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.” (2 Cor 12:7-9)
Paul really lays it on the line.
We often think of our spiritual leaders as holier than all of us, more righteous, absolutely perfect.
If we look at the biographies or autobiographies of any of the great saints, however, we find one thing very much in common: an understanding of their sinfulness, their weakness, the areas in their lives in which they were in danger of drifting away from God’s grace.
What made them great saints is that they did not answer the invitation to drift away from God. Rather, they worked through their weakness, they let their weakness remind them of their total dependence upon God, God’s love, and God’s mercy.
Paul was in touch with the fact that his “thorn in the flesh” was something that kept him from becoming filled with pride and arrogance. Had he not experienced that thorn, he saw that he could easily have drifted off course.
I have seen that happen many times through the years.
How many spiritual leaders in all sorts of Christian denominations have we known who have fallen because they forgot who they were. They forgot the fact that they were tainted people. They forgot about their weakness and the need to go to the Lord for strength and forgiveness. Instead, they built up huge “empires” for themselves. And when they toppled, they toppled hard.
As spiritual leaders — and, by the way, this is a reminder that we are all called to that reality — we must remember the fact that we are all sinners.
When I meet with RCIA candidates and we talk about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I tell them that one of the beauties of that sacrament is that two sinners — the priest and the penitent — gather together to celebrate the mercy and forgiveness of God.
FAITH ACTION: Do not lament your weakness. Rather, allow it to remind you of your dependence upon God’s love this day.