Sunday, June 29, 2014

Made Perfect in Weakness: Sts. Peter and Paul

Today we're honoring two great Saints, Peter and Paul, and what their lives can teach us about what it means to be made complete or "perfect" despite our various inclinations and weaknesses and feelings of being "incomplete" as Childlovers. St. Paul once wrote on how the Lord had told him that "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Both Peter and Paul were made to understand their weaknesses, and yet both were then exalted in the Lord because of them in ways they couldn't have foreseen. What can their lives teach us as Childlovers about relying on God to "fill our gaps" and make us more "complete?"

Like Childlove, Christianity is often misunderstood, whether due of ignorance or malice. Christianity often gets a negative reputation among those who misunderstand it for focusing so much on weakness and "guilt" about shortcomings. Ironically, it also gets a negative reputation from the degree of "self assurance" it provides people who are notoriously faulty. Simply put, it is all too easy to condemn it outright for being one or the other of these opposite things without understanding that what it actually teaches us is somewhere down the middle. And just as we all find ourselves at the "cross" between these opposing forces, we also find Sts. Peter and Paul. It is in the union of this opposition that we all find completeness, and nothing says "Godliness" like completeness, for God is Completeness itself. 

We can not be complete without both our strengths and our weaknesses, which often run opposed to one another and keep us from being complete as God is complete. But God has a way of turning our weaknesses into strengths in ways no human being could fathom beforehand (neither Simon Bar Jonah or Saul of Tarsus would've believed you if you told them what they would go on to do as "Peter" and "Paul" respectively). God can do this with whatever tempts and weakens us, be it LUST, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, over-zealousness, or anything that Childlovers often struggle with. Often Christianity gets a negative reputation for focusing so much on one's weaknesses, but as the lives of the Saints teach us, there is no greater strength than one that is humbled by God, and no greater weakness than one that is self-exalted, and we see that weakness breeding a common "fruitful humility" in the lives of these rather opposite men. 

St. Paul, as we all ought to know, could be said to represent in his life and mission the "dynamism" of the Church and Christian faith in general, while St. Peter represents for us the "structure." To St. Peter was given the "keys of the Kingdom" by Christ (Matthew 16:19) and to St. Paul was given the mission to the Gentiles (the non-Jews) as its most energetic spokesman. In one amazing sense though, neither of these twin peaks of Christianity, gifted in many ways, were innately qualified to become what they eventually became, and neither would've done what they did of their own ability, as we'll see, but through them God shows us how much greater He is than we are by ourselves and therefore how much more complete we can be with Him than without Him. God doesn't merely want to play to our strengths but to fill our gaps, so that we have reason to praise and be thankful and not count upon our own abilities but only count upon that which He grants. 

Saul humbled.
Becoming complete is a hard lesson to learn though because it goes against everything we're accustomed to, everything our hearts are telling us, but consider where both Peter and Paul started and where they ended up by the grace of God. Paul became the dynamic force of the early Church, bringing in the gentiles, debating doctrine, ruminating and constantly seeking new frontiers. He was a creative powerhouse, constantly adpating to new environments and conditions and making the best of what he had wherever he was (even if it was from a jail cell). This is the Pauline way. Peter became the "Rock" of the Church, one of the "pillars" (as Paul referred to him once), the source of structure, the guiding force, the shepherd of the flock, the great pastor dealing with the matters from within. This is the Petrine way.
Yet neither of these great men could attribute these feats to anything but God, just judging by how they started out. In fact, God couldn't have assembled two lesser qualified people for these roles than Simon Bar Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Simon (Peter) was a simple fisherman, and not even a great one at that. He was a divided heart, "there with you" one minute and gone the next, wishy-washy, lukewarm, prone to "please men" at one minute and be over-zealous for God the next, but God saw the genuineness of his resolve wherever his heart might've taken him and said "I can work with that!" Saul (Paul) on the other hand, was completely the opposite. Raised at the feet of the great teachers of the Law, he was devoted to the Law, to discipline, to structure, even to the point that he had lost his "heart" for his fellow man and was persecuting the Church he saw as a threat to the established order. But God saw his love for the Law and the Word and said "I can work with that!" Both men allowed God to work with them in unexpected ways.

You'd think then that God would make the man of "heart" (Simon) the dynamic force and make the man of knowledge (Saul) the "pillar," but then either man could've claimed these offices were the result of their own abilities. Instead God, wanting to show His power made "great in weakness," turned each man's weakness into a strength greater than that of their own. Thus He made Peter the "Rock" of the Church and made Paul its greatest, most affecting and dynamic preacher. He sent the former fisherrman out to be the shepherd of the Jewish flock and sent the former Pharisee (a shepherd for the Jews in a way) out to be the "fisher of men" and bring the masses to the Mass. He who was strong in following his heart for the sake of men was made stronger for the structure of God, and he who was strong in structure for the sake of men was made stronger for the heart of God. Neither was this accomplished for their own sakes or by their own power "lest any man boast," but by the power and for the sake of God, so that their boast could only be in the Lord. Both were made complete by compliance, as God wills for every one of us.

At the same time, the Lord doesn't cause our natural strengths to go unused (why would He give us any strength or faculty that we couldn't use?), but rather completes them and allows them to thrive even more abundantly than they would have had we relied solely on them. You have to imagine that Paul's gift for knowledge of the Law and for discipline and structure obtained from his former life as Pharisee found its service for the Lord in greater abundance as he applied it towards the edification of the gentile churches. Likewise you have to imagine that Peter's gift of a genuine resolve and heart allowed him to better understand the heart of his fellow man when it came to his pastoral guidance within the Church, allowing him to better be the "pillar" upon which everyone turned for leadership. Thus each man also filled in each other's weaknesses with their own strenghts in a way that only God could "join together." No one could tear it asunder! 

Simon Peter humbled.
God completes us. God tells us Childlovers to go do and not do what we are most unwilling or unable to do or not do, and whatever our weaknesses tell us we can't do, and says "Just go do it. I know you don't think you're able or worthy, but guess what. It's not about what you feel or what you know. It's about what I command." Sometimes we can feel so unworthy of God that we fail to let him fill our weaknesses or humble our strengths, but this is no less prideful than if we presumed upon our worthiness. Both deny God the opportunity to "work with us." Both Peter and Paul were unworthy as men and deeply flawed, but both of them knew it, and both knew that God was ultimately greater than their weaknesses and so consented to be filled and to do what they were previously unable or unwilling to do. Because they gave that much, God was able to give them everything else. Because they gave God their weaknesses, God humbled their strengths and exalted their weaknesses beyond all reckoning. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you prone to lust? Anxiety? Depression? An over-emphasis on maintaining order or too divided in heart? Are you lead by your feelings and deny responsibilities, or are you lead by responsibility to the point of denying your feelings? Whatever it may be, God wants you to go beyond yourself, which is the essence of all true spirituality. Go beyond "you," even if it causes you anxiety, or despair, or even the pain of death or a life of self-mortification and solitude. Lose the "I" (that is ego), lose the "want" (that is desire), and what you are left with is exactly what the Lord is prepared to GIVE you: "peace," "rest," "truth," "friendship," "companionship," "completeness"...etc. All things that He alone IS. The fact is we all want to be God, but none of us are because none of us are complete like He is. The spirit He gives us is willing but our flesh is made weak. But God says to each and every one of us: "Admit the flesh is weak, and I can work on your willing spirit. Only then can I make that flesh like unto MINE." 

Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us.

1 comment:

Horizons for Homeless Children:

Horizons for Homeless Children:
Please consider helping homeless children.