Homily for July 8, 2012--Fr. Scott Bullock

July 8, 2012

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 101

Reading 1 Ez 2:2-5

Responsorial Psalm Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4

R. (2cd) Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.

Reading 2 2 Cor 12:7-10

Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
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,
in order 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.

Gospel Mk 6:1-6




  • Since its November 2010 debut, Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption has sold well over one million copies in hardcover, a real feat in this electronic age.
  • The history tells the story of Louie Zamparini, Olympian in track at the 1936 Olympics, and others with whom he served in the American Air Force in the Pacific theater of WWII.   The story features his being downed in the Pacific and then enduring a 46 or 47 day drift in a raft with two other men, including his pilot, Russell Allen Phillips, known by the nickname “Phil,” and subsequent days in captivity by the Japanese.
    • In the midst of their time adrift on the open sea, the men are plagued by hunger, thirst, sharks, rough seas, and even a typhoon.  Perhaps half way on this harrowing journey, comes this description:
    • [Pg. 151-2]:  “For days, Louie lay over the side of the raft, fishhooks tied to his fingers, trying to catch another pilot fish. He caught none. The water ran out again, and the thirst was agonizing. Day after day passed with no rain. Twice, the men rowed toward distant squalls, but each time, the rain sputtered out just as they reached it, leaving them exhausted and demoralized. When the next squall inched along the horizon, none of them had the strength to chase it.
  • “The intense thirst and overheating drove Phil to do something almost suicidal.  He waited for the sharks to wander a short distance away, then pulled himself overboard. Lour and Mac knelt near him, jabbing at sharks with the oars as Phil hung on the raft, savoring the cool water and swishing big mouthfuls of it over his tongue before spitting them out. He only just had the strength to drag himself back in.  Since Phil had gotten away with it, the other two thought it worth a try, and took their turns in the water. The men were able to keep the sharks away long enough for all three to have a dip.
  • “On the sixth day without water, the men recognized that they weren’t going to last much longer. Mac was failing especially quickly.
  • "They bowed their heads together as Louie prayed. If God would quench their thirst, he vowed, he’d dedicate his life to him.
  • “The next day, by divine intervention or the fickle humors of the tropics, the sky broke open and rain poured down. Twice more the water ran out, twice more they prayed, and twice more the rain came. The showers gave them just enough water to last a short while longer. If only a plane would come.”      


  • Laid low, at their very weakest, there is only one place to go—up—up to God.
  • In today’s second reading, St. Paul finds himself too laid low.  His is not a downed plane, or sharks, or a prisoner of war camp.  Instead, he calls his state, simply, yet mysteriously:  “AThorn in the flesh”
    • He never specifies what this “thorn” is.
    • Some have speculated:
      • Bad Eyesight?
      • Speech impediment (elsewhere he calls himself inarticulate)
      • Some other Chronic health issue?
      • Some suggest it is no physical problem, but a persistent opponent, who fought him and his gospel message.
      • What is clear is that Paul is speaking about something that is steady, chronic, relentless.
      • How do we know it was relentless?
        • Because he says that he prayed “three times” for it to be taken away—means over and over and over—a poetic turn of phrase which in Paul’s culture would have meant “repeatedly.”
        • So, again we don’t know what was this trial that dogged him, but what we do know for sure is that, like St. Paul, each person has a thorn in the flesh.
          • When it is psychological, spiritual, physical,
          • It’s like a stone in the shoe . . .
          • Everyone is in this boat with Paul.
          • What is your thorn in the flesh?
            • Health?
            • Lack of confidence?
            • Fear?
            • Grief?
            • In the face of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” as well as all of our “thorns in the flesh,” the response of our God is the same:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
              • No matter what the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient.
                • If you are connected to God, then anything can in principle be endured.
                • And as Victor Frankl, concentration camp survivor reminded the profoundly suffering 20th century—meaning can be found there, in the midst of suffering.
                • What meaning?  What Paul teaches, that there is a power that comes through suffering—Power is made perfect in weakness.
                  • Our suffering can force us like nothing else to rely upon God.
                    • When we are laid low, and all of us are laid low at one time or another, then relying no longer on our limited power, we turn to the unlimited strength that is God’s.
                    • We see this with the marooned characters in the book Unbroken.  
                      • For many days, they turn to their expert powers of survival, but finally, when at their lowest, they are finally ready to turn in prayer to the Power—the Power of God.
  • Though maybe not as dramatic as the downed Air Force pilots in Unbroken, nonetheless we have all known a “thorn in the flesh,” a persistent, unrelenting time of spiritual, psychological or physical weakness.  When such a “thorn” seems ready to overwhelm us, in faith we turn to the grace of God, sufficient in our weakness, but only when we accept our weakness and turn in desperation to God.
  • Then, our prayer opens us to the very power of God, which dwells most comfortably in the midst of human weakness.
    • For we all have a thorn in the flesh.
    • And we all have a savior ready in his power to bear it with us and for us.
    • This altar is the place of exchange, where we bring God our weakness, our thorns in the flesh, and God comes and brings us strength, made perfect in our need.