Allowing Christ to Heal Us from Worry
Finding trust in dogma, the Resurrection, the Eucharist
James Keating Comments Off on Allowing Christ to Heal Us from Worry
It is common to let the demands of ministry and personal life take a toll on our interior peace. Many clergy are surprised to admit that much of the “noise” in their heads is content and a volume of their own making. We forget that we are in control of what we think about. Not every thought or concern has to be welcomed, especially if its presence deepens fear or anxiety.
We can, surprisingly, even feed the cacophony of worry by the way we pray. This is especially true if we bring our worries to repeated intercessory prayer. “Jesus, heal me of …” “Jesus, watch over …” “Jesus, protect …” Our prayer time can simply become petri dishes of anxiety, fear and worry. We carry them to Christ, but never leave them with him. Instead, we keep circulating the worries around and around in our thoughts, allowing them to re-enter again and again. Did we deliver these concerns to Christ or not? “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Perhaps the image of a mailbox will help us meditate on what our prayer might look like without worry. In trust, we mail a letter. We simply drop it in the box and leave. We don’t wait for the mailman to see if he picks the letter up from the box; we don’t follow him to the location to which we are sending the letter to see him place it in that mailbox; we don’t wait for the recipient to come and retrieve the letter from his mailbox to make sure it is received. No, we trust that once placed in the proper receptacle, my letter will be received. Christ’s heart is the proper receptacle.
But didn’t Christ say to keep asking if we don’t receive? “If he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. … Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Lk 11:8-9). Persistence is not the same as obsession or control. Persistence is a way of praying that “knocks” but doesn’t try to push the door open with our own recurring fears or concerns. The persistent one “trusts” and prays simply.
For example, the trusting one, the Virgin Mary, model of all contemplation and prayer, asks once. All she said was, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). She said it once and left it in the heart of her son. It wasn’t even a petition, it was simply an expression of what she noticed. She noticed a need and spoke what she noticed. Following her lead, we can say that, at most, faith guides prayer to recall on occasion the one simple prayer we placed in God’s heart. Such repetitive prayer is not in itself a sign of weak faith; it serves some positive purpose. It sustains our communion with God, calms our anxieties: “I need to hear myself ask him again. Lord, heal so and so. Amen.” Simple, brief, prayed in trust and with a nod toward easing stress about a disturbing situation with which we may be pastorally involved.
Turn to Dogma
To seek relief from obsessive worries, however, we can turn to a source not immediately self-evident: dogma. Dogma assists in bringing us to the healing sources of our faith and scatters our fears and worries. Particularly in the case of worry, we turn toward the Resurrection.
In the book “The Mystery of Easter” (Liturgical Press, $19.95), Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., writes, “Christ does not come back to life, to his old life, like Lazarus, to die all over again sometime later; he comes forward to life in a new world … to [an] irreversible victory over death.”
The dogma of the Resurrection is pivotal in healing useless anxiety because it addresses the greatest worry of all: death. From this epicenter of worry radiates all our other worries and anxieties. Such emotional weight can be eased by the gift that is new life in Christ. Christ is generous in giving, and the greatest gift he gives is to “take.” With the Resurrection, he takes our fear of death, our fears and temptations to think that life is meaningless in light of death. Along with this, he takes our fears of suffering, failure, loneliness, to the cross and resurrection so that we can receive a gift. As all those burdens are taken by Christ, we remain, and we remain because while taking those evils Christ is giving us communion with himself. Wrongly, at times, we believe our worries and fears make up the entire content of our interior life. No, interiority’s substance is holy Communion. At the core of who we are is a secured relationship, not a flood of anxiety.
We, like Martha, worry about many things (cf. Lk 10:41). We are anxious over our competencies; our effectiveness as leaders; our character traits regarding ministry; our preaching, teaching and administration. We worry about certain parishioners carrying heavy burdens, our prayer lives, our relations with other clergy and the bishop and even our retirements! There is a stew of worry in us. Such worry busies our minds and wearies our emotions. Worry can feel like the bees the Psalmist describes: “They surrounded me on every side; / in the LORD’S name I cut them off. / They surrounded me like bees; / they burned up like fire among thorns; / in the LORD’S name I cut them off. / I was hard pressed and falling, / but the LORD came to my help. / The LORD, my strength and might, / has become my savior” (Ps 118:11-14).
Not a Virtue
“They,” all my worries, buzz continually in my mind. We may think it is a virtue to worry about others or be concerned about all of our tasks, such is the fate of those who mistakenly believe that worry is proof “I am a loving person.” But Jesus himself said that fear is useless (cf. Mk 5:36). We don’t believe Jesus, so we hold onto our fears and worries as habits of magical thinking. If I habitually think about problems, turning them over in my mind, then I have evidence I care, evidence that I take others seriously. If I worry about money, health, relationships, then I am really “caring.” Worry becomes equated with love. In simply writing and reading that sentence, we unmask the lie.
