Sunday, August 11, 2013

A place for worry? (19.C)

In last week's homily I proposed a Christian approach to worry, daring to offer “a practical program for a happier and even longer life.” I suggested we should use our heads to recognize that worry is a total waste and even harmful to our health, and that we should see our problems through the eyes of faith.

In particular, I presented two scriptural “antidotes” to worrying: counting our blessings before we weigh our worries, and shifting our focus from this world to the next. By shifting our minds from the uncertainties of this world to the certain promise of the next, we put worry in its proper place.

Response to the homily broke records for enthusiasm. Almost everyone worries, so almost everyone got something out of the homily, including me

After Mass this morning, a parishioner told me that she was in the car on her way home from Mass last Sunday when her husband turned to her said"Well, Monsignor might as well have stayed in bed this morning."

She said, "oh, you didn't like his homily?"

"Oh no, I liked it very much" he replied. "But since you've been worrying for the past ten minutes, I decided you weren't listening!"

Despite the warm reaction to the homily, I heard a couple of critical comments too. Someone asked whether I wasn’t encouraging people to be careless and discouraging them from prudent planning and foresight.

That’s a fair point. So in today’s homily I am going to present the other side of the story, for the benefit of those who think I didn’t give worry enough credit last week.

Today’s message is: go ahead and worry, but make sure you worry about the right things and in the right way.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that’s there is really only one thing worth worrying about, and that’s our salvation. Oddly enough, it’s one thing that fewer and fewer people seem to worry about. Most of us spend more time and energy (and money, for that matter) on our physical health than on our spiritual health.

One of the reasons that folks don’t worry about being saved or lost is the fairly recent idea that just about everyone is going to heaven. We all know that Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.” We know that he said “the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” But many of us act as if he’d said the precise opposite.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks particularly to procrastinators: to those who accept his teaching but put off doing something about it. Once again we shouldn't have any trouble recognizing ourselves, for procrastination is about as universal a problem as worry is.

In just 16 verses, St. Luke presents three vivid parables: the sleepy slaves waiting for the return of their master, the house about to be burglarized, and the trustworthy manager. All three lead to the same conclusion: “you also must be ready.”

I’m not sure it matters whether we think the words “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” refers to the end of time or the end of our lives: either way, if we put off until tomorrow the spiritual challenges of today we’ll be in the same shoes as the servant caught out when his master returned without warning.

One of my brothers told me that his kids will call on the cell phone when he and his wife are out for the evening. “Uh, Dad, when are you coming home?”

He answers “And why do you want to know? Anything to do with the fact you still haven’t done what I asked you to do?”

Jesus has made it clear that there’s no use asking him the same question. We know what we need to do, we know how we need to live: we know what our Master wants.

So if you’re going to worry, worry about pleasing God. That’s not the fruitless and wasteful worry I talked about last week—it’s the right kind of worry about the only things that really matter. In fact, it’s not really worry at all, because the kind of worry I was talking about is worry about things we can can’t change or control.

Not worrying doesn’t mean not working. The famous “Serenity Prayer” popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous says this very well. It begins “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Years ago I read about a woman whose husband died leaving her with six children to raise. She faced this enormous challenge with help from her church, and created a loving home not only for her six but for several foster children as well.

As the years went by and the children turned out well, a local paper came to interview her for a story. The reporter asked her how she’d managed to cope and to raise all those children so beautifully.

The woman replied with a smile, “Well, it was the partnership.”

“What partnership?” the reporter asked.

Still smiling, she answered “My partnership with God. A few days after my husband died, I looked at my situation and I said to God, ‘From now on, Lord, I’ll do the work if you’ll do the worrying.’ All through the years I’ve done what needed to be done. I have upheld my end of the bargain.”

And then with joy she added, “And God has upheld his!”*

*James F. Colianni, Sunday Sermons: Treasury of Illustrations, 1019.

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