Embracing weakness

Some twenty odd years ago, I became sick. I felt tired all the time, I could not do my work properly and found it very difficult getting up in the morning. Into this mess stepped a young man, who was training as a student of Mill Hill. He would come in the mornings to help get me up, he would make sure that I had whatever medicines and other things I needed and would often come and sit for a while in the evenings to keep me company – he even read up about my condition to see how he might help me further. At that time, I felt so ashamed of my weakness and prayed desperately for the Lord to take it away – and while I was grateful for the help of that young man, I so wished it was all different! Now, some twenty five years later, my opinion about that time has changed. That young man, who was such a help to me, has now left Mill Hill and followed a different path in life, but the friendship that began during the time of my weakness, is still there and has deepened and matured over the years. I went to see him recently, while I was home on leave, and although I only meet him about once a year, it struck me that our friendship is as though we saw each other every day. So, when I look back at that time of my sickness, I no longer reject the feelings of weakness and helplessness that were mine, but, instead, I remember the deep and abiding friendship that grew out of that time, a friendship that could only have come about because I was weak – and I give thanks for the weakness that was mine. Weakness is something we look down upon and despise in our world and often this works its way into our attitude as Christians – we are frightened of weakness , both physical and spiritual, and reject it, even though we proclaim that the prayers of the sick and weak are powerful in the sight of God. More and more I realise how we need to re-evaluate the place of weakness in our lives, because were there no weakness in our world, no brokenness or damage in our lives, then neither would there be compassion, mercy, or even faith, for we can only find our Saviour in our weakness and failure – not in our strength and success. This does not mean that God sends us pain and sickness, as some seem to think, he does not. Our world and the people in it are more than capable of doing that, but God does reach out to us in our weakness and takes up that pain, brokenness and weakness and brings out of them such miracles of love and care that we can only stand in awe and wonder. On Good Fridays, as celebrant at the ceremonies, I am able to watch those coming up to venerate the cross and I see the love and devotion in their faces as they kiss the cross and hold up their small children to touch the figure of the one who died for us. It shows how God can take the cruelty and hatred of the world and make it the very place where love, compassion – and friendship – are born. There is a time of our lives for us to be strong, to do, to create, but our lives begin in weakness, and in that weakness we begin to know love – first through our parents and others who hold us and care for us in our weakness as babies. The same is also true, for most of us, at the end of our lives – we come to know weakness once more as our strength drains away due to age and sickness and we become reliant on others. A point to ponder is that whereas the things we are most proud of are those we accomplish in the times of our strength and ability, but the things of beauty and gentle joy that will abide forever, are born not in the times of our strength, but in the times of our weakness. Both strength and weakness have a place in our lives, but the part we do not particularly like, our weakness, is usually the more fruitful part – and this is true of both our friendship with God as well of our friendships with those around us. Cardinal Hume said of friendship: “Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected… When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next… To love another is to have entered the area of the richest human experience…” True friendship is born and grows when we are there for the other in their weakness and need and they, in turn, for us. It is being true to someone, when the world sees only failure, and so giving them the courage to stand up and walk again. The deepest part of the friendship I have with my Saviour was born in the times of my weakness, as was my friendship with that now “not so young” man, who came to me in my weakness so many years ago. Diary Some of you have written to ask if things are ok with me, because there has been no blog for some time. That is very kind of you and I thank you for your concern. I am well, but have been on leave and been doing other things too, but I must also admit to hitting a certain “dry period” with my blog. My leave in UK was for just under three weeks and there were many friends and other to see – and I did not get round to them all – and so there was not a lot of time to write. Then, when I came back, I went to West Malaysia to give a week’s retreat for diocesan priests there – and those talks also had to be prepared. However, now I am back and have time to reflect on some of the things that happened during my holidays and persons I met – and as you see from above – the inspiration seems to be beginning to flow again. On the evening of All Souls, I usually walk through the cemetery at St Joseph’s Cathedral to visit the graves of old friends. I usually take some candles with me, so I can light a candle for them and also put a lighted candle on the untended tombs, which I do for them and in memory of my own loved ones whose graves lie far away. Two years ago, I noticed another grave, among the graves of the Religious Sisters, but the nameplate was in such a bad condition that I had great difficulty in reading the names, of which there were several. They had been painted on a piece of tin, but the harsh Sarawak weather had nearly obliterated the names, but I did notice that they were the names of Religious Sisters – sixteen in all – and so, I set myself to discover who they were and after two years, and much letter writing, I have managed. They are the remains of sixteen Religious Sisters interred in that grave; eight of them were the “White Sisters”, the first nuns here in Sarawak, together with one of the first of our local Sisters. The rest are the remains of seven elderly Dutch Sisters, who were transported here from Indonesia, by the Japanese, during the Second World War, and died in the internment camp at Batu Lintang. When I found discovered who they were, I decided to erect a better monument to them. However, on either side of this grave, were two graves belonging to two of the first White Sisters, who came to Sarawak and their tombs were also in a bad condition, so I decided to refurbish all three. I have finally managed it and the new gravestones should be ready by All Souls Day. The cost of it all was RM12.000, (Just over £2,000, for those of you outside Sarawak) and I had just RM750, kindly given by people, when I first thought of the idea. The Cathedral Cemetery Committee added RM5.000, but I was still left with over RM6000 to find, so I borrowed it from the Mill Hill accounts and then mentioned at Mass last Sunday that I was hoping something would happen before I had to hand in my Mill Hill accounts at the end of the year. I am happy to tell you that within days the money came – and my reputation as an accountant (if I ever had one!) has been saved.

God bless,

Terry

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