What I have learnt from being weak

Photo: istockphoto.com/seb_ra

Photo: istockphoto.com/seb_ra

This time my reflection is personal but I hope not self-indulgent. I have prostate cancer, and for these past six months or so, I have been receiving chemotherapy and various forms of hormone treatment. Most of the time my treatment has been uneventful but I have been quite weak these past two months. 

I do not like it not only because it is awkward but also because I do not like being weak. I am used to being strong and successful. A front rower in Rugby and in charge for many years in the Columbans. Now I cannot do many things I am used to doing, I have to slow down and I need the help of others. 

I have preached many times about how Jesus when he became man took on not only the wonderful, successful and noble aspects of being human but also our weakness, our struggles, our confusion and the things we wish to avoid in life. However, I do not think I really believed it or at least I did not fully appreciate it. 

What I have learnt from being weak, is not just that I need help, but that people love me and want to help. Everywhere, from my brother Columbans, from my family and friends, from my colleagues at Catholic Mission, from the Chinese community at Eastwood and the staff at Concord Hospital. I do not think I fully appreciated the love people have for me. That is why I tried to do things on my own. 

Two incidents brought this home to me. First, a busy colleague on the Plenary Council Facilitation Team offered to come with me to my chemotherapy treatment. I normally go alone, which is fine as “nothing” happens. However, she said she would come, sit, and talk with me. I tried to be gracious in accepting. Since then someone from Catholic Mission occasionally comes and sits with me. 

Secondly, once when I was with some former Columban lay missionaries and clearly needed help but was trying to do something for myself, they said to me something I have thought about ever since, “Noel, let us love you”.

To be weak is something that will come to all of us especially as we age. I often think of a conversation I once had over a whisky with an elderly Columban who said to me, “Noel, old age is not for the faint-hearted.” Although I am only 75 and still working, I now know that is very true. 

We need to be humble and confident enough to let people love us. We need to trust in God when we are weak, because being weak is also part of being human, part of the Incarnation, part of being like Jesus. 

We are not only like God when we are strong and loving others. It is a beautiful thing to love. It is perhaps an even more gracious and beautiful thing to be loved. Then we are releasing the lover in others.

Columban Fr Noel Connolly is a member of the Adult Formation Team with Catholic Mission Australia and is a member of the Facilitation Team for the Plenary Council 2020.

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