Do not worry and do not be afraid, that’s the basic message of today’s gospel reading. Don’t worry about your life, what you eat, your body, or what you wear. Don’t worry about how long you’ll live, because, after all, worrying won’t help. I suppose we could also add, don’t worry about the coronavirus or our nation’s political and economic woes. Don’t worry about anything, but strive for just one thing, God’s Kingdom.
It probably goes without saying that when Jesus says “don’t worry,” he’s focusing on the subjectively negative experience of anxiety and the feeling of distraction that comes with it, as opposed to just acknowledging a concern for something, and taking appropriate action. The Greek word Luke uses has these negative connotations of anxiety and distraction, and he uses this same word when Jesus tells Martha she’s anxious.
This is all to say that the admonition to “not worry” isn’t suggesting we be blithely unaware of dangers surrounding us and others, but instead is calling us to let go of anxiety and distraction so that we may recognize the abundance surrounding us even amidst struggles that regularly appear in our lives.
Catherine of Siena, whom we celebrate today, knew a thing or two about this, and she wrote a poem titled “This Place of Abundance.” She writes:
We know nothing until we know everything.
I have no object to defend
for all is of equal value
I cannot lose anything in this
place of abundance
If something my heart cherishes
is taken away,
I just say, “Lord, what
And a hundred more
Where is this place of abundance that Catherine found? Well, of course, it’s the one thing Jesus tells us to strive or seek after, namely the Kingdom of God. From the perspective of this Kingdom within, there are always ten thousand beautiful and wondrous things close by, available night and day to nourish our souls. But when our minds are distracted by worry and anxiety, we forget God’s eternal presence. We forget, and so we fail to recognize Christ’s Light in a flower, a friend’s face, a cloud in the sky, the play of shadows at dusk, the sound of rustling leaves, or even the subtle sense of our own beingness.
Being human, however, does mean we forget quite often, cutting ourselves off from the gift which gives God so much pleasure to give us. Fortunately, we’re being offered this gift continuously, and so all it takes is an instant of rest for our souls, a complete surrender to God, and a quieting of our minds. Then we remember this place of abundance, here and now, already surrounding us and within us.
From this place of abundance, we see with new clarity that we have ultimately no control over the things that may worry us, and we have a greater sense of how God is calling us to respond to the relative needs of ourselves and the world.
Deep down, below the needs and cares of the world, what we truly want is God’s love, infinite and tender love holding all things in God’s safe and warm embrace. And, we find this overwhelming abundance of love, this ultimate source of peace and joy, at the very center of who we are.
Unfortunately, we tend to spend much our time believing what our minds tell us is true. But this only leads to an endless struggle where we react primarily out of fear, and a desire to control the acquisition of happiness. It’s only in descending from our minds, coming to rest in the truth of our hearts, that we recognize the eternal peace and joy of Christ within us.
I’ll close by letting Catherine of Siena have the final word:
I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
The cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,
and the earth acted as a shy
girl, like me.
Divine light entered my heart from His love
that did never fully wane,
though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person’s
faith can at times flicker,
for what is the mind to do
with something that becomes the mind’s ruin:
a God that consumes us
in His grace.
I have seen what you want;
it is there,
a Beloved of infinite
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