2Cor 12:1-10; Ps 34:8-13; Mt 6:24-34
“Which of you desires life, and takes delight in prosperous days?” The Psalmist’s question can be translated into a contemporary idiom: Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be really happy? This question was asked of the thousands of youth gathered in Toronto, Canada in July 2002. Pope John Paul II answered this question by saying, “If you want to be happy then embrace the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” To embrace the cross is more than mere tolerance of your share of suffering. To embrace the cross is to love the Crucified One. To love the suffering and glorious Christ is to delight in prosperous days. In his prayer Saint Paul asked that a “thorn in the flesh” would be removed. The Lord Jesus responded, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Today’s gospel restates this response when it commands us to seek first the Kingdom of God and not worry about tomorrow nor its suffering.
Again the Corinthians remember the boasting of their father in the faith. Saint Paul deepens his reflection on suffering to include spiritual agony. What can give us more spiritual pain than the seeming neglect of God? What causes more interior agony than God responding “no” to our petition? In this selection Saint Paul meditates on his prayer experience when he felt rejection from God. He asked that some “thorn in the flesh” be removed. No one can say with certitude about what Saint Paul was praying. Perhaps, he was asking the Lord Jesus to remove his suffering from failures in ministry. Perhaps, Saint Paul was asking that his anxiety about the future success of his mission be taken away. Even this depth of suffering is not a waste of time and energy. Indeed, the Lord Jesus does answer his prayer in a way that was completely unexpected and even unwanted. Perhaps, the Lord Jesus is asking Saint Paul to let his anxiety become his most pure form of prayer, a petition that leads him to trust even more profoundly in God’s mysterious plan. What appears as merely failure may be a sign of true success. When the collection is down and the congregation is sparse, perhaps the Lord is purifying the community and calling us to take refuge in Him. These are the tough lessons of prayer. This kind of quality prayer enables us to encounter our own poverty and hunger and the blessedness of those who fear the Lord. At such moments in prayer, we can begin to rely upon the true miracle of the Eucharist and “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Indeed, we cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot place our trust in God and at the same time put our trust in success. The superficial reward of our own successes is no guarantee of seeking the Kingdom of God. Establishing the Kingdom of God demanded of the Lord Jesus that he be the first to embrace the cross. Many view the cross as failure, not success. For those who followed Christ martyrdom seemed a failure, but the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The Christian martyr does not design and execute his death to kill others. Rather, those who die for the faith do so at another’s hand. Such is the radical difference between true martyrdom and suicide bombing. Only those who eat and drink here at the altar of the Cross will have enough strength to suffer any “thorn in the flesh” or to endure any suffering for the sake of the Kingdom.