20th June. Saturday, Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Paul continues to boast, but says a thorn in the flesh has forced him to find his strength in Christ.

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows–was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it ould leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

We cannot serve two masters. Do not be anxious for tomorrow

Jesus said to his disciples, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first or the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


Also: Feast of the Irish Martyrs.

These were dozens of Irish people who were killed for their Catholic faith between 1537 and 1714 in Ireland. Their names include Oliver Plunkett, John Carey, Patrick Salmon, Charles Meehan, Margaret Bermingham Ball, Patrick Cavanagh, Dominic Collins, Francis Taylor, William Tirry and many others, all of whom resisted the imposition of the Anglican (Protestant) church on Ireland.

Our thorns in the Flesh?

About the reversal of values, Paul writes, “I must go on boasting, however useless it may be.” Even if he had visions and revelations of the Lord and was caught up to Paradise “to hear words which cannot be uttered,” he feels the foolishness of talking about it and says he will boast no more except about his weakness, which God helps him to bear. Lines like that are more intelligible if we remember that Paul dictated his epistles (and then to prove the authenticity of the letter signed it in his own handwriting–1 Cor 16:21). Perhaps Paul asked his secretary to re-read part of the letter to him, and then added “no more boasting.”

This awareness leads to the admission that he was tormented by “a thorn in the flesh.” Many a guess has been proposed about what he means by this intriguing “thorn.” Was it an unattractive appearance, a recurrent sickness, poor eyesight, a tendency to intemperately blunt speech? Was it an unfulfilled instinct for intimacy, having set aside the natural desire to marry? All we know is that this “thorn in the flesh,” whatever it was, prompted him to turn repeatedly to the Lord for help. Paul records the answer to that prayer, when God revealed to him, “My grace is enough for you, for power comes to perfection in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Even his very weakness led Paul to discover a source of strength far greater than any of his natural gifts and talents. His weakness led him to depths of prayer and dependence on God, as expressed in Jesus’ words, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Your heavenly Father knows all that you need.”

“Enough for the day, let tomorrow take care of itself, today has troubles enough of its own.” According to Jesus, it is more vital to live today than to worry about tomorrow. Life is more important than food, the body more valuable than clothes. It is not psychologically healthy, much less Christian, to surrender to a compulsion for exotic foods and luxurious clothing. He warns us to review our scale of values, “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap… yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Selfish desires lead to all sorts of trouble, but as Paul points out, weakness turns into strength when it brings us to prayer and trust in God and the memory of God’s goodness. Such an awareness of weakness can put our values back into good order, for God can transform even our sins into occasions of grace.


The Irish martyrs

Today is the feast of the Irish martyrs. There were very many people of faith who died for their faith in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of them was Margaret Ball. Born Margaret Bermingham about 1515 in Skreen, Co Meath, she married Bartholomew Ball, a prosperous merchant in Dublin. Her eldest son, Walter, however, became a Protestant and an opponent of the Catholic faith. Margaret provided ‘safe houses’ for bishops and priests passing through Dublin and would invite Walter to dine with them, hoping for his return to the Catholic faith. Walter, however, remained an implacable foe of the Catholic faith. He was elected Mayor of Dublin, and shortly after he had his mother arrested and drawn through the streets on a wooden hurdle to Dublin Castle. Here she remained imprisoned for the rest of her life. If she had renounced her faith she could have returned home, but she refused and died in prison aged 70 in 1584. The chapel-of-ease at Santry in Larkhill parish was named in her honour. All of the Irish martyrs had one thing in common, their Catholic faith was their treasure, and in the words of today’s gospel, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” They gave up every earthly value, including life itself, for the sake of this treasure, the pearl of great price, and in doing so they stored up treasures for themselves in heaven. They teach us by their sacrifice to treasure the gift of faith we have received from those before us who witnessed to their faith at great cost to themselves. [Martin Hogan]

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