We are all too worried. Worried about the house payment, if the kids are being raised right, if we’re good enough at spirituality, if we aren’t, maybe, secretly not all that great of people and if others really knew us they might not like us so much, if politicians are ushering us into an apocalyptic, Hunger Games-style, end of civilization-type scenario. We’re also worried about small things: did I forget to close the garage door, or to feed the dog? Did that guy look at me funny? It isn’t that these worries aren’t understandable, I totally get it and am in solidarity with anyone who has worried about pretty much any of the examples I just gave. But simply because what we worry about seems justifiable doesn’t mean that the worry itself isn’t causing us problems.
Health-wise, worry can lead to high blood pressure, lack of sleep, and rash decision making. It makes us feel powerless and helpless, and attacks us right where we feel vulnerable, precisely at those places in our lives where we fear we have no control.
It is so serious that Our Lord warns us that anxiety (and I should point out here that, for those of us with medical issues that cause anxiety, this message isn’t meant to make you feel even worse, stay with me here), anxiety is so serious and debilitating that Our Lord implies it has the power to eventually separate us from our devotion to God and distract us with lesser things. St. Francis de Sales says that, other than our actual sins, anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul.
It is so serious, as St. Francis explains, because “Anxiety is not only a temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise.” I think about the ways I behave when I am anxious. Precisely because I feel helpless I become defensive, and short-tempered, and seek easy solutions even if they aren’t the right or even ethical solutions. I might lie to extricate myself from the situation as fast as possible, or I avoid it and evade responsibility. Anxiety causes our passions to become disordered and our emotions fly out of control.
[This homily was given at the Mass during with our Candidates for reception in the Catholic Church were present to prepare for lent] I can say this to you, RCIA candidates. When I was in the process of converting I was apprehensive to the core. Was I doing the right thing? What if I wanted to convert to something else later? Do I know enough, am I good enough to become Catholic? I don’t know how to explain it, but the Church is ever so much larger from the inside than she is from the outside, so have no fear and see before you not a last anxiety to overcome but an adventure to be embraced. The Church is a love letter from God and every day we get to ponder it and unravel new, mysterious depths.
But simply being Catholic doesn’t magically take away all our worries, we must be continually converted to the Lord. In the Psalms, David prays, “My soul is continually in my hands, O Lord, and I have not forgotten Thy law.” Anxiety robs us of such a serene prayer, so we ought to examine ourselves frequently, either all through the day or at the very least in the morning and the evening. The day is about to begin, am I collected and prepared for what will confront me this day? And at night, how did I do today, am I taking any anxiety to bed with me, or do I need to give anything over to the Lord?
Perhaps we know all this and we agree, but yet, when anxiety overcomes us, it is so hard! Lest we judge others when they’re in its grip, we might remind ourselves of how we felt and how we behaved during the times we struggled with it. It doesn’t always make sense from the outside, precisely why it is such a dangerous event and why Our Lord warns that it will separate us from God. To me, the advice to give to someone who is worried cannot be as simple as “Hey buddy, stop worrying, ya know?” “Just trust God!
St. Francis de Sales has some good thoughts on a remedy
First, focus on the present, not the future. The present is what is under our control, the future is not. Look at the birds of the sky, they do not sow or reap. See the wildflowers, they neither spin nor weave. This isn’t to say that planning ahead is bad or causes worry, but it is to say that once your plans are made, take time to live each moment and enjoy it. Give thanks to God for how he cares you and no that, no matter what happens tomorrow, He will take care of you.
Second, maintain a healthy perspective. We should not worry about what we cannot control. Even if the world sends suffering and frustration our way, there’s nothing we can do about it, but more importantly, God can and will use all things for the good. He will take any flaws and evils of this life and fold them into his plan for our eternal salvation. Which is to say, that even though he does not cause us ill or create events that are anxiety provoking, God will redeem any situation in the light of eternal life. If we remain close to Jesus, nothing can pull us away from him, no cross is too heavy that he refuses to bear it, no sin so bad that he won’t forgive. How do you view your life? Are you distracted by the worries of the next week, or are you living in such a way that you are prepared to be a saint in Heaven? What is most important to you? If it is God, then relax, his promise is to be closer to us than our own mothers. The Prophet Isaiah muses, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
The third bit of advice St. Francis de Sales has for us is to remember who we are. God never forget’s us, so do not forget that you are God’s, more valuable to him than all the creatures of the earth and flowers of the field. One human being, you, are more precious to him than his very own life. We worry because we doubt God. We don’t think he is really in control, and this is understandable because life often seems like pure chaos, but have faith, remember that God is in control, and that you are loved by him as the very treasure of his heart.
Our souls are continually in his hands. If anxiety is one of the greatest dangers to our happiness, don’t let that make you even more worried, because Jesus is the cure, our sure hope and our resting place in the storm.