Sunday, March 2, 2014

What? Me Worry? (Sunday 8.A)

The opening lines of today’s Gospel made me ask myself whether my parishioners would like to hear a homily about their attitudes to money from someone who has a recession-proof job, no kids, and who lives in a house that someone else owns.

I didn’t think so.

Anyway, money is not the whole story here. Certainly money can be a spiritual problem—St. Paul tells Timothy that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” and that “in the eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 6:10)

That’s a reading our liturgy could have paired up with this Gospel, if the Church wanted to shine the spotlight on money. Instead, the first reading, in which God responds with a tender reassurance of his care and concern to people who think he has forgotten them, hints at a different focus: worry.

And I am very well-qualified to speak on the subject of worry. You don’t need a job, kids or a house to worry about—there’s always something.

I heard about a priest who had a sign over his office door that said “If you have worries, come in and let’s talk them over. If you don’t, come in and tell me how you do it!”

Jesus knows human nature. He lists many things we worry about—starting with money, he moves on to food, drink, clothing, security, and the big one, physical health. About the only thing he misses is the family, a source of worry for many.

In Our Lord’s time, worrying about food probably meant worrying about getting fed; today it’s more likely about diet, allergies, and antioxidants. But I’m sure we feel insecure a lot like people did two thousand years ago, and that health problems preoccupy us as much or more, despite the advances of modern medicine.

If I haven’t caught your attention yet, maybe I need to add to the list. It’s true that the young don’t worry as much about health as older folks, and that older folks worry less about money. But every person in church this morning is worried about something—getting into university, getting out of university, finding the right person to marry, having a baby, not having a baby.

We worry what people think of us. We worry about the future, and we worry about the past.

This morning, Jesus invites himself right into the middle of all this anxiety—right into our worried minds and hearts.

First of all, he gives sound and basic advice. If you are going to worry, he says, stick with today’s worries. Don’t try to sort out tomorrow’s problems today. Why? Because it’s a waste of time and energy. The farther away the worry, the more likely it will never happen.

A recent study of 1200 American seniors asked what they most regretted looking back over their lives. Many answered “I wish I hadn't spent so much of my life worrying.”

Of course we don’t need Jesus for that kind of advice; you can find it in a self-help book. Where today’s Gospel really leads us is to God the Father. Even today’s worries are enough to overwhelm us: are we going to deal with them on our own, or take them to our heavenly Father who knows our needs?

St. Peter’s first letter has a wonderful line that every worrier should memorize: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7) I’ve spent a lot of time praying with this advice, and the word that really sticks with me is “cast.” I even looked it up in the dictionary: to cast is to throw, especially deliberately or forcefully. Casting is throwing something outward, like a fishing line.

To cast our anxiety on God, we need to send it flying away from ourselves. We need to abandon self-reliance and to trust in God’s love and care for us.

A friend drew me a clear picture of this last week. He reminded me about the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” I’m not quite old enough to have seen it in the paper, but the story of the abused orphan who meets a generous and kind millionaire was turned into the musical “Annie,” which St. Thomas Aquinas high school produced a few years ago.

He said that dealing with worries on our own, instead of turning to God our Father, is like Annie heading back to the orphanage when her benefactor wants to help her. The choice between self-reliance and trust in God is the choice between being an orphan or a beloved son or daughter.

Orphans who have no-one believe they must make their own way in the world. Beloved children know that they have someone to turn to in any crisis.

Jesus asks each of us today whether we want to make it on our own, or to cast our worries on the God who cares for us. He invites us to reject the false security of self-reliance and to choose the peace that comes from trust in God.

And that’s where I thought I’d end my homily. Not letting self-reliance turn us into orphans seemed a fine conclusion. But I felt something was missing: the answer to the question, “so how do we put our trust in God?”

The short answer, of course, is in prayer. As St. Paul says to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) Only through prayer can we build a relationship that lets us hand over our worries to our Father in heaven.

But I found a longer answer in a book that Father Xavier brought me back from India. It quotes the late Herbert Lockyer, a distinguished Protestant evangelist. Worry, Dr. Lockyer says, produces doubt in three ways:

First, “God’s love is doubted.” Worry implies that he doesn’t care for his children. Second, “God’s wisdom is doubted.” Worry indicates that he is not able to plan for us, that he does not know what is best for those who belong to him. Third, “God’s power is doubted. Worry says his grace is not sufficient for our needs.”

A powerful antidote to this three-fold doubt can be found in chapter eight of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It may be my favourite verse in the whole Bible: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…” (Rom 8:28)

God’s love, wisdom and power are summed up in those words. If we take them to heart, we can find trust and peace even amidst the worst of worries.

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