Skolops and Sainthood

My wife and I don’t have a TV. It seems like this is increasingly common among millennials: rather than spending money for cable or satellite, we’re more apt to sign up for online streaming services. I generally don’t want to spend money on those either, but I still manage to spend more hours watching various videos online than I probably ought to.

Certainly, there are many ways to flounder about on YouTube and waste time on pointless crud; but, there are also troves of amazing academic, theological, and spiritual resources available at the push of a button. One of the great treasures I’ve come across are old videos of Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen from his national television program, Live Is Worth Living, that first aired in the 1950’s. Having grown up in the nineties and aughts, it’s befuddling to me that a Catholic bishop ever ran in syndication on national TV. You can imagine the surprise on my parent’s faces when I told them what I’ve been watching!

I was captivated recently as I stumbled across Ven. Sheen explaining the meaning of the word “skolop” during one of his shows. Now, if you’re reading along and thinking, “James, I have no idea what that word means – it might as well be Greek to me,” pat yourself on the back my friend, because it is. “Skolop” is a Greek word that means “splinter.” If you listen to Ven. Sheen, rather than a splinter, the word’s meaning is more like that of a “stake” – a piece of wood used to impale (As an aside, I’m grateful that Ven. Sheen took the trouble of spelling the word on his program: my first few internet searches sent me down a rabbit hole learning about mollusks. Gotta love the Internet).

St. Paul used the word “skolop” in reference to that with which he was afflicted after receiving a private revelation from God in 2 Corinthians 12:2-10. In the New American Bible, “skolop” is translated as “thorn in the flesh,” but even this may be a mild translation. There’s good reason to think that Paul’s suffering was serious: Ven. Bishop Sheen points out that St. Paul reflects on his weakness on several instances throughout his letters. While the nature of his weakness is somewhat unclear to readers today, St. Paul provides us with a powerful witness of the good that can come from patiently accepting one’s skolop.

I was particularly touched by Ven. Bishop Sheen’s specific reflection on how we, as followers of Christ, are called to interact with our own skolops, especially in the context of how we relate to God.  We all have our weaknesses – the stakes driven through our souls that remind us that this life isn’t heaven.  I felt affirmed and challenged by Ven. Sheen’s message: when confronted with our own skolops, we should choose to be meek

We all have our weaknesses – the stakes driven through our souls that remind us that this life isn’t heaven.

Infertility is certainly not something that I’ve chosen – it’s not something that I want, and it’s led to many difficult conversations, revelations, and moments of emptiness. Like St. Paul, I’ve prayed on so many instances for relief from my affliction – for my wife and I to conceive. And yet our condition persists. Faced with the repetitive pattern of hope followed by frustration, followed by deep sadness, followed by measured optimism in a seemingly never-ending cycle, I can understand the temptation some feel to rebel against this condition. It’s difficult to grapple with infertility, and to understand what it means for our life and for our marriage.

But then, I greatly appreciate how Ven. Sheen pointed out that our skolops are opportunities to which we can respond in either rebellion or acceptance. As Ven. Sheen said, “Disappointment is the fuel for abandonment to the Will of God.”

Are we not made for that kind of radical, self-emptying love of God? If so, there must be an opportunity to know God better through this plan of His, and His plan must be intimately tied to acceptance of and rejoicing in all God has given me – infertility included.

St. Paul knew this truth and his meek acceptance of his own skolop gives us the model for how to place our Blessed Lord at the center of our lives, and even at the center of our greatest weakness. Through our Lord, may we find meaning in our suffering. Through our Lord, may we gratefully give back to Him the weaknesses He has allowed us to endure for His glory. Through our Lord, may we learn to patiently walk the path to sainthood with exaltation of our life’s greatest struggles. After all, everything is a gift.

James is married to Allie, his wife of three years, and writes from the great state of Texas. You can meet James’ wife Allie and the Springs in the Desert team at our one-day retreat for women on December 7 in Philadelphia. Visit our retreat page for more information.

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