Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sexagesima Sunday

2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 / Luke 8:4-15

I imagine that there is a time in the life of every child, at least every boy in the United States of America, at which he wishes he had super powers. Reared on the comic books, movies, and games directed his way, he delights in the thought that at some time, maybe soon, maybe right around the corner, he will discover that he has abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He will learn that his anxieties, his awkwardness, his seeming powerlessness in the face of those who would abuse him, comes only from the fact that he is different from his peers, and that through unseen and unappreciated excellence. If only one day, one day soon, he could finally fly through the air, see through walls, move objects with his mind, lift trucks with his bear hands, and repel buffets and blows as a steel wall repels the onslaught of a rubber ball — then he will be able to set things right, then his suffering, his being done to by the less than tender mercy of others, will be put to an end.

St Paul in his own way appears to harbor just such a vision of himself. Acknowledging the longsuffering endurance of the Christians of Corinth, he rhetorically thumbs his nose at those who would puff themselves up at his or his flock's expense. He is, he reminds them, just as qualified as those who were undermining the preaching of the apostles. He, too, is a Hebrew, a son of Abraham. They may be ministers of Christ, but he is far more than they are. He has suffered more for the Gospel, endured more at the hands of the enemies of the Good News, fell victim to the winds and storms of the sea in its service, and still be more fruitful in his apostolate than any other. More than that, he has a secret. If not a super power, he nonetheless has heard secret words that man may not repeat. He may not fly through the sky, but he has been caught up to the third heaven.

Yet, for all of that, Paul chooses to glory in his infirmities. It is not for his chosen lineage, nor his ministry, nor his suffering for that ministry in patience, nor even his hearing the secret counsels of heaven, that Paul will glory, but rather for the thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan, that was given to him. It is as though Superman rejoiced in kryptonite, Green Lantern in the color yellow. He glories in what makes his task harder, what may even prevent him from accomplishing what he hopes to accomplish in the service of Jesus Christ. This, his infirmity is his glory, because, as the Lord told him: My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.

Do we trust our infirmities? When we cannot keep our attention on our work at hand, and so struggle to accomplish what we have set out to do, do we thank God? When our resources seem stretched beyond our needs, and it is then that we find the pressing call to spend — for the baby unexpected and newly conceived, for the new priory to house the brethren, for food and shelter for an island nation broken by the fragile fault lines of the world — do we rejoice there in God's bounty? Perhaps not, but Paul has directed us precisely to do so. As tempting as our childhood dreams of super powers, of the native or infused capacity to do what needs to be done, God has other things in mind. He wants to accomplish his will not through our ease, but through our difficulty, not in light of our abundance, but in light of our paucity. He wants the world to see in him what was the source of all of its plenty to begin with, in him the very root of the wealth and power it had foolishly imagined to be its own.

This week, the Church has turned us to make as our prayer an appeal to turn away from the desire to accomplish by native or donated powers what we ought to seek rather to come from God and his saints, to our joy and their glory. Today, let us make that prayer our own:

O God, you see that we do not trust in anything that we do of ourselves; mercifully grant that by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles we may be defended against all adversities.

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