5 Oct 2014
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6) In the name …
“Don’t worry.” Lot harder said than done. For instance, Theresa Billiel and I traveled to Erie, PA for our recently completed Synod this past week. On our trip out on Sunday we were supposed to leave by Amtrak train from Springfield at 2:15pm. We thought we could check our bags, which meant arriving an hour before that so we left South Deerfield at 12:30. We got to Springfield and found out that the train hadn’t even left Boston yet. Sharon had dropped us off at the entrance of the train station. Gave her a quick call. She came back to pick us up. We spent the next couple of hours sitting outside at the Munich House Restaurant in Chicopee passing the time with a couple of adult beverages. The train finally left the station at about 4:30pm. I crawled into bad at the hotel at 4AM Monday morning and the Synod Mass was going to start in six hours.
Then on the way home we’re supposed to leave at 7:30 in the morning. We had to leave the hotel at 8:30am to catch our ride to the train station, and then we sat there until about 10:30am. You are invited to call the Amtrak 1-800 number to check on their expected schedule, and they kept telling us that trains can make up time in transit. They offer you a glimmer of hope. Instead though, the train kept falling further and further behind schedule. We were supposed to be in Springfield at 5:48pm. We got in at 10:30pm. All of this added up to about 15 hours last Sunday and 14 hours on Friday. I am not a patient man. Theresa kept trying to remind as we were held captive on these trains, “There’s nothing you can do about it. Relax.” She was absolutely right, but that didn’t make it any easier to sit on a train that was so off schedule.
Now the lesson of “don’t worry” about things you can’t affect has merit, but that message isn’t the same as indifferent. When we “de-trained” as they say on Amtrak, we had to wait to cross the tracks to enter the station and go home – the last insult. While we were waiting, I started talking to one of the Amtrak guys and his line was: “Train 48 is always late and Train 49 is never on time.” Being late isn’t the exception; it’s the rule. Earlier in the week the train arrived in Springfield at 5:30am – that’s 12 hours late! Amtrak blamed it on a court ruling from July 2013. That’s more than a year ago. After 14 months, I think they should adjust their train schedules to reflect the new reality. If Amtrak and Amtrak riders continue to say “Don’t worry” after 14 months of consistently ridiculously late trains and settle for this kind of service, then that’s not a coping solution, it’s part of the problem.
Today’s “don’t worry” verse is one verse out of a letter consisting of about 100 verses. It’s 1% of Paul’s message, and context matters. Paul is anything but the poster child for the laid-back attitude. As he writes this Epistle, he’s in prison. He’s not there for stealing. He’s there because of the gospel. He’s there for preaching and getting people all riled-up, and the Roman Empire didn’t like when people got all riled-up. It’s like all the young protestors in Hong Kong who are making the authorities in China very nervous because they are right now demanding real democracy, which I thought was ironic as we voted in Synod at the same time to give even more of our democratic power over to the bishops, but that’s for our Synod report next Sunday after Mass. But Paul didn’t just sit back and say “don’t worry” when a problem as big as the Roman Empire got in his way. He worked even harder. He never admitted that anything was too big to change – not even an empire. Sitting there in a jail cell, the “don’t worry” made sense as “you can’t do anything about this so deal with it,” but Paul would never use “don’t worry” as an excuse to not try and make a difference and to settle for the unacceptable.
“Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” as Paul says today, are wonderful options to be able to believe in when all else is out of our control, but throwing everything over to God is not the answer to the rest of life’s challenges. God does a lot; we need to help. We’re God’s children, that’s true, but it doesn’t say we’re His little children. I’m my dad’s son, but I’m 54. If I expected him to take care of every problem I ran into today like I did when I was three, he’d be sick and tired of seeing me every Thursday. Plus, I’d still be the kid. “Don’t worry” can’t be the excuse for “don’t care.” 72% of Americans, according to the most recent Pew Research poll (9/22/14), almost three-quarters of us, feel that religion is losing influence in America. Sometimes that doesn’t surprise or even bother me because of the things that come out of the mouths of religious leaders as supposedly in the name of God. They can make me blush not as a priest, but as a thinking person. So I’m not surprised by the feeling that religion is losing influence in America, and I can completely understand why.
But there’s also the good side of religion that challenges us to appreciate life and creation, to see each other as equal and deserving of respect, and to help us become more aware of the nearness of an unseen but caring God. This is also, sadly, lost as religion’s influence wanes. I think this has a lot to do with our unwillingness to act differently as Christians outside of church. Can you tell a believer from a non-believer outside of Sunday morning? Do we act noticeably different? If we don’t, then maybe that’s also why religion is losing influence. We can’t throw up our arms at problems and give-up. We can’t say they’re too big and lock ourselves in church buildings. We can’t even say “don’t worry” and let God handle it. Last night I heard The Gibson Brothers sing Help My Brother on A Prairie Home Companion. I leave you with their refrain: “Starting today I’m going to do what I can to help my brother whenever he’s in need. Do what I can for any other. That’s what I’ll do for me.” It’s wonderful to be able to not worry and trust in God when we can’t make a difference, but let us pray, starting today, that when we can, that it’s the ones who ignore God who have to start worrying about us getting all riled-up. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo