“And to keep me from being too elated (ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι, so that I do not exalt myself) by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, to keep me from being too elated (ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι, so that I do not exalt myself). Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12: 7-9)
We are not told what, exactly, St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. A chronic physical malady, perhaps migraines or inflammation of the eyes? A sensual temptation of some sort? Certain people who opposed St. Paul’s preaching? There have been many speculations on this topic, but the fact is, we don’t know.
We do know that it both “tormented” the great Apostle to the Gentiles and protected him from spiritual pride, which is the kiss of death to a life in Christ, to true communion with God. In spiritual pride, when we begin to “exalt ourselves” rather than God, we become strong in ourselves and thus weak in God, because we lose the sense of needing His grace. Various tribulations, including “thorns in the flesh,” keep us from any false sense of self-sufficiency, compelling us to keep crying out for God’s power or grace.
Today, as those of us on the “New” Calendar celebrate the great feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I thank God for giving us these two celebrities, in whom His power was made perfect not primarily in their strengths, but in their weaknesses. Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!