Emmitsburg Council of Churches

"Perfect love casts our fear"

Father John J. Lombardi

We all live with real fears and, sometimes, with fearful perceptions of deception…Whoa!- Huh? ! Read on…

Last week I went to visit a nursing home and Elaine, a volunteer, brought to me a very old patient who was shrieking, wailing and screaming sitting slumped in a wheelchair, crying profusely. We tried to help her and it worked for a while; no loud screams, until... This lady-patient was like every other human soul, perhaps in a more dramatic way, afraid. Everyone has fears, almost interminably, even unto death. Now, back at the nursing home, after a half-hour of visits I was scurrying to leave and, David, an employee yelled for me. "Uh oh," I thought. I walked into the crowded room of his shop and the lady I had previously met was shrieking again. We tried to calm her, this time with many other patients nearby, watching aghast and learning that she was from France, we tried praying over her in French--Jesus-j'ai confidence en tois-Jesus: I trust in You. It worked. For a while.

No matter who we are, because of Original Sin (a falleness passed on thru blood-and-soul lines) fear is buried into the fiber optics of our lives, and often these fundamental terrors are blatant and externalized like the elderly lady above. What is fear? The American Heritage Dictionary describes it: "Fear is a feeling of alarm or disquiet caused by awareness or expectation of danger." We all fear danger, we may panic and grow in timidity, and so it is very difficult to follow Jesus unreservedly with courage and heroic love. In this Sunday's Gospel (Mt. 14:22-33) the Mighty and Compassionate Lord Jesus calms the fear of St Peter, while walking on the water. "When he (St Peter) saw the strong wind he became frightened, and began to sink." (Mt. 14:30). "Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him" (Mt. 14:32. Before anything else, notice, Jesus saves us and He does it, upon our asking, "Immediately". Ergo: we cannot save ourselves and Jesus responds to our needs immediately (in one form or another, perhaps not always the way we want). Therefore, God can free us from fear, phobias about life, discipleship and following Him. Fear paralyzes, and metastasizes, multiplies disorder within. St James says: whenever we have doubts, this makes faith fallible (1:6-8) Doubting in James and Peter's cases both produce instability and tossing about in winds.

I once saw a beautiful movie about St Francis of Assisi (no sissy he!). It depicted him without gloss. In a scene after his conversion, the St Francis-character says, stunningly, to St Clair, something like: "I have lost almost all my fear." I.e., He's now ready to move on. No more obstacles. All is clear. However true or not this scene, it was real enough. Here was a man, St Francis, who overcame aversions and paralyzing agitations and led a life of heroic courage and love. Will you?

We could also say, bluntly, St Francis and the saints overcame the malicious perception of deception we all have within. This means: we sometimes have a false idea of some experience which controls and distorts us, sort of like a mental, inner guillotine about to befall us. We cringe. We thereby recoil and become cowardly or live in partial terror. Whether they be physical or mental, inner or outer experiences, we become deceived, as St James observes, unstable in our ways.

Oppositely, while in India recently I remember a volunteer I was working with, at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying, who himself was sick, and who overcame the obstacles of heat, illness, dehydration and oppression of suffering, and, despite all this and his own troubles, continued to selflessly help the suffering there. He conquered both his physical and mental aversions to nobly help the fearful people of the Home die in dignity. Another youth-volunteer got off plane and said, in essence, after seeing all the suffering, the oppressive poverty and dehumanization: Why am I here? He overcame that perception and subsequently helped children in an orphanage valiantly. Other noble volunteers visited a leprosarium and experience a kind of mangled humanity which did not deter them

Overcoming fears. Walking on water. I was recently talking to a soul who wanted a deeper spiritual life: i.e. more prayer, more service, and more union with the Lord. Problem? The spouse was fearful that this "newfound spirituality" would create dissonance and division, a kind of jealousy-perception-of-deception. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in marriages. But, as this particular soul said, the new relationship with God should actually help deepen intimacy with the spouse, not cause division or dissonance. So yoke yourselves together and cast out all fear. Also: recognize the very word religion, from re-ligio, means to bind together. (Caveat: Yes, there are times when people use religion to escape or divide marital/family duties: but not so for the truly religious. Bind yourselves together!

Three Kinds of Fear

1. Fear of the Lord: "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps.111:10). Essentially, though not "p.c." or spiritually correct today, loving respect of the infinite, powerful and almighty God is a virtue and essential trait of the devout life. He is God and we are not! And: He is almighty, powerful and vast; therefore we should "spiritually shudder" as we would physically upon viewing something awe-inspiring like, say, the Grand Canyon or Rocky Mountains (the Catoctins are another story!). We need this kind of fear. It helps us to love Him-the-Lord. Likewise, we should fear the Last Judgment (this may help us convert when nothing else will); we should fear God's just punishments; we should fear Hell (ultimate extinction of relationship with God and Mystical Communion). Just kinds of fear like these expand the soul.

