Possibly the most famous admonition associated with Saint Pio is: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless.” In this day and age of dizzying changes and transformations happening every nanosecond, it is one admonition we who live in the 21st century would do well to take seriously. 9-11, globalization, climate change, digitization, drug wars, Brexit, rationalization, financial meltdown, Syria, ISIS, Greece…The list is endless. As the classic rocker Don Henley would put it: “In a New York minute, everything can change…” To be sure, given all these, it is very easy to intellectualize Saint Pio’s counsel. I propose though that unless and until you are forced into what some existential philosophers call limit situations, you would never fully appreciate what he was trying to drive at when he offered the above advice.
I must say I’ve been blessed to find myself in such a situation a couple of times. It is possible that all this is borne of the challenges associated with entering midlife. Then again, it is equally possible that this is a matter of selective perception – seeing what we want to see in what are objectively random events in one’s life. Having said that, I’ve been thankfully blessed to come across some friends who unwittingly offered what to me appears to be the biblical premises of Saint Pio’s reminder.
The first one is from Jeremiah 29:11 and I quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” While the original context of this passage was the message of hope and assurance that God wanted to bless the Jewish people with as they had to stay as exiles in Babylon for 70 years, I believe it is not stretching the meaning of the passage that much if we are to relate it to our individual and collective state in the face of various adversities. More to the point, it easily grounds the first component of Adversity Quotient which the researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz refers to as control or how one perceives an adversity as either actionable or beyond hope. One can either look at the problem as a permanent state from which there is no escape or as a temporary detour from which one could springboard to better things. Jeremiah 29:11 underpins the latter.
The second one I have been blessed to be gently reminded of is from Matthew 6:26-34 and it goes: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which if you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father know that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Again, while these words were addressed to the crowd that gathered around Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount 2,000 years ago, its explanatory power resonates loud and clear in the 21st century regardless of one’s social, economic and political situation. For indeed, just like that, as they say, you could lose it all. Just like that, one’s life could unceremoniously end. Just like that, a relationship could end. Just like that, the unexpected could happen.
I suggest that it is precisely in the context of these three passages that we could fully appreciate the other half of Saint Pio’s admonition which we don’t often hear: “God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” With these three passages written hundreds of years apart, one can more confidently sing along to Annie’s “Tomorrow” and play the air guitar to Bamboo’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.” Why worry indeed!