“I should like you to be free of anxieties.” 1 Cor. 7: 32
Those soothing words, laden with hope, live in the vibrance of St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. On this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, they are nestled in the opening lines of the second reading and hold the wish of a lifetime: freedom from worry, from fear, from distress and stress itself. There is a certain irony in the remainder of the passage: Paul deftly defines all the reasons to worry and to be anxious. The secret to the truth rests in the Gospel, in Jesus’ casting out the unclean spirit, and in the realities of relationship. Relationships defined by love are built on truth and honesty; Jesus’ relationships with the Apostles and then with Paul are rooted in the same. Truth and honesty are rich fibers, threads, that weave mere acquaintances into friends, friends into lovers, lovers into partnerships and families and sponsors of new generations. The stories of each generation are inextricably linked to one another and speak long past individual lifetimes. So it is with the ebb and flow of Scripture: the rocky terrains of the Old Testament sorting through the passions and pleadings of a world beginning and the birth of a Chosen People searching for anchors in the midst of being simply, inevitably human.
2021. Searches are simplified by the magic of Google, but human life is as complex, confusing, and confounding as it was in the time of the prophets, the patriarchs, Esther and Ruth, Judith and Maryam. And then the New Testament beckons with the hope, that sense that in the midst of all that is human and painful, challenging and courageous, that there is something more. Faith is the something more: it resides in the recogntion that there is something other than self, the recognition of God that explodes in the Gospel as the man with the “unclean spirit” address Jesus:
“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!”
Jesus demands that the unclean spirits come out of the man, and so it happens. In the same way, there is the promise that faith provides a tool for recognizing and dealing with anxiety. It is not a cure-all, a pacifier or a delusion. Instead, it is about finding a wellspring of support in relationship that empowers a person to deal with the circumstances that circumscribe lifetimes. There are the elements to it: being honest with self, being responsible in choices and building relationships on realities. There is a commitment: it is found in practice, in prayer, in purpose, and in the trust that although human is fraught with failure, God is beyond that. Faith is the secret to survival, to negotiating human life and to discovering the most precious treasure of life: love.