We visited family this weekend, and went to a parish that wasn't our home parish. The bonus to this arrangement is that we went to a Mass that was so early that it was super short, and there were no meltdowns during Mass. The downside was that I hadn't gotten to finish reading the readings before we left, and I usually try to do that since I don't count on being able to hear them during Mass.
I'd been wondering if we were in the proper Lectionary cycle, the one that features my favorite reading of all time on a Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised this morning, circa 7:08 a.m.
Maria and I were pacing the entryway of the church (which was, incidentally, without power, so the fact that this lector delivered the reading as loudly and clearly and beautifully as she did was an even greater blessing). Then, I caught the beginning of the passage, "...because of the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me..."
I recently shared this entire story over at Catholic Exchange, so I'm not going to repeat it here. But this specific passage from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians completely changed my life. Here are the key parts from 2 Corinthins 12:7-10. We left off with Paul telling us that he's been given this "thorn in his side." He continues, "Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
Prior to encountering this reading, I wouldn't say that I had fully absorbed our faith's beautiful theology of suffering. I wouldn't claim to be an expert today, but this reading (combined with befriending St. Therese of Lisieux) set me on a path toward understanding that the cross matters.
Even once I began to ponder that, began to live it out with sufferings that I was more familiar with, I still didn't fully understand it. The sufferings that come along with my anxiety and worry? Not fun, but familiar and therefore easier to "offer up" and allow God to use. But physical suffering? Beyond my control? With no end in sight? No thank you.
But, what was the cross? It was mental anguish beyond all telling...but also great physical suffering and sacrifice.
I never imagined that I would experience hyperemesis gravidarum for my entire pregnancies. I never imagined the lovely (sarcasm) after effects. Had you described for me crippling nausea for months on end, excruciatingly painful kidney stones, the craziness that is labor and delivery - I'm fairly certain I would have broken down sobbing in fear. But now? I look at the faces of the two most beautiful, funny, interesting, creative, loving little girls I've ever met and I would go through it all over again in a heartbeat in order to have them.
That is love.
What I never understood about the cross was the love part. What I never understood about the suffering, the offering up, the "power made perfect in weakness" bit was possible because, with love, God could begin to work through my weakness. With love, He could make me open to seeing my weakness, my imperfections, heck, my sin (because no one can make you more aware of how fallen, sinful, and lacking in patience you are then a two year old and her constant need for attention). But I had to learn all of this in a little school of love. I couldn't learn it by toughing it out, pushing through penances. I had to learn it through loving - loving so much that there was suffering involved. Loving so much that I had to relinquish control and embrace weakness in order to love.
I've mentioned before that I received a bachelor's and a master's degree in theology from a top notch institution, and I had some incredible theology professors while there. The men and women that taught me were, for the most part, solid, credible, faithful Catholics. And I am forever grateful for all that they taught me about the "queen of the sciences."
But none of it made as much as sense as it did when a toddler (or two) entered my life.
For these little theology professors that God has sent into my life, I am forever grateful.