Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016
in Ordinary Time
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
When Jesus walked the face of the earth, the science of psychology hadn't yet been invented. Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis wouldn't come along for another 1,800 years. But this week's Gospel shows Jesus way out on the cutting edge of what the psychological world calls the power of positive thinking. The spiritual world calls it faith.
Jesus tells his followers they can accomplish unimaginable feats "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed." He uses a bit of hyperbole -- being able to uproot a large tree by a simple voice command -- to explain that faith can strengthen us to overcome normal human limitations when we face challenges in life.
Today, psychologists continue to examine the effects of positive attitude. For instance, much has been written about improved responses to medical treatment credited to the positive mindset of patients. In one article, noted author and medical doctor Deepak Chopra suggested the "placebo effect" (improvement in patients given a placebo when they believed they received a prescription drug) showed that positive thinking could produce a positive physical response.
"Expectations are powerful," he pointed out. "If you think you've been given a drug that will make you better, often that is enough to make you better."
Although he concedes that medical research has found no proof that positive thinking can actually cure disease, Chopra emphasizes, "The real point isn't to rescue a dying patient but to maintain wellness."
That's the real point for Jesus, as well.
Just as positive thinking is a source of strength for someone battling illness, faith gives us strength and hope in the "wellness" of God's spirit with us when we struggle.
Even more thousands of years before psychology, the prophet Habakkuk told us to seek God's positive promise when we are troubled: Write down the vision clearly, so you can read it, he said. "[It] will not disappoint … it will surely come."
Whoever relies on God's vision, he added, "because of his faith, shall live."
Faith, in fact, employs positive thinking. However, it is more. It opens our spirit to the vast possibilities of our life in God -- where we will be rescued from dying.
This column is offered in cooperation with The North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.