2 Cor 12:7-10
Just a few words on the second reading for today’s Mass. As you know St. Paul was a powerful figure in the beginnings of the church. He started out as a persecutor of the Christian community, witnessing and approving of the killing of Stephen, the first martyr of the church. He saw this new community of believers as being apostates from their Jewish faith – something he could not abide. Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest men and women who followed this new way. Christ had other plans for Paul. Thru a deep religious experience Christ turned Paul’s life around. Because of the personal encounter with Christ, Paul would say of himself – I know nothing else but Jesus Christ and Him crucified – for me to live is Christ. We know of his great missionary journeys – the Christian communities he established – the persecutions he faced. Paul’s is a dramatic story.
In the short reading we just heard taken from his letter to the Christian community at Corinth, Paul reveals an awful lot about his personal life. He wrote of the great spiritual experiences he had – intense visions and insights into the mystery of God. But as we heard today – lest all these great gifts buff him up, make him too proud, too self assured, Paul lets us know about his famous “thorn in the flesh”. He never tells us what his thorn, his torment was. There have been all kinds of speculation about it – a physical disability, a chronic illness that limited his ability to work, a moral weakness, his inability to put up with those who opposed his preaching. No one really knows, in a way it’s not important.
We had this senior priest who enjoyed poor health for years. His favorite saying was ‘If I only had my health, the things I’d do for the Lord.” He died of bed sores. Paul was saying much the same thing – if I could only get rid of this thorn, the disability, this thing that torments me – I could get so much more work done, I could preach the gospel in so many more places. Maybe Paul had a ‘god complex’. He tells us he pleaded with the Lord three times – that’s another way of saying he pestered the Lord – to rid him of this thorn, this torment, this weakness that was such an embarrassment. The response was – my grace is sufficient for you – for power is made perfect in weakness. So Paul learned to deal with his thorn, his torment, his weakness – he handed himself over to his higher power. Gladly will I glory in my infirmity that the strength of Christ may dwell in me. Paul came to realize that any strength he had, any ability for doing good, came not from his own abilities but from the power of God that was alive and at work within him, in spite of this ‘thorn’. Paul came to know that his thorn, his torment was like a magnet drawing to him the power and grace of God. The Lord decided not to take away Paul’s thorn so that Paul could come to understand that it was the struggle that was important, his willingness to deal with his weakness that was important – God would use Paul’s weakness to accomplish His own designs. Paul came to understand that his weakness was the perfect setting in and thru which the works of God would be accomplished – God grace was enough for him.
We all gave our thorn in the flesh – some trait of character, some mind set, some struggle that seems to keep us from being the person we would wish to be, keeps us feeling we are not as close to God as we should be. Our thorn could be a struggle with bouts of depression, doubting our self worth, questioning our abilities as parents, spouses – our thorn might be our inability to let go of painful memories of past hurts – our inability to forgive ourselves for past wrongs – our thorn might be our incapacity to trust the truth that we are unconditionally loved by God and that when God forgives, God forgets. Like St. Paul we can imagine that if we were free of our thorn – if this equation was removed from our lives – we would live better, holier, more useful lives.
Like St. Paul we are invited – by the Lord – to rejoice, even boast of the thorn that reveals our weakness, our neediness. For when we admit we need help that’s when God’s grace can act more powerfully in our lives.
In the Mass Christ says to us – take – this is my body, this is my blood – this is my life – take. When we hear these words – conscious of our own thorn, our own weakness – we can respond to Christ – take – this my body, this is my blood, this is my life, this is my thorn – take – we offer ourselves as we are – we trust the truth – God’s grace is enough for us – thru our weakness God’s power can do wonderful things.
As we continue this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be able to say with St. Paul – gladly will I glory in my infirmity that the strength of Christ may dwell in me.