In the Midst of Troubles


Father Phil Bloom

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time,
October 2, 2011:

Bottom line: In the midst of troubles, St. Paul tells us to have no anxiety at all.

I have to admit that I love today’s readings. They speak about trouble, but also about hope. In the first reading, Isaiah prophecies the imminent destruction of the vineyard, that is, “the house of Israel.” Jesus also tells about a vineyard under terrible mismanagement. Rather than caring for the vineyard, the tenants get involved in greed, betrayal – and finally, murder. The Old Testament reading and the Gospel describe a world filled with trouble. Between those two readings, however, we hear a different note from St. Paul: In the midst of troubles, he say, “Have no anxiety at all.”

To some people this might seem like Pollyanna. But St. Paul is no naive optimist. He had plenty of troubles. A partial list includes public whippings, shipwrecks, snake bites, imprisonment and bodily ailments � particularly, afflictions of the eye. His life was always threatened; once he had to escape by being lowered over the side of building in a basket! Yet in today’s letter, written from prison he says, “Have no anxiety at all.”

How did St. Paul overcome anxiety? He tells us: “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” His prescription against anxiety has two parts: First, prayer – putting our troubles in God’s hand – making our requests known to him. Doesn’t God already know what we need? He does, but he wants us to entrust our lives and our problems to him. I knew person who has a prayer corner. It has a cross, a candle and small basket. The man writes his concerns on small slips of paper and places them in the basket, handing them over to God. When he practices this prayer, he experiences a wonderful peace. The first part of overcoming anxiety is prayer, trust in God.

The second part of the prescription is thanksgiving. Fr. Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, said, “God does not make mistakes. When a human being is alive, it is because God wants him or her to be alive.”* We are here because of God’s will and, even the bad things, God only allows them because of some greater purpose. So in every circumstance, we need to give thanks. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart.

Trusting God and giving thanks to him is not escapism. On the contrary, trust and gratitude enable a person to tackle problems. Let me illustrate with the example of a famous American. He managed a few retails stores and was doing well – but then the market crashed. Deep in debt, he experienced terrible anguish because he would have to start laying off workers. He knew the men personally and that their families depended on him. The stress caused him to develop a case of shingles. As you may know, the condition is so painful a person can hardly think of anything else. One night he felt that he would die and he began writing farewells to his wife, his son and his friends. He didn’t sleep a wink. As the sun rose, he heard singing from a hospital chapel. The words of the hymn were, “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you…” The man sat up in bed and said to himself: “It is real! God loves and cares for me.” He felt like he had been let out of dungeon into the sunlight. He went to work and eventually turned his business into one of the most successful retail chains in our country. You have probably heard of him. He had a somewhat funny name: James Cash Penney – but he was better known as J.C. Penney.

Now, J.C. Penney was no great saint. He was an American businessman who lived at a time when faith formed a major part of our culture. From that faith he drew strength to face what seemed like overwhelming troubles. He found an internal peace that enabled him to focus on one thing at a time. Instead of being overwhelmed, instead of seeing himself as a victim, he realized he could take ownership for his life. It was not a matter of being hyperactive or driven. It was a matter of trusting God.

St. Paul says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Yes, we have many troubles. Our world is not so different from the world described by Isaiah and Jesus: full of greed, selfishness, betrayal, even violence.** In our families we have troubles. On a personal level, we experience many disappointments. Yet we know that St. Paul’s command is not only possible, it is the only way forward.

To sum up this Sunday’s message: In the midst of troubles, St. Paul tells us – by trust and gratitude – to have no anxiety

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 2, 2011

Are We a Fruitful Vineyard? Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The past several Sundays we have been reading from the vineyard parables of Jesus in Matthew, and this Sunday we reach a climactic point in the hostility between the leaders of the people (chief priests and elders) and Jesus.

A Duty to Raise Our Voice
There was a man by the name of Sargent Shriver and many in the parish community probably won’t remember him. He was a brother in law of President John F. Kennedy. He died at age 95 after struggling for a decade with Alzheimer’s.

“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.”

4 Guidelines for Catholic Awesomeness
One day I’ll be able to write something without linking to Marc Barnes. Alas, today is not the day. I keep thinking about his post, simply titled Be Awesome, in which he issues a rallying cry for Catholics to step up our game. He points out that the world needs to see the beauty of the Faith now more than ever:

Don’t be Deceived by Appearances
Have you ever played a part, taking on a role of someone else? Some might think back to an occasion when they participated in a school play. Others might think about their roles in business or sales, or even within the home as parents when they might have employed the “good cop – bad cop” approach to resolve a problem. But, what I am thinking of here is more fundamental and of vitally greater importance to our spiritual health.

Why the Pope has to be Infallible, Part 3
In the first and second parts of this series of posts, we discussed the infallibility of the Church as a whole, and then the infallibility of an ecumenical council.

We concluded the last post with the question, Is the infallibility of an ecumenical council enough? In other words, in order to preserve the unity of the Church, and to transmit the faith with certitude to the common believer, is it enough that ecumenical councils alone be infallible?

Fire of God’s Love
Yesterday, I spent the day in Vallejo, at the NorCal Jam. There were nearly four thousand Catholic teens and young adults who participated in a day of sharing faith, fun, Sacraments and prayer.

The morning highlight was the celebration of the Mass, con-celebrated by four Bishops and about twenty priests. The homily used the day’s theme – On fire:

“But worldly sorrow brings death…” On Distinguishing a Good and Healthy Guilt From Morbid and Harmful Guilt
On of the trickier terrains to navigate in the moral world is the experience of guilt. Guilt is understood here as a kind of sorrow for sin.

