Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 5, 2015 Cycle B
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Sunday Reading Meditations
Have you ever had the experience of deeply desiring a painful situation to end and it would not? Or really wanting to stop some habit in your life and not being able to? These experiences leave you feeling totally powerless and completely frustrated. St. Paul speaks about one of these kinds of situations in his life and how God used it to teach him one of the most important things about being a disciple of Jesus.
I find this passage from 2 Corinthians very encouraging because it lets me know that a saint of his magnitude shared this common experience and that God uses our struggles for His greater purposes.
Paul states, “I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me. … Three times I begged the Lord that this might leave me.” What was the thorn in the flesh? We do not know. Perhaps it was a physical illness, a character flaw that tempted him to sin, a difficult family member or a fellow Christian who undermined his work spreading the Gospel.
It must have been a very troubling “thorn” for St. Paul. It was serious enough to end up in a pastoral letter to the flock, and it caused him to beg God three times to take it away. Of course, three is the number of perfection and harkens back to Jesus’ request in the garden of Gethsemane. The number three suggests that the apostle Paul could not have begged God with any greater intensity and fervor to take this painful situation away.
Paul is quick to reveal the meaning of this trial. “A thorn in the flesh was given to me … to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” First, let’s note that it was “given” to him. Paul understood this thorn to be a gift given to him by God. Since God desires that we keep growing in faith, prayer and virtue, He is not afraid to send challenges our way. Our Lord does so to keep us from being too “elated,” that is, from being too proud.
Pride is at the root of all sin. It shuts God out of our hearts. It convinces us that we do not need God. Pride puts us and our will above God and His marvelous plans. Pride makes us blind to the needs of those around us. It makes us selfish, narrowly focused on our desires, our reputation and our plans for life. Pride is ugly and destructive to human flourishing and to the Christian life.
Sometimes the only way the Lord can get our attention and wake us up from the stupor of our prideful existence is to send us a thorn in the flesh.
God’s response to Paul’s heartfelt request is startling and beautiful: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” The irony of life is that in weakness, we discover abundant strength. In the absolute inability to fix something vexing in life, we realize that real strength comes from God.
Humility, the fundamental virtue that counteracts pride, enables us to grasp this profound reality which runs contrary to our broken human nature and wants to completely rely upon self. Humility makes it clear that on our own, there is only so much we can do, but with God all things are possible. In humility, we find strength beyond measure by taking refuge in the arms of our all-powerful Father who is quick to address the needs of His beloved children.
Sunday Reading Meditations