2. Ordinate fear: Just as a child should have fear of a kitchen stove-burner, so we souls should have timidity of bad situations (gossip, pornography, etc.) and of hurtful things. This kind of fear helps us avoid spiritual or physical harm.

3. Inordinate Fear: this is what fallible, earth-bound human creatures are overly affected by. Because of our fallen nature, we over- interpret or falsely judge situations and cripple at the sign of these false, paralyzing perceptions.

What are some Frequent Fears? St Peter faced obstacles within, doubt, and without, winds and waves. So do we. What are these Inner and outer Obstacles? Inner-these are mental, subjective fears and are the most intense, powerful and most pervasive. The spiritual life, the Bible and Jesus' Sacred Teachings deal mainly with these. The battle is within: anxiety, doubt, cravings all cripple us and cause confusion, paralysis and hesitation.

Outer-Objective Fears: Yet, there are real, outside events and things which are evil such as the Culture of Death (abortion, euthanasia, and contraception), anti-family attitudes, workaholism, consumerism, terrorism, etc. How do you deal with these so as to fully recognize them and their "power," but not living in terror amidst them?

What are some other kinds of fears?

We fear God's providence-that He truly cares for, and provides for us. We fear God's love for us: we may inordinately image Him as wrathful judge and persecutor. We fear for our health and may inordinately plan future, medical and hospital plans to subvert God and these perceptions of deception. Moral fears…We may have fear of the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession, of the Divine Mercy of Jesus of really exposing our real selves to God, to the Church, to be healed. Fear of "the Other"-we may be phobic about people who are different from us: once again, perception-deception. We may Fear Jesus in His Disguises (cf. Mt. 25:44-45 ff): He sometimes visits thru other people in smelly, scabbed, un-serene appearances. We have material fears-regarding possessions that we won't have enough, or we may crave for more. To overcome some spiritual fears may entail removing all limited, inadequate images and experiences of God, the Spiritual life, to truly allow Him to penetrate and dwell within-without any of our finite barriers. Fear of Holy Poverty: Think of the Blessed Mother. Her Beautiful Emptiness allowed Jesus to dwell within a virginal nest.

A response to any kinds of fear may be The Litany of Divine Love (part of which is): I love Thee, O My God…Before myself or anything belonging to me, I love Thee O my God; ; Before anything created in Heaven or on Earth: I Love Thee, O my God; In sickness and health: I Love thee, O My God; In wealth and poverty, In union with the Love with which the blessed Virgin loves Thee in Heaven: I Love Thee O My God…). It's a holy recipe for overcoming fears by training the tongue and heart into a new consciousness and lifestyle.

How To Respond:

1. Whenever fears arise-pray immediately and repeatedly any small prayer-phrase. Whenever a bad, attack-thought arises (fearful, envious or lustful) send up a spiritual aspiration, which means "to rise" and thereby transcend your clumsy catching situation: Jesus I trust in You; (Spanish: Jesus en ti confio. Polish: Jesu oofam tobia). Remember: pray it. Immediately and repeatedly. Train your body and soul.

2. Fears come from the soul: we must continually and constantly give our souls, yes, our souls to God. The deepest part of overcoming fears will be our spiritual nature, our soul-life. Look: at some, subtle level, we all fear God (wrongly), because we want to hang on to our sins and earthly selves. Thru prayer, constantly abandoning and surrendering your soul, the spiritual gift of God Himself to you, let God-the-Trinity transform you into Him (cf. II Pt. 2:4). This Transforming Union will allay fears and layers of false self so you may be free-from fear, sin and inordinate attachments. It's a process and cauldron of love called contemplative prayer. In this Sunday's First reading (1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a) God visits the prophet in the gentle, subtleness of a (spiritual) breeze. So: image the Blessed Trinity coming to your soul, enmeshing, immersing, cleansing, and elevating you into Divine Union. Practice regularly-i.e. daily, a lot. Enter the Transforming Union.

3. Extending Peace: Think of Elaine and David in the nursing home (above stories) that brought a fearful woman for healing. Be like them: extend His Healing to others, be His instrument, for the world is starving for peace, security, love.

So, in essence, Heal-don't Halt. Whattaya' mean? Remember from this beautiful Gospel what Jesus did to fearful Peter: "Immediately He stretched out His hand and saved him." Because of our sinful, begrudging, egoic human nature-we fail to reach out to heal and forgive others. Now, read those lines again-Immediately Jesus stretched out his healing, forgiving hand. From the Cross Jesus forgave us even before we asked: so-immediately heal, don't halt. We stall when we think or say: "I'll forgive you when…", or: like Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind" we may say or postpone: "Tomorrow's another day" (i.e. Why heal or forgive today when you can lukewarmly postpone till tomorrow)? Remember-immediately.

So, soul: perfect your love and cast out all fear!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi