Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Have no anxiety at all"

Two young boys were staying overnight at their grandmother’s house and 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 and he prayed for bikes and toys and candy. When he finished the older brother asked him “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.”

We heard in our second reading, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon Bonaparte’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 best 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. When Massena’s soldiers heard the joyful ringing of the bells they concluded that Austrian reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. Immediately, they broke camp and 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. 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 from time-to-time, worry gets the better of most of us. We worry about our jobs and the bills and our children and 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 and sometimes even dominate our lives. But as we hear in our story of the Austrian town, 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 despair 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 man and his ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference.

St. Paul encourages us, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” St. Paul is giving us today the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives. 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. Sometimes our prayer can become too self-centered when all the while it is meant to be God-centered, just as Jesus taught us to pray in the “Our Father”.

From that prayer we learn four components that should be part of our prayer. Let me offer you an acronym that can help us remember how to pray. Our prayer is meant to be made up of A-C-T-S or ACTS. "A" is for Adoration, in which we praise God for His goodness in who He is. "C" is for Contrition, in which we ask forgiveness for our failures. "T" is for Thanksgiving, in which we thank God for the blessings we have received. And "S" is for Supplication, in which we ask God through petition to hear our needs and the needs of all of people – 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. George Mueller famously said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”

But, St. Paul also wants to remind us that prayer is more than just the praying; it is also found in doing. Prayer is not just what we do on our knees or at church or with beads and novenas. It also includes what we think about all day long; and even in what we do. He writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” A person of prayer is always thinking about what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Kierkegaard said, “Prayer does not change God. It changes to one who prays.” When we “think about these things,” we allow God through that prayer to change us to reflect Him more perfectly.

Finally, prayer involves action. Again, from St. Paul, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” A person of prayer should be a person of action, one who “keeps on doing”. St. Augustine said, “Pray as if everything depends on God, but work as if everything depends on you.”

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 it must continue when we leave church being that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, strangers. And letting it lead us to action; to do the right thing. That way, the peace of God will be with us all.

Let us be people of prayer, people of ACTS and God will give us His peace.

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