“That I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me….”
These words so often spoken and questioned as to what Paul was referring to and never answered, definitively. It really does not matter what he was talking about, but the statement should become a mantra for anyone who falls and questions the “how it could happen to me?”
Imagine yourself, freed from sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, living spiritually centered, and doing what God asks of you. Days go by and you realize the walk with Jesus has become special, so special that the attraction to sin has diminished greatly and you’re almost walking on a cloud. The feeling of holiness seems to surround your persona, and now it becomes easy to feel proud of the accomplishments you’ve made.
“How would I ever believe that failure from sin could touch me as I walk with God’s Grace all around me? I know, that God has chosen me for greater things, and I am ready to go full-speed ahead, realizing that I have been chosen for His work. My demeanor appears to lift me up and people will see how holiness has reached out to me.” Watch out, as you may be walking a slippery road.
Does the new me bring elation and honor to God, or have I become so proud that my attention no longer praises God, but places me ahead of Him as His special envoy? So special, that God may begin asking me for direction. Has my mind been clouded with “look at me?”
Paul, like so many others, could find the accolades more than a deserving gesture, and suddenly the position that appeared as grace-filled now places us in jeopardy, as pride confronts our sense from doing as God calls us, to making our efforts too personal, forgetting that God’s Will comes first. We are the branches and depend on the vine who is Jesus. Recall Jesus’ statement about almsgiving; “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise you will have no recompense from your Heavenly father.” “I say to you you have already received your reward.” (Mt. 6: 1, 2b).
Suddenly we see the old sin, we tried so hard to overcome, overcomes our promise to avoid them. God will allow us to fall, reminding everyone that “No human being might boast before God.” “Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1: 29, 31). When we are successful in carrying out the ministry given us, remember we are just doing what is expected. No more!
If we fail, it may very well be a blessing and a reminder that God is in charge and the works we do are not for our own elation, but for the people God has sent us to minister with. When we fail, do not despair. Pick yourself up and praise God that we have been reminded of the words spoken to St. Paul: “My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12: 9).
Ralph B. Hathaway, June 2019