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a tool for social change, or who consider the need to do penance each and every day merely an immature remnant of outdated mediaeval piety: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.
Prophets are often held in contempt and rejected by those to whom they are sent. The choice of God rarely, if ever, meets the narrow and shortsighted criteria set up by men. God chooses the broken man and promises to repair him. He chooses the fallen man and promises to raise him up. He chooses the man deformed by sin and promises to reform him by grace. Even more surprising is that God does not wait until the broken are completely repaired, the fallen steady on their feet, and the deformed totally reformed, before using them. He chooses his prophets, entrusts them with a mission, and sends them out while they are still imperfect.
In his recent best seller, My Life With the Saints, Jesuit Father James Martin tells about coming to terms with the paradox of having a vocation and having at the same time a lot of sinful baggage. This is what he says – I don’t often quote Jesuits, so pay attention – Ã¢â‚¬Å“It seemed that I was being called to be a Jesuit not despite my faults, my limitations, and my neuroses, but with them, maybe even because of them. God was calling all of me – even the parts of me I didn’t especially like – to be with him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
About twenty-five years ago a certain Abbot decreed new admissions policies for his monastery. In order to be accepted as a postulant one had to have had a happy childhood; one could not come from a broken home; one had to have affective and sexual maturity and a blameless record of unsullied virtue; one had to have no past history of problems with drugs or alcohol and no alcoholism or mental illness in one’s family; one had to have an undergraduate degree and be free of debts; and one had to have good teeth with no cavities. Paradise is peopled with saints who would not have measured up to the Reverend Father’s standards. As Father Gregory would say, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dude! Get real!Ã¢â‚¬Â
Saint Paul, in a very candid autobiographical passage, speaks today of his thorn in the flesh and of his own weakness (2 Cor 12:7-9). Ã¢â‚¬Å“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 begged 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’Ã¢â‚¬Â (2 Cor 12:7-9).
What kind of person does God call to live intimately with Christ, preferring nothing to His love and putting nothing before the Work of God? Men and women who are weak, imperfect, struggling along, like Paul, with a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7) or, like Jacob, with a thigh put out of joint from having wrestled with an angel (Gen 32:25). Weakness is no obstacle to holiness, not in priests, not in nuns or monks, nor in anyone of us. Writing to the Fathers of Jesus Crucified in 1938, Mother Marie des Douleurs had this to say: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is with nothing – and with us who are nothings – that God is doing something. Your weakness or your defects are, therefore, not an obstacle.Ã¢â‚¬Â
All too often when the choice of God doesn’t correspond to what folks think it ought to be, they reject it and reject the one chosen. Our Lord, in the gospel, is rejected by those who saw Him grow up, by those who knew His mother and family, by those who knew Him first, not as a rabbi of astounding wisdom and mighty works, but as a lowly village carpenter (Mk 6:1-6). The townsfolk knew the mother of Jesus and His relations. Their familiarity with Jesus, and with His human background, blinded them to His mission. It made them skeptical and doubtful of His message. They were unwilling to admit that God had chosen one of their own. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him (Mk 6:2)?
Saint John describes this very drama in his Prologue. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He came to His own home, and His own people received him notÃ¢â‚¬Â (Jn 1:11). The unbelief of Jesus’ own people impedes His work and frustrates the fruitfulness of His mission. Saint Mark says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed themÃ¢â‚¬Â (Mk 6:5).
Each of us has the frightful possibility of thwarting God’s plans, of frustrating His desires, and of impeding His work by refusing God’s choice of ourselves or by refusing His choice of another. Each of us also has the blessed possibility of corresponding to God’s plan, of living out the mystery of our vocation.
A vocation is an invitation to paint one’s life with broad strokes and bold colours. As prophets chosen by God, priests and religious are bound to be critical of prevailing cultural standards, philosophies, and systems. Shortly after the Second Vatican Council when people were reading Gaudium et Spes through a kind of rose-coloured haze, they thought they were being called to blend in with the world. It was all very heady stuff: dialogue, adaptation, and openness.
What happened? The reality was one-sided: the Church listening to the world without the world listening to the Church. The Church adapting to the world without the world adapting to Church. The Church open to world without the world open to the Church. Instead of the Church evangelizing the world, the world began secularizing the Church. Confusion ensued. In many cases, the General Chapters of Renewal mandated by the Second Vatican Council were, in effect, Chapters of Demolition, breaking with the past and intoxicated with change for the sake of change. Seminaries and novitiates closed. People stopped going to Mass. Children stopped learning their catechism and their prayers. In a single generation, families that had been strong in the Catholic faith for centuries fell away from the Church, some into agnosticism, some into neo-paganism, some into materialism and indifference.
Pope Benedict XVI alluded to all of this when, in his homily before the opening of the Conclave that elected him, he said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking.Ã¢â‚¬Â Only now are we beginning to recover from it. The Holy Father announced the dawning of new day when he said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The new day dawning in the Church will be marked by the return of prophets and of saints. God will demonstrate again the power of His grace by choosing and calling the weak, the broken, and the fallen. Weak men will again become the living evidence of His power. Broken people will become the vehicles of His all-sufficient grace. Fallen sinners will be raised up and sent forth as the heralds of spiritual resurrection. Divine mercy will have the last word as, one by one, souls are brought, under the protection of the Mother of God, to the Eucharistic Face of Christ and to His pierced Heart.
There is every reason to be full of hope, Ã¢â‚¬Å“gladly boasting of our weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon usÃ¢â‚¬Â (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). If we have fallen away from our first love, it is not too late to recover it. If we have compromised with worldliness and exchanged the patrimony of the saints against a few tawdry comforts, it is not too late to change. Looking for prophets, the eye of Christ has fallen on us. No one of us is too old, too sick, too dull, or too far-gone to be used for the designs of His Heart. Approaching the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood today, say Ã¢â‚¬Å“YesÃ¢â‚¬Â again. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And whether they hear or refuse to hear . . . they will know that there has been a prophet among themÃ¢â‚¬Â (Ez 2:5).
Too bad we didn’t see this when we were talking about St. Jerome and his ill reputation:
(See translation below:) Non omnis qui parcit, amicus est; nec omnis qui verberat, inimicus. Meliora sunt vulnera amici, quam voluntaria oscula inimici (Meliora sunt vulnera diligentis quam fraudulenta oscula odientis – Prov. 27:6). Melius est cum severitate diligere, quam cum lenitate decipere.
Quis nos potest amplius amare, quam Deus? Et tamen Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ saepe etiam mordacissimum medicamentum tribulationis adiungens, exercet (nos) ut virtutem in infirmitate perficiat.
Not everyone who spares is a friend, nor is everyone who strikes an enemy. Wounds inflicted by a friend are better than kisses of the enemy. (Better are the wounds of a friend, than the deceitful kisses of an enemy. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Prov. 27:6). Who can love us more than God does? Yet He often adds the stinging medicine of tribulation in order to try (us) so as to bring out perfection from weakness.
Thank you for that little homily. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, because through you God has just spoken to me.
God Bless you.