The Catholic Defender: Thorn In The Flesh

Posted by John Benko - July 9th, 2012

“But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, to keep me from being too elated. 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.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me”.

There has been a lot of thought regarding what this “thorn in the flesh” might have been for St. Paul.

Could it have been something physical, spiritual, maybe psychological? Could it have been something of all three? Whatever the “thorn” was, Jesus said that his grace was sufficient.

I’ve heard some suggest it could have been the stigmata, but nobody knows for sure.

The important thing was that what ever the thorn might have been, it did not define who St. Paul was.

St. Paul, formerly known as “Saul” was a major figure within the Jewish Sanhedrin at the time of Christ, but there is no mention of him until the 7th Chapter of Acts and the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

From that point on a fierce persecution of the Church began in Jerusalem and the Church was scattered into the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Only the Apostles hung tight in Jerusalem. The persecution was so severe that St. John would understand Jerusalem to be the “Whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:3-6) referring to the persecution of the Church.

The story of Saul’s conversion to the Catholic Faith is probably and certainly one of the greatest conversions stories in the history of the world.

The impact of Saul, now St. Paul, would change the world. St. Paul’s missionary journey continues to have a huge impact on the contemporary world.

Saul would encounter Christ as he was heading towards Damascus to arrest Christians.

The Lord supernaturally appeared to St. Paul, “a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.”

St. Paul is certainly one of the most important figures in the history of the Church. Despite the many successes of St. Paul, he bore many hardships, he was jailed, he was beaten, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and he had his “thorn in the flesh”. He traveled far preaching the gospel, he became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

What a great story and one that many of us can identify with. We all have had our “thorn in the flesh”, our crosses to bear. Like St. Paul, many of us may feel the pain and anguish that might be physical, spiritual, or psychological. Maybe a combination of all three. What is important is to not allow these things to define who we are. That our faith is what defines who we are.

St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” reminds us of the human spirit that is capable of reaching out to God in faith and overcoming the obstacles for the prize.

13 books of the New Testament are attributed to St. Paul, it is also believed that he wrote the book of Hebrews which would make 14 letters the Catholic Church maintains in the bible.

The Catholic Faith has a multitude of examples who followed the example of St. Paul. Our Priest, Father Downey gave a terrific talk on this subject today. Another great example!

Like St. Paul, let us too, find courage to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).


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