The Epistle. II Corinthians 11. 19.
Brethren: Ye suffer fools gladly: seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly), I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often; in perils of waters; in perils of robbers; in perils by mine own countrymen; in perils by the heathen; in perils in the city; in perils in the wilderness; in perils in the sea; in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness; in watchings often; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often; in cold and in nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
Those of you who have read through the entire New Testament Canon of the writings attributed to St. Paul may recall that on many occasions, the Apostle felt the need to defend his position and authority to those who questioned his credentials. Compared to many in the early Christian community, Paul was a very recent convert; an upstart, one might say. Many, if not most of the early Christians were “authentic” Jews, some of whom might even have known one or more of the “original” Apostles. So it was only natural for them to wonder; “what gives this tentmaker from Tarsus the right to tell us what the Gospel is all about”?
And so St. Paul, is his typically understated way, submits his resume; Not only is he just as Jewish as any of those who claim to know the Gospel, but he has also suffered for the cause. And boy has he suffered. His list is seemingly endless but at the same time it is very brief in describing the actual horrors that he had endured. And yet, for all that, St. Paul does not put himself above his fellow Christians; rather, he appears to show an empathy with them; “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not”?
But then, with one sentence, Paul seems to shift things a bit. ? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. Glory of the things which concern mine infirmities? This might seem rather odd, if you think about it. St. Paul might have had any number of “infirmities” as a result of the multiple beatings, scourgings and shipwrecks that he had endured. No doubt he awoke each day feeling the awful physical effects of all these various traumas. And yet, as he says, he “glories” in them?
Now before you start thinking otherwise, St. Paul was not some sort of masochist. He did not take delight in the actual pains that he suffered. But what he did delight in was the reason for which he suffered. He suffered for the furtherance of the Gospel. He suffered for the spread of the Church. He suffered for Christ.
This is particularly important because throughout his ministry, the constant theme of St. Paul’s teachings was the Cross of Christ. It was by the Cross, Paul tells us, that our Salvation was bought and paid for. It was through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we have been granted Eternal Life. Compared to that, St. Paul sees his own tribulations in two ways; they are insignificant in comparison, and they are also glorious, because he endures them all for Christ.
Now I do not bring this up because I think that we will be called upon to suffer same the indignities that St. Paul did. God willing, none of us will have to endure all those things. Rather, as each of us contemplates our Lenten disciplines, which we will undertake in just over a week, I want to connect our attitude towards those disciplines with St. Paul’s attitude towards his ordeals.
How many of you have seen this person walking around the Church or maybe somewhere else; they wear a “hang-dog” look of sadness, maybe even letting out a heavy sigh on occasion; “no, thank you, I can’t have any chocolate; I gave it up for Lent”. Or, “I’m really sleepy today because I can’t have any coffee; I gave it up for Lent”. Quite an impressive impersonation of Eeyore from the “Winnie the Pooh” stories, isn’t it?
These people all want you to know two things; that they are good Catholic Christians, and that they are suffering because of it. But are they really? What about in comparison with St. Paul? What about in comparison with Christ?
Now we all know that Lent is the forty day period of fasting that is meant to prepare us for Our Lord’s Triumphant Resurrection on Easter Day. But I remind you that even before that, our Lenten Fast is meant to prepare us for the events leading up to that day; Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. It is meant to prepare us for the Passion and Death of Our Lord. It is meant to prepare us to follow Him on the way to the Cross.
And it would be quite proper for us to undertake this preparation with all due solemnity. However, it should also be undertaken with all due gratitude and maybe even a little joy. Gratitude; because we know of the Sacrifice that Our Lord has made for us, and continues to make for us; Joy, because we have been allowed, even in some small way, to participate in Christ’s Passion through our own sacrifices, no matter how petty and minor they seem in comparison.
This is just one of the ways that I interpret St. Paul’s message today. Certainly Paul felt that he needed to list out his travails to underscore his “qualifications” to be an Apostle and to assert his authority. But he also tells us of his joy; the same joy that he hints at in his letter to the Galatians: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (ch 6:14); the joy that we may experience when we suffer for Christ; If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
As each of us considers just what form our Lenten discipline will take this year, what we will give up, or what we will undertake, let us always remember the purpose for this season; to prepare ourselves to follow Jesus Christ through his Passion and Death, and to exult in his Resurrection. And let us do this with a glad heart, knowing that whatever we may suffer, we do so for the Glory of Christ. And if anyone asks you what you “gave up for Lent”, simply reply, “I have chosen to prepare myself to follow Christ in the Way of the Cross”.
If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.