06 February 2021
31 January 2021
4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
You can't help it. I know, you can't help it. Neither can I. The worries that come with living in this world. There are obligations to meet – bills to pay, hours to work, relationships to maintain. There's the constant pressure to perform to the limits of your abilities. Being a good father, being a good mother, being a faithful priest and formator. Being a good son and daughter. Not to mention being a good citizen and taxpayer. The State demands its pound of flesh. The Church always seems to have its hand out. Your dreams pale and the realities of duty come into focus. It's easy to think that you are a cog, an insignificant piece in the machine of the world. What difference do I make? Where's my unique contribution? Is there a place for me to use my gifts, my particular talents? How am I not just a thing in all this? To make it all worse – there's a clock ticking away on my existence. There's a defined limit to my time here. No wonder we are anxious. No wonder we worry! But here's the thing – our nervousness about our contribution, our role in all this is irrelevant, pointless. Worry changes nothing. Never has. Never will. So, St. Paul says to us, “Brothers and sisters. . .be free of anxieties.”
Now, why should Paul care if we are anxious? B/c anxiety opposes faithfulness. He uses the word “amerimnous,” which means “free from care,” free from concern about the things of the world. He tells the Corinthians that being free from anxieties is not only proper to follower of Christ – as a sign of fidelity – but also a way to adhere to the Lord without distraction, a means of clinging to Christ w/o confusion. If you love nothing and no one more than Christ, then there is nothing and no one in this world to worry about. In fact, by loving Christ first and foremost, all of your other loves – spouse, children, friends – are all the more beloved b/c you love them with and through Christ! What is there to be anxious about? Yes, the bills still have to be paid. The kids still need to be fed and clothed. Yes, the parish still needs your help. And all the other little things that nip at you day in and day out require attention. But you are not anxious. You're not worried. Why? Because you know that who and what you are is found first in Christ Jesus, the one who is and will always be the first and only Lord of your life. IOW, you live your life for the Kingdom of God not the petty kingdoms of this world.
Jesus meets one of the petty tyrants of this world in the synagogue while he's teaching. The unclean spirit yells at him, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Note the unclean spirit's worry, it's anxiety. Have you come to destroy us? Having chosen rebellion over obedience, this spirit lives eternally apart from God, forever in a state of pure fear, paranoia, and rage. It's ministry among God's children is to stoke and feed the rage, paranoia, and fear we invite into our lives through faithlessness, through worry and disobedience. When confronted by the incarnate Son of God, the spirit reacts as its nature requires – primitive anger, revulsion, fury. It recoils from Christ and immediately proclaims him: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Jesus orders him: “Quiet! Come out of him!” And the spirit flees at his command. Likewise, when we are faced with the loving-kindness and mercy of Christ's sacrifice for us on the Cross, our anxieties convulse and flee. Whatever unclean spirits stoke and feed your fears, your worries, your anger – they flee – when you see and hear the astonishing truth that Christ teaches. They will flee – IF you let them go. With the authority of Christ, they will leave. IF you stop loving them more than you love Christ.
So, ask yourself: do I love my anger more than Christ? Do I love my hatred more than Christ? Do I love my fear and paranoia more than Christ? Do I love my self-pity, my victimhood more than Christ? Do I love my money, my social standing, my career, my professional reputation, all my stuff more than Christ? Ask yourself: what, who do I love more than Christ? Whatever or whoever that thing, that attitude, that person might be – that is your god. Now, can your god save you from the passing away of this world? Can your god give you eternal life? Will any of the things or people you love more than Christ die for you in your sin?Will worry get you a seat at the Wedding Feast? The astonishing teaching of Christ Jesus is that he has already commanded every unclean spirit in existence to come out of us. He has always already said, “Quiet! Come out of them!” We are exorcised at baptism. So, why do these unclean spirits of anxiety remain? Because we chose not to let them go. We choose to serve them. Paul says, “Brothers and sister, be free of anxieties.” Let go of disobedience, of rebellion; let go of rage, of paranoia; let go of everything but Christ. . .and live free in his love.