Monday, February 10, 2014

The need to be protected from distress, anxiety and perturbations

We pray this at every Mass that we participate in, just before the embolism that follows the Lord’s Prayer.  It used to be a protection from ‘anxiety’ but the new Mass has changed it to something more relatable and recognizable.  Not many people may immediately know what anxiety is, but I think many more will be able to relate to feelings of distress.  It has been translated from the Latin ‘pertubationes’ which literally means ‘perturbations’.

Why does the Church see such a need for her members to kept safe from distress or anxiety?  In her wisdom, she knows that at the basis of many of our sins and transgressions is a hidden and subtle shade of distress that we all experience in our daily human living.  We have a natural inclination to not live fully in the present moment but instead, have our hearts and minds either harping on the past, longing for some unfulfilled past, or racing ahead to our unknown futures and planning incessantly to make them a reality.  We think that the present moment is just too slow and ‘boring’, and we are largely an impatient bunch. 

Where does this dis-ease come from?  The Book of Ecclesiastes gives us some indication.  At the end of that litany where we are told that there is a time to experience the different emotions in our lives, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to love, a time to refrain from loving, like as if our lives follows some kind of natural flow of seasons, it ends with the writer saying that God has put a ‘timelessness’ in our hearts.  Perhaps it is this timelessness that gives cause to the many ‘perturbations’ or distresses that, without exception, we all feel in various ways.

How then do we fully immerse ourselves into the present moment and not live too far in the past, and not too forward into the future?  Spiritual masters have always advocated the habit of contemplation, where we become aware of the present moment, its surroundings and our place in the present scheme of things.  It is that deliberate act to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and enter into that ‘timelessness’ that the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes was trying to describe, where we find it a struggle to be in sync with the changes of times and seasons. 

When we are too anxious or perturbed about so many things in life, it inevitably leads to worry and fear.  Aren’t incidences of impatience, intolerance of the seeming inconsistencies of others, and outbursts of rage caused by our inability to wait?  Just take the act of driving as a simple example.  We are distressed at the slightest demand made of our time when the driver in front of us is a bit slow, or causes us to wait behind him when he alights a passenger or when the driver behind us wants to overtake us.  This distress is often a trigger that leads to outbursts of anger and resentment, and it is often a downward spiral from there, sometimes leading to acts of revenge and road rage where we turn from human beings to hardly being humans. 

The same happens when we are told of news that our lives are going to experience change – when the doctor tells us that we have some illness that involves a lot of care and medication, or when the stocks and shares that we have invested in takes a tumble leaving us with book losses that seem astronomical, or when our plans somehow don’t end up with what we had hoped for.  When we are not in the habit of entering into timelessness as a prayer, it will be just too easy to fall into any sort of distress or anxiety that turns our world topsy turvy.

When we are acutely aware of our timelessness, we are actually entering into the presence of the one who created time – God himself.  Isn’t it true that it is only when we are living lives that are “in God” that we are fully protected from all that causes us anxiety, distress and perturbations?  Putting our faith and hope in anything or anyone else may be a temporary salve from the wounds caused by the world. 

Anything long term and lasting has to be found in God, as St Augustine says “you have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.


  1. Hi Fr Luke,
    It's such a "coincidence". I've not been here for a long time.
    When I entered, the first thing I see is your blog about anxiety.
    This is what I've been going through since the new year started and unfortunately, it has affected my health and my work.

  2. Dear Fr Luke,

    Instinctively we all understand that life is a gift. Yet sometimes, when we are struggling with problems that simply seem too difficult and daunting, we forget to feel thankful. We can even become inclined to imagine that our existence is not so much a present as a punishment.

    Whenever we are not feeling at our best, we become hypersensitive to people's attitudes. Some minor remark, which might otherwise go straight over our heads, gets interpreted as a harsh criticism. Some task, that might otherwise prove simple, turns into a daunting mountain. Once that happens, we feel even less at our best than we did before and thus we overreact yet more to the next incursion. Yet it only takes a small, positive development for everything to change.

    There is an old saying 'You win some, you lose some.' Are we set to lose something now?

    Bad things and good things are not always different things. All coins have two sides. All situations have advantages and drawbacks. We forget this. We see, for example, a lottery win as 'good'. We see the loss of some cherished person or possession as 'bad'. But there's sweetness in sorrow, just as there's sometimes a hidden pain in a situation one might expect to be pleasurable. We forgot all our wisdom and capabilities to transcend a stressful situation and turn something sour into something most magnificently sweet. Try not to look superficially at current developments in our emotional life. Think deep thoughts and we'll make wise choices.

    Keeping it dear to the heart is this phrase, "The brighter the light; the darker the shadow. The deeper the joy; the greater the risk of sorrow".

    We can't change the world but we can change the way we look at the world.

    Bearing in mind to be kind, be gentle, be peaceful to ourselves, have love for ourselves, and learn the art of detachment from stressful/hurtful situation, and most importantly pray the Serenity Prayer.

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts and writing.

    May God Bless You.

    G. Louise

  3. Hi Fr Luke,

    I am touched by your sermon long time ago at St. Francis Xavier's church when you mentioned about people looking differently at children with special needs. I was in that sermon with my down's syndrome daughter. My daughter's mom has decided to leave us a few years ago for someone else to no surprise I think. Nevertheless I did my best to keep the faith and now am a warden at IHM church.

    Anxiety is what I am feeling most of the time now, having lost my job for over a year now and nothing still in sight. I can only keep hoping and praying that my prayers be answered and I get a job soon to be able to support my daughter.

    I know that we have to go through difficult times here on earth in preparation for the greater things in heaven. I believe we will still be offered the freedom of choice when we enter heaven and then would be the ultimate in decisions in which we may have to choose between God or the devil someday there. Going through this today here on earth I am plagued with decisions to forsake my faith daily but my stubbornness to stick with Christ and still even be a church warden to serve makes me stronger and more resolute in my faith.

    Your sermons is often mind opening and gives people like me much hope.

    I now hope to start my daughter on a trail for down's syndrome treatment in Australia and hopefully this despite the impossible circumstances is made possible by the love of God.

    Yours faithfully in Christ,