In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain tells of visiting a cathedral in the Azores, and surveying the icons:
"...they have a swarm of rusty, dusty, battered apostles standing around the filagree work, some on one leg and some with one eye out but a gamey look in the other, and some with two or three fingers gone, and some with not enough nose left to blow--all of them crippled and discouraged, and fitter subjects for the hospital than the cathedral"
He meant it unkindly; Twain didn't think well of the Portuguese (or most foreigners for that matter, being a prototype of the modern American), calling them "slow, poor, shiftless, sleepy, and lazy," and he thought little better of the Church, Catholic or otherwise.
One doesn't have to mean well to be right, however, and it struck me, when I read this, that Twain had it right. This is what the path is, for many of God's most ardent followers. They are worn down, beaten up, poured out, all for the sake of a set of truths that they can no more escape than an atheist can will himself into an obedience to the God he despises. It was little wonder, then, that Paul wrote of the Christian's life as a race, and his task to persevere.
I don't know about you, but some days I feel like I'm limping along, battered by doubt, fear, temptation, regret. I think sometimes we assume that a good Christian is one who is always cheerful, energetic, optimistic. Even at funerals, there is this odd effort to rejoice, as if mourning is not something Christ did. But when one reads Paul's last letter, the worn-down quality comes through. Please come soon, he asks, more than once. Bring my cloak. Everyone deserted me. I am being poured out like a drink offering.
"But the Lord," Paul wrote, "stood with me." He stands with us, of course, precisely because we are worn down and broken. Where we are weak, after all, He is strong. And so I think of those battered apostolic icons Twain ridiculed, and think that the truth of the Gospels was there, right before his eyes, perhaps the only time in his life. We are those "rusty, dusty, battered apostles," because that is what the world makes of many of us, and how it sees the rest of us. We are more fit for the hospital than the cathedral, and yet we are brought in regardless, wounded and unsightly, we battered saints.