I went to Confession and told the priest about the difficulty Im having
in trying to stop smoking. The priest told me to think of it like the thorn
in the flesh mentioned by Saint Paul. I like this explanation because it
gives me permission to keep smoking. What do you think?
think the priest might be a smoker
himself. It reminds us that no one can guide you any farther than he has
no priest can give you permission to commit sin. In this case,
not only is smoking a defilement of your
body and a psychological expression of
self-hatred, your looking for a way to avoid
spiritual purification is a shirking of
responsibility to your
baptismal vows; Christ addressed the seriousness
of this sort of behavior in His parable of the
Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
What, then, was Saint Pauls
thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7)? Well, no one really
knows. Scholars have speculated that it might refer to a physical disability.
Others say it might have been some sort of temptation; liberals, especially,
are tempted to snicker that it was a sexual temptation.
All of these speculations miss
the point because they miss the psychological meaning of the matter. To get
to that psychological meaning, lets look first at the
practical meaning of a thorn in the flesh.
Meaning of a Thorn in the Flesh
When youre out walking
on a hike, or working in a garden, and you touch a thorny bush, like a thistle,
a small piece of a pricker can break off in your skin. This embedded thorn
will cause pain even after the contact with the bush is long past. The only
way to heal the pain is to find the pricker and extract it from the
Meaning of a Thorn in the Flesh
Now, the psychological meaning
of a thorn in the flesh follows from the idea of an embedded
thorn that will cause pain even after the contact with the thorn bush is
long past. Psychologically, a thorn in the flesh is a memory
of something you have done that continues to cause you emotional pain even
though the event itself is long past.
Thorn in the Flesh
In Saint Pauls case, only
one thing (that is, that is publicly known about him) fits this description:
his murder of Christians before his conversion. Psychologically, in all of
his missionary work, Saint Paul may have struggled with the guilt of having
been a far worse sinner than anyone he tried to convert. Despite all the
graces he received, he would have known in his heart how thoroughly
wretched he was because of his past
pride. Compared to those good men who
were rising to leadership in the Church, he would have carried a deep guilt
that made him feel inferior.
His guilt, however, did not cripple
him. In fact, it strengthened him. It was the reason that God told him, My
grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness
(2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, Saint Pauls thorn in the flesh
made him humble, and humility, as every saint
knows (beginning with the Blessed Virgin herself) is the absolute key to
in the Flesh
So, what is your thorn
in the flesh? It is some emotional trauma from your past. You might even
be aware of it, at least intellectually. You might even think that you are
over it. But you are self-deceived. Yes, you are self-deceivedand the
continued emotional pain from your embedded thorn proves it. Your
smoking is not the thorn; the destructive
self-hatred of smoking is a symptom of the thorns continued
presence within your flesh.
will be of no use to you as long as you fail to confess the real sin. Endeavor,
therefore, to scrutinize your life and find the
real emotional trauma that you have been hiding from yourself all your life.
Most likely you will find that, just like Saint Paul, your self-deception
is all a matter of intellectualism and
prideespecially the pride of wanting
revenge on those who hurt you.
And dont be deceived. You
will tell yourself that because you attend daily
Mass, pray your Rosary,
and go to Confession regularly, you have progressed
spiritually beyond the desire for revenge. But you arent as advanced
spiritually as you think, and you arent past
because even self-destruction is a cunning,
way to hurt those who hurt you. By throwing your disability in their faces,
you get the satisfaction of saying, Look at what you made me do to
Endeavor, therefore, to find
the real sins of pride that you think are not there, and then, like
Saint Paul, you will have found the humility
that can make you a saint.