by Father John P. Cush
At the very start of the epistle that we proclaim this Sunday, St. Paul tells us: “Have no anxiety at all…” Now this sounds great, but how many of us can follow this biblical injunction as it is expressed here? Anxiety seems to be the one common emotion that has characterized the modern and contemporary age and, at the risk of hyperbole, at no time greater than this present moment.
Talk of COVID-19, protests, and presidential elections are enough to get people even more anxious. Yet, this angst that seems to permeate most people’s daily existence is not a new phenomenon — it has been around since the dawn of time. The Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar believes that the tendency for the human being to fall into anxious thinking lies in the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Recall what happened in the Garden of Eden — the Lord God wonderfully, beautifully created the human being, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Created fundamentally good, man and woman are the pinnacle of the Lord’s creation. Due to hubris, pride, Eve and Adam fail to be satisfied with this great dignity. They want not just to be like God, but to be gods. They fail to recognize a basic fact of the nature of reality — God is God, we are not God, and thank God for that!
Expelled to the land of Nod, east of Eden, man and woman now must work for their survival and they experience pain and the ultimate threat to human existence — death itself. This is the ultimate reason for anxiety — the fear of death. Man and woman now suffer in the world, filled with angst, in little ways and in great ways. So, when the Apostle Paul tells us to have no anxiety, is he being realistic? As long as we live in this veil of tears, we will have angst! Anxiety is more than an emotion — it is emotional (the way we feel), cognitive (the way we think), and behavioral (the way we act). It is very real in the lives of so many of us.
With this in mind, we need to look at the next line of what St. Paul writes to the Christian community in Philippi: “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, we will always have anxiety in this fallen world and we should, on the natural level, seek all the help we need to deal with the stress and angst that we all suffer. Therapy, learning to relax, removing ourselves from the situations that cause us to be anxious, and even medication can all help.
Paul, acting as a doctor of the soul, offers us the best advice he can give: we turn to the Lord, the healer, the gentle good shepherd, who alone can bring us true peace and consolation. It is indeed the Lord in his passion who takes on the suffering of all the world. Jesus bears in his Divine Person the anxiety of all humankind. The Lord Jesus, when he opens his arms wide on the cross in an embrace of comfort, of support, and love for all of us, as the All-Beautiful, All-Good, and All-True one, knows the anxiety that we all carry. Being broken, bloodied, beaten, and bruised, crushed for our offenses, he bears that angst of human existence, and he, the Master Artist, turns these distorted human elements into something beautiful for God.
In this life, the reality is that we will always have some level of anxiety, but the same Lord who healed Saul and transformed him by grace into a new creation, gives us the consolation and peace that only he can give. Praise God for this grace!
Readings for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.