In late August, my wife and I moved across several states to Fall River (toddler and newborn in tow), my wife a hospital floor nurse and me a new employee of the diocese. We brought half of our belongings with us and had to leave the other half in storage. Our lives were (and are) in flux, perhaps not too much different than yours or countless others at this time.
In the midst of all this, the following verses from Hebrews reemerged in my mind: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Heb 13:8-9).
These words (as well as the rest of Hebrews) are meant in part to provide encouragement. They entreat us to stay the course on the road to the Heavenly Jerusalem, especially when we lose fervor, become weary or encounter confusion in the faith (cf Heb 13:22; USCCB, “Hebrews — Introduction”).
But that is easier said than done.
How do I stay the course and not lose fervor when facing the stresses and challenges of trying to balance work, Marriage, family, toddlerdom, moving, staying up to date with COVID safety guidelines and — oh yeah — not forgetting to “do my homework” before voting November 3?
Yet, Hebrew’s words hold within them an undeniable truth: everything else may change or even deceive us, but Jesus does not.
Not because I say so, or even because the Bible says so, but because God is God and you and I are not. And in the midst of everything, I have never been happier that is true.
And isn’t that what we all long for to some degree: something we can rely on to be true? To have at least a sense of stability and consistency in life?
Well, our Catholic faith provides that. For instance, although our lives were in great flux, nothing re-centered my wife and I better than when we both entered the pew and stood for the entrance hymn at our first Mass back in Fall River.
Nothing strengthened us better than when we were able to receive the Eucharist and the gift of Sanctifying grace.
And while long days in a new place and living out of suitcases were not what we expected when 2020 began, sitting at night with our toddler and newborn to pray and thank God for our day was a welcomed ritual.
No, our children aren’t always excited about prayer time and yes, we are imperfect people who make mistakes (I apologize in advance). I have a long way to go to be the perfect husband, father or friend. But recognizing this reminds me that I can’t do anything without God’s help. So, when we may be tempted to let go of or neglect certain things, these moments remind us that our relationship with Christ shouldn’t be one of them.
When we struggle to know what is real and true, where better to turn than He Who showed that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6)? Where better to find God’s help and stability than through the Sacraments, Scripture, and prayer? Not to mention that, according to clinical psychotherapist and author Roy Petitfils, there’s additional merit to these practices.
In his book “Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression,” Petitfils argues that we also need religious practice because it has been demonstrated to be helpful in learning to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues (77).
For instance, Petitfils points out that the Mass, by its nature, provides consistency and predictability. This is a great comfort for someone needing something familiar, especially when their life is unpredictable, stressful, or even fearful. “Ritual,” he shares, “both big (Mass) and small (a family game night, grace before meals, etc.) stabilizes us in the tumultuous waters of life” (81). Likewise, he highlights that prayerful devotions — including Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet — by their nature, narrow our focus and attention so that we can calm ourselves (80, 84).
Considering the message of Hebrews, it makes sense that what is of God (such as the Sacraments and prayer) helps bring us the stability and consistency we long for.
As the Carthusian motto goes: Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis (The cross is steady while the world turns). Because, in the end:
Our stress levels may change, but Jesus does not.
Our jobs and where we live may change, but Jesus does not.
Who we think we can trust or believe may change, but Jesus does not.
Opinions and perceptions may change, but Jesus does not.
And while Jesus never promised us that we wouldn’t face stress or sufferings (just think to His own passion and death), He did promise that if we remain in Him and follow His commands, He remains in us (cf Jn: 15-9-12).
So by the time you read this, we (hopefully) will have received the rest of our belongings. We’ll have moved into someplace new after staying in a temporary home. Life will begin to settle. But inevitably, one day, it will change again.
Yet, regardless of when or how that happens, whether it’s for me, you or all of us, Hebrew’s words will still be true and Jesus will remain the same. And that is something we can be sure of.
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org