The Remedy for High Anxiety: A Vaccine of Hope

Fr. Peter Daly

Today’s scripture reflection post is from Fr. Peter Daly, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, and a member of New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board.  He also serves on the leadership team of the Association of US Catholic Priests. His pastoral work included campus ministry, and 23 years as a parish pastor. For 20 years he was a syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service, and he currently writes for the National Catholic Reporter.

Today’s liturgical readings can be found here.

I don’t know about you, but I am filled with anxiety these days. As we approach the momentous U.S. election, where there is so much at stake, and survey our divided country and church, I am filled with anxiety. As we sit in isolation to read the papers, watch the news, scan the internet, I am filled with anxiety. Yesterday I dropped off my ballot at one of the drop boxes, I was even filled with anxiety about whether it got caught in the mail slot and didn’t fall to the bin below. (It was fine.)

The dictionary says that anxiety is a distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune, such as the loss of a job, loss of health, loss of life. Our health is threatened by a pandemic that has already killed a million people worldwide and more than two-hundred thousand here in the USA. Economies everywhere are devastated. Churches are worshiping “remotely,” if at all. We have reason for anxiety about our health and even life itself.

Ours is not neurotic anxiety. It is rational and reasonable anxiety based upon terrible things.

We have good reason for anxiety when we survey our church, too. We are more divided than ever. In fact, we already have a new schism with Archbishop Carlo Maria Vignano, publicly attacking Pope Francis and seeding division in the church. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, travels around the world criticizing the pope and encourages the Polish church to stand firm against a “homosexual conspiracy,” claiming that it will be the death of the family. He is actually opposing his fellow German bishops who have been discussing a rite for same-sex unions.

Pope Francis’ recent comments supporting civil unions for lesbian and gay couples have been met with sharp criticism and even some flippant comments from bishops who disagree with him.  One even went so far as to claim, without evidence, a conspiracy theory that the Catholic Church is being influenced by a “deep state.”  Anxiety seems to be high among bishops, too.

Our young people are leaving the church by the score, becoming “Nones”—people with no religion at all. For every person who comes to the U.S. church in RCIA, six or seven leave. We have a divided church, trying to hold in the same communion everyone from Father James Martin, SJ, to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. We have good reason for anxiety when we survey our church.

So where is hope? It must be in us. It must be found in faith in Christ, hope in the power of grace and love. It falls to believers to be apostles of hope. Ministers of love. Signs of salvation. The church has been here before, so we take the long view.

Despite our corruption and our sinfulness, we still have a role in this world. In the liturgical readings for today, Paul gives credit to the people of Thessalonica who he says are, “Proving your faith, laboring in love, and showing constancy in hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” That time was dark, and Christianity could have been snuffed out in its cradle, just as today we fear similar fates.

If there is an antidote to anxiety it must be hope, found in us. Like the people Paul praised, we have to prove our faith by laboring in love and remaining constant in hope. Our very real anxiety can only be overcome by the virtues that God gives: faith, hope, and love.

As failed and flawed as the world may be, we still can offer it an alternative that sees beyond the current disputes. In the latest papal encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis offers a vision that “we are all brothers and sisters” to each other. That may seem obvious, a truism, but it is not the view of the current occupant of the White House. It is not the view of many of our leaders, even in the church.

Tolerating and promoting racism, xenophobia, social class elitism, cultural superiority, and religious bigotry must give way to a more generous, loving, hope-filled vision of human life. It is a vision that is large enough to accommodate us in the LGBTQ community, too.

While we have reason to be anxious in this season, we have to be the vaccine of “hope.”

Fr. Peter Daly, October 25, 2020

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