It isn’t easy when anxiety attacks but you are not alone…
I knew what was coming next as soon as I heard the beat echoing inside my chest, each beat faster than the next. My heart raced as I tried to remember to exhale. A knot formed in my stomach as if it knew I needed something to hold on to, shallow breath after shallow breath. The dreaded domino effect in my body was a familiar yet unwelcome guest. Here was Anxiety trying to take over again. It seems like the more I fought her, the stronger she would get. My attention kept fueling her until I realized that Peace, the guest I did want to entertain, had already left.
Anxiety is a topic I have hesitated writing about. I am not a mental health professional. I am not qualified to give advice on these matters. But I am a person with an experience, and I am qualified to share my story. For me, anxiety has been like a fever…a symptom that shows up to tell me something somewhere needs attention. At times, the symptom, like a high fever, needs direct help to get through the situation, but other times, just knowing “this too shall pass” has been enough to allow me to sit in the discomfort and wait for God to comfort me. Time and time again, He has brought light and healing to these areas of my heart that felt isolated from Him.
The first time I felt His healing hand soothe my fears away, I thought I was healed; I thought I would never have to experience that sense of dread again. So, when it happened again, I was confused. Did I do something to make Him take His favor back? Did I fail to pass the test? No… There is just much more that needs to be healed. Each time I experience anxiety becomes an opportunity for me to call on God to help me. Each time, I invite Jesus to rule in my heart and bring me His Peace.
On one of those occasions, I learned how the enemy of my soul was using my fears against me. Every time I got close to identifying a pattern of sin in my life, the fears would sneak in. The fear was so crippling I could not even hear with my mind the lie that I was choosing to believe in. It felt like an automatic reaction until I became still instead of running away. I remembered the prophecy of Simeon to Our Lady: “…and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35). Through Mary, I asked Jesus to reveal to me the thoughts of my own heart.
The wind started to blow, and, in my mind, I saw huge idols made of sand start to dissipate, one by one. Each lie was made of nothing, and against God’s truth, could not stand. But what did I find on the other side? Not happiness, but a deep pain in my heart. I came upon my sin, a deep-rooted tree that had remained hidden but had bad fruit popping up all over my life. Things that seemed disconnected all converged in this one big lie: “God does not see you; You are alone in this life.”
The sight of all the sin that had emerged from this one lie caused pain, but there was no fear. The grace of repentance poured in with each tear…“where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20). Scripture after scripture filled my mind as the Spirit interceded for me, and Truth filled my heart. I felt seen. I felt loved. I knew I was and would never be alone.
Like I said at the beginning, I am not a mental health expert, so I do not know what you need to help you confront your fears. But I do know God loves each and every one of us. This encounter with God’s love healed something else in me. One of the most crippling aspects of anxiety is when we fear the anxiety itself. The experience is so unsettling and uncomfortable that we do everything possible to avoid going through it again. But I know now there is nothing to fear, for it is in our darkest moments that the light will shine the brightest. He has conquered death. His love is greater than our fears.
“In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
Ivonne J. Hernandez is a Lay Associate of the Blessed Sacrament, president of Elisheba House, and author of “The Rosary: Eucharistic Meditations.” To read more of her articles visit Elisheba Blog (elishebahouse.com).
Seventy years ago, in a rural village a farmer lived a comfortable, middle-class life. But when his financial situation collapsed, his life spun out of control. Abandoning his faith and the Church, he turned to drinking and eventually became an alcoholic. His wife held on to her children as she knelt each day praying the Rosary for his healing. Her only desire was to see her husband make a good confession, return to Church, and receive Holy Communion. One night he passed out from too much drinking. When he woke the next morning, he couldn’t find anyone at home. His family had gone to the Church without him, and he felt a deep emptiness inside. To relieve the hangover, he searched for his bottle but found it empty. So, he staggered up the road to a nearby tea shop and sat there sipping a hot cup of tea. As he headed out to return home, he chanced to see a group of nuns walking down the lane returning to their convent from Sunday Mass. As they waited to cross the road, he noticed one of the sisters smiling. Instantly, the man felt as if he had been electrocuted. The mesmerizing smile on that Sister’s face pierced him. A divine light brighter than the sun filled his being, and he began to weep. As he wept, he could hear the words of Psalm 51 rushing over him, “Have mercy on me O God…Against You, You alone have I sinned…Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean…” He didn’t lose a moment, but went straight home, took bath, and headed to the Church. After staring at the Crucifix for a long time, he confessed his sins to the local priest. And his life changed forever. A parable or a true-life event? Miraculously, this event actually occurred in the village of Bharananganam in Kerala, India. Thanks to the constant prayers of his wife and children, the floodgates of grace opened, and this man’s life changed profoundly. The sister whose smile shone with the light of a thousand suns became the first Indian-born woman to be canonized a saint, St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, the very first saint of the Syro-Malabar Church, canonized in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. We celebrate her feast day on July 28. The light of the risen Lord whom she had just received in the Holy Eucharist glowed through Sr Alphonsa and its electrifying power transformed the man whose heart it touched. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we too receive the resurrected body of Christ with all its glowing power. But how often do we allow his radiant light to shine through our lives?
