Last week, in his Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict spoke of St. Paul and his ability to find the strength of God in his weakness. Commenting on Paul’s petition to be delivered from the thorn in his flesh, Pope Benedict said:
Let us reflect a moment more on this event, which occurred during the years when St. Paul lived in silence and contemplation before commencing his journeys across the West to proclaim Christ, for this attitude of profound humility and trust before God’s self-revelation is also fundamental for our prayer and for our lives, for the way we relate to God and to our own weakness.
First, what is the weakness of which St. Paul speaks? What is this “thorn” in his flesh? We don’t know, and he doesn’t say, but his attitude makes us understand that all the difficulties we meet in following Christ and witnessing to his Gospel can be overcome by opening ourselves in faith to the Lord’s action. St. Paul is well aware of being a “useless servant” (2 Corinthians 4:7) in whom God places the riches and power of his grace. In this moment of intense contemplative prayer, St. Paul understands clearly how to face and live every event, especially suffering, difficulty and persecution: when he experiences his own weakness, the power of God is manifested, which neither abandons us nor leaves us alone but which becomes our support and strength.
Certainly, Paul would have preferred to be delivered from this “thorn”, from this suffering; but God says: “No, this is necessary for you. You shall have grace sufficient to resist and to do what must be done”. This is true also for us. The Lord may not deliver us from evil, but he helps us to mature through suffering, difficulty and persecution. Faith, then, tells us that if we remain in God, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (cf. Verse 16). The Apostle communicates to the Christians of Corinth and also to us that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (Verse 17). In reality, humanly speaking, the weight of difficulty was not light, it was exceedingly heavy; but compared with God’s love, with the grandeur of being loved by God, it seemed light in knowing that the weight of glory will be without measure.
Therefore, as our union with the Lord grows and our prayer intensifies, we too come to focus on the essential, and we understand that it is not through the power of our resources, our virtue, or our abilities that the Kingdom of God shall come; rather, it is God who works marvels precisely through our weakness, through our inadequacy for the task at hand. We must therefore have the humility not to trust in ourselves alone but to work — with the Lord’s help — in the Lord’s vineyard, entrusting ourselves to Him as fragile “earthen vessels”.
These are words for us all and should give us each hope. You can read his entire address here.