Sunday, February 26, 2017

“IN THE MIDST OF WINTER, I FOUND IN MYSELF AN INVINCIBLE SUMMER.” (Albert Camus) Anxiety, worry, fear, and distress, they all vanish when the love of Christ takes charge (Reflections on the Gospel of the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 6:24-34)

“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing:
God never changes.
Patient endurance,

attains all things.
He whom God holds
shall want for nothing;
God alone suffices.” 

(St. Teresa of Avila)

Beneath the numerous and amazing accounts of healing in the New Testament is a thought that ought to guide and direct the life of every disciple, a thought summed up perfectly in the poem written by St. Teresa of Avila (often called her “Bookmark” since it was found tucked into her prayer book after her death in 1582) as well as a line from one of St. Paul’s letters: “I should like you to be free of anxieties”.

No one is exempt from the storms of life, not even the most faithful and devout Christian. And while Scripture tells us that God “gives his sun to shine on both the good and the bad, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45), it is equally true that suffering and pain are visited and distributed by life equally on everyone, good and bad, believer and unbeliever alike.

And yet, as Teresa says in her prayer, “he whom God holds shall want for nothing”. One who believes and trusts that his life is always in God’s hands has something that no one else possesses, and that is that unshakeable confidence that no matter what happens, “all will be well”, for “the lives of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall ever harm them”. (Wisdom 3:1)

If there is one thing that the Gospel so confidently proclaims over and over again, it is the fact that God is in control; Christ is in charge, even of the darker areas of our lives. Jesus heals the sick, expels unclean spirits, feeds the multitude, calls the sinner to repentance, even raises the dead. And because he is in charge, St. Paul is able to urge us, just as he urged the Christians of his day, to cast off anxiety, worry, and fear in our lives.

“Worry, anxiety, distress, fear”—these words should not be part of a Christian’s vocabulary, for Christ casts them all away, just as he casts away unclean spirits that held people hostage. In the ancient world, illness was attributed to the possession by unclean spirits. We no longer attribute illness to demons—and we no longer fear diseases as much. And yet fear, worry, and anxiety are still demons that plague our lives. They still have power over us today.

Over and over again, the gospels tell us that with Jesus, all these demons that sometimes bother us—are cast out. He is in command. God is in charge. And there is no need to be anxious, fearful or worried—about anything. God hears and answers our prayers, all of them, though perhaps not in the manner or the time we wish them to be heard and answered.

Remember the story of the woman and the judge in the Gospel? The ancient pagans had a practice they called fatigare deos – “to tire the gods.” They believed that the gods had to somehow be “made tired by their incessant praying”, that their perseverance in telling the gods what they want and need would eventually pay off, because the gods would eventually get sick and wearied by hearing their prayers and would finally accede to their requests.

Perhaps Jesus had this practice in mind when he told the parable of the woman and the judge; perhaps he still had it in mind when he spoke the words of today’s gospel reading:

“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.”

We are to trust that God knows all our needs even before we speak them. “Even the hairs on our heads have all been counted", for "God knows each one of us by name”. We don’t have to ‘tire’ him like the pagans do; we have to trust him.

And trusting him means two things. First, it means trusting that while he may not give us right away what we ask for, he always knows what we need, and will always give it to us when we need it.

We all have our challenges, our crosses, the things about ourselves we strive to overcome. On a number of occasions, as a young seminarian, I would complain to my spiritual director that there were certain faults and weaknesses in me that I simply found to be too stubborn and deeply-embedded in me that no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t rid myself of them. "Be patient", he would always say. "Persevere. In God's own time and in his own way, trust that He will assist you, perhaps even free you from these crosses."

"Time," a philosopher once said, "is the patience of God." It should be ours as well. In God's own time, all shall be well.

Second, trusting in God’s wisdom means realizing that we pray, not to tire him into giving what we ask, but to remind ourselves of our dependence on him. To persevere in prayer is to increase our trust in God, because in doing so, we increase our confidence in ourselves. The ultimate purpose of prayer is not just to get what we ask, but to make us strong, confident, and without fear in facing the challenges and difficulties of our life and vocation.

“Do not fear", Scripture tells us, "for God has our name written on the palm of His hand”. Or as the first reading today so beautifully puts it:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

It is when we realize the profound meaning of trust in God’s care that we discover deep within our very selves, a power and force that can overcoming tremendous odds—something that is itself a gift of his grace.

To borrow the words of the famous atheist Albert Camus, “in the midst of winter,” we can yet find in ourselves, "an invincible summer”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)