In our second reading at Sunday Mass, from chapter four of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear St. Paul tell us to “have no anxiety at all.” Philippians 4:6: “Have no anxiety at all.” [CLICK por español.]
Now, far be it from us to question the holy Apostle, when it comes to the consistency of his teachings. But any diligent Bible reader knows what St. Paul wrote, two chapters earlier, in Philippians 2:1. “Work out your salvation with… fear and trembling.”
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12. Have no anxiety at all. Philippians 4:6.
Did our beloved Apostle Paul contradict himself?
Let us try to understand. Maybe when he said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” St. Paul was thinking about us, the human race–weak sinners that we are. When he said, “Have no anxiety at all,” he was thinking about our loving and generous Father in heaven.
Okay. Quiz. Haven’t had one in a while. Everyone knows that God helps us get to heaven by infusing three theological virtues into our souls. Right? What is the second theological virtue? Correct! Hope. By hoping in God every day, trusting in His Providence, we become the people He made us to be.
Now, the world throws plenty of stress at us. Fear and trembling come naturally enough.
But that’s not quite what St. Paul means–fearing and trembling about the economy, or Kim Jong Un, or lone-wolf shooters, or any of the other bogeymen of the world. Things can get bad, but one way or another, God will always provide for us in this pilgrim life. Even death can’t do us any harm if we die in God’s friendship. So when we get right down to it, there is really only one thing for us truly to fear.
The one genuinely frightening thing is: H—E—double hockey sticks. When we seriously consider the possibility of winding up there, we really do tremble. Not a good prospect. Not at all.
And hell is a real possibility. We sin against holy hope if we presume on God’s goodness. Hope is hope, not certainty. During this pilgrim life, I cannot know for sure that I am going to heaven. I have to get to purgatory first, to know for sure. Heaven isn’t automatic for anybody. So my job is to strive every day to do good and avoid evil. I have to confess my sins and beg for mercy. Being presumptuous with a friend is rude; being presumptuous with God is a sin.
On the other hand, St. Paul also wrote, “Have no anxiety about anything.” Pray, make your requests known to God, and “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God means no despair and no discouragement. Living the virtue of hope means trusting with confidence. If it really were all up to us, we would be in trouble, serious trouble. But it is not all up to us.
The good Lord has a perfect plan to get us all to heaven. He has a plan to get each of us there, starting right now. No matter what we have done or failed to do, up till now. Until the moment you and I draw our last breath on this earth, the Lord always has a plan to save us. He will always forgive us our sins, if we ask Him. He will give us what we need to persevere.
All we have to do is ask. That is why St. Paul urged the Philippians to pray, right after he told them to have no anxiety. Pray with hope, in the peace of Christ.
And the Lord Jesus has given us the perfect way to pray.
We read a rough parable in our gospel reading on Sunday. But at the heart of that rough Parable of the Tenants, we actually find our greatest consolation, our greatest source of holy hope.
The vineyard owner sent his son to collect the fruit of the vineyard. He sent his son, in peace—even though the tenants had already killed the owner’s servants.
Was this father living in some kind of dream world? ‘Oh, they killed my servants, so they must be vicious murderers. But let me send my son, my heir, my one and only. He won’t have any problems.’
No. The owner knew the danger. That’s precisely why he sent his son. He wanted to make peace with these dangerous tenants. He thought that he could make peace by respecting the tenants and believing in them. But he also knew perfectly well that his son went to them as a lamb ready to be sacrificed.
This is our consolation and our hope, in the face of everything that life can throw at us; our consolation and hope in spite of all our own incorrigible weaknesses: The Lamb of God has been sacrificed for us. The Lamb of God came among us, ready to die, to overcome all our evil. His sacrifice for us is the perfect prayer of Christian hope. And that sacrifice is: The Holy Mass.
In the Mass, we ask for exactly what we need to get to heaven. And in the Mass, the Lord gives us everything we ask for, and then some: He gives us Himself.
If we want to learn how to hope in God and how to pray with hope; if we want to learn how to avoid presumption and avoid despair–all we have to do is ‘tune ourselves in’ to all the prayers of the Mass. All we have to do is make the prayers of the Mass our own. To pray the Mass is to hope in Christ.