Growing up did you ever read the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein ? In this sad-for-a-kid-but-wonderful book, a tree and a boy become friends and the tree gives all it can to help the boy be happy. Here’s a video version if you haven’t read it, narrated by Shel).
I’ve liked sappy stories my whole life (haha, get it!) but this story particularly touched me. The tree was so giving, even unto its own destruction (sound familiar?) Maybe it was too good at giving…
I knew the tree loved the boy, but I wanted the tree to stand up for itself. To tell the boy that it was time for him to get some new friends, give him some alone time, or at least put some effort into bringing a little more equality into their relationship. This train of thought definitely enters my prayer life quite frequently. “Jesus,” I plead, “I am giving and giving and giving – but I’m putting my foot down here, when do I get a break?”
Enter this Sunday’s readings. For me, Paul’s letter to Corinthians seemed to come out of nowhere. God sends His spirit into a new prophet in the first reading and then… bam, St. Paul is writing that “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated (2 Cor 12:7).”
What?! Isn’t Paul doing the right thing? So much so that he’s imprisoned for it?! “Well fight back Paul,” I urged him. And he did.
“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 (2 Cor 12:8-9).’”
That cooled me off quickly. Truly, His grace is enough for us. And His power is certainly manifested perfectly in the image of His cross, a sign of weakness. And so God provided a quick wake up call that we are not called to serve in comfort and we don’t get to call when we get a time out. St. Paul had a mission to preach the Gospel, much like the Tree had its own mission to make the boy happy. Despite hardships brought on by their own deficiencies (St. Paul’s: weakness, constraints, hardships, Tree’s: No boat, no transportation, no apples) both are willing to undergo their mission until death.
Saint Paul, and the saints, especially the martyrs, exemplify the fulfillment of our mission on Earth in even the toughest of circumstances. We are called to witness Jesus Christ as the Son of God. How do we do this today? Are we swayed when faced with hardships or temptations? Or, like St. Paul and the Tree, are we ((for the most part) unyielding to demands that detract from our mission?
What are your thorns like? Maybe you have one or two big, obvious thorns or myriad teeny spindly cactus thorns? Maybe, upon retrospect, they are like aloe vera thorns which look bad but actually enclose something that is cooling and healing?
Personally and in our communities, we can be witnesses to the faith. Can others tell that you are Catholic-Christian by the love you share (such as when driving…), the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the movies you watch?
Let us pray that we will live our lives serving God in all the ways we can, comfortable and uncomfortable, so that our worries and problems – the thorns in our side – are mere shadows in the actions of our lives of service and purpose!
Halo Tip: St. Paul mentions this thorn in his flesh was given to him to help him to not be elated, which I interpret as also being an aid to refrain from boasting in things other than the Lord. Be honest with yourself – what do you like to brag about? Do you see the Lord’s hands in those gifts? Do you thank Him for the gift daily, knowing He can take it away at any time?
Think also about the sorrows in your life. Recall God’s words that His grace is sufficient. Pray for better understanding and contentedness with suffering or “thorns” that you bear. Be thankful that in bearing those thorns patiently, you grow in holiness.
Note: Reflections in this blog are my own and do not represent the positions of my employer.