28 January 2018

Anxiety Kills

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Distraction kills. So does anxiety. But spiritual distraction and anxiety can kill you. . .forever. Between December 21st and January 22nd I drove Interstates 10 and 55 some 2,310 miles back and forth among NOLA, Houston, and Memphis. In all those miles I lost count of the number of times people passed me on the road doing 90mph while texting, talking on their cell, putting on make-up, and eating. One guy passed me doing over 90 holding a plate in one hand and stuffing a piece of pizza into his face with the other. Ninety plus MPH w/o a finger on the wheel! That sort of distraction will kill you and anyone who happens to be in your way. But as bad as distracted driving is, it can't compare with a distracted and anxious spiritual life. So Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I should like you to be free of anxieties.” And Jesus casts out a distracting and unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” For us to grow in holiness, for us to flourish on the Way to the Lord, we need to be free and quiet. Free from worry and doubt; free from attachments and worldly burdens. We need to be quiet, surrendering ourselves to the loving-care of God our Father.

What does this all mean in practical, day-to-day terms? Paul, ever practical, says that marriage can cause us to be anxious. Husbands distract wives. Wives distract husbands. He doesn't mention kids, but I'm pretty sure they can be their own sort of anxiety! He's clear that his point is not about the innate value of celibacy over marriage but about what it takes to be freed so that our hearts and minds may serve the Lord unburdened with the worries of pleasing a spouse. It's not the Grand Problems of Being that Paul believes drives us toward the unclean spirit of Anxiety and Distraction but rather the mundane, everyday, purely routine chores that accumulate over time and wear us down. Paying the bills, laundry, lawn care, car repair, buying groceries, going to work, cooking, cleaning, the stuff we all do every single day. So the trick is to stop doing these things, right? Husbands and wives are cheering Paul on! No, that's not his point. His point is to do these things in order to please the Lord. If the routine stuff we do everyday is done in the spirit of pleasing the Lord, then our routine stuff becomes something truly worshipful, truly spiritually beneficial. It all becomes prayer, a means of speaking to God our Father.
Look again at the man possessed by the unclean spirit. Jesus orders the spirit to be quiet and come out! He separates the spirit from the man; he doesn't destroy the man b/c he's possessed. . .he frees him. He removes from the man the spirit that is causing him to be distracted and distracting. We can do the same with our every thought, word, and deed. We can – in the name of Christ – consecrate (set aside, separate) everything we think, say, and do to the pleasing service of God thus making our entire earthly existence one long sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Pay that car note and give God thanks that you have transportation. Buy groceries and praise the Lord that you will eat tonight. Clean the house in the name of Christ to keep it filled with his abiding love. Give God thanks for your co-workers. You have others to help you with your job. Many of you will confess to being distracted during Mass, thinking about Sunday football, or the roast in crock pot, or the kids' undone homework. What if instead of seeing these thoughts as distractions you see them as promptings from the Holy Spirit to give thanks to God for giving you leisure time, food to eat, and children to love? 
There is no reason for us to be anxious or distracted. Neither anxiety nor distraction has any power over us. . .IF you choose to place your anxieties and worries into the hands of God, trusting that whatever good thing you must do will be done to please Him and give Him glory.

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