Bottom line: St. Paul tells us how to stop worrying and start living.
Today St. Paul tells us, “Have no anxiety at all.” (Phil 4:6) We perhaps smile at those words. When someone says not to worry, it can sound like Pollyanna – a person so blindly optimistic that they imagine bad things can never happen. Well, that is hardly the case with Paul. He faced trials few of us could conceive. A partial list includes an escape involving being lowered over the side of building in a basket, public whippings, shipwrecks, snake bites, imprisonment and bodily ailments – particularly, afflictions of the eye. Yet in this letter, written toward the end of his life, he says, “Have no anxiety at all.”
In his admonition to cast aside worry, St. Paul was echoing Jesus. At the Last Supper, knowing full well that the next morning he would face public humiliation and unspeakable tortures, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
We can ask how it is possible to obey such a command. And let’s be clear. Paul and Jesus are not making a pious suggestion; they are giving a command. Have no anxiety at all. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
All of us would like to be free from worries, but it seems impossible. We have financial problems, family difficulties, work deadlines, health concerns – not to mention worries about what is happening in our world: natural disasters, societal breakdown, wars, economic turmoil and so on. When Paul says to have no anxieties, when Jesus tells us not to be troubled, it does not mean to ignore reality. What it means is that we take a different approach to our troubles.
Before I say what I think that approach is, I want to make a disclaimer. I am a terrible worrier. I worry about money. I worry about what people think about me. I worry about not doing my job properly. I hear other people problems and I worry about them! It bothers me that I can do so little to help. I’m a worrier. At the same time, I recognize that all my fretting does no good for me or anyone else.
When I analyze my anxieties, I see that they concern only two days. And I have no control over either of them. The two days are yesterday and tomorrow. I brood about past faults and blunders, yet I can do nothing to change them. The best I can do is to learn from them, to repent of those things which were sinful and to make restitution if possible. The same is true about tomorrow – the things which I worry about often do not come to pass or, when they do happen, they turn out completely different than what I feared. The only day I can control is today. Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Mt 6:34) That does not mean that we do not make prudent plans. Careful preparation is part of today's duty. But once we make those plans, put them in Jesus’ hands.
I once knew a lovely religious sister who lived this teaching. For example, when she wrote a letter, perhaps making a request, she would say a prayer over the letter before she posted it. Then she would not think about it until the person responded. She was one of the most effective parish workers I ever knew.
If we could somehow put our anxieties in God’s hand, it would greatly increase our effectiveness. An American businessman illustrates this principle. He had set up a retail store, but problems with his workers, debt and lack of customers were causing him terrible anxiety. He developed a case of shingles which, as some of you know personally, is a very painful condition. One night he felt that he would die before morning and he began writing farewells to his wife, his son and his friends. He didn't sleep a wink. As the sun rose, he heard singing from a hospital chapel, next to his house. The words of the hymn were, “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you…” He lifted himself up in his bed and said to himself: “It is real! God loves and cares for me.” He felt like he had been let out of dungeon into the sunlight. He went on to found one of the most successful retail businesses in our country. You have probably heard of him. His had a somewhat funny name: James Cash Penney, but he was better known as J.C. Penney.
No matter what the test, God will take care of you. Those are good words. Now is the moment to say a prayer of abandonment. What a difference it would make if we could place our cares in God’s hand!
Well, listen carefully. St. Paul tells us how to stop worrying and start living:
Brothers and sisters, Have no anxieties at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
From Archives (Twenty-Seventh Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru