A Personal Trainer

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15
  • Psalm 103:1-18
  • John 10:27
  • Mark 6:1-6

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Come then, stiffen the sinews of drooping hand, and flagging knee, and plant your footprints in a straight track, so that the man who goes lame may not stumble out of the path, but regain strength instead. Your aim must be peace with all men, and that holiness without which no one will ever see God.
Hebrews 12:13-15

St Paul tells us to strengthen our weakness and to walk the path carefully so that those who are weaker, coming behind us, may not stumble.

How do we strengthen ourselves, however? The obvious answer is: the sacraments, the prayer, fellowship. By participating in the life of Christ, that is, the Church, here in the world, we are made strong. But the first thing to do is realize we are weak. Only in confessing our weakness can we grow – and only in relying on God. This generous idea reads to me as if God is less like an Angry, Vengeful Patriarch and more like the Dad that wants you to be good at sports: training you to become the Man he wants you to be; or like a good trainer, who will set a tiny bit more weight on you and encourage you to reach further than your goals.

Yet, you know, when I set goals for myself: it is always too hard. I know, of course, what manner of man I am and I know my weakness. I’d rather just cut it off. God wants to heal it, to make it stronger so that those who come after may not stumble, as it were, over the parts I cut off and tossed into the path.

By happenstance, this came up as the assigned reading from St Francis de Sales yesterday:

What love have you for your own heart? What trouble do you take to care for it in its illness? You owe it this care, in order to help it and to obtain help for it when it is tormented by passions, and to lay all else aside for that. 

– St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life 5.5.3

As I sat there in my Salesian Meditation mode I began to realize how cruel I can be to my own heart: for, as I said, I know what manner of man I am. And I’m not good enough, so I will set a bit of cruelty for myself, or I will hide away from all possible errors. A good teacher would walk me gently through them so that I might learn to navigate my way. But I will avoid them – not becoming stronger, staying just as weak as I am. This is not a call to “lead me into temptation!” Rather it’s a realization that avoiding such things in loneliness is not the way to become strong in Christ. Nor is it kind to my heart to hide away.

So I will cut this short: it’s late and time for sleep as I write. But there is the call – especially as we are leading up to Lent. To care for our hearts which are tormented by sin, to lay all aside to care for the heart in it’s sickness, and thus make it stronger. We can not do it alone. St Francis was writing to one of his spiritual children and we, too, would need our spiritual father or mother, our spiritual friends to pray for us, to help us in loving and growth.

Care and love.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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