On the one hand there is an appropriate sorrow for sin we ought to experience. Yet there are also types of guilt that can set up, either from our flesh or from the devil which are self destructive and inauthentic. Some forms of morbid or harmful guilt can cause great harm and actually increase the frequency of sin due to the way they render a person discouraged and self disparaging rather, rather than chastened but confident of mercy, healing and help. It may be of some value to make some distinctions so that we can discern what sort of guilt is healthy, and what is not.

The Liturgy Answers the Problem of Evil
The Problem of Evil is a perennial problem for those who try to seek God’s will. If I seek to follow God, why do I suffer? I pray and grow poor. My neighbor curses God and grows rich? How is this just? This mystery is revealed in light of the Christ: God loved His Son and even He suffered more than any.

Overcoming My Worst Spiritual Behavior
I sometimes marvel at my consistency. On a day filled with self-reflection like the one I experienced yesterday, I realized that once again, I was falling into repetitive bad behaviors that were hampering my faith journey. The last time I felt like this was just before Lent of this year when I was overworked, worn out and struggling to find peace. With the help of prayer, Eucharistic adoration, Reconciliation and caring Catholic friends I pulled back from the cliff and got back on the right path. Although not as severe this time, I see myself edging closer to the proverbial cliff and I am trying to apply the brakes. Do you ever experience this problem?

The Remedy for Anxiety
…Without a serious spiritual life, anxiety will overwhelm us . . . God is moving us away from clinging to things, people and institutions. He is calling us to detachment, to the desert, to the journey into the night of naked faith….

What Every Catholic needs to know about funerals
It is one of the most important events a Catholic community celebrates in a person’s life, but one so often misunderstood and increasingly ignored.

The funeral Mass.

“The integrating heart of the culture”
Father Robert Barron recently sat down in his Chicago-area offices with Father Matthew Gamber, SJ for a discussion about Barron’s newly released 10-part DVD series, Catholicism. Produced at a cost of three million dollars, all of which was raised through private donations, the series will be shown on nearly 90 public television stations around the US this fall. It will be broadcast on EWTN, as well.

Tapping the Source
Catholics who know and love their faith will often say that they have difficulty making time to pray or that they find themselves distracted when they do try to pray. To strengthen our life of prayer, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers practical guidance from the great masters of the spiritual life and from the Lord himself.

Welcome to hell – have a nice eternity!
You’re enjoying your life, you are successful, have plenty of money, a fast car, house in the stockbroker belt, 3 children and a beautiful wife…pretty damn good eh?

Only trouble is, you no longer practice your faith (well you do go to Midnight Mass at Christmas and you do give the children Easter Eggs) and, to cap it all you have had an affair at the office (over now, of course) and you did have to stick the knife in on Johnson in Marketing so that he got the push and you got his job – but then, that’s business isn’t it?

What I Learned from Praying in Front of an Abortion Clinic
The first time I went out to pray in front of an abortion clinic as part of a 40 Days for Life vigil, it felt surreal. Not only am I naturally awkward about public displays of faith, but less than a decade ago I was still a pro-choice atheist. In fact, it felt like such an unnatural thing for me to do that I was tempted to back out at the last minute and see if I could find someone else to cover my hour. I’m very glad that I went through with it, because it ended up being a powerful, eye-opening experience. Here are a few things I took away from it:

Are you tempted?
Shortly before his election to the papacy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said that one of the biggest challenges to faith in the modern world is relativism – the view that there is no moral or religious truth to which we are all accountable. Indeed, the relativistic perspective that dominates much of the Western world makes it very difficult for Christians to talk about morality.

Marriage Matters
In his seminal work, After Virtue, philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre argues that the abandonment of Aristotelian ethics lies at the heart of modern society’s slide into moral decadence and decline. Having abandoned an ontological, “is-ought” conception of the world, MacIntyre maintains that society now lacks a foundational vision to guide and order itself. Individualism, reigns supreme.

O Joyful Catholics, Where Are You?
I was very fortunate yesterday to hear a lunch talk from Professor Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and a distinguished Catholic legal scholar and author. Her topic was on the challenges of integrating our Catholic faith with our work and the public square, a subject I have written on many times over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed her insightful talk and the following table discussion on why it is difficult to be open about our Catholic faith in the secular world.

Study: father’s presence makes children happier, more intelligent
Research at Montreal’s Concordia University has shown that fathers who actively engage in raising their children make important contributions to their children’s cognitive abilities and behavioral functioning.

Peter Kreeft: Twelve things to know about angels
As today (9/29) is the Feast of of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels, here is a post from a couple of years ago that I’m re-posting for those who missed it the first time. It is an excerpt from Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really About Them? (Ignatius Press; 2004, sixth printing) by Peter Kreeft:

The Twelve Most Important Things to Know About Them

1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS! Family Meals – a Winning Recipe
Tom and Rose came into my office looking tired and frustrated. Both were overwhelmed with life’s responsibilities – Tom with his job and Rose with the home. They also seemed to be having trouble with their four children. Their kids were misbehaving at home and at school and their grades were suffering. They felt as if their family was falling apart.

Study: New Media Censors Christian Viewpoint
A new study has found that despite the big promises of the Internet to allow unfettered free speech for all, Christian groups are among the few that are being censored online. is reporting that a new study conducted by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) has found that Facebook, Google, Apple, MySpace and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon – all practice some kind of viewpoint censorship. Only Twitter is truly allowing free speech on-line.

Google digitizes Dead Sea Scrolls
The oldest known biblical manuscripts will be available online in a high-resolution format thanks to a partnership between Google and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, to be launched today, features searchable, fast-loading images of five complete Israeli scrolls of the Second Temple Period, the time of the birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

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