Once upon a time, a young man had a dream of joining a religious order. He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, he wasn’t the strongest bull in the barn, but he was good… though apparently not good enough. The religious order turned him away due to his weakness. Only by the intercession of the bishop was he allowed to join—the bishop pointed out that if nothing else, the man could pray. The order gave him little more to do than pray: he was made the porter, the doorman, to the local college, because he wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to do much of anything else. You might have some sympathy for this poor fellow: relegated to menial tasks, all because of his poor health and lack of education. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s not right. Why doesn’t he get the good luck other people had? The opportunities for growth and advancement and flourishing? Why is he plagued by these evils? What would he ever be able to make of himself?
God Works Through Weakness
Well, in one sense, nothing. He didn’t make anything of himself. But God made an awful lot out of him. That quiet kindly man opened doors for people and started talking to them. He listened to their problems, advised them on their spiritual lives and they felt comfort. Some of them even were healed of their sicknesses after seeing this man and following his advice to pray for the intercession of St. Joseph. More and more people, millions all told, came to see this simple doorman, and their lives were changed forever. And none of it would have happened if he had been in better health or had a better education. If he had been a professor or an administrator, he wouldn’t have been standing at the door. It was his own lack of good luck, the evils that he suffered, that brought about all the good he was able to do.
St. Andre Bessette
This is the story of St. Andre Bessette, the Miracle Man of Montreal. But in its general outline it is the story of many saints. Brother Andre is a prime example of the way in which God uses imperfect instruments to bring about His Perfect Will. God didn’t choose the biggest and best-looking and most highly-educated religious in Canada to bolster the people’s faith and bring them to Jesus through Joseph. He chose the smallest, the humblest, the least in the eyes of most people. And that seems to be pretty standard for God, doesn’t it? God doesn’t pick the best and brightest; he chooses the lowliest, exactly for the purpose of demonstrating the fact that what those people do is not their own doing, but God’s doing. When God chose a king for His people Israel, he didn’t choose the best warrior or the most learned sage—he chose a shepherd boy, the youngest of his brothers. When God chose a deliverer for His people from Egypt, he didn’t choose a person of high standing or great renown, but a runaway slave who had been condemned for murder. When Christ chose a leader for His Church, he didn’t choose the serene John or the sensible Matthew, but the hot-headed Peter who confessed himself to be a sinful man. God doesn’t make what seems to us to be the obvious choice. God’s ways are not our ways—and that’s just the point.
Reconciliation Through Weakness
Of course, the most remarkable of all ways in which God chose the less-than-expected route to effect His Will was the Cross. Were we given the opportunity to save the world, we’d probably choose to do it by the sword, or by great rhetoric, or by a political coup of some kind. But God reconciled humanity to himself and saved us from sin, not through power, but through weakness; not as the conquering hero, but as the condemned criminal; not as the victorious king parading down the streets of Jerusalem, but as the wretch suffocating to death on the outskirts of town. God chose not the sword in his hands, but the nails in his hands, as the instrument for our salvation. This is what shows God’s omnipotence, that God can use even evil to bring about His will. God took the most evil of any possible deed, and by that, saved us. That’s omnipotence. (It’s all in St. Thomas. What do they teach in these schools these days?)
God is Powerful, Even in Weakness.
Christ revealed to us that God is powerful even in weakness. And we, who are conformed to Christ by our baptism, are called to follow this model. Christ emptied himself and was obedient to death, even death on a cross. For us, too, it is when we are weak that we are strong. It is when we surrender ourselves to God that we are free. It is in our times of weakness that we realize how much we depend on God. This is how God uses the evils in our lives to bring about His ultimate will for us, bringing us into closer friendship with Himself. When your grandmother is dying of cancer and it brings the family together, allowing them to heal old wounds and forgive old hurts; when you’ve lost your job and you realize that showing love to your family takes precedence over buying them shiny things; these are moments when we empty ourselves of our selfishness and desires and allow ourselves to be filled with the Spirit.
May we allow God to use us as His instruments to bring about His Will, and see that it is precisely the working of God’s will in spite of our imperfections that gives God glory. May we find strength in God when we are weak. May we see how even the Cross can be borne as a gift.