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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Spirituality of Imperfection
A Spirituality of Imperfection

Strength in Weakness

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

In this homily, Father Richard reflects on the paradoxical relationship between weakness and strength:

I must be up front with you. I don’t really understand why God created the world in this upside-down way. I do not know why “power is at its best in weakness,” as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9. I cannot pretend to understand God, but this is what I see: People who have moved from one seeming success to another seldom understand success at all—except for their own very limited version. People who fail to do something right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.

Paul can talk in this paradoxical way about power and weakness because he meditated on the mystery of the cross. The one who was a failure became the redeemer. The one who looked naked and weak and like a loser became the ultimate winner. And so Paul sums it up in his beautiful philosophy, ending with the line, “It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). 

Let’s honestly admit almost none of us believe that. We think it’s when we’re strong that we’re strong. But no, it’s when we’re weak that we’re strong. It doesn’t make a bit of sense to the rational, logical mind. Only people of the Spirit understand how true it is. The Twelve Step Program made it the first step: We have to experience our powerlessness before we can experience our power.  

Paul says he experienced God telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you. Power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). But the philosophy of the United States of America is that power is made perfect in more power. Just try to get powerful: more guns, more weapons, more wars, more influence, more billionaires. Everybody’s trying to get higher, trying to get up, up, up. While Jesus, surprise of surprises, is going down.

The experience of powerlessness is where we all must begin, and Alcoholics Anonymous is honest and humble enough to state this, just as Jesus himself always went where the pain was. Wherever there was human suffering, Jesus was concerned about it and sought to heal it in the very moment of encounter. It is both rather amazing and very sad that we pushed it all off into a future reward system for those who were “worthy”—as if any of us are.

Is it this human pain that we fear? Powerlessness, the state of being shipwrecked, is an experience we all share anyway, if we are sincere, but Bill Wilson (1895–1971), co-founder of AA, discovered we are not very good at that either. He called it “denial.” It seems we are not that free to be honest, or even aware, because most of our wounds are buried in the unconscious. So, it is absolutely essential that we find a spirituality that reaches to that hidden level. If not, nothing really changes.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Our Weakness Is What Refines the Soul,” homily, July 15, 2015; and

Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021), 3, xxiv.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

For years I thought that being a good mom was trying to be perfect. I had so very many imperfect moments in my past, and so many of those were of my own doing. So, I imagined that the best gift I could give my kids was to show them how much I’d changed, and how “perfect” I had become. . . I thought because I am “the mom” I was required to suck it up, to hide my feelings, and to act nice, to keep myself worthy of their love… But that day is over. I am ready to come clean and allow myself to be seen [as] a human being, and a mother who feels deeply and loves with pure abandon. My heart deserves to breathe…and I will no longer hide my humanity. —Holly K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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