We have been having the pleasure of listening to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians for our second reading these past few weeks. Today’s passage is particularly beautiful with wonderful spiritual advice:
“Finally, brothers and sisters,
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.”
It is similar to the advice (based upon the wisdom of the saints) I often give to parents whose children have stopped participating in church. I encourage them to challenge their children to seek what is beautiful, what is true, and what is loving. If they seek these things, they will rediscover God.
Some might say that given what happened in Las Vegas on Sunday, given the wars that rage in the world, given the breakups in marriages and the number of pregnancies that end in abortion, given the lack of care for the stranger and immigrant, and on and on…how are we to focus on those things? Yes, the world is a very mixed reality. The world is full of goodness, generosity, sincerity, creativity, imagination, and ingenuity. Daily we see advancement in technology and extreme poverty is disappearing from the world. However, it is also full of sin, injustice, greed, selfishness, infidelity and lack of care for the poor. In such a mixed world, what are we to do?
St. Paul in this passage wants us not to focus on the negative side of the world, but on where God is present, on the side of goodness, beauty, truth. For St. Paul truly believes that our hope and our life are in the hands of God. We are not to worry. As he says in this same passage today, “Have no anxiety at all.” None. No anxiety at all. Focus on what is good, delight in those around us, work to change what we can and let God do the rest.
Fear is the tool of the evil one. Jesus called him, “the Father of Lies”. When we give in to fear and create a world that is building bigger walls and bigger bombs, then we have surrendered to the work of the evil one. If you have fear in your heart today, ask yourself where it is coming from. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that if we ask God to take care of us, then we can have peace in our hearts. He also says that it is a peace “beyond all understanding.” Other people may not be able to understand how we can be peaceful in a world where one man can kill 59 people and wound more than five hundred. Our response is that we are not placing our trust in guns, or in armor, or in surveillance, or in any political or human made solution to this problem. Our hope is in the one who rose from the dead. Our hope is in the one who is the creator of all and loves us. Our hope is in the one who has the power over life and death. In Jesus we find our peace.
Paul is not suggesting that we abandon the world or that we become ignorant happy-go-lucky Pollyanna’s. No, we want to engage the world totally and creatively, but with the hope and the knowledge that God is greater than the world and that Jesus has conquered sin and death. With that belief we can seek truth, seek beauty, seek love and find the peace that is beyond all understanding.