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14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: KEEPING OUR STRUGGLES REAL

"Brothers and sisters: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, 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." (2nd Cor. 12:7-10)

 

Let’s focus on the second reading for this weekend.

This Pauline passage has received series of interpretations by both theologians and scripture scholars trying to figure out what Paul meant by those thorns. Are they spiritual, physical, psychological, or some fleshly struggles that related to concupiscence? It is not clear how to identify them. But does that matter? Paul simply speaks to the human condition of weakness. We battle with ourselves, even before we encounter external struggles. In Paul’s case, he begs God to take the thorn off him but the response from God does not correspond with Paul’s request. God does not always provide an escape, rather the grace of endurance. Not about Paul’s weaknesses as much as it is about God’s power made visible in the limitations of his human weakness.

 

Here’s the fact, we do not always want to talk about our weaknesses. We do not always want people to feel or see that part of us because they make us appear vulnerable. Today’s psychology has even changed the terminology of weakness to answer “growing edges.” Psychology’s goal is to lessen its intensity. Yet, those growing edges torment and torture us. Those growing edges interfere in our relationships because we always want to control things. Those growing edges frustrate us mostly because we fail to identify the reason why they exist. We pretend to be strong men and women in full control. Paul’s warning is apt, “That I might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations.” Paul had spectacular spiritual powers and tended to boast about them. Yet he explained that the thorns were given to him, “to keep me from being too elated.” Perhaps his limitations helped to tame him to rely more on grace and mercy.

 

Recently, I watched a movie, “The Reluctant Saint,” which portrayed the life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino. Here’s a synopsis of who Joseph of Cupertino is:

·      had an irascible temper and read very poorly, perceived as dumb and good for nothing.

·      continually drawn into ecstasy, impossible for him to be attentive to the tasks at hand.

·      when he secured a job, he lost it very quickly.

·      finally managed to obtain a post taking care of a stable in a Franciscan convent.

·      Upon realizing his holiness and aptitude for penance, humility, and obedience, it was decided that he could begin studying for the priesthood.

·      a very poor student, however during his final examination, the examiner happened to ask him a question on the only topic he knew well. 

  • passed and was admitted into the priesthood

·      though he knew little by way of worldly knowledge and had little capacity to learn, Joseph was infused with a divine knowledge.

·      for the last 35 years of his life as a priest he was unable to celebrate Mass in public because he would often, without being able to help it, be lifted up into the air when he went into an ecstatic state, which happened at nearly every Mass. 

·      remained profoundly inundated by the joy of abandoning himself to Divine Providence, despite being moved from one friary to another.

·      died on September 18, 1663 and was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. 

·      the patron of air travelers and students preparing for exams.


The interesting thing about Joseph was how he accepted everything with joy and cheerfulness. Joseph converted his weaknesses into opportunities for service and became such an attractive soul to those around him.

 

The first reading and the gospel of this weekend present a common trait for which God frowned at the people – pride, rebellion and obstinacy. As it was in Ezekiel’s time, so it was with the kinsmen and women of Jesus. Hence, Jesus did not perform any mighty deeds among them. These passages encourage us to see less of ourselves and see more of God, especially in our struggles. Even the saints -St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and countless others gave detailed accounts of their life-long struggle against “unbidden thoughts”—thoughts they didn’t want, but couldn’t keep at bay. And they are saints today.


Here are few takeaway for this week: 

1.   Pick up a saint today. Make this saint your model. Ask for the saint’s intercessions. Importantly, study the saint’s life closely. What are his/her struggles? How did he/she overcome them? What are his/her strengths? How did God’s grace show up in this saint’s life?

2.   Do not be ashamed of your weaknesses and struggles. Be aware of them. Never let them get the better part of you.

3.   God may not be taking the struggles away from you, but he has a message. What is the Lord saying to you through your struggles?

4.   How does God make himself present in the moment? Are you asking for an escape rather than endurance? Remember these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 


Readings: 1st- Ezk. 2:2-5; 2nd- 2nd Cor. 12:7-10; Gospel- Mk. 6:1-6

 

 

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