Many of us feel agitated and adrift. Consider these practices and attitudes for finding serenity.
The disturbing events of recent years have left many Catholics feeling agitated and adrift, deprived of the peace that is rightfully ours in Christ. The following 7 steps can help us reclaim this gift, which the Lord bestowed before departing to the Father. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn. 14:27).
1Flee the media maelstrom.
Our senses are constantly barraged by words, sounds, images: audio-visual noise that we must escape if we wish to enter into Christ’s rest. The solution is to separate ourselves from this chaos, that we might obtain the fruitful silence from which true prayer is born.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). So long as we are entranced by the smart phone, the laptop, the tablet, and the television, we move in the realm of unreality, where fantasy and delusion reign. It is trite to observe that the technologies we created to serve us have enslaved us, but the sad fact bears repeating, if only because it remains widely overlooked.
Even now, readers are probably indignantly justifying their media habits: “This or that has redeeming value!” Granted, nothing is without a kernel of goodness, and we cannot altogether cede the field to those who despise the gospel. But we should not fool ourselves: if we spend more time consuming media than sitting before God in prayer, then surely our priorities are badly disordered. And who among us is free from this lamentable disproportion?
2Live the liturgy, don’t litigate it.
The Church offers the liturgy as a means of initiation into the mysteries of God; those who grasp its splendor should take care not to coarsen and (for lack of a better word) politicize it through interminable contention. This is not to advise apathy in the face of irreverence. There will always be opportunities to encourage worship befitting the grandeur of God, and we should take advantage of them.
Yet we must see the danger of arguing endlessly about sacred things, especially from a place of confidence in our own righteousness. If certain rites and practices are deficient, they will wither away. And perhaps that which seems deficient contains hidden merit.
In any event, a holy life is the best testimony to the transformative power of the liturgy, rightly celebrated. Now charity is the form of holiness, and charity is not belligerent and demanding, for it “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:4).
3Avoid the restless search for idle knowledge.
An earnest desire to know God is quite distinct from a prying curiosity about theology. “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Ps. 131:1). An earnest desire to know God comes from humility. It leads to persistence in prayer, careful reflection on the Scriptures, and docile study of the fathers and doctors. It yields peace, gentleness, charity. A prying curiosity about theology comes from pride. It leads to the frantic consumption of books, websites, and podcasts, combined with a terrible appetite for conversation. It yields dryness and exhaustion. Naturally, one must consult authorities now and again, especially when one lacks the counsel of a learned pastor. But what does it mean if we spend more time reading about Scripture than reading Scripture itself, for instance? The fountains of wisdom lie directly before us: we need only drink.
4Shun the spirit of disputation.
Although we are occasionally called to give a reasoned account of our faith, we should generally avoid arguing with nonbelievers and “weaker” brothers. “Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14). Let the word of the Cross, and the witness of Christ in us, persuade those who need convincing.
Restraint is doubly recommended when it comes to subtle doctrinal questions and ecclesiastical controversies, for such matters are not amenable to resolution and thus needlessly stir the passions. When we gather together, we should steer clear of naysaying and lamentation, preferring wholesome talk about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).
5Keep politics in perspective.
While we have a duty under the natural law to fulfill our civic obligations, and while we have an evangelical mandate to bring Christ’s truth into the public square, we must not become too invested in the affairs of the city. There is a time and place for political engagement that advances the common good.
However, such engagement does not require us to follow politics as if it were a game, nor to let the interminable news cycle devour us, nor to frame elections in apocalyptic terms.
Finally, we do well to remember that no faction or figure speaks for the faith. In short, we must “put not [our] trust in princes” (Ps. 146:3), but instead recall that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20)
6Don’t make opinions into stumbling blocks.
The gospel is scandalous. Therefore, it is often necessary to sacrifice our opinions, especially those that invite disagreement, that we might not make any harder our neighbor’s path to Christ. Is our view about this policy or that officeholder so important that it is worth obstructing another’s salvation?
“Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 13:14).
Sometimes, we must speak forthrightly, whatever the cost. But how frequently we diminish Christ because we desire the gratification of so-called straight talk! Better to be silent forever than to bring the gospel into disrepute by uttering a needlessly injurious word.
7Keep Sunday for God, not the world.
Sunday gives us a chance to pause and absorb the light of Christ, that we might take that radiance into the world. What does it say that we so readily neglect this blessed opportunity, giving the day over to errands, sport, and indolence? Making allowance for reasonable exigencies, we should take due care to set Sunday apart, filling it with special rituals conducive to reflection and praise, that we might attain true refreshment, a taste of eternal life. After all, we are creatures who dwell in time: unless we afford God a moment to meet us, and abide with us, we will have no intimacy with him.
Therefore, let the day be geared toward “singing for joy” to the One who made us, as the prophet says in the sabbath song (Ps. 92:4).
Philip Primeau is layman of the Diocese of Providence. He may be contacted at email@example.com