And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  2 Corinthians 12: 7-9

Today’s epistle reading records a revelation St. Paul had and gives grounds for his right to boast. We are not certain what was the nature and content of this unique revelation, but it was impressive and Paul could have used it for the purpose of boasting about his greatness and maybe goodness. Paul was not unaware of human pride. In the best of us there is an element of humna pride which comes to the fore when we foolishly believe that God has a special favour towards us.

St. Paul tells us that to prevent him from boasting and becoming conceited a thorn was given him in the flesh. There are many thories as to what this thorn might have been. No one knows for certain what it was but St. Paul sees it as an affliction given to him by Satan to prevent him from being too elated. Whatever it was, God allowed it to remain. God did not send it, but God allowed it.

St.Paul sees his ‘thorn’ as coming from his enemy but at the same time he recognises it has a purpose, it saves him from conceit and instills humility. It reminds him of his creatureliness and his finite nature. Paul’s suffering serves to bring him closer to God and it becomes an occasion for him to reaffirm his faith in God’s divine power. St. Paul sees his misery from a positive perspective. He accepts it for what it is worth.

Sometimes we too have the experience of St. Paul. Life is going smoothly; we are enjoying a successful life; all appears to be well; and then suddenly, out of the blues adversity comes in the form of sickness, death, domestic problems, loss of a job or some other complaint that causes us great trouble and pain. The adversities we meet in our daily lives remind us that we are creatures-finite beings. They serve to teach us that we are not as great as we think we are. The various trials we meet in our lives are meant to make us humble, they prevent us from boasting about our perceived goodness and they instill humility. Our misfortunes-physically or spiritually- remind us that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. For the Christian man or woman, boy or girl, the difficulties we encounter in our individual lives should make us more aware of the need for God in our lives and they should bring us closer to Him.

In his moment of distress St. Paul prayed to God for relief. “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”  This reminds us of Christ’s hour of agony. Three times he prayed: “Father if it be possible remove this cup from me.” What should we do when we meet adversity in our lives? Pray! The same Paul advises us in Philippians: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

The importance of prayer cannot be over emphasised.  Jesus teaches us to pray persistently and he gives this parable:

And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Vindicate me against my adversary.'  For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Luke 18:1-6

We are also to pray earnestly:

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Luke 7: 7-8

But as we pray we must always remember the God knows what is best for us and we may not always get what we wish.

Paul did not get his wish. The response to his prayer was this: “"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." The Lord gave Paul what was needed for the occasion, not necessarily what he wanted.  The same is true for all us present at mass today. We are told that when we have problems or difficulties we must take them to the Lord in prayer. True! But remember the answer might not be what we expect. The Lord may choose not to take away the burden we are carrying, instead he might just give us the grace we need to endure the burden and carry it gracefully.

“My grace is sufficient for you.” This statement describes God’s love and care for us. It is a statement of reassurance and it comforts us in those times of crises in our lives. It reminds us that we are not alone and that we do not suffer alone. The presence of God’s grace in our lives which is always a source of strength enables us to say with St. Paul: “I can do all things in him (through Christ) who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Grace also reassures us that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love. Grace informs that we can walk through the valley of death without fear.

God’s grace makes it possible for us to accept the pains of life without complaint. St. Paul writes: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Paul is not glorying in his adversity. He is not rejoicing at the present of evil in the world and his life. He glories in his sufferings because it is in these circumstances that he realises the power of God to save and deliver. St. Paul expresses contentment with his present state of life because he has learnt that in whatever state he finds him he can be contented. The same can be true for us whose faith is rooted in the Risen Christ.

Finally St. Paul says: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” To the modern world this is nonsense. The modern world values power, success, and strength and makes gods out of them. Weakness is laughed at and the weak person is scorned. Society teaches us to conceal our weakness lest our vulnerability be exposed. We are expected to display self-confidence and self-assurance, we are not supposed to let down our guard. Modern man believes that he can help himself and live without any reference to a supreme being. But we all know that this is true. God’s strength is experienced in our times of weakness.

We are weak in many ways. Very often we are afraid to admit our weaknesses and we hide them from people. There is a fear that if our weaknesses are known our true beings will be discovered. We all have weaknesses. There is no need to hide them. Our weaknesses will not all go away but God will give us the strength to carry them. If we are to truly enjoy life we must face up to our weaknesses and be open to God.

In our weaknesses we come to discover the power and strength of God. Our thorns can build character and make us strong persons. Our strength comes from God.  Our crises show us the need for God, a power outside our selves and one greater than ourselves. Before we can experience his strength we must acknowledge our weaknesses and allow him to take control.

What is your weakness? A medical problem? A spiritual problem?  What is your thorn in the flesh?

God’s power is seen in our weakness, it is there that he is able to do for us more than we deserve. 

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