by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I have begun to avoid the news channels because they seem on a mission to try to make me despair.
Of course, there is plenty of bad economic news that they have a responsibility to report. However, it seems, for the past couple of years, some in the media actually have been disappointed when the standard economic indicators did not meet the criteria for a recession. Now that we are definitely in a recession, there are some who seem eager to claim that the American economy is as bad as the Great Depression or even worse.
I readily admit that I am no economic expert. However, from my reading of economic history, one of the key factors that could help pull our nation into an economic depression is fear or panic. There is a reason that President Franklin Roosevelt, when he was attempting to lead the nation out of the Great Depression, counseled Americans: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Media professionals will tell you that bad news sells newspaper and gains high broadcast media ratings. However, with all the good that I witness every day happening within the church, it confuses me that the only things that are deemed worthy to report are the most recent layoff, the latest negative economic statistic, the gruesome violent crime of the day, the current political corruption scandal and the most recent attack on traditional moral values. This steady drumbeat of bad news gives one the impression that our nation is caught in the perfect storm.
There are several episodes in the Gospel where Jesus is with the disciples during a storm. In the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (4:35-41), Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat when “a violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.” The disciples wake up Jesus, asking him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Some days in my prayer, I can identify with the disciples. It seems like our world is caught in an uncontrollable storm and the Lord must be asleep. I feel like echoing the question of the disciples to the Lord: Do you not care that we are perishing?
Once Jesus was awakened, he “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” At the command of Jesus, “the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” Then, Jesus has his own questions for the disciples: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
The image of Jesus serenely asleep in the boat during a violent storm, while the disciples are experiencing a panic attack, seems apt for our own circumstance. Our situation appears very stormy and our fate uncertain. Even apart from all the societal chaos and bad news, there are the many personal burdens so many carry — a sick child, a strained marriage, a family member suffering from a terminal illness, a confused teenager, etc.
It is easy to become overwhelmed with fears for oneself, one’s family and for our country. Usually, when I bring all of my worries and anxieties to the Lord in prayer and allow Jesus to calm the turbulence of my spirit, I hear him asking me the same questions he asked the disciples in the boat: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
Then, I begin to recall all the ways throughout my life that the Lord has blessed me and helped me through what I thought at the time were impossible situations. I begin to feel like the Israelites after the Lord had rescued them from slavery, complaining about the difficulty of their journey. Recall that after Moses left the people for a few days of prayer on the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments, he returns only to find that the Israelites have abandoned the true God who had liberated them to worship an idol fashioned by their own hands.
It requires no faith to believe what can already be seen clearly. Religious faith is trust that has been built through years of experience of the Lord’s fidelity to us. Abraham, the great model of faith in the Old Testament, remained confident that God would fulfill his promise to make him the father of a great nation, even when, from human calculation, it no longer appeared possible.
Jesus has promised his disciples that he will remain with us until the end of time. Jesus is in the boat with us as surely as he was in the boat with his first disciples on that turbulent lake. If we have faith and we trust in him, Jesus can give us peace even in the midst of life’s most severe storms.
A little later in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 5: 21-43), we find the story of Jairus, a synagogue official, who pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. On their way to his home, Jairus receives word that his daughter has died. Members of his own household counsel Jairus that the situation is futile and there is no longer any need for Jesus to come. The Lord has his own advice for Jairus: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” Jesus goes to the home of Jairus and raises to life the young girl, who had already been pronounced dead.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and frightened because of what is going on in our world, our nation and/or in your own personal life, I suggest that you put down the newspaper and turn off the television. Instead, go to Mass or spend an hour in prayer before our eucharistic Lord. Surrender to Jesus all the problems that burden and weigh you down. Ponder all the ways in which the Lord has brought you through so many challenges in the past. Take to heart the words Jesus spoke to Jairus: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.”
The chaos around you probably will not have subsided, but I am certain that Jesus will help you find peace even in the midst of the storm.