Anyone wanting to reach the top of a mountain must be prepared for a strenuous climb. If the mountain happens to be Mount Everest or one of the other very high peaks around the world, the climber will have to contend with ice and snow and howling winds. The prospect could look very bleak indeed. But mountain climbers take the attitude that problems are there to he overcome. Their main focus is not on how far they might fall but on how high they might climb. They give a fine example of the power of positive thinking.
There is a similar spirit in the text we have from St Paul today. The apostle encourages us to think positively:
' Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise ... Then the God of peace will be with you.' (Philippians 4:8 -9)
Some time ago 1 came across a pamphlet about having a positive attitude to life. In one passage the writer contrasted the approach of the optimist (someone who looks on the bright side) with that of the pessimist (someone who looks on the dark side).
'The optimist wonders how high the kite will fly; the pessimist wonders how soon the kite will fall. The optimist sees a green near every Sand trap; the pessimist sees a sand trap near every green. Optimists go out and find a bell to ring; pessimists give up and wring their hands instead. An optimist is always happier than a pessimist.'
This is not to say that the optimist has an easier life than the pessimist. Both might encounter the same kinds of problems. The difference is that, very often, people who adopt a positive attitude cope with the problems more peacefully.
We have many examples of this in the lives of the saints - for example, in the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest who died as a martyr during the Second World War.
After some months in a concentration camp, Maximilian Kolbe became sick with fever and was put into the camp hospital. Another prisoner who was working in the hospital would sometimes come to him at the close of the day. The man would be tired and dejected. One evening he began to cry and said, "I can't go on!"
Father Kolbe reached out and put his arm around the man and spoke words of comfort. "Don't be too down-hearted. What if God wants you to survive this camp? Put one hand in the hand of Christ and your other hand in the hand of Mary Then you'll be able to go on. "
Even amid the horrors of the concentration camp, Maximilian Kolbe retained his Christian hope and was able to lift the spirits of those around him.
May we have a similar positive approach as we face the troubles in our own lives. May we have the grace to focus on what is noble and good. Then, even in difficult times, we shall find peace of heart. The God of peace will be with us.
Paul Bird, C.Ss.R. © Redemptorists, 2002