Here’s my pedantic translation of the Greek of 2 Corinthians 12,7b-9a:
In order that I might not raise myself beyond myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, that he may pummel me, lest I raise myself beyond myself. For this one, I called to the Lord for help three times, in order that he [the messenger of Satan] might stand apart from me. And He definitively stated to me: “My grace suffices for you, for power is perfected within a lack of power.”
There is always a temptation for us, in our weakness, to work our own way to heaven instead of depending on our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, a temptation to raise ourselves beyond ourselves, to pick ourselves up, as it were, by both of our bootstraps at the same time, being so intent on this that we don’t realize that instead of going upwards, we crash down on our keisters, sliding down to hell. Not good.
Saint Paul, himself an exorcist, was, most ironically, given what he derogatorily calls a thorn in the flesh, a pummeling, as it were, of fists, by a messenger, an angel of Satan. Sound familiar? Curé of Ars? Padre Pio? Satan is always at the ready to do his worst against any of us, but must look to the will of our Heavenly Father for a permission such as we see in the Book of Job. Satan has a right to us in this world, but since Jesus died for us, he is restrained by God until we can benefit from such an onslaught. Our heavenly Father is not cruel. He is just, and will give the devil his due in this world. Our heavenly Father will only give such a permission in view of His mercy, in view of His drawing good out of evil. In this case, with Saint Paul, as with so many of us, the good to be drawn out of our being pummeled by a messenger, an angel of Satan, is that we might not lift ourselves beyond ourselves, something we cannot do anyway. Our Heavenly Father wants that we might avoid hurting ourselves. Much better to suffer a bit from a messenger of Satan than to go to hell. Much better for us to learn humility, to be simple children of our Heavenly Father lifted up to Him by our Lord Jesus.
But how weak we are in being weak! Paul (Saint Paul, mind you), despite the good that could be drawn from all this, called to the Lord about this one (the fallen angel pummeling him) for help three times, that he (the fallen angel pummeling him) might leave him. He might have begged for the humility from which Satan runs. Saint Paul is confessing here. We should listen. He not doing this just to be humble as he’s writing, but also for our benefit. We would do well to ask our Lord for humility, that we might not fall into the temptation to lift ourselves beyond ourselves (which, idiots that we are, cannot be done anyway).
So, Jesus makes a definitive statement to Paul (see the perfect “tense”): “My grace suffices for you, for power is perfected within a lack of power.”
Wow. We stay weak in this world as we are perfected in the spiritual life, the Lord Jesus, with power, raising us up beyond ourselves to Himself. What is so majestically awesome about this is that the Lord drew us to Himself when He Himself was lifted up on the Cross.
The spiritual life of an exorcist has to be rather incisive. We must know that our Lord has control of our spiritual lives. We don’t have such control. He draws us to Himself. We cannot lift ourselves beyond ourselves up to Him. We cannot draw on strength that we do not have. We must depend entirely on Jesus. Sometimes we think that we are in control, but, you know, just need a little help from Jesus, just on the side. Help from Jesus would be nice, but not really necessary in this view. We have to forget about being merely helped. We have to be killed off so that we are dead to ourselves, but Christ lives within us. That, of course, is from the same Saint Paul. Awesome, no?
The mistake of pretty much everyone is to think that we become stronger as we progress in the spiritual life. Instead, we just realize how weak we truly are, though this in view of how strong Christ Jesus is in lifting us beyond ourselves to Himself. And that is truly awesome. So much so that Saint Paul doesn’t know what to say. He comes out with one of his unfathomable statements, from which, in context, we can, however, glean what he intends to say. He says: “When I am without power, then I am powerful (2 Corinthians 12,10b). We rejoice with Saint Paul!
Paul then goes on to speak of all the other conditions of weakness we ourselves might well complain about with him, but he boasts of them so that, as he says, the power of Christ may dwell within him. He speaks of being content with all lack of power, all insulting mistreatment, all distress, persecutions, and difficulties for the sake of Christ. A bit of an exam of conscience there for us, no? The weaker we are, the better for us in an exorcism, the better for those who are possessed. We look more to Jesus, and can therefore encourage the same.
Thanks for the great example, Saint Paul! Pray for us, that we might be happy to be weak, the weaker the better! Yikes!