Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Single Thorn

"Incline your ear, O Lord." Psalm 86:1

I've been contemplating Rogier van der Weyden's Descent From the Cross. Upon close inspection I was struck by the single thorn that pierces Christ's ear. I think of St. Paul's lament about the thorn in his side and the fact that God does not take it away from him despite his triple petition.

Could this one single thorn within the ear of Christ represent a single sin, an evil passion that afflicts our individual souls, the one sin that bothers us the most, the one of which we long to be rid of once and for all, and yet, there it remains aggravating and irritating us again and again? We know it all too well and lament over our inability to remove it from our hearts on our frequent trips to confession. We whisper it to the priest thinking this must be the last time that particular sin will prick our souls and yet, it comes back to tempt us over and over, just when we think we're finally rid of it.

We beg God to remove it; this one, persistant thorn of sinfulness among many great sins, the one that is perhaps the most bothersome source of both our suffering and that of the Lord. And yet the thorn remains, continuously penetrating his ear just as it jabs our conscience. So knowing that on our own we can do nothing, we persistantly offer prayers of supplication begging Him to help us remove it and begin the healing of the wound.

O Lord, incline your ear and take our sin-our selfishness, our pride, our vanity, our lust, our greed-take it all! Listen to how we are distressed by our offenses because they are a source of suffering to you and relieve us of the sharp pain that is caused by our sin. Free us from the stabbing burdens of sin that plague us so that we may peacefully live in Your love. Amen.


  1. I have one of those persistent thorns. Sometimes I think that God leaves us with small faults so our heads won't get swollen with pride at our supposed "holiness" ;) I'm thinking it's probably better that way too. It's kind of hard to get puffed up when we sound like broken records in the Confessional (lol). I sound like one at least. It makes me realize how completely dependant I am on His Mercy.

    I've always wondered what St Paul's thorn was.

  2. That is a sad picture seeing the thorn piercing Jesus's ear. So much suffering he endured and how easily it would have been for him to do what they kept taunting him to do--to come down from the cross, or make the thorns shrivel up like the barren fig tree. Of course Catherine Emmerich had bunch more visuals of Jesus even more horrific than the thorn in the ear.

    There are many things I don't understand as to why can love Jesus so much, but not trust God, and keep the reality of God more present before me so that temptations would be almost laughable. Why when I get so much from going to Mass, or reading the Bible am I not more disciplined with my time to ensure that is accomplished before everything else. St. Alphonsus Liguouri says one cannot persist in daily meditative prayer and remain a sinner. Either he will give up meditative prayer and return to sinning, or he will give up sinning as he is more faithful in meditative prayer. I can't say I've been faithful enough to validate his statement.

  3. Colleen, I am right with you in struggling to understand the mysteries of faith and why it is so hard to trust in the Lord and remain faithful to prayer.

    Mary, I read about a few possibilities-one was his possible arrogance which he tried to overcome,it could have been an obnoxious person who bothered him, some say it was a physical pain and others, immodest thoughts and still others have thought it was his anger which had been behind his previous persecutions of the early Christians. I guess we'll never know for sure and maybe that's the point...in his vague description of his thorn we can all imagine our own difficulties and therefore can better relate to his message.

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments!

  4. Anne,
    This is one of your most insightful pieces. I too struggle with those thorns. In my case those thorns of the ear may be the legitimate criticisms levied by others, that I am too prideful to hear. Or alternatively perhaps they are blasphemous comments, unfair criticisms of the Church, inappropriate humor, etc. that pass by our ears each day. The image is striking - poignant and well done. Thank you!

    Mary Anne

  5. Well, he was kind of arrogant - even St Teresa of Avila thought so :) Maybe his temper stuck around too! (Yup, that makes me feel a bit better. Lol)