Have you heard of Onesimus about whom Saint Paul wrote the shortest “book” in the Bible? A Phrygian by birth, Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an influential member of the Christian community. Philemon had been instructed in the faith and baptized by Saint Paul, who has become his friend and mentor. We lack definite details, but we know that the slave Onesimus had run away from his master—perhaps taking with him some wealth that wasn’t his. At some point after his escape, Onesimus meets Saint Paul in the city where Paul is imprisoned—possibly Rome or Ephesus. Because of Paul’s preaching, young Onesimus embraces Christ and becomes a beloved and indispensable member of Paul’s entourage. Nonetheless, despite wanting to keep him as his companion in ministry, Paul sends Onesimus back to his master Philemon. But Onesimus does not go unarmed: he carries a brief, but powerful letter Paul has penned. Still a cherished part of the New Testament, The Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon presents Paul’s entreaty that Philemon forgive Onesimus and accept him as “no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a brother and beloved…” The Letter does not tell us how Philemon responded, but tradition suggests that he did pardon Onesimus, who then returned to his faithful service of Saint Paul in Rome. We know from Paul that later Onesimus carried Paul’s Letter to the Colossians to that community. Tradition also says that, as a zealous preacher of the Gospel, Onesimus eventually succeeded Saint Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus. But his frequent and ardent preaching inflamed with the love of God attracted the attention and the anger of the authorities. After the martyrdom of Paul, the governor of Rome seized Onesimus and exiled him to one of the islands. There too he went about preaching and baptizing, further infuriating the governor. Onesimus was then arrested and taken in chains to Rome and subjected to cruel tortures for eighteen days. His legs and thighs were broken with bludgeons and finally he was beheaded for refusing to deny his faith in Christ. It is believed that his martyrdom occurred under Emperor Domitian in the year 90.
I like to watch old movies. Over the past several months, I’ve watched (or re-visited) a number of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, some screwball comedies from the thirties and forties, and a couple of film-noir classics. Last week, over the course of three evenings, I managed to get through the three hours and forty minutes (yes, you read that correctly) of the Charlton Heston version of the Ten Commandments from 1956. With delight, I took in the still marvelous technicolor, the over-the-top costumes, the wonderfully corny faux-Shakespearean dialogue, and the hammy acting that is, one might say, so bad that it’s good. But what especially struck me was the sheer length of the film. Knowing that it required a rather extraordinary act of attention on the part of its audience, it is astonishing to remember that it was wildly popular, easily the most successful movie of its time. It is estimated that, adjusted for inflation, it earned a box office of roughly two billion dollars. Would moviegoers today, I wondered, ever be able to muster the patience required to make a film like the Ten Commandments equally popular today? I think the question answers itself. The coming together of daunting length and popularity then put me in mind of a number of other examples of this combination from cultural history. In the nineteenth-century, the novels of Charles Dickens were so sought after that ordinary Londoners waited in long lines for chapters as they were published in serial form. And let’s face it: not a lot happens in Dickens novels, by which I mean very few things blow up; there are no alien invasions; no snappy one-liners uttered by the heroes before they blow away the bad guys. For the most part, they consist of lengthy conversations among fascinating and quirky characters. Much the same can be said of the novels and stories of Dostoevsky. Though there is indeed a murder and a police investigation at the heart of the plot of The Brothers Karamazov, for the vast majority of that famous novel, Dostoevsky arranges various characters in drawing rooms for pages and pages and pages of dialogue on matters political, cultural, and religious. During that same period, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in a series of debates on the vexed issue of slavery in America. They spoke for hours at a time—and in an intellectually elevated manner. If you doubt me, look up the texts online. Their audiences were not cultural elites or students of political philosophy, but rather ordinary Illinois farmers, who stood in the mud, gave their full attention, and strained to hear the orators’ unamplified voices. Could you even begin to imagine an American crowd today willing to stand for a comparable length of time and listen to complex presentations on public policy—and for that matter, could you imagine any American politician willing or able to speak at Lincolnian length and depth? Once again, the questions answer themselves. Why this look back at modes and styles of communication from another age? Because by contrast ours seem so impoverished! I certainly understand the value of social media and I readily use them in my evangelical work, but at the same time, I am acutely aware of how they have lessened our attention span and capacity for sophisticated conversation and real advance toward the truth. