In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus draws a direct correlation between our level of worry and our faith. Having faith is a common theme throughout Jesus’ teaching. How many times have we read or heard, “O you of little faith” (Mt 6:30). At its core faith is that we trust what Jesus says is true. If we are feeling anxious or worried our focus is dwelling on the past, rehashing something we did or did not do, not sure if we made the right decision, or if we are anxious about the future, our minds plague us often with the worst case scenarios of what might be or what could happen. We also may react to another’s actions or words, not fully understanding the context or source of the hurt or struggle they may be going through that caused those words or actions. We stay focused, stay fixated on our own reaction, and/or stay stuck in our emotions of the situation, instead of seeking to understand the other person.
In each of these occasions we are not focusing on God, we are not trusting in him, we are exercising little faith because our focus is on our self. Jesus is telling us that, “No one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). Either we place our self first or we place God first. Jesus is guiding us to put God first in our lives and to trust in him.
Anxiety, worry, and fear, can be debilitating and paralyzing. Many of us deal with these feelings at some time and to some extent. What many families are now experiencing though, those fleeing their homes, making the perilous journey to get to what many believe to be a land of promise and hope, then to find that they are turned away, arrested or separated, children not knowing if they will ever be able to see their parents again, or that their parents will be deported is terrifying and traumatic. The anxieties, worries, and fears I have experienced in my life pale in comparison.
The other side of the coin, are the anxieties, worries, and fears that have and contribute to this situation. Throughout the history of our country too many have placed their trust and faith in anxiety, worry, and fear. Native Americans, African Americans, Irish, Germans, Catholics, Japanese, and now Latinos have been demeaned, dehumanized, and feared, instead of heard and encountered. Difference and diversity, terrorists, increased violence, job loss, out right self interests, prejudice and bigotry have fed and continue to feed the dark side of our fallen nature.
Jesus’ life, words and actions provide a starting point for shifting the momentum of the cycle of enslavement to our anxieties, worries, fears, and prejudices. In each of our individual circumstances and situations, we need to be aware of, identify, and turn away from them and instead, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33).
On a national level, with another call for mass deportations, there is a way that we can bring about immigration reform, without politicization and dehumanization, but we must begin by acknowledging that those seeking to come to our country, as well as those who are already here are human beings, we need to trust that God will provide for all who have need, and lead us to live together in community.
One of the greatest perpetuations of injustice is that too many of us isolate ourselves from one another. We turn within ourselves or in our own tribes and camps, we resist embracing the gift of our diversity and thus do not get to know one another, we give in to the fears that support our prejudices, we don’t want to rock the boat or deal with conflict head on, so we don’t speak up or out, we want someone else to fix the problem. When the storm comes we tend to want to run away from it. Instead we need to be like the buffalo that used to roam the great plains in vast numbers. When the storm was building over the plains, they would run into the storm, and would get through it quicker.
May we embrace our faith in Jesus so to face our own storms of anxiety, worry, and fear when they arise, trust in God, and together face them. In this way, we will better be able to resist division and instead work for unity, resist the language of dehumanization and hate, and instead promote solidarity and love. May we trust and embrace the courage to come out from hiding in the shadows of our anxiety, worries, and fear, and instead hold high the flame of the Holy Spirit so to light a path of hope that is grounded in our faith, and come to recognize that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Jesus. May we begin today to embrace our mutual gift of humanity and diversity.
Photo: My first communion preparation class, Bronx, NY early 90’s.