Two young boys were staying overnight at their grandmother’s house. Every night before they went to sleep they said their prayers. The older boy went first praying about the day he had, about everything he had done and for all his loved ones. Then it was the younger boy’s turn. He prayed much louder than his brother, “God please give me a new bike, new toys and some candy!” When he finished his brother asked, “Why are you praying for bikes, toys and candy so loud? You know, God is not deaf." To which the younger boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”
There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged an Austrian town that was completely defenseless. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss how to surrender. As they discussed giving up, a wise old man in the town stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested that they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to the church where they rang the bells to assemble the towns for worship. But, when Massena’s soldiers heard the joyful ringing of the bells they concluded that Austrian reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.
I think this little story sheds some light on what St. Paul is saying in today's second reading from the Letter to the Philippians, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. Where people who have no faith typically respond to life's problems with worry, people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer.
We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety and so many other things – some big, some small. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.
St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.
So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about your health, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.
The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. And what we experience here today, we must bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.
My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
May the Lord give you peace.