“Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved” (Psalm 16)
In a few moments, this is the verse we will sing during the offertory. In a way, it summarises everything the very rich office of this Sunday offers to our reflexion.
This morning at Matins we were reminded of the devastating power of evil and the divine chastisement that awaits it: the flood was caused by the multiplication and the gravity of sin. The “sons of God going in to the daughters of men” (cf. Genesis 6:4) is strangely reminiscent of the moral depravity we can see so prevalent today in which the blessings of the spirit (charity, peace, joy, chastity, etc…) are left aside by so many for a headlong plunge into dark and desolate deeds of the flesh which bring only suffering and death. Thank God, Noah, that holy man who is one of the most eloquent types of Christ Our Lord, was there to save the human race from extinction through the ark which was the symbol of both the cross and the Church, as we shall be reminded of during the Paschal Vigil.
In the epistle, St Paul enumerates the unbelievable hardships he had to endure in the cause of the preaching of the Gospel. In the midst of it all, the apostle of the Gentiles discovers that his own weakness is the very door through which the divine power seeks to enter into our lives and, through us, into the world. Power is made perfect in infirmity. In the verse immediately following today’s reading, he goes so far as to say: “I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.” When I am weak, then am I powerful. Another amazing Christian paradox for us to reflect upon. We are naturally inclined to think that when we are weak, when we seem helpless, we can do nothing for God or for souls. It’s actually the opposite that is true. When I am weak, then am I powerful. When we come to understand, to experience, that we are incapable on our own of achieving anything that is good; when we feel we have exhausted every avenue in serving God and converting the world, when our powerlessness is such that we feel like there is nothing more to do but to give up and despair, that is when we need to remind ourselves that when I am weak, then am I powerful.
So what does it mean exactly? Does it mean that when we are faced with failure we should give up and run away and just hope some miracle happens? Not at all. It means that when, in spite of our efforts, God allows us to experience our total incapacity to do good, then we need to abandon ourselves totally and irrevocably and without reserve into His loving hands, conscious that through His grace, and through His grace alone, we are capable of anything, rather we are capable of all things. Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat, says the same St Paul to the Philippians: I can do all things through the one who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).
An extraordinary example of this is given in the life of General Gaston de Sonis, a French soldier who died in the odour of sanctity in 1887. Having suffered horrendously from the loss of his leg in the battle of Loigny in 1870, he would later compose this extraordinary prayer:
“My God, here I am before Thee: poor, little, deprived of all. I am here, at Thy feet, plunged into my nothingness. I would like to have something to offer Thee, but I am nothing but misery. Thou, Thou art my All, Thou art my riches. My God, I thank Thee for having willed that I should be nothing before Thee. I love my humiliation, my nothingness. I thank Thee for having distanced from me some of the satisfactions of self-love, some consolations of the heart. I thank Thee for the disappointments, the worries, the humiliations. I acknowledge that I needed them, and that these goods could have kept me far from Thee.
O my God, be Thou blessed when Thou dost put me to the test. I love to be broken, consumed, torn down by Thee. Annihilate me more and more. May I be to the edifice, not the chosen stone polished by the hand of the worker, but like the obscure grain of sand, taken from the dust of the path. My God, I thank Thee for having allowed me to get a glimpse of the sweetness of Thy consolations. I thank Thee for having deprived me of them. All that Thou dost is just, it is good. I bless Thee in my neediness. I regret nothing, except for not having loved Thee enough. I desire nothing, but that Thy will be done. Thou art my Master, and I am Thy property. Turn me over again and again. Tear me down and work me over. I want to be reduced to nothing for the love of Thee. O Jesus! How good is Thy hand, even in the heart of trial! Let me be crucified, but crucified by Thee! Amen”.
Here is a man whose footsteps were not moved, whose goings and comings were perfected by the Lord, for he allowed the soil of his heart to be ploughed and tilled until it was ready for the seed of God to be sown therein. That Word took deep root, and bore abundant fruit, through much patience.
“Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved”