Of Thorns and Other Afflictions

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 7b-10)

Tubs of ink have been spilled over this passage, most of them opining just what the "thorn" might have been with which St. Paul was afflicted. While that inquiry is understandable, there is far more to be said about St. Paul's conclusion reached through this experience. Therein lies a lesson for all of us, especially for those of us who bear the cross of chronic illness and/or disability. St. Paul helps us to understand a valuable lesson that comes through so many of the stories and experiences related in the Scriptures; namely, that human weakness is an opportunity to witness to the strength or power of God.

When God needed a spokesman to stand up to Pharoah, God chose a man with a speech impediment.

When God needed a warrior to defeat Goliath, God chose a skinny shepherd boy.

When God needed a prophet to stand up to a corrupt king, God chose a teenager in the person of Jeremiah.

When God needed a strong woman to bear his son even though she was unmarried, God chose another teenager in the maid of Nazareth.

When God needed a rock upon which to build a Church, God chose a loud-mouthed, impetuous fisherman.

When God needed an apostle to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, God chose a Pharisee who took delight in persecuting believers.

None of these choices makes "human" sense. However, God chooses the unlikely character to prove that it is God's strength and God's wisdom that will prevail over human choices. God has chosen us; we have not chosen God. Our vocation, whatever it might be, is God's design. St. Paul boasts in what he has accomplished simply because he knows that he has not accomplished anything. God has worked through him, and God deserves the praise.

All of us love to be complimented upon our achievements. Each of us looks with pride on what we accomplish. Conversely, we tend toward harsh judgment on those who don't measure up to our standards. We think of those who do not produce as somehow inferior. We are even self-critical when we don't meet our own expectations. If our only expectation was to allow God to be the master of our fate, we would never fail and would have, like Paul, much to boast about.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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