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Spirituality of Brokenness

Last week I celebrated another birthday. Usually I get a little depressed on my big day, not because I am getting older, but because I feel I should have achieved more in my life. So many people kept wishing me on that day. I kept responding to them with these words: “At my age, a birthday is not a day for rejoicing but a day for reflection.” I truly believe those words. As I get older I keep asking myself how I am not better than I am right now. I thought by now I would have overcome all my sins and mistakes.

 

As I was getting a little pensive, I remembered a few lines from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It is one of my favorite passages. Paul is no longer young and hence he is wiser. He has preached the gospel in many parts of the then-known civilized world, and has already proved himself an “apostle.” By this time he has established several churches. For his many labors the Lord rewarded him with special revelations. By all accounts Paul had enough reasons to feel proud. It is in this context that Paul writes:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I find these words of Paul to be a source of great encouragement as I get older and become impatient with myself. When I went into the seminary more than 40 years ago I wanted to become a saint in ten days. I look at myself now and feel that I am far from my goal. I know I struggle with the same things. As we all get older, we get upset with ourselves because we thought we would be better by now.

Paul was given special revelations and yet the Lord also gave him a “thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan” to keep him humble. When Paul asked the Lord to take it away, the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, Paul had to continue to live with his struggles. He had to learn to rely on the power of God and not on himself. That is why Paul writes, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

We do not know what his thorn in the flesh was. We are not sure of what Paul was referring to. It could have been a physical defect or even some sinful tendency. Whatever it was, Paul had to learn to accept it and serve the Lord with that handicap. In the same way, all of us are called to accept and live with certain defects and deficiencies. I would like to call this approach to spiritual life as the “spirituality of brokenness”. For too long we have been trying to create a “spirituality of perfection” which is unattainable. None of us is perfect and will ever be. We are all broken to some degree. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all sinful to a small or to a great extent. In our weakness we rely on God’s grace and not on our power.

In order to become holy we must first of all realize that we do not merit God’s love. God loves us in spite of our imperfections and our sins. He loves us not because we are lovable. It is His love that makes us lovable. Even when we sin and walk away, God does not abandon us. He keeps waiting for us to return just like the Prodigal Father. God’s love is a given, not something to be won. God does not love us because we are perfect. We try to become better because God loves us. We do not make peace with our sins or refuse to grow. Instead of making us complacent or resigned to our sinful tendencies, this conviction of God’s never-failing love spurs us on to live holier lives. The same Paul encourages his Christians to live a life worthy of their calling.

The spirituality of brokenness builds on the foundation of humility. Deeply aware of our sins and failures, we are humble. We are slow to judge or condemn others because we know our own sinfulness. Realizing that we have been forgiven so many times we in turn become compassionate towards others. That is why the degree of our holiness is dependent on the depth and breadth of our compassion.

Long time ago I remember reading somewhere these words: “God calls us to excellence, not to perfection.” God challenges us to be the best we can be. He gives us sufficient grace to become the kind of person that He wants us to be. Excellence is all about being the best we can be. Perfection demands that we are better than everyone else.

As I get older, I find the spirituality of brokenness even more appealing. I have a long way to go. But I know that His grace will always be there for me. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!

Hope to see you in church! Don’t forget Sunday Mass!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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