Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thorns in flesh, the experience of grace

Our New Testament reading for this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. This is one of those passages with which many people are familiar, thus making it one of those passages that is easy to water down and approach glibly. But if we take it as the apostle intended it, writing from the deep well-spring of his own experience, it is a provocation.

If we let ourselves be provoked, we can verify the truth of what we hear about in this passage, namely that "when I am weak, then I am strong," precisely because Christ's grace is sufficient. You see, it is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge our on-going need for the Lord's assistance. In Paul's case it is clear that Christ is not the cause of whatever "thorn in the flesh" against which the apostle contended. What is clear is that it was not going to be taken away in an instant, or even over a prolonged period of time, but remain precisely so that Paul, who enjoyed such close communion with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, would not only constantly be reminded how much he needed to rely on Christ, but so that he could more clearly see that his weakness was his strength because it forced him to rely solely on Jesus Christ.

I spent some time his afternoon laying out the course of my seventh grade daughter's catechesis for the upcoming school year. We are using the seventh grade curriculum of the Image of God series, which is predicated on the theology of Bl. Pope John Paul II, the unifying element of which is, according to Fr. Richard Hogan, "the human person - created by God in His own image and redeemed by the God-man," Jesus Christ. I liked very much how Fr. Hogan explained grace. You know, that thing of Christ's He tells Paul is sufficient.

Grace has three functions, three things it does for us: "unites us to God here on earth; makes it possible for us to live with God forever in heaven; and enables us to think and to choose as human beings, as images of God." Most apropos to the passage of Sacred Scripture I am considering here, "Grace does not always make it easy to act as we should, but it makes it possible for the mind and will to govern the body, that is, for the human body to express the human person," who, in turn, is best expressed as a bearer of imago dei. It is by grace that we are restored to God's likeness. Grace is experienced through our experiences, the circumstances we encounter all day everyday.

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