In a passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (12:7-10), St. Paul begins:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
What? A demon is beating St. Paul to keep him from being happy?
No, that is not exactly what is going on. St. Paul is telling us of a weakness he has. We don’t know what the weakness is, but it may be something physical, because he says it is a “thorn in the flesh”. A demon is making it worse. How we don’t know.
We all have weaknesses. Some of us are bad at math. Some of us are bad at sports. Some of us have arthritis, a bad back or poor eyesight. Weaknesses also come in our moral life. Some of us are easily tempted to lie. Some of us are easily tempted by money. Why does God allow us to have weaknesses?
This is where St. Paul helps us. He says God allows his weakness to keep him from becoming “too elated”. What St. Paul means is too proud. The weakness help St. Paul remember that he can’t serve God by himself, of his own power. He needs God’s grace.
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.”
St. Paul, one of the greatest Saints ever, struggled with a weakness and “begged” God to take it away on three different occasions. So, when we struggle with a weakness, when we ask God to take it away, we are imitating St. Paul, so that’s a good thing. However, God did not take St. Paul’s weakness away. He did something better. He made St. Paul perfect through his weakness. St. Paul turned to God through prayer and acts of love and submitted his weakness, his poverty, his poorness… to God. God in turn filled Paul’s weakness with His grace and His power and made St. Paul’s weakness a source of strength. For now it was God working through St. Paul.
That is why St. Paul concludes the passage with:
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.