Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist of the 19th century, built a soundproof chamber in his home in Chelsea in London. He wanted to shut out all the noises of the street so that he could work in uninterrupted silence. It worked, except for one piercing sound which penetrated his walls. His neighbor had a rooster that was given to vigorous expression several times at night and once at dawn. Carlyle would sit, pen in hand, distracted from thought and expression, waiting for that disturbing sound. He protested to the owner of the rooster and was assured that it crowed only three times at night and once at dawn. “But,” answered Carlyle, “if you only knew all the worry I suffer waiting for that rooster to crow.” [i]
How very much like or lives today. No matter whether we build soundproof rooms or panic rooms or underground bunkers in our homes, worry is enemy number one; and we take it with us wherever we go. Worry is thinking turned toxic, the imagination used to picture the worst. The word comes from a root meaning “to choke or strangle.” That is exactly what worry does. It chokes our creative capacity to think, hope and dream. It twists the joy out of life.
Another Scottish writer who was also a distinguished physician, A.J. Cronin, sorted out the things we humans worry about. Forty percent of our worries are about things that never happen. Thirty percent are about the past, things that we cannot change with all the worry in the world. Twelve percent are about health issues. Ten percent care petty, miscellaneous worries. That leaves only eight percent for real, legitimate worries.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m worried sick”? The fact is many people do become physically ill as a result of worry. We suffer from stomach disorders, tension headaches, back trouble and nervous disorders.
On the positive side, worry is associated with our capacity to care. If we were thoughtless, irresponsible, impervious people, we would not worry. We want what’s best for ourselves and for the people we love. This protective nature is not bad; being concerned about the problems of life is not a sign of weakness. However, when you come right down to it, worry has no power to change anything except us.
Jesus offers us a cure for the causes of worry in today’s Gospel. The secret is in the “I AM” himself. He tells us that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He uses that very phrase four times in today’s Gospel. Jesus stands between us and the wolves who cause us to worry – physical danger, people who would use or misuse us, a hostile fate which would disturb or destroy us, or powers of evil. Jesus is the bulwark that stands between us and all the various wolves lurking about in our world. He will not run away like the hireling when the wolves attack. He is with us.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it in other words: “He has said, ‘I will never forsake you or abandon you.’ Thus we may say with confidence: ‘The Lord is my helper, [and] I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” Every time we are caught in the bind of worry is a new occasion for an exchange with the Lord. We accept his promise to be with us and give him our wearing worry. Consider the immensity of his promise: “I will never forsake you.”
We know that believing in Jesus does not ensure us a long, smooth existence with no problems. In fact Jesus uses the rough patches in our life to teach us about his fidelity to his promise. He does one of three things when we are beset with a problem: he removes the danger or he strengthens us to stand strongly in it, or he uses the situation to help us grow in grace.
Worries about the past, worries about the future, worries about other people, worries about my health, or worries about finances – we can cast them all upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd who has promised that he will never abandon us. He is indeed the Good Shepherd who knows us and loves us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
[i] Ogilvie, Lloyd John, “The Bush is Still Burning,” Word Books, 1980; p. 138