“In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm.”
The responsorial psalm at today’s Mass describes faith in God as the unmoving ground of our being. God is our stronghold, our refuge, the safeguard of our hearts. Significantly, this affirmation of faith is an expression of prayer. Prayer alone exposes the many superficialities that compete for our attention, that can so easily become the driving force in our lives.
Each of us is a complex web of fear and joy, longing and disappointment. Without prayer’s reflection we are too easily captured by the dominant concern of the moment. The psalmist’s prayer reaches beyond the disquiet of the present moment. Its affirmation that “in God alone is my soul at rest” becomes a communion with God, a communion that cannot be shaken by life’s vicissitudes.
Such was the faith expressed in Isaiah’s beautiful reflection on the nature of God’s constancy. The prophet’s words, addressed to a people in exile, expressed for all generations the alienation in adversity that threatens to undermine faith. “The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.”
The prophet’s subsequent question reached beyond the immediacy of fear to engage a primal longing for security. “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb?” There is a longing within us all that runs deeper than our immediate joys and anxieties. It is here, in prayer, that our souls find rest. Thus the prophet affirmed that even if a woman should forsake her baby at the breast a loving God would never forget his people. The concluding verses of the Sermon on the Mount are a summons to such faith. They are introduced with a direct challenge to our lives. “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn.” The image, though expressed in the language of slavery, accurately describes the psychological turmoil that faith must resolve. While we think of ourselves as free, we must admit that we are easily mastered by a whole series of conflicting emotions. We want to love God, but are reluctant to surrender the other loves that clamour for attention. We proclaim our trust in God but are easily mastered by our anxieties. It is in prayer that we discern such conflicts and consciously choose God alone as the focus of our longing.
The subsequent discourse outlined the concerns that can so easily take the place that belongs to God alone. Jesus instructed his disciples not to worry about life and how we are to feed it, nor about the body and how we are to clothe it. We would be less than human, especially in a harsh economic climate, if we did not worry about such things. The point that Jesus was making is that we should never allow anxiety to dominate our lives to the exclusion of a trust in God. Such trust, even in the greatest adversity, is given to those who consciously set their hearts on God and his righteousness. We are free from the tyranny of tomorrow’s anxiety only when we commit each and every day to the Lord. In prayer God becomes our rock and our refuge.
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