Sunday, March 2, is the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Wednesday, March 5, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and a day of fasting and abstinence — but not a holy day of obligation requiring Mass attendance. For good Lenten suggestions, see the Register’s "Guide to Lent" at NCRegister.com under "Resources."
Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalms 62:2-3, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
In this Sunday’s Gospel — and Lent — the Church calls us to simplify our lives and focus more on God.
Jesus calls Christians to radical simplicity: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap; they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?"
We are far from this vision of simplicity. The American Psychological Association says 70% of Americans report physical consequences of stress — and another 70% report emotional consequences. About 30% suffer from chronic stress; 42% of us lay awake at night unable to sleep because of stress.
What are we worried about? The study breaks down the causes of stress this way: 69% say it’s money; 65% say it’s work; and 61% say it’s the economy. In other words, we worry about the very issues Jesus says not to worry about: reaping, sowing and buying.
"Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?" he asks. Jesus’ wisdom is backed up by science. Statistics show that stress is killing us. Stress causes headaches and muscle tension and can lead to overeating and substance abuse. Apart from the physical toll, it kills many people more directly: Suicide overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death two years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. In other words, our worry has reached epidemic proportions.
Today’s readings teach a better way: Trust the Lord. "God is my safety and my glory," says the Psalm. "Trust in him at all times, O my people!"
How is that level of trust possible? Jesus gives us key advice when he says, "No one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and mammon." Jesus’ two-step plan is to first stop serving money and, second, start serving God.
Lent is the perfect time to enact the plan. We should focus on prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving. Why not take on the family budget for a Lenten penance? Budget your time to prayer; budget your money to live more simply and to give more generously.
This Church season is the perfect time to establish habits in each and exchange modern anxiety for enduring hope and trust.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.