by Father Mark Goldasich
Apparently, I’m a slacker.
At least, that’s the impression one of my parishioners came away with after a recent Sunday Mass. And she’s only a second-grader.
What ticked this little girl off was the Gospel on Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 16, which ended with the parable of the prodigal son. As her mom tells it, as soon as I started to read it, this second-grader got an indignant look on her face, poked her mom and said something to the effect of, “Hey, he’s done that one before! I already know this story! What’s the deal?”
You can imagine how relieved I was at daily Mass this past Tuesday to look out and not see this little girl in attendance. If she thought we do the story of the prodigal son a lot, she would be positively scandalized at how many times the Gospel reading about Martha and Mary comes around. You know the one: Jesus comes to the house of these sisters for a meal. Martha is “burdened with much serving” and upset that her sister Mary is not helping her, but instead is sitting at the feet of Jesus. Jesus gently chides Martha, who is “anxious and worried about many things,” to imitate her sister Mary and choose the “better part.”
So, why do some Gospels get proclaimed so often? Perhaps it’s because these particular stories touch issues that most of us have a hard time dealing with in our lives. As Jim Johnston pointed out in his excellent commentary on the Martha and Mary story (in St. Anthony Messenger’s “Weekday Homily Helps” for Oct.9), we all need to come to grips with our worries.
It’s not really surprising that our word “worry” derives from the Middle English “wirwen,” which means to strangle, choke or twist. Worry strangles faith; it twists the world God created into something frightening.
I don’t know about you, but I always seem to have time to worry. I worry about what I’m going to preach about and write about each week; about the never-ending to-do list that I carry around in my pocket and my head; about my parishioners who are ill, whom I haven’t seen in church for quite some time, who are struggling with the issues of growing up, who seemed bored with God, who are dealing with oppressive crosses. I worry when the church isn’t crowded …and when it is! I worry when I take time off . . . and when I don’t. Heck, sometimes I’m even worried that I’m not worrying enough!
Maybe this Respect Life Month we’re now in is a call to arms against worry. It’s a chance to appreciate our gift of life by imitating Mary in that familiar Gospel story. We should take time to sit contentedly at the feet of Jesus, listen to his voice, and let his presence loosen the stranglehold of worry. The promises of Jesus and his vision for the world can untwist the knots that worry ties us in.
After spending time with Jesus, I’m usually inspired to do two things: take action and laugh. Since worry is so paralyzing, an effective way to deal with it is by doing something practical and concrete. That can be as simple as sitting down with paper and pencil and writing out all of the things that are weighing down our minds.
And don’t underestimate the power of laughter, which brings perspective with it. In a recent interview in the Parade magazine (Sept. 23), comedian Stephen Colbert said, “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”
With that in mind, it seems fitting to end with this little story, told by Jim Johnston, about a compulsive worrier named Herbert. This poor man was burdened by worry for most of his adult life until he found a way to overcome the problem. Immediately, his friends and family noticed a huge difference in his behavior and asked what the secret was to his newfound calm and peace.
“Well, I hired a professional worrier for $1,000 a week,” said Herbert, “and I haven’t had a single qualm since.”
“A thousand bucks a week?” said one friend. “That’s steep! How are you ever going to pay that?”
With a contented smile, Herbert replied, “Well, that’s his problem!”
That’s how I hope to live . . . right after I quit worrying whether this e-mailed article will reach The Leaven in time for the deadline!