February 2000

Be Free From Anxieties ©

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the faithful I want you to be free from anxieties. This could be interpreted to be both a gift and a command. It is certainly a gift in that it is the key to what is perhaps Jesus’ most significant legacy, namely the freedom to achieve our full potential. But it is also a command in that Paul is intimating that we must take deliberate action in order to access that potential.

What separates us from our real potential is an immense and seemingly impenetrable wall of fear. Fear that our past sins of commission or omission will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Fear that today will present all sorts of obstacles to our happiness. And fear that the future is filled with foreboding and the immeasurable consequences of failure and rejection.

In fact, Paul knows our fears. He might have predicted our being so anxious that we would even suffer from what one psychologist called fear of freedom. Our human condition is such that we are so prone to addiction that we are even addicted to the fear that is the natural consequence of addiction.

The trouble is that fear is the Evil One’s chief instrument. It is his most effective weapon against our union with God. With it, he pries us away from the very source of life and orients us toward meaninglessness rather than faith; and despair, rather than hope.

Anxieties reveal apprehensions

From where does this anxiety draw its energy? Ironically, it begins with a profound sense of powerlessness – a deeply seated attitude that we have no power over the evil, over the small and large tragedies of everyday life. If this is so, we can only wait in dread as evil is visited upon us and those around us. We wait anxiously for what we imagine to be the inevitable storm to follow what quiet we might otherwise enjoy.

Yet, the story told in Mark’s gospel about Jesus being asked about the source of his authority should give us some hint about the great power we do have at our disposal. Let’s take a moment to examine the evidence.

In this scene, we find Jesus at the synagogue commanding an unclean spirit to come out of someone who had expressed fear about Jesus’ motives: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God Immediately his disciples begin to ask amongst themselves where Jesus’ authority comes from: What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Though Jesus’ authority is not in a form that we would readily recognise, the answer is awesomely simple. It is the authority of Love. It is the authority of his intrinsic goodness. It is the power that would eventually be demonstrated in its most compelling form in his resurrection – the ultimate victory of Good over evil, Truth over illusion, Light over darkness, Life over death.

We have a share of Christ’s power

What is truly exciting about the treasure to which we are heirs through our baptism is that we too have access to this self-same power. Through grace, we have at our disposal faculties of goodness. And it is precisely this goodness that gives us authority over evil, and consequently, over the forces that would fill us with crippling anxiety.

Does this mean that bad things never happen to good people? Of course not. But what it does mean is that the collective goodness in which we own a share will outlast the evil that challenges our very existence.. In certain cases, it also means that we can have the strength to defy evil and say along with Paul Death, where is your sting? In effect, we can drain death of its power over us.

So if we accept that goodness has authority over the assaults of evil, we may ask how to grow in goodness. Again Scripture gives us the answer. The deal is that we must abide by the Word of God. The Word of God is the subject of our faith and the object of our hope. That faith precludes the worship of any other god. That hope frees us from the grip of an illusion – the illusion that fear has dominion over the created world.

The Word of God, being Love, is the antithesis of all that is destructive, and nothing is more destructive than fear. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. That is why Paul commands us to refuse anxiety and to place all of our confidence in our Providential God who looks after the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the fields in great splendour, and would do no less for us whose every hair he counted before our conception and called by name at our baptism.

Anxiety is therefore a form of idolatry. Isaiah expressed it this way: Call not alliance what (the people of Judah) call alliance, and fear not, nor stand in awe of what they fear. But with the Lord of hosts make your alliance – for him be your fear and your awe.

The degree to which we resign ourselves to worldly

fear, we are in effect venerating a false god – an illusionist that will last as long as it takes to destroy our faith and transform our hope into despair.

The prolific Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, in a study of the relationship between Christ and human anguish, bluntly tells us that we are obliged by our faith to actively resist the anxiety that surreptitiously creeps into the human spirit: The absence of anguish is linked directly to the fact that we inhabit the promised land, the land of grace…Faith and the inhabitancy of this land are one and the same…as are faith and the refusal of fear.

Another way of abiding by the Word of God is being faithful to our calling in the way the disciples were faithful to the call that Jesus directed to them – each person individually. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians Brothers and sisters, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God has called you.

St. Augustine opened his Confessions with a bold declaration regarding his relationship with God: I am restless until I rest on you. During our time on earth, the most direct way of resting in the Lord is being faithful to his call. In secular terms, this means that we cannot be happy until we are what we are meant to be. Authentic. True to our nature.

Once we know that we are what we are meant to be, we have no real cause for anxiety. Our assurance that our will is one with the will of our Creator comes with all the guarantees necessary to holy Peace and Joy, not as the world defines these terms, but the profound and lasting feeling of restfulness that comes with knowing we are in intimate communion with our loving Father.

Indeed, in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy we are given every assurance that God is close to those who confront their fears. In the opening lines of Chapter 20, we are advised When you go out to war against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord, your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, will be with you.

Confidence in God overcomes anxieties

Throughout ancient and new Scripture, we find assurances that our Lord walks with us through the dark valley, making it unnecessary for us to fear evil. His rod and staff give us courage. His rod and staff have power over whatever demons might otherwise fill us with dread and anxiety. In reality, what anxiety we experience is the measure of how far we feel from the Lord’s protection. And that distance is the root cause of human anguish.

In his letter to believers in the Greek community of Philippi, Paul offered this reassurance: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, 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.

In effect, Peace and Joy come from our union with God’s Truth. And Jesus is the Way that leads to that Truth, the Truth that gives life and overcomes fear and useless anxiety. That Truth is the infinite power of kindness and Love. And, as John tells us, the Truth will set you free. Love will set you free.

So, be not afraid. I want you to be free from anxieties. Be free. And rest in the Love of God.

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We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to this ? If Gods is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones. It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who dies, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 18: 28 – 39

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Christ bore our anguish in order to give us in exchange something that belongs to him: his joy and his peace…These can never be separated from his life on earth; from his cross, his descent into hell and his resurrection…If human anguish is closed in on itself, it causes the spirit to shrivel and produces a breach in (divine) communications. On the other hand, the anguish of the cross in which we are all called to share is fruitful and opens onto real communications…Objectively speaking, the anguish that Christians must refuse is rooted in sin, and is expressed by the effects of sin, namely fear of change, escapism, sterility, confusion, melancholy, a desire to cocoon, alienation. Conversely, the root of the anguish of the cross is none other than the love of God who absorbs this anguish on our behalf…This love offers life, fecundity, security and liberation…The courage needed to sustain Christian anguish is none other than faith.

– Loosely adapted from the French translation of
Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Der Christ und die Angst