“Many of my clients are dealing with a lot of anxiety nowadays,” my friend, a therapist, told me after Mass recently. Indeed it does seem that many folks are a bit more stressed out in these times, facing their own battle with anxiety. Of course, you can see why some might be anxious. Consider, for example, the routine daily news headlines from virtually any secular media source. Local crime—assaults, thefts, murders—shows up in most communities daily, for example. Now admittedly, some of us may live in areas that are partly insulated from local lawlessness. However, the national and global news reports will quickly remind us of man’s fallen nature, no matter where we live.
The affronts to our sensibilities go beyond reported crime statistics, though. We see what seems to be an increase in incidents of political intrigue, lack of respect and polarization in our culture. People have become more and more hidebound to one ideology or another. One side can’t talk respectfully to the other side, let alone negotiate for the common benefit of all.
We can’t even escape tales of strife, intrigue, and in-fighting within Holy Mother Church. One cardinal makes a statement, and another rebuts and rebuffs him, often not in a charitable manner. As well, high-ranking members of the clergy routinely go on record with positions that seemingly oppose the position of the Church on some issues. The list goes on and on.
What’s driving these apparent trends? As I’ve noted previously, I believe our secular culture is abandoning or has abandoned, Judeo-Christian principles. We’ve pushed God out of the public square in favor of whatever individually feels good or suits our agenda. If we don’t believe in God and the greatest commandment, how can we treat one another with respect and charity?
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Mt 22: 37-40
Loving our neighbor, and showing that love in our respect and care for him, seems to be largely forgotten. Over a period of years, there has been a decline in civility within society in general. Good manners are harder and harder to find, and what once was considered inappropriate behavior is commonplace these days. A life without charity and a focus on Christ will not be peaceful, nor will it be civil.
Battles with Pride
The root of all sin is pride. We choose to be our own god, rather than letting God be God and follow Him. We determine what’s right or wrong, depending on how it makes us feel. In doing so, we go against God—we refuse God’s love for us. Fr. Armando Marsal, DCJM, points out in a parish seminar that most of the frustration we feel as individuals is due to our pride. It’s not due to someone else’s actions—we are the cause of it. We’re trying to play the wrong role. We want to be in control—we want to be God. By stepping back and letting God be in charge, through the humility that allows us to know the truth, we can begin to minimize our frustration and anxiety.
What about those in the Church taking positions that seem contrary to established Church teaching? Why do so many learned people, including some high-ranking clergy, seemingly go off the rails? I suspect this also has to do with pride. We read or hear about Cardinals making what seem to be outlandish statements, in contravention with established Church teaching. Pride plays a role here as well.
Instant News about the Battles
We used to get a break from news and current events. With smartphones, tablets, and apps, we can be tuned in 24/7 to current happenings. When a shooting occurs in Washington, DC, you can get word of it within a few minutes on your phone.
If the pope makes an interesting comment on an airplane, the media will let you know within the hour. It is never-ending, and it can be overwhelming. A look at Church history shows the existence of disagreements among the bishops not unlike what we see today. The difference is that before there was fewer media coverage of such disagreements. Now, it’s ongoing.
Secular Media and Its Battle with the Church
The secular media has an agenda. That agenda generally is not friendly to the Church and its teachings. What the secular media tells us will be slanted to support that agenda. As well, a lot of what grabs people’s attention and “sells” advertising space falls under the category of bad news. Some websites have a much more negative slant on life than others—even those that support the Church. They can provoke visitors and raise anxiety levels far worse than other sites.
One choice, it would seem, is to avoid these sites, or at least ration one’s time spent on them. Another option would be (to hijack a phrase from the ‘60s) to tune out, turn off, and drop out of e-mail and social media regularly. Take a break—the insanity will be there when you return. Also, it’s good to remind ourselves that some issues are not ours to control, so we shouldn’t obsess over them:
LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul…Ps 131
Technology and the Incivility Battle
Technology allows individuals to respond to posts and comments nearly instantaneously. They can do so anonymously, or at least impersonally. Social media interaction often takes place in a “hit and run” manner. It’s easy to make a brief, snarky comment and hit “send.” It’s all too easy to lob some obnoxious grenade over the wall when you don’t have to look recipients of your responses in the eye and actually dialogue with them. None of this bodes well for maintaining one’s sense of peace and joy.
I read somewhere recently that technology and social media are rewiring our brains. According to the author and research he or she had seen, it’s giving us shorter attention spans. This results in less ability to focus and deeply dive into the subject matter and really think about it. That’s another reason why we ought to step back from the social media, at least a bit. Perhaps we should spend more time quietly reading Sacred Scripture and the great works of literature.
Consider taking in the grandeur and glory of God through the beauty we see all around us. This also can help us refocus on what’s important. We can follow St. Paul’s advice:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil 4:8
There are many lovely, excellent things, worthy of praise that we can experience and think about. Why not actively seek them out, rather than the continual diet of drama and trauma the national news media and most social media serve up? Visit beautiful churches, listen to classical music and sacred music and chant. Read the Gospels, pray the Psalms. Read classical spiritual works by St. Teresa, St. Therese, Archbishop Sheen, Benedict XVI and the Fathers of the Church.
Trusting in God
In the final analysis, it’s God alone who is in charge—not us. We can’t do anything without Him and His grace. Getting worked up over worldly matters only makes us miserable and takes our eyes off God. It keeps us from showing our neighbor the love of God in what we do and say. We lose the grace of the present moment. Without that grace, we lose the opportunity to be effective instruments for the Lord, bringing souls to him. Life is too short to waste the present moment in anxiety. The words of the psalmist, below, remind us to trust in God:
My soul rests in God alone,
from whom comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and salvation,
my fortress; I shall never fall…
My soul, be at rest in God alone,
from whom comes my hope.
God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not fall.
My deliverance and honor are with God,
my strong rock;
my refuge is with God.
Trust God at all times, my people!
Pour out your hearts to God our refuge…
Do not trust in extortion;
in plunder put no empty hope.
On wealth that increases,
do not set your heart.
One thing God has said;
two things I have heard:
Strength belongs to God…
What can we do for world peace, for the respect for life, and other key issues? Trust in God. Work hard through His graces to stay in the present moment with Him. Pray without ceasing. Ask for the intercession of Our Lady and the saints. Recognize the truth—God is in charge—we are not. The evil one brings us anxiety and frustration by tempting us to give up the battle.