Since I found out I am going to the Diocese of Gary but before I actually get there, I find myself in this remarkably sweet spot; I am no longer worried about things here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and I don’t know what to be worried about yet in Gary, so I am not worried about anything! If such a state of peace could just continue….
Someone did the hard work of counting how many times in the Bible God says to not be afraid; the number is 366, one for each day plus leap year.
Fear seems to be the common response when a Scriptural figure encounters God and receives a call. Think of Abram and Sara, Moses, Isaiah, Mary, Peter or Paul. In his epistle, John tells us perfect love casts out all fear and love is not yet perfected in one who is still afraid.
So it seems that the opposite of love is not necessarily hatred but rather fear. When we are anxious and afraid, we are bound up, unable to think clearly, controlled by conflicting thoughts, hesitant to act. Such a person is not free to do the will of God.
We may be tempted to think the saints and other heroes were fearless, but that would make them less than human. Peter must have been afraid before his crucifixion or Francis Xavier when he set out for India or Mother Teresa when she left the security of her convent to live in the slums or the many martyrs of Latin America who spoke out against injustice.
What makes these people saints is not that they were never afraid, but rather that they lived beyond fear and refused to let it control them.
Advent is a blessed time to examine our own fears and anxieties. We are concerned about so many things – the well-being of our children, how to pay the bills, what others think of us, losing a job or health, the threat of terrorism, the future of our country or the state of our marriage.
In one sense, such anxiousness is a good thing because it shows we care; we are not apathetic or indifferent. We want things to be the way they should be and we are concerned when they are not.
Anxiety becomes negative when it robs us of joy, peace, trust in the Lord and attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives. If fear cripples us, making us incapable of doing the will of God, we are in a state of crisis and moving away from where God wants us to be. Imagine if Mary’s fear kept her from saying yes to the Archangel Gabriel or if Peter said no to Jesus’ invitation to follow him or Mother Teresa had stayed in the comfort of her convent. Their courageous choices to follow the will of God have profoundly impacted the world.
This Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “Let us rejoice.” We light the rose candle because we are closer to Christmas than to the beginning of the season.
The nearness of the Lord, Jesus’ promise to be with us always, the grace of the sacraments, the consolation of the Scriptures, the love and support of the good people in our lives are all divine blessings designed to help us leave our fears and worries behind and simply abide in the Heart of Jesus in deep joy and lasting peace.
Whenever I get anxious about anything, I try to pray and remember all the other times I was afraid, wondering how a difficult situation was going to work out and I ponder how it did, how the Lord has led me through everything hard, difficult and painful and I am still here to tell about it.
God has always been faithful and always will be, so what am I so worried about? I think about Mary at the moment of the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and I am filled with hope and strength; they were afraid, too — Jesus to the point of sweating blood — and yet they gave their assent to the will of the Father.
The Passion and crucifixion were horrible and catastrophic for both of them, but in the end, it all led to the best of possible outcomes – the Resurrection and the salvation of the human race.
This truth sustains me in the darkest of nights, those times we all have, usually at 2 a.m., when some worry gnaws at our heart and we cannot sleep. In such moments we are invited to ponder the call of the Lord Jesus to not be afraid and to cast out to the deep.
With Jesus in the boat, calming the storm, we do not have to worry about a thing. God is in charge and his plan is perfect, so I am just going to keep on being at peace and pray you can too.