Tuesday, September 5, 2017

St. Paul: Content in All Circumstances

In the Bible, St. Paul made a curious statement. In his letter to the Philippians he wrote, “In all circumstances I have learned to be content.” Paul meant that his faith in Christ allowed him to be serene and at peace regardless of the problems he faced.

Well, that’s fine for Paul. He only had to deal with being imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, whipped, chased out of town by a mob throwing rocks at him, and other minor stuff like that. He never had to deal with serious things, like rush-hour traffic, or his computer crashing, or not being able to find the remote control when his favorite show was about to come on TV.

Back in Paul’s day, life was simple and stress-free. They only had to worry about starving to death or being stabbed by Roman soldiers. They didn’t have to endure the embarrassment of having a credit card rejected while at a fancy restaurant, or getting a $200 speeding ticket when everyone else was driving just as fast. Now that’s aggravation.

You know, I think if St. Paul lived in our fast-paced world today, he would’ve changed his tune and wrote, “In all circumstances I have learned to overreact and throw a hissy fit.”

Hmm, on second thought, maybe we can learn a few things from St. Paul. After all, I suppose being beaten and then thrown into a filthy dungeon without a trial might be almost as frustrating as, say, not having a strong wifi signal.

Although America is the most prosperous nation in world history, we Americans are some of the most stressed-out and unhappy people in world history. St. Paul was content, even in the face of severe deprivation: lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of freedom. We have all those things in abundance, and yet we’re not satisfied. We complain. We get angry. We always want more. We have no serenity or peace.

St. Paul possessed two things that most Americans, including American Catholics, do not have. First, he had his priorities straight. He knew the most important facet of life is to be in a close relationship with God. Far too many of us think having lots of money and cars and shoes and electronic toys is what life is all about, and if we have any spare time on a Sunday morning, we’ll think about God for an hour. But if God is not our first and most important priority, then we’ll never be at peace. As St. Augustine said, “The human heart is restless until it rests in God.”

The second thing St. Paul possessed was a clear understanding of the concept of acceptance. No matter what his circumstances, he accepted that it was God’s will for him. Even when he was wrongly imprisoned, Paul did not complain. He accepted his fate and knew that God could make something good happen. And God did. While in prison Paul finally had the time to write inspired and brilliant epistles, which are now part of the New Testament.

Have you ever been stuck in rush-hour traffic, and said to yourself, “I’m going to accept this situation peacefully as God’s will for my life.” Yeah, me neither. But wouldn’t it be great if we actually could do that, and accept situations we can’t control, and avoid all that stress and anger and high blood pressure?

St. Paul didn’t have a smart phone, credit card, or big screen TV. But somehow he was able to be content in all circumstances. Maybe it’s time we did the same. After all, we have nothing to lose except our ulcers.

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