Free of Anxiety

(Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: We ask Jesus to protect us from anxiety - especially the fear that so easily turns into anguish.

Some medical experts estimate that perhaps half of all symptoms have their origin in fear. The patient fears losing a job, being exposed, death of a loved one, betrayal or old age - and the dread manifests itself in a medical symptom such as severe bodily pain. The doctor examines the patient and discover no physical cause, yet the pain or paralysis is real. The fear that causes such symptoms is called "anxiety" - an unfocused, free-floating fear that won't go away.

St. Paul says he would like us to be "free of anxiety." He is giving advice for single people regarding marriage, but his wish applies more generally. St. Paul would readily join the prayer we say at the conclusion of the Our Father: "Protect us from all anxiety."

Recently Pope Benedict addressed the common problem of fear and anxiety.* He began by acknowledging fear as a natural dimension of life. He then distinguished between imaginary, childhood fears that later disappear and the ones rooted in reality. Those we must face with human commitment and trust in God. There is, however, said the Holy Father, "a deeper form of fear, of an existential form, which at times borders on anguish: this fear is born from a sense of emptiness, connected with a culture permeated by diffused nihilism, both theoretic and practical." To defeat this fear, bordering on anguish, requires the power of Christ - his intervention in our lives.

In today's Gospel we hear about Jesus encountering a man with an unclean spirit. It feared that Jesus would, quote, "destroy us." Evidently the unclean spirit had taken over aspects of the man's personality. The man appeared to be talking incoherently because Jesus order him to be quiet - and the unclean spirit left him. What first looked like destruction turned out to be liberation.

The Catholic Church continues Jesus' ministry of exorcism - casting out unclean spirits. In recent years many priests and deacons have taken formal training to properly administer the new rite of exorcism. I have not taken that training, but I recognize that authority as part of the priestly ministry. Before baptizing a child or an adult, a priest performs a very simple exorcism - not that the person is possessed, but that he will have to face demonic temptations and attacks. For that reason, the priest says a exorcism declaring the superiority of Christ's power. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation or some other pastoral encounter, I will sometimes sense that a spiritual force has a hold on the person. As part of the absolution or some other prayer, I will quietly tell the evil spirit to leave.

In Christian tradition, prayers of exorcism are generally performed softly - unlike what the movies depict. Once a parish priest brought a young girl named Agnese Salamoni to Padre Pio - St. Pio of Pietrelcina. People has put Agnese on a pedestal. She was the "model girl of the parish." But suddenly Agnese fell into a state of depression, leaving her paralyzed. Although Padre Pio was not a formal exorcist, he sensed the presence of a demonic power. He simply said, "Begone." The girl improved, but her cure was not instantaneous. It required much subsequent prayer.

Now, I am sure few of you look at yourself as an exorcist. Still, God could use any of us to speak a word that brings liberation. An example: You may have heard of Dr. Alveda King - Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece.** In the 70's she had received two abortions. Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling had legalized abortion, she believed Planned Parenthood counselors who told her, "It's not a baby, it's just a blob of tissue." Pregnant a third time, she mentioned to her grandfather - Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. - what Planned Parenthood had told her. "No," he said, "they are lying. It is a child." Dr. Alveda King embraced her child and she went on to seek forgiveness and healing for her earlier abortions. Today she has a deep peace - a freedom from anxiety - that makes her a powerful leader in the Pro-Life movement.***

If we begin each day with a prayer, Jesus can use us to bring liberation, healing and peace to others. We need first ask - like Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. - that we will have peace, freedom from fear, within our own hearts. In Mass today, we ask Jesus to protect us from anxiety - especially the fear that so easily turns into anguish. It can cause incoherent behavior. It can paralyze. Only Jesus can free us from such demonic powers. To defeat that fear, which borders on anguish, requires the power of Christ - his intervention in our lives.

**********

*June 22, 2008, Address before recitation of Angelus.

**Regarding her uncle's 1966 award from Planned Parenthood, she stated:

"In 1966, neither the general public nor my uncle was aware of the true agenda of Planned Parenthood, an agenda of death that has become painfully obvious as the years have unfolded...There is no way he would want his name or image associated today with Planned Parenthood, the group most responsible for denying civil rights to the over 45 million American babies killed by abortion, one-third of them African-American. There is no way my uncle would condone the violence of abortion, violence that Planned Parenthood has always tried to mask, which brings painful deaths to babies and can result in torn wombs, serious infections, and emotional devastation for their mothers. Let me be clear, Planned Parenthood must stop using and lying to my family and the entire community of humanity.

***See Dr. Alveda King's interview with Terence Jeffrey.

General Intercessions for Fourth Ordinary Sunday (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Fourth Sunday, Year B, 2012: Freedom from Addiction
2009: Free of Anxiety
2006: The Unclean Spirit Came Out of Him
2003: Why Don't Priests Get Married?

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