I love my little puggle pup. She warms my heart and is part of our family. As such, I want to take care of her to the best of my ability. That means treating her to protect against fleas and ticks on our many walks in the park, taking her to the vet when she is sick, and giving her the monthly dose of medicine to protect against heartworm and other worms. One of the popular versions of this medication is called Heartgard. Now I am not here to plug Heartgard or advertise for them…in fact I am not even sure that we use their brand! But as I contemplated the second reading from Mass yesterday, “heart guard” popped into my head.
The reading we heard in Mass was Philippians 4:6-9
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
What a beautiful passage! “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts…” Isn’t that wonderful? I imagine a tiny angel standing watch outside my heart. Serving as my own form of “heart guard” by keeping out all the worries, all the fear, the doubt, the anxiety, the negativity. Only the good is allowed to enter. And there is certainly enough good to fill up our hearts! With such wondrous things surrounding us, how is it that those sneaky feelings of doubt and worry and overall negativity somehow break through and enter into our hearts?
Medications like Heartgard are wonderful! But if you don’t use them regularly, if you let them sit in their box unopened, if you only give them to your pet once in a blue moon, they won’t be effective. Despite all the merits they offer, without proper use, they won’t protect against a thing.
Perhaps we need to contemplate our own human form of heart guard. This passage tells us that God will guard our hearts. But it also gives us the instructions. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” These are our first instructions. To let go of worry. To pray about everything and to let God handle our prayers. To do this requires full trust. The kind of trust that allows us to leave it in God’s hands and trust our prayers are heard and answered, even if we do not know how or when.
Our next piece of instruction in this passage is hidden within the promise “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I am not a vet. I do not understand how my dog’s heartworm medicine works to protect against disease. I simply trust that by following the instructions, she will be protected. In the same sense, we need to trust in God’s loving care and protection even though we do not understand it all. The human heart guard we are given is the peace of God. This peace is beyond our comprehension and is far too great for us to understand. That’s ok! We do not need to understand it. We just need to trust.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is where it is really laid out for us. How do we allow our hearts and minds to be guarded against negativity? Simple – we focus on the positive! Rather than filling our minds with thoughts of doubt and despair, we focus our attention on the wonderful things that surround us. We count our blessings and take a moment to find the good in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
Notice this is not a one time deal. The final instruction we receive in this short passage tells us “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” This is a continuous process. To keep doing what we have been taught. To keep loving God, loving our neighbors, finding the blessings all around us, following God’s commands, and placing out full trust in Him. To keep up with the things we have received through God’s grace and the Sacraments. To keep following Christ no matter what comes our way.
What happens if we forget to follow the instructions? If we miss a dose of our heart guard and find ourselves lacking that peace within us? God does not leave us. He is always there with peace so as to fill not only our hearts and minds but truly our entire being! The more we empty of ourselves, of our own concerns and fears, the more room we make for God’s peace to fill us up. If we find that we have allowed the negative thoughts, the worries, the fear and the doubt to creep back in, we need not fear! The peace of God is always within our reach. We simply need to pray, to trust, to give it all to the Lord, and to focus instead on the wondrous blessings that surround us. And then we will find our hearts, minds, and souls protected by our very own human heart guard by being filled with a peace beyond our understanding. The peace of Jesus Christ our Lord.