14th Sunday in Ordinary time; Year B
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud! About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness’. So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.
I had many academic strengths while I was in school – but Art and PE were not among them. Try as I might (and I did) I just couldn’t understand why my shading was sub-standard or how to run faster. I tried, but it was beyond me. But I remember, in one of the funnier moments of my time at school, I got ‘Certificates of Achievement’ in both – one for “Good Effort” and one, hilariously, for “Attending class”. I was so bad at PE, the very fact I chose to show up was an Achievement!
It is this kind of hinderence, or “thorn in the flesh” that Paul writes of in this Sunday’s 2nd Reading. Often, when we can’t do something, or we aren’t as successful as we believe we should be, we can feel let down by God – that He has unfairly limted or hindered us. But there are two other – and better – ways to understand our human limitations, which show that they are, in fact, opportunities for us to experience God’s gift of grace to us.
The first is to see our human weaknesses and chances for God to work in us. In 2013, Pope Frances wrote a Papal Letterto the whole church called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). In Paragraph 47 he describes the Eucharist – the Real Presence of Christ in our world today – as “…not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”. If Humanity were perfect, or if we as indivduals were universally able, we would have no need for Christ as a Redeemer or God’s strength and grace. God acts in us when we can’t act for ourselves – and in recognising and embracing our own limitations (making them our “…special boast…“), we become more aware of God’s action in us.
The Second view complements this – that while we can’t do everything, we can do what we can. I couldn’t draw, but I could express myself and my ideas through words (and, hopefully, am able to do it well). That’s not to say I couldn’t work on improving my brush-control, or that I should just give up on exercise, but if I make what I cannot to the focus of my life, and curse God for not making me the next Van Gogh, then we can all too easily overlook what gifts have been given to us. We must learn to be “…quite content with [our] weaknesses…” to let us embrace what God has given to us in life.
If we compare ourselves to God – perfection itself – then we will always fall short of our expectations. If we try to attain perfection. we almost try to no longer need God or his saving grace. This was never God’s plan for us – it was always a relationship of God working with us, and us walking with God, letting Him enter into our lives. And we do that by, first of all, aknowledging our need for Him – For it is when I am weak that I am strong.