don’t let your hearts be troubled

May 4, 2013

As I write it is early morning here on the Chatham Islands. I’m sitting at the table that I have re-sited to the window of the living room, giving a glorious sunrise view down the hill and across the bay. There is a lot of weather here this morning, and I’m not sure how that will affect my flight back to Christchurch (via Wgton) later today.

The days here have been full and satisfying. I have had the opportunity to spend time with parishioners in the most remote parts of the Christchurch Diocese, at Pitt Island Waitangi and Kaiangaroa. The pace of life here is different – people take the time to sit and to chat. Such relaxed conversation that floats from topic to topic is a great way to spend quality time with people, and to share their joy, hope, grief and anxiety.

I also appreciate the opportunity to pray in this remote place. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is alive and active here. Unfortunately the priest is only able to visit half a dozen times each year, and therefore the Mass is not celebrated as often as the people need. If there were no Mass on a Sunday in a large city parish, people would have a choice of a dozen other Masses celebrated within a 10 minute drive. We are blessed here in the Hurunui with Mass available every Sunday to every parishioner within a 45 minute drive.
I went for a stroll on Pitt Island. I took the chance to pray the the Joyful mysteries. In the first mystery, the Annunciation, I pondered the visit of the angel to Mary, asking that she be the mother of the Messiah.  It is significant that Mary was initially fearful at the angel’s surprise visit and extraordinary news. The angel assured Mary that she had no reason to fear since the Holy Spirit was with her.  Mary let go of her fear and within moments had given God her ‘yes’.

As I braved the Pitt wind, and meditated with this thought, my mind jumped to today’s gospel reading. I usually try to read the readings of the following Sunday early in the week before, giving me time to mull the message as I prepare the homily. The line from today’s gospel that stayed with me most deeply is the instruction of Jesus to his disciples. Jesus is telling them about the Holy Spirit, and goes on to tell them: “do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The word that really surprises me is the little word “let”.  It is as if Jesus is reminding us that we do have control over whether or not our hearts are troubled or afraid. He is instructing his friends not to allow trouble or fear to permeate their hearts.  Jesus wants them to make the decision not to be troubled, as if trouble and fear in our hearts are not thrust upon us as much as allowed in when we are not vigilant against these unwelcome invaders.

Well, that is a different perspective. If trouble and fear are the consequence of my lack of vigilance, then so too are the anxieties and moods that burden us each day. When that thought ocurred to me the wind was getting a bit strong and cold so I found a shelted spot to sit on a broken fence post, looking  east towards Hakepa (North Head), the eastern-most inhabited part of NZ. Hakepa was until recently the first part of the inhabited world to see the sun each day. But this distinction was lost when Samoa shifted the international date line. This was where Bishop John Cunneen celebrated the first Mass of the new millennium in 2000 along with international news crews.

So as I sat in my shelterd spot, my thoughts drifted to the problem that we all have with trouble, fear, anxiety and worry. There are times when there are good reasons for us to experience the weight of these unwelcome emotions. Perhaps I have spoken or behaved in a way that has caused harm or pain to myself or to others. It might also be that someone else has shared their struggle with us or dumped their baggage onto us. Either way we are often left feeling powerless to change the fear or anxiety we experience.

But Jesus is suggesting that we do have the power to ‘not let our hearts be troubled.’  What does he mean?  What is the secret?

I wonder if Pope Francis is helping us here. It is interesting that the media continue to give the new pope the grace of “honeymoon” treatment. In fact he is speaking out strongly in many ways that Pope Benedict was ridiculed for. For example, have you noted the number of times Pope Francis has spoken about the power of evil in the world and the reality of the devil. It is clear that he appreciates that just as the power of the Holy Spirit is present and active in the world, so too is the power and presence of the evil spirit, the devil, at work among us.

I know that the feelings that ‘get us down’ are sometimes a result of the direction action of the devil on us. I’m not talking here about a chemical depression that requires treatment, or anxiety or fear that is a healthy response to bad choices or unwise actions. Instead I am referring to the feelings of trouble, fear, anxiety or worry that we might also call “moods.”

Let’s be direct here and accept that Jesus is telling us to be careful, and not to let such ‘bad’ moods take root in us. Both Jesus and Pope Francis speak clearly about the reality of the evil one. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, also warns us to be vigilant against such action of the devil.

Let’s also remember that to speak of the devil so clearly is not a negative or unhelpful teaching. Instead this reality helps us to understand that not all the evil that wells up within us, and at times bursts out of us, is from our own making. Instead these motivations and this energy can be from the action of the evil one in me.

In recent years excessive priority has been given to feelings over thoughts. Perhaps this is an inevitable attempt at compensation for those years when we were taught not to pay attention to our feelings. It is true that we ignore our feelings at our peril. But most often our emotional life is guided by a personal objective understanding of good and evil, right and wrong that we carry in our heads (our thinking). And it is a wise decision to allow the thinking that guides us to be formed by the teaching of the one who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves.

So, again, let’s take seriously the advice of Jesus and be vigilant in acting against any negative moods that  threaten to overwhelm us. In short:

“do not let your hearts be troubled”. 

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