Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we read, “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7).
The word “peace,” in Catholic theology, refers to harmony. True peace can only be achieved when our will is in harmony with God’s will. That is why Catholic Christians put so much emphasis on trying to discern God’s will for us. When we are in harmony with God’s will, he rewards us with a special grace-filled state of being called “serenity.” And the older one gets, the more he or she comes to treasure the gift of serenity.
But before examining some Biblical principals we can glean from today’s Scripture passages, let’s look at a true story by LaVerne Otis called “Victor Not Victim.”
LaVerne grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive family as a child. To survive, LaVerne had to learn to cope with difficulties. Though life was very hard for her as a child, in adulthood she came to realize that all her childhood struggles and the coping mechanisms she had learned to survive helped her cope with the struggles that she encountered as an adult.
As an adult, LaVerne often heard people say they were scared about their future, and they just didn’t know how to cope with their fears. LaVerne never had that problem, for from her earliest years, she learned that when times are tough, she just had to work harder to obtain positive results.
In June of 2003, LaVerne was diagnosed with colon cancer. Though she was initially devastated and scared, she determined that her cancer would not destroy her spirit. She prayed to God for special strength, and she determined that she would be a victor, not a victim.
To do this, LaVerne found the best surgeon and oncologist she could find, got a second opinion, and had major surgery. Following surgery, the physicians told her they had removed all the cancer, and that she should go home and enjoy life.
That she did, until her cancer returned in November of 2004. Once again, LaVerne had surgery followed by chemotherapy treatments. Though she was incredibly weak for several months, she took life one day at a time, and she fought against all negative thoughts. Eventually, she began to feel like her normal self.
When she wrote her story, LaVerne had been cancer-free for four years, and she was recovering from a major spinal fusion surgery.
LaVerne could have been defeated by her health care problems, but instead, she focused on victory. She said, “…these are the medical cards I have been dealt in my life, so I will play them the best way I know how. I refuse to be a victim in all of these health issues. Instead, I choose to be a victor.”
LaVerne notes that because of the problems she has faced in life, she has become a better and stronger person. Her life problems have made her more compassionate toward other people and their life problems, especially for those who are sick. She has also become more aware of how important it is to have the love and companionship of family and friends. In sum, LaVerne has learned how to become a victor instead of a victim. And as a result of this, she has achieved serenity – the peace deep within a person who is in harmony with God.
LaVerne has achieved much of what St. Paul was telling us in his letter to the Philippians today. When we examine Paul’s passage of today, we can glean many things. Here are just three.
First, we are to bring our petitions to the Lord. When we ask God for something, this is known as prayers of supplication. Some people believe they don’t need to ask God for anything, because God knows what we need already. But though God knows all of our wants and needs even without our petitions, we offer such prayers because that is God’s will. Jesus even gave us a prayer – the Our Father – as a model for praying.
Second, we are to have thanksgiving in our hearts for the many blessing God has already bestowed on us in the past and present. That is why St. Paul says we are always to pray “with thanksgiving” in our hearts.
And third, when we bring our prayers to God, we will be rewarded with the gift of serenity, or peacefulness of spirit. Specifically, Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4: 8-9).
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we cope with the challenges of daily life. Are we like LaVerne who sees herself as a victor? Or are we more likely to see ourselves as a victim of life’s difficulties? Do we have the “peace of God” in our spirits as St. Paul discusses? Or is our spirit filled with fear and anguish?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story: LaVerne Otis. “Victor Not Victim.” Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy
Newmark, Laura Robinson, and Elizabeth Byron (Eds.). Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings. Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soup Publishing, 2009, pp. 75-76.