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and especially Twitter specialize in flashy headlines, misleading titles, simplistic characterizations of an opponent’s position, sound bites in place of arguments, and mean-spirited rhetoric. Just dip into the comment boxes on any of these sites, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. A favorite technique on social media is to take a phrase or even a single word of a person’s argument, wrench it out of context, give it the worst possible interpretation, and then splash one’s outrage all over the internet. Everything has to be fast, easily digested, simple to understand, black and white—because we have to get clicks on our site, and it’s a dog-eat-dog world. What worries me is that an entire generation has come of age conditioned by this mode of communication and hence is largely incapable of summoning the patience and attention required for intelligent engagement of complex issues. I noticed this, by the way, in my nearly twenty years of teaching in the seminary. Over those two decades, it became increasingly difficult to get my students to read, say, a hundred pages of St. Augustine’s Confessions or of Plato’s Republic. Especially in more recent years, they would say, “Father, I just can’t concentrate that long.” Well, the auditors of the Lincoln-Douglas debates could, and so could the readers of Dickens, and so even could those who sat through The Ten Commandments sixty-some years ago. So as not to end on a down note, permit me to draw your attention to what I consider a real sign of hope. In just the last couple of years, there has been a trend in the direction of long-form podcasts that are attracting huge audiences of young people. Joe Rogan, who hosts one of the most popular shows in the country, speaks to his guests for upwards of three hours, and he gets millions of views. In the past year, I have appeared on two podcasts with Jordan Peterson, each one in excess of two hours and featuring pretty high-level discourse and both has reached just shy of one million views. Perhaps we’re turning a corner. Perhaps young people have tired of vituperative sound bites and superficial pseudo-intellectualism. To encourage this trend, I would like to invite all of you to use much less social media—and maybe pick up The Brothers Karamazov.
The Christian writer Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” A sterling example of that truth is the third century martyr, Cecilia. Her name is recited daily in the canon of the Mass, and she remains to this day as one of the great Saints of the early Christian era. Hers is an inspiring yet bloody story. Despite having vowed her chastity to Jesus, her wealthy parents arranged a marriage with a young suitor named Valerian. You can imagine the young man’s surprise when, on her wedding night, Cecilia informed him that she had not only taken a vow of chastity but that her virginity was under the watchful protection of her guardian angel. Amazingly, her husband agreed to respect her vow and even promised to embrace Christianity, but he had a condition: he wanted to see her guardian angel. Her counter-request was that he travel to the third milestone on the Appian Way and there receive baptism at the hands of Pope Urbanus. After emerging from the waters of baptism and returning home, Valerian did indeed see the angel sitting beside Cecilia. Eventually, her husband’s brother Tiberius was also converted,and the brothers regularly buried Christians who were murdered almost daily by the local Roman prefect. Eventually they were arrested and imprisoned for refusing to offer sacrifices to the gods, but they managed to convert their jailer before losing their lives in martyrdom. Not long after, Cecilia herself was arrested and condemned to death. She miraculously survived a night amidst intense fire meant to suffocate her. Then an executioner struck three separate blows to her neck in a failed attempt to decapitate her. Left bleeding, Cecilia survived three days, preaching all the while to those who gathered round her and who collected the blood that flowed from her wounds. Her relics, and those of her husband, brother-in-law, and the converted jailor, are kept in Rome’s Church of St. Cecilia. Her body was found incorrupt when it was exhumed in 1599 and because on her wedding day she sang hymns to Jesus in her heart, Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians. We celebrate her feast on November 22.
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