09 January 2013

Banish fear forever

Wednesday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The gospel reading this evening ends with a sad indictment of the disciples. After Jesus calms the angry sea and rescuing his friends from a watery grave, Mark writes, “[The disciples] were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.” It is sad that they are astounded by Jesus' power to calm the sea and even sadder that they did not understand the signs given to them when he fed the five thousand. As sad as these failures are, it is saddest of all that their hearts have hardened against accepting the truth of Jesus' true nature and mission. What does all this sad failure tell us about the disciples? At the very least, we know why they were so frightened by the storm and by Jesus walking on the water to save them. With hearts hardened against both understanding and love, the disciples are left with no other way to see and feel the world than through fear. They are terrified at the prospect of drowning, and even the appearance of their Master on the waves is not enough to quell their fear. John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Christ is with us. There is no place for fear among us. So, take heart! 

When we say that a heart has grown hard, we mean that it is no longer capable—on its own—of serving its spiritual function: it can no longer love; that is, it can no longer seat Love Himself at the center of the human soul. Without Love Himself seated in the center of our souls, no soul can begin even to dream of seeing and understanding the miraculous signs Christ performs, much less see and understand his true nature and mission. Without Love Himself seated at the center of their lives, the disciples are ignorant and loveless men chosen by Christ to learn and love instead of fear; yet, their fear is what keeps them from learning and loving. Their fear reaches its terrific peak at Jesus' arrest in the Garden, and they surrender to the temptation to abandon him. Only after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love between the Father and the Son, do they find their hearts grown large enough to hold all the love they need to take on the Christ-nature and make his mission their own. But now, in a boat on an angry sea, they cry out in astonishment and fear, and they hear Jesus say, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Take heart! Christ is with us. And there is no place for fear among us. 

Without Love Himself seated in our hearts, we cannot begin even to dream of seeing and understanding the miraculous signs Christ performs, much less see and understand his true nature and mission. And understanding that nature and mission is more than a matter of historical curiosity. By receiving his body and blood in this sacrifice of thanksgiving, each one of us who receives commits him/herself to taking on Christ's nature and to making his mission our own. We take one more step toward becoming fully human; that is, to becoming more perfectly human, completely giving ourselves over to the Father for His divine purpose. But fear stands btw each one of us and total surrender to God. The spirit of not-knowing-what-comes; the spirit of worry, anxiety, turmoil floats there tempting us to run, to just give up. And no amount of argument, evidence, or tears will move us around those gnawing spirits. John tells us, “. . .one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” So, we know that perfect love moves fear, and there is only one Perfect Love: God Himself. Thanks be to God that Christ is with us always. Now, take one more step toward becoming Christ for one another and banish fear forever. 

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  1. I really liked how you picked up your theme and carried it all the way through. Easy to read and follow, bringing up lots of good points. The phrase "do not fear", or some derivation, shows up a lot in Scripture...I appreciated how you picked up on the phrase from John's letter about perfect love, and tied it in with fear and our steps toward its banishment.

    Hard, challenging and somewhere I so often fail, but good to see/hear the direction in which we need to head.

    Thank you!

    1. This one "flowed out" w/o much straining. Usually I have to squeeze my brain to produce something but this one appeared easily. John's works are always good homily fodder. Mark is more difficult b/c he's a bare-bone storyteller and the connections are harder to make.