In seminary, an entire semester’s worth of study and preparation came down to one 10-minute oral exam. I have rarely felt greater heights of anxiety. Each professor had a mythical status built upon a tradition of tall tales passed from class to class. Your audience was not with flesh and bone, but with a demigod whose whim would decide your fate. Some paced, some continued to study, others turned to the scriptures for consolation. That was my routine. I read repeatedly: “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7). Saint Paul got me through those days of judgment.
We all know the parable of the sower: “Some seed fell on the path...some fell on rocky ground...some seed fell among thorns.” We also know it refers to the obstacles that threaten the life of grace within us. But look again at the seed that fell among thorns: “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” We easily acknowledge the danger of greed (the lure of riches), but my guess is we haven’t given much thought to the danger of anxiety. Yet Jesus tells us it can choke spiritual life.
Worrisome moments exercise our faith. They call us to persist in hope, believing that nothing can “separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:39). But anxiety betrays a lack of faith, a dearth of hope. Anxiety reveals a heart which suspects the skies are empty, or that God does not take notice. Anxiety opposes faith and drives out hope. Jesus teaches, “I am the vine, you are the branches...without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Anxiety is the opposite attitude. It depends only on itself. It chokes off the branches and the word bears no fruit. Jesus pairs it with the “lure of riches” because greed also stems from self-reliance. Anxiety and greed are two sides of the same coin. They are equally dangerous.
In his appearances to St. Faustina, Jesus said, “the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and worry.” Of course, this doesn’t mean holy people are stress-free. The saints experience plenty of trials. But they approach them differently. They see them as adventures in grace, opportunities to trust in God and marvel again at his providence. From the little things to the apocalypse itself, we have every reason to hope in God, enjoying the peace that comes from faith, even unto the Day of Judgment.