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Anxiety’s Thorny Presence


Pray, hope and don’t worry.” ~ Saint Padre Pio

Today’s Gospel (Mark 4:1-20) tells the parable of the sower who went out to sow seed, as sowers of seed often do. In the telling of this story, Jesus focuses on the different types of soil, each of which is a metaphor for the various responses we are apt to have with regard to the planting of this seed, the seed in this particular instance representing the Word of God.

“Some seed fell on the path,” Jesus tells us, “and the birds came and ate it up.“ “Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.” “Some seed,” he goes on to say, “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. “ And finally, “some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

Over the years, theologians have leaned heavily on this famous parable. Whereas a discussion pertaining to the soil would seem to be the major source of reflection, introspection and lessons learned, Bishop Barron in one of his recent essays challenges the reader to instead contemplate the sower of the seed, Jesus, when he asks you to ponder this thought:

“Focus your attention on this absolutely mad sower. Imagine a crowd of farmers listening to this parable: a man goes out to sow and he throws the seed on the path, on rocky soil, on thorny soil and finally on good soil. The original hearers of this tale would have exchanged glances and rolled their eyes at the ridiculousness of this farmer. That was precisely the reaction that Jesus wanted. For God is like this crazy farmer, sowing the seed of his word and his love; not only on receptive soil, not only to those who will respond, but also on the path, on the rocks, and the thorns, lavishly pouring out his love on those who are least likely to respond. God’s love is irrational, extravagant, embarrassing, unreasonable, completely over the top.”

I’ve written about this parable on more than one occasion, choosing in my most recent effort about a year or so ago to juxtapose we the faithful as the sower of the word by virtue of our call to evangelization

Today I’d like to reflect specifically on the seed that in today’s parable fell on thorny ground. In the waning moments of today’s Gospel, wherein Jesus insures that his Apostles clearly understood the lesson to be gleaned, he explains that “Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.”

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The lure of riches and the craving for other things is fairly self-explanatory, so let’s talk about anxiety. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in The Problem of Pain, anxiety is the “great intensifier of human suffering.” We dread its coming; we fear it will never leave. In our severely and unabashedly over-medicated society, we’re swift in our efforts to head it off at the pass by way of any one of a number of anti-anxiety medications. At times this is indeed the proper treatment path, yet mental health professionals largely agree that the effectiveness of anti-anxiety medication alone as a treatment vehicle has been oversold. Psychotherapy typically plays a vital supportive role.

But what about faith?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores us not to worry. He concluded this beautiful passage on the lilies of the field with these words: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Matthew 6:34). If your psychologist were to disparage the wisdom of these words, it’s time to find a new psychologist. Far too much of our stress is caused by tomorrow. Jesus is one step ahead of you; he’s all over tomorrow. “It is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you and will never fail or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Knowledge and acceptance of our own weakness is a fundamental condition for our peace of mind, not an impediment. “God come to my assistance ~ Lord make haste to help me!” is the cry of our fathers from the desert. Those of you who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are well-versed in this plea. For those suffering with anxiety, might I suggest that you add this divine discipline to your prayer repertoire? Start with the morning, evening or afternoon prayer, whichever you prefer, and build slowly until you’re praying all three. The “iBreviary” App is one place where you can find the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s free of charge.

As renowned Catholic Radio talkshow host and author Dr. Greg Popchak is fond of saying “Anxiety is a man-made invention.” The truly faithful know that the battle has already been won. Jesus has conquered sin and death by way of the cross. One day He will come again, and on that day we will see him in his indescribable glory. Our focus must remain squarely and solely on that day, that we may be ready. Trade needless anxiety for dogged preparation, for as Saint Paul reminds us “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you“ ~ 1 Peter 5:7

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