Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 17, 2019.)

Did you ever get up in the morning to find a deep fog spread through the neighborhood? It clouds everything. When you go outside, it’s difficult to see five feet down the road. If you’re driving, it seems even worse. Everyone slows down and most people are constantly alert to any obstruction that might not be visible. You go slowly so you can avoid hitting anything that might be covered by the fog. We might think, “Boy, doesn’t this fog get in the way?” or “This is really keeping me back from getting to where I need to go.”

Sometimes the worries in life can be like a fog. It might be concerns over an illness suffered by you or a loved one. It might be job-related: Is the business going to survive? Will I lose my job? How am I going to deal with my boss or fellow employee?

It might be concerns over your children: How am I going to protect my kids from the violence in this world? Are they making friends? Are they going to be OK? Will they get caught up in drug or alcohol abuse?

It might be economic: How am I going to pay my bills? Will I have enough money to pay off my debts? Can I put food on the table?

It might even be about the neighbors: How do I deal with “this one” or “that one”?

There are so many things in this world that could cause us to worry. When worries start to seep into our lives, it’s like the fog moving in – it obscures our vision, it distracts us, it slows us down and hinders our movement.

Jesus’ in the Gospel for today’s liturgy speaks of many things that would cause us to worry. He talks of persecution that may come against his believers. We certainly have seen in the history of the church that this indeed is a real threat, ranging from passive to active persecution.

Using apocalyptic imagery, Jesus speaks of fierce obstacles that would cause any of us to worry — wars, insurrections, earthquakes, plagues, famines. Hearing of these things, we might think our own worries are minor. Yet, no matter how large or small the matter for our concern, the effect is the same – worry clouds our vision like a fog.

Perhaps Jesus uses these images to teach us a point about living in the present. No matter how great the obstacles or worries we might have in life, one thing remains constant. God is with us, and he is greater than any of our worries. This truth is made clear when Jesus speaks of persecution that drags his faithful ones into court. He says: “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

He goes on to urge us, his followers, to persevere and not lose heart: “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” God is with us, and he is the one who will deliver us from whatever causes us to worry.

Malachi likewise uses images of the end times when God’s justice will come “blazing like an oven.” How is one to stand in the midst of something so overwhelming? Malachi gives the answer: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” In the end, God will deliver his faithful ones.

Worry can get in the way of life. Like a morning fog, worry slows us down and hinders our movement. When the sun comes up and dries the air, the fog dissipates and we can move forward.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” When we let this Son into our lives, through an open heart, his light will dispel worry and replace it with hope. In the words of the Te Deum – “In you Lord is our hope, and we shall never hope in vain.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.