If you haven’t turned on your television during the past, oh, 40 years or so, you may not have heard that our world is a mess. There’s terrorism, hatred, fraud, dishonesty, violence, mass shootings, crumbling infrastructure, greed, unemployment, hurricanes, earthquakes, frayed nerves, crushing debt, fractured families, illness, substance abuse, loneliness, fear, and despair. (Did I leave any out?)
And now in recent months, the cheery topic of nuclear war has again entered the national conversation. Oh goodie.
At Mass this weekend, in his first letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes, “Have no anxiety at all.”
Um, sure, Paul. How exactly are we supposed to do that?
Paul explains, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
When Paul says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding,” he means it is incomprehensible to those who have a worldly mindset. For people who focus only on physical health, wealth, prosperity, and security, it is, by definition, impossible to be at peace if you are sick or poor or living in an uncertain, chaotic situation.
Yes, St. Paul did not have to worry about the national debt or opiod addiction or mushroom clouds suddenly rising from a nearby vaporized city. But if you think life was less dangerous and less uncertain 20 centuries ago, think again. A huge percentage of the population back then was born into slavery. If you were lucky enough not to be a slave, you still had to work from sun-up till sundown your whole life, beginning at about age 6, just to survive. If you were luckier still and did not die as a youth from disease, accident, famine, or war, you could expect to live into your late 40s or early 50s, when you would die of old age.
Life was no picnic back then, and Paul knew it very well. Yet he knew it was possible to be free from anxiety and filled with peace. The key was that Paul put his faith in God rather than men.
Our values are the exact opposite nowadays. We put our faith in men—science, technology, government—to provide the big things: our health, wealth, security, happiness, and peace. And we put our faith in God for the little things: “Oh Lord, I’m running late, please help me find my car keys!”
Also, many people today think it is possible, even expected, to go through life without any problems. That’s what happens when we fall for all the baloney being slung our way by politicians, along with a steady stream of unrealistic nonsense from Madison Avenue and Hollywood. (And “participation trophies” and the “Everyone is a winner!” approach being used by educators isn’t helping either, if you ask me.)
St. Paul knew that Jesus’ words were true: “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). It’s a fact: life is hard. The sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can get our heads out of the clouds. (Ooh, I almost said out of, um, another place.) Paul also knew there were more important things than this world: the love of God and eternal life in Heaven.
When we Christians focus on God and Heaven, we are not ignoring the problems here on earth, we are simply putting them into the proper perspective.
When we follow Paul’s instructions and make our requests know to God by prayer and petition, with a thankful attitude, then God will fill our hearts and minds with peace. It is possible to be free of anxiety, even in anxious times.
We just have to know Who loves us and Who is in charge. And I’ll give you a hint, it’s not those smooth-talking politicians who promise to take care of all our needs.