January 28, 2024

Dear friends in Christ,

As we enter the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, our hearts and minds are drawn to the Scriptures of this Sunday Mass, which speak poignantly to the human condition of anxiety. I am particularly inspired by St. Paul’s counsel for us to be free from anxieties and focus solely on the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35) and by the story of Jesus liberating a man possessed by an unclean spirit (cf. Mark 1:21-28), a poignant symbol of the paralyzing fear and anxiety we too often face.

It is undeniable that anxiety is a present reality in our lives. Like a pervasive shadow, it can cripple our spirit and hinder the joy of living. At its best, anxiety distracts us from our relationship with God and the truth that He is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25). At its worst, it is a crippling disease, taking over our minds and plunging our thoughts into darkness. Essentially, anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.

While anxiety is a natural human experience, it is not what God wants for us. He desires us to live lives characterized not by fear and worry, but by faith, hope, and peace. St. Paul the Apostle advises us “not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Our journey to overcoming anxiety begins with a shift in focus. We are called to fix our thoughts on Jesus and the eternal promise of heaven (cf. John 14:2-3). This shift in perspective allows us to see our earthly fears in the light of God’s eternal love and power.

Scripture scholars tell us that the phrase “Be not afraid” appears 366 times in the Bible– a daily reminder of God’s constant presence and care. The stories of Saints who have walked before us are a testament to the transformative power of faith in the face of fear. Saints like Martha, Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Siena, our Holy Martyrs, John Paul II, Teresa of Calcutta and others, each faced their unique fears and anxieties by placing unwavering trust in the Lord. Their courage and strength came from a deep-seated faith and understanding of God’s omnipotence.

To confront our own anxieties, we must first deepen our commitment to Christ, finding security and peace in Him. Prayer is indeed the key to overcoming or coping with anxiety, for it reassures us of God’s presence and reminds us of our need to rely on His strength, not on our own. As St. John Vianney said, “God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”

Serving others shifts our focus from self-centered worries to the needs of those around us. Setting a time limit on our worries and learning to live one day at a time are also practical steps that can greatly alleviate the burden of anxiety.

I leave you with the profound words of St. Teresa of Avila, which resonate with the peace and strength found in our faith: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing cause you fear. All things pass; God is unchanging. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God needs nothing else; God alone suffices.” May her words guide and comfort you in times of anxiety.

In Christ’s love and peace,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham