Sunday Scriptures

What’s Your Kryptonite?

By Father John P. Cush

IT’S A FUNNY THING, kryptonite. The phrase has entered into our popular lexicon and comes from the one element that can depower the comic book character Superman. Actually created for the 1940s radio series, “The Adventures of Superman,” even before being introduced into the comics, kryptonite is a mineral from the now destroyed home planet.

So what’s your kryptonite? We all have one thing that is the cause of our downfall, that one attitude that leads to our defeat. These Achilles heels in our lives bring us down and prevent us from being the persons whom we are created to be in Christ Jesus.

In the epistle we proclaim this Sunday, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks about the thorn in his flesh, given to him from becoming too elated, which he begs the Lord to take away from him. There is much speculation as to what it could possibly be. Some Scripture scholars speculate that it might actually be a psychical illness, which they ascertain from other parts of the New Testament: Galatians 4:13-14, which states: “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.”

Some scholars say that this psychical ailment might have been his eyesight, referencing the famous story of the Road to Damascus and stretching it even further, citing Paul’s comments in Galatians 4:15, “Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”

Others claim that the thorn in his flesh was the shame over his former way of life, of being the chief persecutor of the Christians, as the most zealous of the Jews (Philippians 3:16). Still others describe that thorn in the flesh as Paul’s difficult personality which drove away many of his co-workers in the field of the Lord, preferring to separate from him and take the Gospel to another part of the world, rather than to remain with the apostle. And there are others who speak of the thorn in the flesh being Paul’s often boastful comments, constantly reminding others that he is as much an apostle as the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) or that he is a part of the Pharisee class. Even more view the thorn as spiritual, demonic attacks on St. Paul to attempt to cause him to despair.

Stronger Through Weakness

Regardless of what the thorn in the flesh actually was, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or moral, Paul had his “kryptonite” and, all the while he suffered with it, he never let it bring him down. In fact, this awareness of his “thorn in the flesh,” this weakness, actually made him stronger in his life in Christ.

Practically then, what can we can learn from Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?” I would suggest three things: first, recognize our weakness and identify our “thorns;” second, don’t despair because of our “thorns;” and third, have patience with the “thorns” of others.

First, recognize our weakness and identify our thorns: like the song says from the band R.E.M., “Everybody Hurts.” We all suffer in one way or another. At times, everyone feels insecure; everyone feels bad. We all have our imperfections, both physically and emotionally. In the spiritual life, we all sin; we all turn away from the God who loves us in small, venial ways that hurt our relationships with God, others and ourselves.

Sadly, we all, at times, break that relationship with God, others and ourselves through serious, mortal sin. We all need the gift, the true healing gift that is the sacrament of reconciliation. Without dwelling on the sins that weigh us down, we should identify any and all near occasions of sin and then do our best to avoid these circumstances in our lives for the good of our souls.

Love and Mercy Triumph

Second, we should follow the example of Paul and never despair in our sins. We need to recognize that, above all else, God’s love and mercy triumphs and turn to God in our troubles. We know that we are weak; we know that we need help; and we know that help can only come from God who is mercy, but who also is justice. We need to have blessed assurance in the astounding wonders of the Lord Jesus.

Third, having recognized and identified our thorns and then turning to the Divine Physician, we need to have patience, not only with our own faults, but with the faults of others. All too often, we can be the first to jump on any and all faults of others, but never want our own faults to be pointed out to us by others. Jesus said it best: “Treat others the way that you yourself would want to be treated.” (Luke 6:31) If the flaws of others are self-destructive, or leading them or others into sin, it is our moral obligation to point them out to the person, privately and in charity, of course. If it is simply something annoying to us that they are doing, we might want to think about the best way to point this out, always and in every way in charity.

We all have a thorn in our flesh. The trick in the spiritual life is to learn to identify that thorn, remove it by growing in a life of virtue, not vice, and then bring that charity and healing that our heavenly Father has shown to us in our lives. We are all weak, but in Christ alone we are made strong.

Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time  

Ezekiel 2:2-5

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

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Mark 6:1-6


Father John P. Cush, a Brooklyn priest, is assistant vice-rector of the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City State.

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