Tag Archives: weakness

Friday Thoughts: The Height Of Stars

by Howard Hain


My constant companion.

My acting partner, my motivational coach.

Sometimes I forget you’re there.

Such lack of gratitude, such empty graciousness.

But you remind me, lest I forget.

There you are once again.

Right beside me.

Center stage.

All the world to see.

Hard to imagine you any other way.

My constant companion.

My antagonist. My adversary.

Middle of the night, just you and me.

Another standoff. Another scene.

Good or bad, there’s always drama.

One day we’ll part ways I suppose.

But for today, this hour, you continue to goad.

Pestering and probing.

A reaction, any, is what you want.

Like a needle in my hay stack

Pricking my limbs.

Especially my heart.


That’s who you are.

You play your role.

Upstaging the stronger, more noble parts of man.

Clever, cunning, looking for the upper hand.

Curtain up or curtain down.

You’re a character for sure.

Smile or frown.

Jester or clown.

Your disguise is basically the same.

Some sort of wise man, a plot all your own.

But you, Sir Weakness, you are important.

Like tragedy.

Like divine comedy.

You give good measure.

You give the chorus something to say.

And despite your best intentions.

You help establish strength.

You remind people the height of stars.

Without you, my dear Weakness, no hero could ever be.



Journey with Weakness

Our readings at Mass can often tell us about ourselves and our situation. The reading  from the Book of Joshua for this Sunday is an example. It’s worth reflecting on.

If you remember  your bible history, Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. A soldier, he led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a disputed land then and a disputed land now.

The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles this great general fought, beginning with the battle for Jericho. As the spiritual says, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Today’s reading concludes the Book of Joshua. Joshua’s an old man now, over a 100 years old the bible says, and he’s getting ready to die, so the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, he reminds them. Our journey isn’t over. The old soldier doesn’t speak of military matters or plans for new wars. Something more important is on his mind. He reminds the people that they’ve been called by God. “Are you going to listen to that call or not?” he says to them. You can ignore that call or drift away.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says. And the people heartily join him in renewing their convenant with God.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Notice that Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call. They’re called by God as a people. When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to make the journey together and they did.

That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, no matter how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

This isn’t just the wisdom of the bible. A French geophysicist,  Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

According to Le Pichon, who’s quoted at length on a recent NPR program, one important way we differ from the animals is the care we take of our weakest members. He adduces recent studies of our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, in whom this surprising trait appears over one hundred thousand years ago.

One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and buried with them. He was surely a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of this spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least,” you did it to me. You grow in love through your care of the least.

The thought of Xavier Le Pichon is worth following. Take a look at all the material on him at NPR.

The Paralyzed Man


Mission: Plainville, Ct  April 5, 2011

Compare the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda, whose story we tell in today’s gospel, with the official in our previous story from John’s gospel, who came from Capernaum to Cana in Galilee looking for a cure for his son. Obviously, the official was important. He knew how to get things done and came to get Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St. Anne in Jerusalem– and he can’t find a way into the water when it’s stirring. Paralyzed, too slow, he can’t even get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus; Jesus approaches him, asking:  “Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk. The man has no idea who cured him until Jesus tells him later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians.

Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the only one.

The mystics saw weakness differently that most do. It was a time for God to act, as St. Paul of the Cross once remarked


“Be of good heart, my good friend, for the time has come for you to be cured. Night will be as illumined as day. As his night, so is his day.”  A great difference takes place in the Presence of God; rejoice in this Divine Presence. Have nothing, my dear one; allow yourself to be deprived of all pleasure. Do not look your sufferings in the face, but accept them with resignation and satisfaction in the higher part of your soul as if they were jewels, and so they truly are. Ah! let your loving soul be freed from all that is created and pay no attention to suffering or to enjoyment, but give your attention to your beloved Good.  (Letter 41)


Lord Jesus,

like the paralytic I wait for you,

not knowing when or how you will come.

But I wait, O Lord,

however long you may be.