Archives: March 2020

Fear is a complicated emotion. It serves to protect—alerting us to possible danger. Sensing a threat, we freeze, take flight or fight for survival. When the threat is clear, we can respond appropriately. These instincts keep us safe, offering security and a chance to flourish.
 
Yet fear can also overwhelm us. When the threat is vague, diffuse or constant, we can find ourselves consumed by worry or anxiety. We struggle to make sense of our lives, as we experience times of change, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, terrorism, disease, unemployment, war or death. As we seek to process possible risks, we can find ourselves paralyzed—feeling powerless in front of uncertainty and challenges.
 
It is striking how pervasive anxiety is within our society today. Close to one in five people in the United States experience disruption in their life due to some form of anxiety. I hear it in conversations with parishioners, community members, family and friends of all ages. Manifested in many different ways, our brothers and sisters are struggling to find stability, security and meaning to their life amid challenges and uncertainty. 
 
How do we respond to fear, when it is pervasive and embedded in our lives? How do we reframe the questions we live, to remove the threat?
 
One paradigm to consider: The opposite of fear is trust. When we believe all shall be well and what is needed will be provided, we can let go of fear, worry or anxiety and find peace. 
 
Our faith provides the container for this trust. 
 
Scripture tells us that God understands our tendency to fear, and continually assures us—“It’s alright, I am here.” The phrase “fear not” is used at least 80 times in the Bible. 
• “Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1
• “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
 
Pope Francis states: "The world has great fear, and spreads it. Often it makes this the key for interpreting history, and not infrequently adopts it as a strategy to build a world based on walls and trenches. We too can understand the reasons for fear, but we cannot embrace it, 'for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.' Let us draw from this spirit, and go: open doors, build bridges; weave bonds; establish friendships; promote unity. (Sept. 17, 2016)
 
Ultimately, where does fear lead us? Pope Francis suggests fear leads us to experience the feeling of being closed in on oneself—trapped. We become paralyzed, loosing an ability to dream, grow and create. He states, “When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others." (Prayer vigil at Campus Misericordiae, Krakow, Poland, July 31, 2016) 
 
This Lent, we have the opportunity to root our trust in God’s love and presence. We have the challenge to identify the anxiety in our lives. As we name the undercurrents of fear, God’s love gives us the courage to attend to our hope and dreams—to think about unfulfilled potential and to work toward unity and peace. With God, all things are possible and all shall be well. 

A few weeks ago I made an attempt (which ultimately was only minimally successful) to clean off my desk. In some ways my cleaning attempt was like an archeological dig. The deeper I got, the more interesting things I discovered. Now I used to feel bad about how my desk looked. Several years ago, though, I went to a talk about how to be better organized. The presenter said one thing in particular that really spoke to my heart. Specifically she said: “Some people file things to find them. If you are one of those people your desk is always neat and clean. Other people, though, file things when they are finished with them. If you are one of those people you almost always have piles on your desk. The reason for this is that you need to keep everything you are working on in plain view. If you put something away you are done with it.” These words immediately brought me a sense of comfort and peace. And while I don’t brag about the appearance of my desk, I no longer feel bad about it either.

I suspect that most of us have had similar experiences—times when someone has said something that calmed our fears, eased our distress, or lessened our guilt. These times are islands of peace amid the often stormy sea of life. There are other times, though, when someone says something that can cause us to feel uneasy or even anxious. For me, the words of Jesus often do both of these things. 

At times, Jesus’ words can be enormously comforting as when he reminds us that God loves us and forgives our sins. At the same time, though, Jesus’s words can also challenge us as they remind us that we are to love others as we have been loved and to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Jesus’ words are often a two-edged sword. They comfort and console us, while at the same time challenging us and perhaps making us feel a bit uneasy about how we are living. 

While I definitely like living in my comfort zone, I find I function best when I am on the edge of my comfort zone as opposed to being in the middle of it. Most often Jesus’ words challenge me to move out of the middle of my comfort zone and live on the edge of it. They remind me that if I want to experience God’s love and forgiveness, then I need to work to extend these to others. This isn’t easy and in fact I fail at it regularly. If I look to Jesus’s words for comfort and consolation, though, I must also hear and be open to the challenge in them. The promise, as well as the challenge of Jesus’s words can not be separated. Being a disciple of Jesus is not just about recognizing this, but also living so as to give witness to it with our lives. 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/030820.cfm  

Each year on the 2nd Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ.   This weekend we read Matthew’s account of this event.  The basic details are the same in each of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain.  (In the scriptures, mountains were often the place for an encounter with God.)  While there, Jesus was transfigured before their eyes --- “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him.”   After Peter voiced his desire to stay in the experience, a voice from a cloud announced:  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”   After the experience was over, Jesus charged his disciples:   “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  

I believe there are moments in each of our lives that are moments of great grace --- times when we see or experience things on a deeper level and feel God’s presence.  These moments don’t occur regularly and certainly not often.  They are not under our control, but they are “transfiguring” moments, nonetheless.  Our “transfiguring’ moments may not be of the same intensity as that of Peter, James and John, but I believe they are no less real.    

For our first reading for this 2nd Sunday of Lent we always read a section of the story of the call of Abram (soon to be Abraham).  God told him:  “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In the opening sentence of our reading for this weekend Timothy is admonished:  “Beloved:  Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   As I mentioned above, I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives ---- certainly not as intense or to the same degree as Peter, James and John, but no less real.   When have you had a “transfiguring” experience in your life?  
2.   How many people have you told about your “transfiguring” experience?   If you’re like most people, it is a very limited number (if anyone at all).   Why is it hard for us to talk about these experiences?
3.   When you have had to bear a hardship did you find the strength that comes from God? 

Pages