Year B – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year B - 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I am Weak, I am Strong

(Ezek.2:2-5; 2Cor.12:7-10; Mk.6:1-6)

What is strength?

In our popular culture, strength tends to be measured by things like power, money, influence and prestige, and many people like to boast about having it.

St Paul sees strength very differently. In today’s second reading, he says ‘It’s when I am weak that I am strong.’ What does that mean?

Paul is writing to the members of the Corinthian church, who were known to boast of their worldly successes. Without giving any details, he tells them that a thorn has been torturing his flesh, and three times he begged God to remove it. But God simply replied to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’

Thinking about these surprising words, Paul realised that the painful irritant that so troubled him was actually a good thing because it stopped him from feeling too proud and self-sufficient. It made him humble; it opened him up to the graces of the Holy Spirit, and it constantly reminded him of his dependence on Jesus.

In other words, God was using that unnamed thorn to make Paul a better man. That’s why he says, ‘it’s when I am weak that I’m strong.’

A good example of this is Eileen O’Connor, who was born in Melbourne in 1892. She was the oldest of four children of Irish-born parents. At the age of three, she fell out of her pram and suffered a broken spine. Thereafter, she lived a life of constant pain from what was later diagnosed as tuberculous osteomyelitis.

Several painful operations did nothing to help her, and her crooked spine made walking very difficult. She only grew to 115 cm (3 ft 7 inches) tall, and spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Because of her condition, she had very little schooling.

When Eileen was 10, her family moved to Sydney, where her father subsequently died, leaving them in dire poverty. Fr Edward McGrath, the local parish priest, helped them find accommodation. He also got to know Eileen well and was very impressed by her faith and courage.

One day Eileen told Fr McGrath of an apparition she’d had of Our Lady when she was a teenager. Mary, she said, offered her three options: to die quickly and go to heaven; to be miraculously healed and live comfortably on earth; or to offer all her torments and energies to Our Lady’s work of building up God’s kingdom.

Remarkably, Eileen chose the last option.

Fr McGrath then shared with her his own dream of establishing a congregation of nurses to provide free care to the poor, the sick and the dying in their own homes.

Having deep empathy for those who suffer, Eileen loved this idea.

Together, she and Fr McGrath established a small community of nuns known as Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor. In 1913, she moved into a rented house in Coogee which became their first convent. They called it ‘Our Lady’s Home.’ The sisters elected Eileen as their first superior, and although she was only in her twenties, they called her their ‘Little Mother.’

Eileen supervised the sisters’ work, she led them in prayer and gave them spiritual direction. She also had to manage those who tried to obstruct their work.

Sadly, Eileen’s life was cut short. She died in 1921, aged only 28.[i] [ii]

Outwardly, Eileen O’Connor was tiny, weak and frail, and easily overlooked. Yet her character was magnetic and her spirit was very strong. She proved to be a remarkable teacher and organiser who inspired many generations of nurses, and brought happiness and light to the lives of so many people. [iii]

Today she is revered as a holy woman in Australia and the Pacific, and even in the United States. 

The cause for her canonisation was opened in 2020, and now she is on her way to becoming Australia’s next saint. [iv]

When we feel strong and self-reliant, when we are boastful of our successes, we tend to shut ourselves off from people and from God. We think we don’t need them. But this is a mistake, because we are limiting ourselves. We are shutting ourselves off from extraordinary power and opportunity.

However, when we are consciously weak, broken and vulnerable, that’s when we start looking beyond ourselves and hopefully, we turn to God.

Like St Paul and Eileen O’Connor, when we open ourselves up to the strength and power of God’s Holy Spirit, that’s when He begins to work through us. And remarkable things happen.

This is what happens in the life of every saint.

So, the next time you’re feeling strong and confident, remember Jesus’ words: ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5).

Whatever weakness you have can turn out to be a source of very great strength.