SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM AND DON’T WORRY
Homily, Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
February 26, 2017
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization
Last Sunday during my homily I quoted twice from Dante’s Divine Comedy, so I hope you won’t mind if I offer just another very little bit of Dante this week. In the same book of the Divine Comedy from which I quoted last week, Il Paradiso (“Paradise”), Dante encounters a soul who shares with him a message that is incredibly important for us to take to heart. She says to Dante, referring to God’s plan for us, “In His will, our peace.”
In His will, our peace. The meaning of these words in the context of the poem is that what happens according to God’s will is a source of peace, when we accept it graciously. To accept that I was born at this time rather than some other time in human history, that I have these gifts and not those gifts, that this or that has happened to me is all important if we are to experience God’s peace. It is when we fight God, more than when we face challenges, that we experience distress and a lack of peace.
And not only should we accept God’s will when we discover it, but we should actively seek to discover and do God’s will. This is one way of understanding what Jesus means when He tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
But how do we seek God’s will? We should begin simply by asking Him explicitly, in prayer. People are so often trained to do what feels right, to think about themselves when they make decisions. Maybe those who had better training know to think about others. But what we really need to think about first and foremost is what God wants.
Ask God what He wants of you, what His plan is for you. Ask Him to enlighten your mind and heart, so that you will know His will for you. We need to do this not only with regard to life’s big decisions—say, our vocational decisions—but also with our smaller, daily decisions.
Sometimes, people speak about how they think God must be “too busy to care” about the smaller matters in our lives. God does care. Now, that doesn’t mean we can always take an hour to pray over every decision. Life can’t work that way. But God does care about our day-to-day lives. He cares about how you do your job. He cares about what kind of entertainment you use. He cares about how you treat your kids, or parents, or spouse not just in general but today, in this situation. God cares about about all of our thoughts, words, and actions.
Some people wish God, or the Church, would leave them alone. But if God were to leave you alone for one millisecond, you would cease to exist! God cares because He created us and loves us. He knows what is best for us and what will hurt us, and He passionately desires that we do what will bring us closer to Him.
“Seek first the kingdom of God.” We need to share God’s desire if we are going to seek Him first. We need to want what is truly best for us, and not just what might feel good in the moment. And we need to put God first, not force Him to wait in line while we fulfill our own agendas.
I want to come back to the practical question about how we can know God’s will. Because it’s easy to talk about seeking His will, but that isn’t enough. To seek God’s will takes time. As I said, we can’t always spend a lot of time discerning, but we do need to spend time on our more important decisions. And the more time we spend, the more likely we are to know clearly what God wants of us.
When you are praying and thinking about a decision, it helps to consider different options, and where those options would lead. You might discover that something is evil and be able to reject it right away. But you will often find ourselves choosing between different options that are good, and need to choose which one is really the best. The Jesuits remind us that we need to choose what is *ad majorem Dei gloriam*, “for the greater glory of God.”
Another technique in deciding what God is asking of you is to consider your own situation. Is your relationship with God basically healthy and good, or are you stuck in your sins? If your relationship with God is healthy, then the option which is God’s will for you should bring peace and consolation, while choosing the other option would disturb your soul. If you are suffering the effects of unrepentant sin (e.g. you haven’t been to confession), the opposite will probably happen: God’s will could seem disturbing, since it would represent such a jarring change, while what is against His will may look like “smooth sailing.”
We can also get so tangled-up in weighing the pro’s and con’s of different options that we fail to move towards a resolution. In that case, two guiding questions may help:
• When you feel closest to God, to what option do you feel most drawn?
• Which option represents for you a deeper choice of Jesus?
There is a lot more that could be said about how to go about this kind of discernment, but I think you get the point that we need to base our decisions upon what God wants rather than trying to make decisions apart from Him.
I want to move on, then, and to make sure that I emphasize one of the most important fruits of approaching our decision-making in this way, a fruit I mentioned at the beginning of this homily: the peace of God, reigning in our hearts. In His will, our peace.
The worry about which Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel is a lethal enemy of this peace. And we all know that worry comes from a feeling of insecurity. Insecurity causes us to become afraid about the future, and we exhaust ourselves worrying about what will be, what could be, and even about what will never be.
We can also worry because we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. And as we develop a habit of worrying, our anxiety becomes “generalized”, meaning it isn’t so much centered on one concrete thing but is just a burden and a pain we carry around with us everywhere we go and in everything we do. We can even become overwhelmed if we allow the worry and anxiety to build up too much inside of us, and when we start to get overwhelmed we can be headed for really serious trouble.
Now, there are lots of relaxation techniques and some of these can be very useful, but to solve any problem we really need to get to the root of the problem. And if the root of the problem is insecurity, fear, and uncertainty, then we need to turn to the One Who has the power to make us perfectly secure, to drive fear out of our hearts, and to help us know what we need to think, speak, and act.
In other words, when we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to God, seeking Him first, seeking to do His will always, we will have the security and peace for which our hearts long. We will have no cause for worry, even when trouble comes, as it inevitably will come in this world.
Remember, Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn [16:33]). Jesus has already done what we need to do. He has done the Father’s will by dying for us, and His resurrection is the source of our greatest security.
One of the most powerful feelings of childhood is the security that comes from the protection of our parents, the sense that “everything is going to be alright.” We don’t need to leave this feeling behind with our childhood toys. With God, we can have this feeling again! And it will be more than a feeling, because God is our ultimate and perfect protector.
God loves us tenderly, more tenderly than a mother loves her child, as we heard in today’s First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. God is truly our Father, our Protector, the One in Whom we can place all of our trust without ever worrying that He will betray that trust. But we need to take the step, intentionally and repeatedly, of placing our trust in Him.
The Season of Lent, which begins this week with Ash Wednesday, would be a great time to dedicate ourselves to God and His will for our lives. We could make this the focus of our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving: that God will renew our hearts so that they are totally set on Him. And we could beg Him to fill our hearts with the peace that comes to those who seek Him first, and put Him first at every moment of their lives.
[Pictured: Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew”, c. 1600]