize our God-given strengths and talents to build up the body of Christ.
I was chatting with a fellow Catholic and they were talking to me about the challenges they had with the Catholic Church pre-Vatican II. The one challenge they said they struggled with is that their particular pastor either did not encourage or actively discouraged the personal reading of scripture. As a result, this individual related to me that this is why their understanding of scripture was weak and not nearly as good as some Protestants. I immediately began to think the following: irrespective if your pastor did not encourage or actively discouraged reading scripture, that is not a valid excuse from not reading the Bible on your own time. Don’t you have a free will? Can you not decide to use your head and read scripture? If your pastor encouraged you to sin, would you do it? So after running this scenario in my mind, I just concluded that this person was just making excuses in being poorly formed and was just being lazy. In my own life, when I find that I fail to understand something in my faith, I would make the effort to learn that thing so that I am not ignorant of it. But is everyone capable of doing this?
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd – Matthew 9:36
This passage in scripture has helped me greatly to sympathize with the weaknesses of others. I always assumed that everyone was just like me in some sense. I desire to grow spiritually, I desire to learn my faith better and I desire to be a saint. Therefore, since we are all called to be saints, everyone is doing this daily and the ones who are not are just weak sinners. Pretty harsh, no? As I began interacting more and more with different Catholics, I realized quickly that many are not like me. Many Catholics do not have this drive. I had to meditate on this for quite sometime to understand why this was. This passage in scripture helped me to understand further:
And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ… – Ephesians 4:11-13
We have to realize that we are all members of a body. Like the body, each of us has different strengths that are required to enable the body to function. While I am very passionate about spirituality and the interior life, I do fail when it comes to evangelizing and speaking to strangers (and even some friends) about my faith. I know others that are perhaps not as well-formed but can talk to a stranger on a bus to invite them to some parish program and are very comfortable talking about their faith. Relating to the theme of this post, this is the reason why some within the body are called to be just good, faithful Catholics whose formation depends on the teaching or guidance of another. This is always depicted as a shepherd leading his flock. I am of the mindset that the vast majority of Catholics are extremely dependent on a shepherd to lead them and if the shepherd is poorly formed, they will be poorly formed. If their shepherd is striving to a saint, they will strive to be a saint:
If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ – The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O
I finally began to understand the following: if someone is not a strong as me in some area, my role is not to lower them but to raise them up! I have some strengths that are needed to strengthen the body, but I also don’t have all the strengths and I NEED others to assist me as well! This is how the body of Christ is structured and we have to see how we can use our strengths to build up the body and not weigh it down. I heard a good talk about the reason why we celebrate the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul on the same day. It is a beautiful reminder of the way the body of Christ works. St. Peter is the structure and authority of the church, while St. Paul is your evangelist who is on the road converting souls to Christ. Both of these are important to sustain the body of Christ. Structure and authority without love and compassion is nothing more than a stony heart, but an evangelical zeal and fervor that is not grounded in structure and authority can easily slip into heresy. St. Peter needs St Paul, and St. Paul needs St. Peter. This is the same for each and every one of us within the body of Christ.
Instead of beating down those that are not as strong as us, let us use our God-given gifts to raise them up. Let us also realize we need to rely on others to be strengthened as well so we have to make sure we are humble enough to be guided by those that have different strengths. They may be able to help us overcome our weaknesses too! The Lord works in mysterious ways and we have to be open to how he is trying to convert our hearts to Him through others. Let us work together to be a United Body!
Blessed Mother, pray for us and lead us to Christ! Pope Saint Damasus I, pray for us!