JESUS said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry y about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
After we pray the “Our Father” at Mass, the priest asks the Lord to keep us safe from all perturbatione (“distress” or “anxiety”). After asking the heavenly Father to let his reign come among us, to grant us our daily bread, and to forgive us our trespasses, we are invited to trust in Providence, dismissing anxiety from our hearts.
Jesus does not ask us to dismiss every kind of worry from our hearts. It is not only impossible; it is also not human. Earth is not paradise; earth is filled with creatures that struggle to survive–human beings included. Jesus alludes to this when he says, “Do not worry about tomorrow… Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This means that in most days, we face moments of success and joys as well as failures and troubles.
To interpret Jesus’ advice not to worry as an invitation to inactivity or laziness is to completely miss his message. What Jesus underlines
is complete confidence in God. The Father in heaven continues to sustain us after he has created us. The Psalmist declares: “The eyes of all creatures look to you and you give them their food in due time” (Ps 144:15). To be overly anxious means lack of trust in God. On the other hand, to be “in control” of everything is to forget that man is a mere creature; humans are not totally dependent on themselves. Hence this adage holds true: “Pray as if all depends on God, and work as if all depends on you.” This strikes a balance between human responsibility and God’s Providence.
James’ word of warning rings true for all of us: “Here is the answer for those of you who talk like this: ‘Today or tomorrow, we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading, and make some money.’ You never know what will happen tomorrow: you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. The most you should ever say is: ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive to do this or that’” (Jas 4:13-15).
The best way to overcome useless anxiety is through prayer. The “Serenity Prayer” by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is a classic example of a prayer of trust:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
– Fr. Gil A. Alinsangan, SSP
– (Feb. 26, 2017)