"My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness."
I don't often mention my own experiences in sermons, but this one just seems to fit. We had a bit of a flood here Thursday afternoon and we were unable even to figure out what was wrong until just before noon on Friday. It was a depressing thing because no one seemed to be able to figure out how to stop the water. Friday morning the plumber announced that he didn't know how the pipes were laid out, and that the landlord would have to find someone that did. After a series of telephone calls it was decided that a contractor named Doug would be here at about 11:30 -- the plumber was leaving, but might be able to get back if Doug called later.
The apprehension that accompanies these situations is made worse by the need to wait around doing nothing while waiting for the appropriate person to appear. I had already moved everything that could be moved, swept the water out with a push broom a dozen times, and repackaged the candles to be blessed on Saturday into dry cardboard boxes, so I used some of the time to write a few letters (hand write that is, without a computer!). Then I got back to the business of complaining -- "Why did this happen? Why do I have to be doing this?!" Then it occurred to me that I might not have much time to prepare a sermon for Sunday, and I had better at least have a look at the epistle for the day.
Let me tell you that there is no more perfect reading for some one so foolish as to feel sorry for himself about a little water! In about 45 seconds, I began to start laughing at myself. No matter what happened with the water, it would never get more than an inch or two deep before running out the door by itself -- no matter what happened, I was in no danger at all of being stoned, shipwrecked, or beaten with a whip even once -- It was extremely unlikely that I would have to escape in a basket through a window in the wall. Not only that, but when I went back to the sacristy, the floor was showing signs of drying out. My first reaction was that a miracle had taken place; my second reaction was to say, "Oh great, the contractor will think I am crazy when he gets her and finds no water; and my third reaction was to start laughing again.
The contractor arrived shortly, and diagnosed the problem in about 15 minutes of well thought out probing. He went up on the roof and fixed the leak (it was not plumbing after all, but vent pipe that was conducting water within the wall). Then he called the management company to get people out to dry the carpet.
It was just amazing to me how things had turned around in just a few moments. There was still work to do, but it had changed in character from being depressing to being a challenge. God, through Saint Paul, and Doug the Contractor, had gotten me past the crisis -- it was much more rewarding to start thinking in terms of how God ought now to be repaid by getting things ship-shape in time for the first Friday Mass. It was a joy to sit and relax, just a few hours later, with our Lord in the monstrance. And Candlemas was beautiful, and now here we are.
It is said that there is always somebody that has more trouble than you do; who makes your difficulties seem insignificant by comparison. That is probably true, although from time to time we meet someone whose problems seem hard to top. It is not uncommon for someone to ask (although it is not always the one with all the problems), "Why did God make that happen?" or "why did He allow that to happen?" A lot of very bright people have spent a lot of time trying to answer that question; trying to understand the problem of evil in the world. God is said to merely tolerate evil, and often with the design to bring good out of that evil. We are, further, told that if we unite our sufferings with those of our Lord on the Cross that they will be meritorious. All of this is, no doubt, true -- but it is not always very satisfying to the person with the problems (or to those concerned about him).
Saint Paul in his "adventure story" looks at the problem of evil in the world from a slightly different perspective. It is not "Why do I have to do this?" or "Why did God let this happen?" but, instead, it is, "how can we work through this to further glorify God?" How can we get beyond the problem? How can we sanctify ourselves and those around us? How can we insure that God is in our midst so that we may take our repose with Him?
Saint Paul is a marvelous example in this. His difficulties were enormous, and he endured them all over the Mediterranean world. But his only boast is not in his accomplishments, but in his weakness. There will always be evil in the world, until the Day of Judgement. Often it cannot be overcome; often its damage cannot be undone. But together with Paul we can recognize that it will pass, and we will work through it, and God will be glorified. If we recognize our infirmities, and recognize that they are but temporary stops on the way to eternity, Gods grace will be sufficient, perfecting our weakness with the strength of Christ to dwell in us.