Feeling anxious about the economy or the direction our country is taking?
Take some cold comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Anxiety seems to be in the air. And Catholics are not immune to it, even though we ask God at each Mass to "protect us from all anxiety."
Trying to understand the intricacies of the impossibly complex business relationships and products that got our economy in this mess, or the long-term consequences of the impossibly large multitrillion dollar bailout intended to fix it, is an exercise in futility.
And then there are the statistics. The federal government reports that 13.2 million people are out of work. Household debt is at unprecedented levels, with 26 million carrying more than $10,000 on credit cards.
A recent Associated Press poll says about half of Americans are afraid of losing their jobs, and two-thirds are at least somewhat worried about paying their bills.
Tragically, Planned Parenthood reports an increase in abortion requests, even from women with planned pregnancies, because of economic hardship. And anecdotal evidence suggests that money troubles are putting a strain on U.S. marriages (though divorce has become an even less economically viable option).
And whether they're linked in any way or not to the economy, the spate of recent mass murders -- cop killings in Pennsylvania and California, the unhinged immigrant's rampage in Binghamton, N.Y., multiple reports of dads killing their families and committing suicide -- adds to the sense that American society is fraying.
Additionally, many Catholics are feeling a sense of helplessness at the president's rolling back of protections for innocent human life and allocation of their tax dollars to fund abortion.
Tempting as it may be, it is not an option to pull the covers back over our heads and ignore it all. This is not a time for retreat.
Our biggest consolation, especially in this Easter season, is the secure knowledge of Christ's victory over death. We know the ending to the story of world history -- the good guys win.
It is also a very warm comfort, especially on this Divine Mercy Sunday, to reflect on God's persistent love for us and all humanity, despite our weaknesses and failings.
So what is the anxiety antidote? The root of the word "anxiety" is a Latin word that means "to choke," and narrowness and tightness of the throat. Experience and the long tradition of the Church's spiritual masters and saints attest that that constriction can be melted by cultivating a thankful and generous heart.
Commenting on the global economic crisis, Pope Benedict XVI recently told a gathering of priests in Rome: "Justice ... requires the presence of just people. And just people don't exist without the humble, daily work of conversion of hearts."
Here are three suggestions to banish anxiety for good:
First, spend more time in daily prayer, especially in silence before God.
Second, pay more attention to the needs of your family and those who live with you.
Third, plug into your parish and its apostolates (or help start one). Carry meals to the sick, provide assistance to women in crisis pregnancies, do errands for the elderly.
In the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties, it is worth listening to the wisdom of Mother Teresa: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." Therein lies Christ's own peace and joy.
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