The expression comes from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (4,7). It is meant to remind us that all of us, and particularly those who have been gifted with special graces and charism, have a God-given treasure that is kept in delicate containers, that is, ourselves in all our weak and fragile condition.
Therefore we need to be most careful about this predicament in our life. This means that we always have to be with God who gives us all the strength that we need to be faithful and generous with his gift to us. On our own, this gift would just go to waste. We have to struggle always to be with him, since we tend to separate ourselves from him. And with him, in spite of all the trials, we can manage to survive.
The complete passage goes this way: “We have this treasure in vessels of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (7- 9)
These words of St. Paul acquire current relevance these days as we hear about that sad piece of news that in the US, an estimated 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1000 children since the 1940s, according to a grand jury report that accused senior church officials of systematically covering up complaints.
We need to realize that the higher or the greater or the more special the gift of God is given to us, the more responsible, the more watchful, the more prudent we ought to be in keeping it.
We really have to remind ourselves constantly that no matter how confident we are of our strength, physical, moral or spiritual, we still have feet of clay.
In the Book of Daniel, we are told of a statue whose head was made of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, its legs of iron. All impressive! But its feet were, sadly, part iron and part clay. (cfr 2,32-33)
It took only one small stone that struck it at its feet to bring the whole statue crumbling down. It’s an image of how we are—we can be majestic in many aspects, but we’ll always have these feet of clay, our Achilles’ heel.
We should always be on guard, distancing ourselves from temptations and occasions of sins, purifying our intentions always so as to ward off unwelcome thoughts and desires, ever developing an authentic spirit of penance to cleanse and strengthen ourselves as we go through the adventure of life.
We need to realize that the higher or greater or more special the gift of God is given to us, the more attractive we would be to the enemies of God. We would become a favorite target of the many demons around. They will do everything to bring us down.
We need to remember that the only way to handle this predicament is to be vitally with Christ. This means that like Christ and with Christ, we should be willing to suffer and to die, that is, to die to our sins and weaknesses so that we can also resurrect with him, so that we can have the final victory.
St. Paul explains it this way: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to the death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Cor 4,10-11)
We all need to understand these words well, internalizing and assimilating them into our system!