This afternoon I was listening to a lecture by a priest named Fr. Dominic Legge, who is a member of the Order of Preachers (known also as the Dominicans) and lives in Washington, DC. His topic was Grace and Anxiety, and it was about the spiritual and emotional struggles that people feel in times of pressure and uncertainty and how we encounter God’s grace in them. Dominican priests love making philosophical distinctions among terms, so much of the lecture was spent parsing definitions. Fear, he said, is our response to a future evil that is known and difficult or impossible to avoid. Anxiety is a particular type of fear. It is a response to an unknown threat that weighs on the mind. When we are anxious, we are trapped in fear of what might happen, rather than a threat that is known and apparently inevitable. When we are anxious or afraid we can easily fall into despair or sorrow. Sorrow, he says, is the sadness at the presence of evil, and this sadness has the effect of sapping our body’s vitality. So the person who is deeply sad doesn’t want to do anything.
Fr. Dominic then offered some remedies for sorrow, which he says could be anything that restores vitality, such as indulging in something pleasurable (and morally good). A bowl of ice cream can, in fact, make you feel better. Watching a Marx Brothers movie can pull you out of a funk. Taking a nap followed by a shower is restorative. He says that allowing yourself to cry can also be helpful.
But there are spiritual pleasures that restore our spirits as well, such as the sympathy and company of good friends. When we talk to people we know and love, they help to carry the burdens we bear in our hearts. The sympathetic words of friends are consoling to us, because they reveal to us that we are loved. One of the sufferings of the present moment is that the nature of the challenge we face requires isolating ourselves, making it difficult to get together with friends. Fr. Dominic reminds us that the most important friendship for us is our friendship with Christ. Our Lord never engages in “social distancing” from the soul that is in a state of grace. Fr. Dominic recommends that the one who is wrestling with the sadness that comes from anxiety should seek to contemplate the Truth, which puts all things into perspective and reveals the most important reality that God loves us. And that love is given to us no matter our situation and no matter how we feel.
The lecture reminded me of a quote from St. Francis DeSales who wrote: “Do not anticipate the unpleasant events of this life by apprehension, rather anticipate them with the perfect hope that, as they happen, God, to Whom you belong, will protect you. He has protected you up to the present moment; just remain firmly in the hands of His providence and He will help you in all situations. And at those times when you find yourself unable to walk, He will carry you. What should you fear? You belong to God who has so strongly assured us that for those who love Him all things turn into happiness. Do not think of what may happen tomorrow, because the same eternal Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you tomorrow and forever. Either He will see that nothing bad happens to you, or, if He allows anything bad to happen to you, He will give you the invincible courage to bear it.”
I hope that the contemplation of this vital truth brings you consolation, and takes away any anxiety that might be burdening your heart today.