8th Sunday in Ordinary time, 26 Feb 2017

From the Dean’s Desk

The 1997 film ‘As Good As It Gets’ had Jack Nicholson starring in the role of Melvin Udall, a New York novelist who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Melvin ate at the same restaurant each day, at the same table, using plastic disposable cutlery rather than the restaurant’s as they may be contaminated. Melvin also feared walking on lines and cracks in the footpath.  Carol Connolly (played by Helen Hayes) invites him to her apartment for dinner.  When Melvin enters the foyer he is thrown into a panic attack, since the floor of the foyer consists of small tiles and it would be almost impossible for him to cross without stepping on a crack!  You could imagine his level of anxiety!

Today’s Gospel [Matthew 6:24-34], coming towards the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, places a vital challenge before us: not to be anxious about matters pertaining to life, since God will always provide for us and ensure that only good comes to those who believe and trust in God’s ways.  It speaks of not worrying about the essential elements of life: food and clothing.  Jesus then goes on to say that since God provides for the birds and the flowers, there is no need for us to feel in any way cast aside by God.

This faithfulness of God is strengthened and reaffirmed through the image that Isaiah places before us in the first reading [Isaiah 49: 14-15].  Isaiah reminds us that even if a mother forgets her baby – and what greater and more intimate love is there in our world – God will never forget us, because he has carved us in the palm of his hand.

Needless to say many of us experience anxiety in life.  Perhaps not to the extent of Melvin, but all the same it is there.  We can worry about so many different things in life: money, health, security, work, image and the like.  Perhaps we should take Isaiah’s image a little further as a means of helping us to overcome our anxiety.  Take the example of a child.  It knows that whatever it needs or requires in life will be provided: clothing, security, food, love.  All that the child has to do is turn to his or her parents and the need is met.  Our relationship with God should be like that: childlike and faith filled.

St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) spoke about anxiety in strong terms.  He states: ‘with the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul…if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy’ [Introduction to the Devout Life, Book 4, chapter 11].  These are strong words by St Francis and they should urge us to consider whatever is troubling us at the present moment; to estimate the negative impact it is making on my life and then to turn to God in prayer and ask God to assist us to overcome the power and control that it may be exerting on me at present.  All I need to realise and live by is the fact that God will always provide for me.  As Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans: ‘God works for the good for all those who trust in God’ [8:28].   Hearing this, then what is there to worry about?  

Fr Robert Bossini
Dean and Parish Priest