Many years ago, I was asked by our Friars in Kingston, Jamaica to give a youth retreat. Many think of Jamaica as an island of wonderful beaches and great hotels. And it’s true, on the north side of the island. But most of Jamaica is desperately poor, especially Kingston.
One Friday night, we drove miles from the church, to pick up one of the teenagers for the retreat. I asked, “How do they get to Mass on Sunday? They all live so far from the church.”
“They walk 8 to 10 miles every Sunday,” was the reply. The retreat was amazing. I’d never seen so many teens eager to learn more about their faith. They spoke of Jesus as if He were a close friend. At Mass Saturday morning, they sang a hymn I had heard many times in the U.S. called “We are yours.” One line of the song goes, “We are poor, yet we have brought the best we could.” For the first time, I heard those words sung by truly poor people. These young men and women had very little of the world’s goods and endured extreme difficulties.
But their lives were Christ-centered. Like St. Paul, they would say, ‘We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.” In our second reading, St. Paul is telling us about his life. Like many of us, his life was a mixture of good times and bad; of joy and sorrow.
In his own words, he was beaten, betrayed, often without food or drink. And yet through his letters we find words like “joyful, happy, delighted, cheerful and glad.” He says, “whatever the situation, I have learned to be content.” The word “content” in Greek means “independent.”
In other words, Paul was his own man. He tells us the secret of his success in life when he says, “I can do all things in Him, who gives me strength.” He relies on an unseen power.
The Christian question is, will you be able to say with Paul, “Whatever my circumstances, have I learned to be content?” Through the rough times: the ill health, the car accident, the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage. The thousand and one things that plague human existence and turn individual and family life upside down.
Only with the strength of God will you be able to say with Paul, “For the sake of Christ, I am content.”
What about the flip side? How do you handle the good times? On average, most of us sitting in church live quite well, when compared to many others. We are, on the whole, well-fed, well-educated and well-housed. You may fail to realize that God’s strength is necessary in good times, too. Pray to Him in times of laughter, as well as times of tears.
Perhaps, from time to time, we need to remind ourselves of those startling words of Jesus: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
Are you able to say that in good times and bad? I am content because I can do all things in Him, who strengthens me?