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High Anxiety: What Jesus had to say about it in this week’s gospel

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What he does not say is, "You win!"

“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

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?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”

—Matthew 6:25-27

Anxiety is among the most common challenges people face today. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly 40 million adults (or about 18% of the population) suffer from anxiety or excessive worry. It is not surprising then that record numbers of teens and young adults also experience heightened levels of anxiety.

Although it is important to be aware of our responsibilities and commitments, anxiety can destroy our peace of mind, our ability to enjoy life, the quality of our relationships, and even our health. An awareness of what is going on in the world around us and of what is being expected of us is both useful and healthy. But when this awareness becomes unfocused, excessive, and begins to devour our energy and dominate our emotions, it has become unhealthy anxiety. This kind of anxiety and worry isn’t something new. When we think of the gospel stories about Jesus, it’s easy to focus on Jesus’ challenging and affirming words and on the wonders he performed. But how often do we think about the crowds of people who heard Jesus preach?

The crowds listening to Jesus were made up of real people who had many of the same sorts of stresses and tensions that fill so many of our days: worries about the health and well-being of loved ones, concerns about finances, political and social tensions, and fear about the future. And so, one of the greatest gifts Jesus gave his anxious hearers was the assurance that comes with faith: we are never really alone because our provident and loving God is always watching over us. This is the message at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus insist at three different times that his disciples shouldn’t worry about life, food or drink, the body or clothing. He urges them to trust in God and God’s mercy and love.

This call to trust in God’s providence speaks to both those who have all the food, drink, clothing, and security they could want, as well as offer comfort to those who live in want and insecurity, who question where their next meal will come from. Ultimately, Jesus reminds us, our focus should always be on the “Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (verse 33). This familiar verse is so important because it challenges us those with enough to live as true disciples and to let go of their anxiety about holding on to what they have. And, conversely, it encourages those who suffer want and neglect to let go of their worries about survival.

And yet, Jesus isn’t telling us to stop caring about our lives or to stop working to provide for ourselves and those we love. Rather, he is trying to free us from the anxieties that so often overwhelm us and dictate so much of our lives. If we trust and have confidence in the power of God’s love, then we should also believe that, by God’s grace, we will have what we need for a rich, full life. And, as this Gospel subtly reminds us, there is a difference between what we want in life and what we need. And, when we’re honest, we have to admit that many of the things we can be anxious about have more to do with the “wants” of life, rather than our needs.

Faith assures us that where our needs are concerned, we need only ask God to “give us our daily bread” and trust that God will support us in a number ways, including the love of our family and friends. Yes, there might be difficult work to do to overcome our anxiety-causing challenges, but God promises to be with us then, as well. Remember the words of Saint Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. The one who has God finds that they lack nothing. God alone suffices.”

In the end, as Jesus reminds us, the comfort that comes from our faith—the assurance that God will ultimately provide we need for a full and complete life—empowers us to overcome the anxieties that can rob us of our freedom and happiness.

How do you share your worries and anxieties with God

How sensitive are you to the needs of others in your family? your parish? your community?

Read the First Reading for this Sunday’s Mass (Isaiah 49:14-15). When have you experienced God’s provident, maternal care?

Words of Wisdom: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”—Corrie ten Boom

 

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