People today are filled with a lot of anxiety about a lot of different things, one of which is all the troubles going on in the world. Of course, people in the past were no different so we can find some wisdom on how to deal with this anxiety from the saints.
The following is an excerpt from a book called “The Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux” by Marc Foley, O.C.D. Specifically, it’s about St. Therese advising her sister Celine not to fret over things that were out of her control:
In 1880, France passed laws against religious orders. Celine was very upset that many religious communities were submitting to these laws. One day she said to Therese, “My entire being rises up in rebellion when I witness such a spirit of cowardice. I would be cut into a thousand pieces rather than belong to any of these communities or assist them in any way.”
Therese responded, “We should not be concerned about such matters at all. It is true that I would be of your opinion and act perhaps in the same way had I any responsibility in the matter. But I have no obligation whatsoever. Moreover, our only duty is to become united to God. Even if we were members of those communities which are being publicly criticized for their defections, we would be greatly at fault in becoming disquieted.”
Therese’s advice to Celine is basic for maintaining sanity. It asks her to differentiate what she can do from what she can’t. What could a cloistered nun in nineteenth-century France do about the political situation except pray and be faithful to her vocation? Put positively, how does God want Celine to be responsible regarding the political situation of France? Ruminating about what we would do if our life were different does nothing except churn us up inside and tempt us to neglect what we are called to do.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote that “sometimes the devil gives us great desires so that we will avoid setting ourselves to the task at hand, serving our Lord in possible things, and instead be content with having desired the impossible.”
Being able to focus on the task at hand when the whole world is falling around us not only can keep us sane, but also may be a sign of deep holiness. The two are often interrelated.