Worry is love? Worry is the absence of love, the absence of trust; it is instead a nest of fear. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
The resurrection is daily taking up residence in our own bodies and drawing us forward into a deeper trust in that resurrection at the Eucharistic liturgy.
If we lose our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we tumble down into a loneliness tempting us to think God is far away and maybe even powerless. The resurrected Christ, as encountered in the Eucharist is our anchor to living in reality. Through our participation in the divine life, the sacrament offers emotional isolation and worry is diminished. The Eucharist concretizes a place for us to meet the living God. Christ entered death so we don’t have to be defined by it, opening his heart on the cross so our hearts might adhere to his. This mystery of his death and resurrection brings us through to life after death by the power of the One who is life itself. “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).
The Eucharist carries us into those mysteries of Christ not simply for a time but for all time. Christ comes from eternity and now ushers us into the eternal as well. The Eucharist is our restorative fountain to which we go to drink hope in God’s power, to slake our thirst for God’s power to overcome evil and death.
When we are shaken by our own weakness, finitude and sin, and we tumble away from the altar in faith, we start acting as if God did not reach the fallen from eternity. These actions are useless anxiety. To some extent, this phrase could serve as a summary of our biographies as humans. Believing ourselves to be authors of goodness through worry we obsessively think about our concerns and the concerns of others.
Instead, the Paschal Mystery is inviting us to lay them to rest in the resurrection mystery that is the Eucharist. As our bodies yield more and more to the mystery of new life in the Eucharist they are even more intensely elevated into a spiritual condition of hope, enabling us to welcome eternal life.
As this spiritual life courses through our bodies, we are called to let the Eucharist pacify any obsessive worrying. In such peace, we make room for the eternal as worries drain along with any belief that our worries make things happen. Crucified love and the resurrection power of Christ, engaged by us at the Eucharist, makes things happen! And if things don’t happen after we pour our fears into the open side of Christ at the altar, then perhaps in humility we admit God did not want them to happen. Ironically, worry drifts us toward emotional isolation and into the origin of fear itself: death.
Hope and trust in the Resurrection undo death. The resurrection begins now in our bodies. We will not be surprised we are in heaven when our bodies die because they have been coming to life all through time by our communion with the Eucharist. Through such communion, we have left sin behind and all that obstructs communion with God and others, including fear and worry.
It is not obsessive worry but regular gratitude and thanksgiving that secures the intentions we bring on behalf of ourselves and others to Christ in the Eucharist.
He is fulfilling our deepest needs as we are transformed in our bodies, sharing in the resurrected life of Christ. Even as our bodies weaken with time, our communion with Christ’s own mysteries secures our passage from anxious and needy to free and peaceful. With this communion of trust comes a new emotional and even physical security: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body” (Lk 12:4).
Are we allowing the Resurrection and its power to affect our current emotional dispositions and thought patterns? Faith teaches that life is secured in Christ. If we are in Christ, should not our emotions and thought patterns reflect the content of faith and not the urgings of fear and death? Of course, we are still influenced by fear of death and all things frightening and painful since we are not in heaven yet, but the leading edge of heaven can be apprehended in faith and its invitation to trust is clearly present in the holy Communion we enjoy with Christ. (Worry is useless; what is needed is trust.) For those receiving holy Communion each day, am I letting the Spirit animate my body and affect me, or am I still allowing “this age” (Rom 12:1-2) and its worries to animate my body?
Holy Communion gives strength against the devil and his temptations, fear is certainly from the devil. Holy Communion strengthens our faith, moving us to secure a deeper trust in the promises of Christ.
DEACON JAMES KEATING, Ph.D., is professor of spiritual theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Prayer at the Eucharist to Heal Worry
Before Mass begins, we can find some time to grow silent. In the silence, ask the Holy Spirit to raise up any fears or worries that we are carrying to be laid at the feet of Christ during this liturgy. We just need to note them.
At a time that you are inspired to choose — the silence after your homily, during the universal prayer, at the offertory, etc., — allow the concern you are carrying to enter the heart of Christ as simply as Mary’s noticing that “they have no wine” did. We can simply say, “My father’s health, Bob’s marriage, Joan’s job, etc.” We just let it rise and then pass it over to the mystery of Christ’s own love for you.
Use your time in celebrating the Mass to be the intentional time to release these concerns into Christ’s heart. Of course, they may arise in your heart again during the day and if so, just recall that you already placed them in the mystery of Christ’s own love for you and his Church at daily Mass. In other words, this worry has returned, but Christ is already attending to it. Any entertaining of this worry will not help its resolution.
To be burdened with worry is common. As spiritual leaders, Christ is inviting you to know that such a burden is not his will for you or any of your people. As your healing progresses through and in the power of the Resurrection at the Mass, share this good news with your people: They, too, can trust that Christ is laboring to free them from useless anxiety in the light of his overcoming this age, our sins and humanity’s destiny with death. “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7).