A HOMILY FOR THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – CYCLE “B” – 7/8/18 – SMG
+ Pax et Bonum! Peace and goodness to you this day!
Today, in our second reading, we hear about one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible. In Second Corinthians, St. Paul writes about his “Thorn in the Flesh”, an angel of Satan, that kept him from being too elated. What was Paul’s problem? Scriptures scholars and theologians have speculated about this, since the first century. Some say it was a physical illness or limitation, like recurring malaria, or an eye infection that affected his vision, or some other kind of infection. Others have thought that it was more of a spiritual ailment, like the pain of his pride, or a tendency towards selfishness, or a demonic presence that constantly tested his faith and tempted him to sin. Paul was and is the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity. His writings make up almost half of the New Testament. This is a Saint who did miracles, and changed lives, and who converted thousands of people to Christ. So what’s his “problem”? Well, we still don’t really know. But whatever it was, it caused Paul to be all the more dependent on Christ, and, in the words of today’s psalm, “to keep his eyes fixed on the Lord. Maybe it’s best that we never know. I mean, would you like everybody to know your greatest weakness? Besides, St. Paul tells us about his thorn in the flesh, that we might learn from him to persevere and to see refuge in Christ, even in difficult times!
With this admission, and St. Paul’s very honest words, Paul shares the fact that three times he begged the Lord to take this thing away. Now remember, this is a great Saint! Paul knew how to pray, and he trusted God to always take care of him. And yet, God doesn’t take this away. Instead, St. Paul says that God told him that “My Grace is sufficient for you.” It was not what this Saint wanted to hear. But it does increase Paul’s dependency on God. This is the great St. Paul. And he is one of the true heroes of the Catholic Church, and he utterly dependent on God for His help, with whatever this thing is. Here, the mighty St. Paul is completely humbled. He has no false illusions about his own abilities or successes. He is dependent on God. It is as if he stands spiritually naked before the Lord, vulnerable, completely open, and yet paradoxically, at his very strongest! Not because he is strong, but because he needs God to make him strong, and to make up this weakness, whatever it is, inside of him.
And it is here, at this point, my brothers and sisters, when Paul realizes that the Christian life is ALL about Christ. It is NOT us. Our first duty must be to Christ, who is our strength and the source of all our holiness. We can’t do this. None of us can. Just like the Prophet Ezekiel in our first reading, Paul realizes that no matter what kind of response he receives as a prophet or as an evangelist, he still has to be bold and courageous in his witness. It is as though Ezekiel, and Paul, and all of us, are getting educated this week, that a prophet is not always accepted in many places, including at home. And that while many will accept the message, many more will NOT!
And this is where St. Paul’s insight today hits home for all of us in 2018. To be a disciple of Christ, we, too, need to be courageous and persevering. We must care more about what Christ thinks and wants, and less and less about what the world and those around think and want.
Our readings today remind all of us that just like the prophets, like Ezekiel, and just like the Apostles, like St. Paul, today we are sent into the world, to explain and defend our Faith before others. Christ must be at the center of that explanation and defense! We cannot be believers who sit on the fence or disciples who are lukewarm or half-hearted in our commitment. Today we must be committed, well-informed, and enthusiastic witnesses to the Faith. And that means that we cannot do it by ourselves. We need God doing it through us, and we need the help and support of one another, to build the Kingdom!
We come here today as believers who know of our need for God. We are humble enough to know this. We all have our own weaknesses, our own thorns in our sides. It is only when our courage, our perseverance, and our fidelity are united with that of Jesus Christ and His Mission, that we just like Ezekiel and St. Paul, can humbly accept our own weaknesses and our own need for God’s grace and strength, and do great things for Him. For when we are weak, that is exactly when God is strongest in each of us. Let us stay more firmly grounded in our Faith, and in our relationship with Christ. For then we shall never be stronger to do God’s work!
+ May God bless us as we rely more and more on Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…
St. Maria Goretti… Pray for us !!!