St Paul writing his Letters in prison
Our first reading at Mass today is very consoling - St Paul's personal testimony on his struggle with sin and temptation from his Letter to the Romans (Cf. Romans 7:18-25a). If such a great Saint had his struggles, and we can see from what he writes that they were serious struggles, then there is hope for all of us! That, coupled with the feast we celebrate today, that of St John of Capistrano, offers us an important lesson for our daily Christian lives: the need to battle with our own weaknesses as we proceed along the path of holiness.
As many tell us, and we may know for ourselves, life is no picnic, it is not meant to be. In fact, as St John Paul II discovered when he was working as a young man in the quarry outside Krakow, it is in struggling, labour, suffering, we taste the nature of life and we meet it, not on its own terms, but, through faith, in terms set by Christ in which the seeds of victory have already been sown. Hence the need to keep close to Christ.
It is interesting that it is in those moments we are weakest we may well meet Christ. St Paul in his reflections on his weakness tells us that it was then that he realized how strong Christ was and he put his faith in that strength, so much so that he could say "when I am weak I am strong": in his battle with himself he realized he had to be weak so he could then truly rely on the strength of Christ. St John of Capistrano also discovered this. Life was going great for him: a brilliant lawyer, he was a judge at a very young age and then raised to the office of Governor of Perugia at the age of 29! But then it all fell apart: negotiating a peace deal between warring cities he was captured and thrown into prison: was this how it was going to end? At his lowest, St Francis appeared to him and the Poverello showed him the way forward: Christ. So began the life of the great missionary of Europe.
I wrote a few days ago on St Damien of Moloka'i. Many praised his heroism during his lifetime, we honour his holiness, but we should not forget his weaknesses, and they were all too apparent as he lived on an isolated peninsula surrounded by death and facing a avalanche of needs every day from an outcast people. The consolation of confession did not come often enough for him as the authorities kept a tight rein on who could and could not go to Kalaupapa. His experience was raw on many levels, and certainly so in terms of his struggles with his weaknesses. But he put his trust in God, like St Paul and St John of Capistrano he fought the fight and was victorious, not through his own efforts, but rather through his cooperation with Christ and the grace the Lord gave him.
So we are consoled today. Thank God for the sacrament of confession in which we can bare our souls, seek mercy, find it and receive the grace of God to help us in our weakness. Thank God for the example of the Saints. Never forget that none of us are alone, and certainly not alone when we are in the depths of our struggle, the Saints look on, not as judges, but as our loving brothers and sisters who know how hard it is at times to battle with the self, to forget self and strive to be a better person, a better Christian. They were victorious in their struggle because they stayed close to Jesus and, bit by bit, and they advise us to do the same. They pray for us, they accompany us, and the Lord Jesus encourages them to console us as he comes himself to help us in our weakness.