Stress or Struggle?
One thing I’ve heard people say often, and I’ve done it myself, is to complain about the stress they are under. I’m not sure whether it’s the influence of pop-psychology, the life style programs on TV or the magazines that tell us how our lives can be better if we did this or started eating that. Stress seems to be regular among the post-modern jargon.
However, stress should be absent from the life of a Christian.
Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati, at the age of 24, four months before he died, wrote to his sister, Luciana:
You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as Faith gives me strength I will always be joyful; every Catholic cannot but be joyful: sadness ought to be banished from Catholic souls. Sorrow is not sadness, which is a worse illness than any other. This illness is nearly always caused by atheism. But the purpose for which we have been created shows us the path, even if strewn with many thorns, it is not a sad path. It is joyful even in face of sorrow. (Turin 14 Feb 1925)
We must not dismiss this as just the pie-in-the-sky optimism of a young man. No. Here is the wisdom of holiness.
Pier Giorgio is saying to us that our lives are going to have sorrow and thorns; we are going to struggle. This is because earth is not heaven. We live in a fallen world, touched by sin. Stress only comes when we are forced to face and overcome struggles without a reason to do so.
But we have the reason. Christ has placed our eyes on the real purpose and the real prize of life – being in heaven. Bl Pier Giorgio understood that and that is why we know he is already there, in heaven, ahead of us and urging us on to join him there.
The Christian Remedy for Stress
So, the Christian remedy for stress is trust in God. Trusting God does not mean that we will breeze through life with no struggles. We follow a suffering Saviour. It wasn’t that way for Him and it won’t be different for us.
If the object of our trust is God rather than money, or food or clothing then we can experience the freedom from nagging worry and preoccupation with passing things (CCC 2830). We will recognize that all we have comes from a loving and caring God who is able to supply all we need; as He does for the birds and the flowers.
Christ tells us in the gospel that the key to this trust in God is to take the decision to set our heart on God’s kingdom first and foremost. This is the First Commandment, “You shall have no other Gods apart from me” expressed in other words.
But like all the workings of grace, we make the decision and then we leave ourselves open to the change of heart, the conversion of heart, that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in us.
Unfortunately, conversion of heart is not usually instantaneous. It is gradual and mostly it’s a life time process.
What helps in this ongoing conversion of heart, which, by the way, every Lent is a yearly intensive course in, what helps are three things:
First, we live in obedience to God – through what we find in Scripture and in the teachings of the Church.
Secondly, we strive to get to know Jesus Christ better through prayer. Pope Benedict told the young people in New York on his visit to the USA that what matters most is to develop a personal relationship with God.
Thirdly, we must be constantly on the lookout to bring others to Christ. We must be engaged in evangelization. If we seriously believe that God is the real source of happiness we must want to share that with others.
St Paul said at the opening of the section of his epistle to the Corinthians that we heard today, “People must think of us as Christ’s servants.”
Do the people you work with or the others you go to school or university with think of you and Christ in the same thought? If not, why not? What do you need to change or what do you need to do so that you might be recognisable as a Christian and a Catholic? As I heard it said once, if being Catholic were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you in a court of law?