I am terribly afraid of being perceived of as weak. I know I'm not alone in this, and I dare say that at the very least I am joined by the vast majority of the male population, who also suffer from this anxiety. While it seems like this is just part of the Human Condition, I think we Americans are almost proud of how driven we are by our fear of being perceived of as weak. After all, only the strong survive and thrive, right? And if fear of weakness helps you get there, then by golly, why not use it to full advantage? That's all fine and dandy, until you stop to consider all the things you did, in spite of not wanting to or liking it, simply because you were teased for wanting to quit? Because you didn't want to be called a loser, a quitter, weak? Ponder those things for a moment. Are you really stronger and better for having done them, or are you more bitter, angry, or disgruntled because you let peer pressure keep you from staying true to yourself and what you actually like?
Unfortunately, and to worse effect, this happens in the spiritual realm as well. As Catholics, we are called to avoid temptation and near occasions of sin, even to the point of maiming ourselves. (Mt. 5:29-30**; Mk. 9:43-48) but how often have we convinced ourselves, or worse, others, to persist in near occasions of sin, saying that the only way we can get stronger is to stick it out? How often have we facilitated our own downfall, again and again and again, for fear of being weak? "It is more virtuous", we tell ourselves, "to not eat pie when it is for the taking, than to not eat pie when there isn't any around." Only to find ourselves picking away at it, tiny piece by tiny piece, until we have, indeed, eaten it all? Would it not have been better, to have put ourselves in a position where there was no pie to be had at all? To put it in more serious terms, it would be better for the porn addict to have filters on his computer, than to put himself in a near occasion of sin by using the Internet without any. Or in the case of an recovering alcoholic: it would be better for her to be in a place without access to alcohol than to live with the constant temptation a fully stocked bar. In these cases, we would applaud them if they were successful at living clean in a completely temptation free environment. Why do we not do the same for lesser things? Venial sins won't send us to Hell, but they certainly are not helping us get to Heaven.
Further, how much frustration do we cause ourselves, trying to fight spiritual battles that we are not yet strong enough to win? We push the limits of our spiritual strength out of 'desire' to practice whatever virtue; how often is this desire real, and not, in actuality, a manifestation of Pride? "Weak!" the Evil One whispers in your mind, "You're just spiritually weak, that's why you want to flee this temptation. What will your family, your friends, think, if they hear of your lack of Faith?" Maybe you console yourself with "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13), so you plow on, only to stumble and fall, wondering where God's strength was. He gave it to you, all that the "I" could hold, but since you were attempting more than you were spiritually ready to undertake, you failed.
There should be no shame in fleeing any and all temptations which we are able to flee, no matter how trivial. Quite the contrary, it takes great humility and meekness to know when we are facing something which we are unable to handle. In spite of popular opinion, the meek and humble of heart are the strongest around, for they have a proper understanding of themselves, and are in control of their passions and desires. Those who are in control of themselves have no fear of being controlled by others, and that is strength enough.
** So, in this reading, I was struck by how this verse also applies to the Mystical Body of the Church, providing a biblical basis for excommunication. I had never thought of it that way before.