Homily: No Anxiety At All

A139OT27_2_cf03_4cPaul writes in Philippians 4:6-9: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

Paul, in his beautiful letter to the Church at Philippi, encourages Christians at all times to rejoice, regardless of the situation, and asks them in this passage today to throw their concerns upon God with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving”. He encourages them to “have no anxiety at all” and to let the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding… guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

Paul certainly had a right to express these feelings; as the Apostle commissioned by the Risen Lord, whose rock-solid faith was able to allow him to endure imprisonment, beatings, humiliation, and the loss of all things.

But, in second Corinthians, Paul speaks of being “under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” In 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks twice of not being able to “bear” separation from the Thessalonians any longer. Paul, too, struggled with anxiety, especially for his Churches.

Indeed, some have made the intriguing suggestion that the “thorn in the flesh” which Paul says he was given, about which he writes in second Corinthians, might not be a physical illness at all, but anxiety itself. This is hard to prove, but it does point to the very real struggle Paul himself had with anxiety.

Anxiety in a religious context is a lack of dependence on God, or trust that God is on your side, that God is at work in us, that God cares for us.

What is the solution to this anxiety? What is Paul’s own prescription? In addition to prayer, Paul says to place oneself completely in God’s hands. And then, to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”. In other words, don’t short-change God by selfishness, discrimination toward others, dishonesty, or injustice. Our Gospel story today is a reminder about returning to the vine grower what is His due.

This doesn’t indicate that anxiety will never again strike Paul, but that he does have a prescription for how to deal with it when it does strike. It is sometimes easier to know the prescription, though, than to take it.

These past several months have had to have been among the most anxious times our parish has encountered financially for many years. Anxiety, especially my anxiety, rises to unbelievable levels at these times. Things even like prayer becomes harder to do.

Likewise, focusing on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable,” The peace that surpasses all understanding seems farther and farther away.

It is at times — and now in months, like these — that I am glad that Paul gave to us his own struggles, his own humanity, because it seems more possible, more likely, at a strictly human level, to want to try, one more time, the prescription he left to us, since he needed to use it himself. (John W. Martens © 2008 America Press Inc.)

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