The Catholic Defender: Despite Thorns In The Flesh, God Gives Great Grace
April 18, 2017
“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”.(2 Corinthians 12:6-9)
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 Samara.
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. There are Saints that the Lord has given us like St. Paul who are great role models. Many great examples!
"After staying in Antioch some time, Paul left and traveled in orderly sequence through the Galatian country and Phrygia, bringing strength to all the disciples. A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus."
There is a lot of history written in between the lines of this scripture coming from Act’s 18:23-28. Antioch became an early Christian center as a result of the great persecution of the followers of Jesus which began with the stoning of St. Stephen (Act’s 7:54-60). In fact, it was Antioch that the followers of Jesus first became known as Christian (Act’s 11:26) and first called Catholic (Act’s 9:31 Greek Translation). Acts 9:31 states, “Then the church throughout all* Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” In the original Greek, it is: “Acts 9:31 ἡ μεν ουν εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης της ιουδαιας και γαλιλαιας και σαμαρειας ειχεν ειρηνην οικοδομουμενη και πορευομενη τω φοβω του κυριου, και τη παρακλησει του ἁγιου πνευματος επληθυνοντο.”
The term in bold commonly translated as ‘church throughout all’ is in Greek ‘”εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης”—pronounced “Ekklesia Kath olos” (Catholic) or the Church Universal, since Kath olos is the same term used by St Ignatius of Antioch for the Church in his letter.
St. Ignatius (3rd Bishop of Antioch-follower of St. John) later would write the Smyrnaeans on his way to Rome as a prisoner, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” St. Ignatius would be thrown to wild beasts giving his life for Christ and would not abandon the Catholic Faith.
Notice a familiar name, Apollos, who was known by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:1-23) who originally brought division in the Corinthian Church.
Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, who was well learned of the Old Testament Scripture (Septuagint specific from Alexandria 256 B.C.) arrived in Ephesus. Apollos was being instructed in the “Way of the Lord” and learned of Jesus through the prism of the baptism of St. John (Matthew 3:1-6).
As a new Christian, being an authority on the Old Testament, Apollos began teaching in the synagogue. He had great zeal, but he was ill-prepared to preach without knowing or understanding the fullness of truth (the Catholic Faith).
It was about this time that Priscilla (wife of Aquila) and Aquila ran into Apollos. Now, Priscilla and Aquila were companions of St. Paul traveling from Corinth to Syria (Ephesus) (Acts 18:1-22) when they ran into Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26). Once Apollos had met St. Paul and learned the whole teaching of Jesus, Apollos became a dynamic witness and defender of the Faith (Jude 3).
Think about this text, how important it is to continue to learn about Jesus and our Catholic Faith? Today there are many like Apollos, who have a zeal to proclaim the “Way of the Lord” with what they believe. Apollos was considered an authority on the scriptures (Old Testament) but without knowing or understanding the concrete meaning coming from the Apostles, he caused division.
Ephesians 2:19-22 states, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
To be a prophet, it is not a matter of competing to be the best witness or follower of Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:5-9), but it is a team effort that brings us together by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-31).
Now there are over 40,000 plus new (Christian) religions (Galatians 1:6-9), so many voices, the truth of the Catholic Faith can sometimes be blurred by the many Apollos who see themselves as their own authority who preach through the prism of their own understanding. This is why it is important that as Catholics, we hold fast to that apostolic faith (2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3,6-7), and be a sign and a witness like Priscilla and Aquila that will lead many to the deeper truth of following Jesus. Living the life of Grace through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we want to pass it on.
Acts 16:9-18 gives the example of the missionary fervor of St. Paul to reach people for Christ, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Ne-apolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the leading city of the district of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days; and on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.”
Great signs and wonders accompanied St. Paul and his Co-workers.
Here on Deepertruth, we are graced to share many of these signs and wonders on our radio show covering Eucharistic Miracles with Dr. Gregory Thompson, Mark Kiser "Be Strong, Courageous, Be a Man"and Marian Apparitions with Marianologist John Carpenter.
There are many signs and wonders of the Lord (Act’s 2:17-19) from the great work coming from Joesph Martone Jr in Colorado always in battle saving unborn children to Judy Alciatore who shares poems from the Lord.
What a great thing it is when we are friends with the friends of Jesus, St. Paul sent greeting to Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Onesiphorus was a co-worker with St. Paul who found Paul in chains in Rome when most abandoned him (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Onesiphorus had by this time of St. Paul’s writing passed away and we find St. Paul interceding for him before the Lord Jesus on that great Day of judgement.
We who believe today because of the great missionary activity of St. Paul and the early Church, we too have received the same blessed Grace poured out by Jesus through His friends today.
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).
O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.