The second reading for Holy Mass today, Sunday, is from 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10. We hear about Paul who was tormented by the Devil with God’s permission and given his proverbial “thorn in the flesh”. This was to bring Paul down a notch of two and build him back up in a new and better way.
It also reminds us that the Devil exists and that our true source of strength is in Christ.
”But Father! But Father!” you are by now exclaiming, “Are you saying that torments and temptations from Devil are good for us? This sound mediaeval!! We are modern people now, grown ups!”
Oh yah? Our perspectives might have changed with the centuries, but human nature and the fundamental human condition and need for redemption does not. Let’s take a look at some snippets from various works of the great Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, all about this passage from 2 Corinthians.
“And so,” they ask, “is the Devil good because he is useful?” On the contrary, he is evil insofar as he is the Devil, but God who is good and almighty draws many just and good things out of the Devil’s malice. For the Devil has to his credit only his will by which he tries to do evil, not the providence of God that draws good out of him. (c. Manichaeos 2.28.42 – FC 84:140).
Remember, the Devil hates you so much that he will overcome the agonies the presence of the sacred will always inflict, just so as to have a chance to help you to eternal damnation. God permits this and gives you the necessary helps to resist and come through victorious. Some people, however, do not make it, do they?!
Let’s go one with Augustine:
Therefore, in these trails which can be both our blessing and our bane, “we don’t know how we should pray,” yet, because (our troubles) are hard, because they are painful, because they go against the feeling of our human weakness, by a universal human will we pray that our troubles may owe to the Lord our God, that, if He does not remove them, we are not to think that He has deserted us but rather, by lovingly bearing evil, we are made perfect in infirmity. To some, indeed, who lack patience, the Lord God, in His wrath, grants them what they ask, just as, on the other hand, He in His mercy refused the apostle’s requests. (ep 130.14.25 ad Probam – FC 18:396)
We must persevere with confidence!
Consider this next part in light of the error of many that the Church is merely a tool for social change, or who consider the need to do penance each and every day merely an immature remnant of outdated mediaeval piety:
Not everyone who spares is a friend, nor is everyone who strikes an enemy…. Love mingled with severity is better then deceit with indulgence. It is more profitable for bread to be taken away from the hungry, if he neglects right living because he is sure of his food, than for bread to be broken to the hungry, to lead him astray into compliance with wrongdoing. The one who confines the madman, as well as the one who rouses the lethargic, is troublesome to both but loves both. Who could love us more than God does? Yet He continually teaches us sweetly as well as frightens us for our good. Often adding the most stinging medicine of trouble to the gentle remedies with which He comforts us, He tries the patriarchs, even good and devout ones, by famine (cf. Gen 12:10; 26:1; 41:54; 42:1; 43:1); He chastises a stubborn people with heavier punishments; He does not take away from the apostle the sting of the flesh, though asked three times, so as to perfect strength in weakness. (ep. 93.2.4 ad Vincentium – FC 18:60)
The more one easily conquers, the less one needs combat. But who would fight within himself if there were no opposition from self? And why is there opposition from self if nothing remains in us to be healed and cured? Therefore, the sole cause of our fighting is weakness in ourselves. Again, weakness cautions against pride. Truly, that strength and virtue by which one is not proud in this life, where he could be proud, is made perfect in weakness. (c. Iulianum 4.2.11 – FC 35:175)
The spiritual life is not easy. The Cross MUST be a dimension of our life. You can bet that if you think you are not being challenged, then you are probably doing something wrong. Even when we overcome our principal faults, we can still go deeper… all the way to the point within us where we see that even our slight flaws are looming and large and requiring attention. Do not be complacent.