In God Alone
February 26, 2017
THE EIGHTH SUNDAY OF YEAR A
Are you ever anxious? Stressed out? Who isn’t? But how do you deal with it? What is your response? (And how does it work for you?)
The Entrance Antiphon gives the response God inspires: “The Lord has been my strength.” But not just strength to endure: “He has led me into freedom.” We can be free of stress and anxiety. The bottom line: “He saved me because he loves me.” If he who is Power Itself, the Source and Sustainer of all existence, loves me and chooses to keep willing me into existence, even sharing his own divine life with me and uniting me to Jesus Christ as his continuing body on earth, what do I have to worry about?
The Church believes God wants us free of stress. In the Opening Prayer(s) she asks, “Give your Church the joy and peace of serving you in freedom.” She focuses us on the mystery of our true identity, which puts everything else into perspective: “Form in us the likeness of your Son and deepen his life within us.” That life is “life to the full,” and it is eternal life. So what more do we need?
The Church isn’t naïve. She knows we are living in “a world of fragile peace and broken promises.” But we aren’t just “here.” We are “sent.” “Send us as witnesses of Gospel joy.” We have embraced our being-in-the-world voluntarily. For us it is not just a fact, it is a mission. We are here to take the initiative. We know what the answer is to all the world’s problems: “Touch the hearts of all people with your love, that they in turn may love one another.”
Is it that simple? Yes, it is.
Something to Count on
Isaiah 49:14-15 says it all. When did we feel most secure and at peace? In the womb? In our mother’s arms as infants? Why?
First, we had nothing to do but be there. No tasks or goals to accomplish; no bills to pay or obligations to meet. We could just be. Secondly, we knew we were safe and loved.
The Responsorial (Psalm 62) encourages us to be this way with God: “Rest in God alone, my soul.” Jesus said it too:
Martha was distracted by her many tasks.... But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
The rest of the Responsorial Psalm gives two reasons: “From him comes my salvation.... From him comes my hope.” This is the answer both to fears and to desires; to anxieties about losing what we have and to fear of failure in what we want to do. God will save us from what threatens our existence: “he is my salvation.” God will empower us to achieve our desires: “he is my hope.” Be at rest, my soul. But “only in God.” If we try to find security, fulfillment or peace in anything else, we will be disappointed. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Only in God is my soul at rest.”
“Seek First...” And only
Jesus says this again in Matthew 6:24-34 and gets explicit about what we are not to worry about: the basics of survival: “your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing.” Or, for that matter, even staying alive: “Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?”
This could be just stoic resignation, which is elevated to a higher level in the “Serenity Prayer” that Wikipedia attributes to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs, and widely distributed by the U.S. Army to the distressed in Germany after World War II:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Seen in a Christian context, this is more than stoic resignation to things we can do nothing about. And Jesus is far beyond this. He begins and ends with monotheism: that there is one God, and to let anything but God have any influence in our life is idolatry. “No one can serve two masters.” This is the First Commandment: “I the LORD am your God... you shall not have other gods besides me.”Therefore, Jesus says, “Seek first [and only] his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given to you besides.”
Stress is fragmentation. In single-minded dedication to the service of God we find the freedom and the unity of peace.
Jesus teaches that God is not just our Lord; he is our Father. We can and should count on him to provide for us with a Father’s love. “Your heavenly Father knows all that you need.”
To convince us, he points to two things we know: God provides for the birds that don’t work, and for the flowers that die overnight; and we are more important to God than they are.
Then he “zooms in” on what is more important in our own priorities: “Is not life more than food? Is not the body more valuable than clothes?” Jesus is saying, “If you keep yourself aware of God’s priorities and of your own, you won’t sweat the small stuff.”
Compared to who God is and the work we are invited to do for him, everything else is “small stuff.” It is the “unbelievers” who are “always running after” things like prosperity and success, status and security. We have only one goal to pursue: the holiness to be found in personal surrender to God, and the establishment of his reign over everything else on earth. They are one and the same: “So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul....”
Jesus also teaches us to find the “peace of the present moment.” He introduces the time factor: Why worry about tomorrow? “Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has trouble enough of its own.”
Again, this is not stoic resignation, even that acknowledged in Scripture as the attitude of those who do not know what God offers after death:
Let us eat and drink,
For tomorrow we die.
Jesus is saying something developed later by the Jesuit Pierre de Caussade in his classic book, Abandonment to Divine Providence. The only thing we need be concerned with is doing God’s will at the present moment. Period. And accepting whatever God is allowing to happen to us beyond our control at the present moment. We are not responsible today for what God wants us to do tomorrow (unless his will today is that we should prepare for it). If right here and now we are doing what God wants us to do here and now, it is foolish to worry about anything else. This assumes, of course, that we are engaging now in any necessary discernment about decisions we must be prepared to face in the future. Just live in the present moment.
Jesus is situating our life between two poles: its beginning in God and its end in the Kingdom. If we are in union with Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega, we will live in peace.
Christ yesterday and today,
The beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega:
All time belongs to him
And all ages.
To him be glory and power
Through every age for ever.
“Your toil is not in vain”
1Corinthians 4:1-5 gives the coup de grace to stress. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Our first concern is just to be “trustworthy,” faithful to the Lord. Paul says, “The Lord is the one to judge me,” so it “matters little” what anyone else thinks. We work only for God, and for others only in the measure and manner that we believe God desires. We don’t have to please any boss but God. People may think what they want of us, but “at the time of his return” Jesus will “bring to light... the intentions of hearts.” The name for this is freedom. “Rest in God alone, my soul.”
Are you living for one thing or for many? Can the many be found in the one?
Keep saying “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me” and relax
 Luke 10:40-42.
 Matthew 11:28.
 Deuteronomy 5:6-9.
 Compare this to Jonah 4:5-11.
 Deuteronomy 10:12.
 See this presented stoically in Ecclesiastes (Quo
heleth) 9:5-10 and 1Corinthians 15:20-34; and with disapproval in Wisdom 2:8-9, Isaiah 22:12-13,.
 Easter Vigil Mass: Preparation of the candle.