“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …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 you not more important than they?” Matt 6:24-34.
Listening carefully to this passage, we realize how reassuring Jesus must be with his disciples. We too need reassurances from time to time.
Often popular slogans, such as “Keep Calm & Carry On,” Or, “Don’t worry be happy!” don’t mean all too much, and don’t possess the power to get us through truly difficult times.
We are days away from Ash Wednesday, and I would like to share with you some of my ideas appropriate for the season of Lent, and its potential for grace in our lives, and in the lives of our loved one.
For the past several weeks we have listened to Jesus’s dramatic call to the disciples as well as his teachings of the Beatitudes, whose moral and ethical instructions are most challenging.
We are called – to live out these teachings, yet need a time of prayer and reflection to better prepare for this work.
Jesus asked plenty, of his disciples and of us — to go on a spiritual life-journey, for the sake of advancing his healing and prophetic ministry.
When I listen to this particular passage from Matthew’s gospel, these sentiments ask us to trust in him, so much so that we have a greater serenity despite uncertainty, confusion and upset.
Serious health issues such as cancer, the death of a husband, wife or child – or issues we face day to day, where we are wrongly judged by others, a co-worker or a friend, may cause uncertainty, confusion and personal turmoil.
I’m reminded of an incident in my own ministry, where I went to see a friend dying of cancer. It was a very difficult encounter, my friend was in great pain, and could barely talk.
I wanted to end the brief conversation with a prayer, said to him: “We can always pray for a miracle.” My friend, more in tune with today’s gospel, made the wise response: “Mike, you can pray for a miracle, but I’m praying for serenity.”
In our catalog of prayers there are many prayers that people hold dear.
Let me share three short prayers:
The most popular of these is Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer,” which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, and those who suffer the effects of substance abuse.
“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.” (1934)
Here’s another “serenity prayer,” and it comes for Saint Teresa of Avila who in the 16th century wrote:
“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing. God never changes.
Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.”
Today’s gospel tells us not to worry about the future but focuses on trust in the Lord, and our common work. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. We are called to Christ’s mission in a more profound way with the practice of prayer, fasting, with the hope of a greater closeness to the Lord.
After all, this journey of ours is demanding. It may be the occasion for a transformative experience of grace that will have a profound effect on our life, and in the lives of our family and friends.
Here’s the final “serenity prayer” coming from Saint Francis of Assisi, and most appropriate for the Lenten season.
Francis knelt before the great crucifix that is now venerated in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, and prayed:
Most high, glorious God,
cast your light into the darkness
of my heart.
Give me, Lord, right faith,
and profound humility,
with wisdom and perception,
so that I may carry out what is truly your holy will.
Now for most of us, this prayer would end there, but in the case of Saint Francis, according to legend, the figure on the crucifix, responded, and spoke these words to Francis:
“Go Francis, and repair my house which as you see, is falling into ruin.”
This Lent, we too have a task of responding to the Lord, by repairing and even reviving our homes and hearts, for the sake of his gospel of love.