These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
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,
for when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Cor 12:1-10)
Saint Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has been the subject of much speculation. What it was really makes no difference. That he was content to endure all things for the sake of Christ says it all. As Saint Paul observes: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they children of Israel? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ?
(I am talking like an insane person).
I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
(2 Cor 11:18,21-30)
Paul has to defend himself from the attacks of the “super apostles.” Of all the challenges facing Saint Paul this had to be the hardest—attacks from fellow Christians, from fellow apostles, all in the name of God.
“This is how you are to pray:
‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
Lectionary makers have very little faith in people. Today’s passage has Jesus speaking in Elizabethan English as if the congregation can’t distinguish between a liturgical text (the Lord’s Prayer) and a biblical text. So we change the biblical text to concord with the liturgical text. Keeping archaic language serves no purpose whatsoever except to exacerbate liturgical culture wars.
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:43-48)
“You have heard it said . . . but I say to you” is classic Jesus material. The question comes for us, Love our enemies? As disciples of Jesus we have spent two thousand years finding every excuse possible to NOT fulfill this command of Jesus—from countless wars to the current culture wars. Perhaps now is the time to listen to the Lord.
We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 6:1-10)
The challenges of being an apostle . . . but still Saint Paul says, “Now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”