13 April 2013

Ain't got no time for fear

2nd Week of Easter (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

In traditional iconography, St. Catherine of Siena is often portrayed carrying a ship on her shoulder. That ship is the Church. It reminds us of Noah's Ark, those who were saved from the flood. Most of us here this morning are sitting in the nave of the church. “Nave” derives from the Latin word, navis, which also gives us our word “navy.” So, the symbolic connections btw a ship on the sea and the church in the world are easy to draw. The disciples get into a boat and head out over the sea to Capernaum. A storm is brewing, the wind is kicking up, and the disciples are worried about capsizing. In response to this imminent danger, the disciples nominate a Task Force to address the crisis. The Task Force appoints a commission to study the problem. The commission selects a committee to hold hearings, and the cmte recommends that a working group issue a report. Eventually, the disciples vote on a draft of the report and release the document under the title, In navi durante tempestas,* “On a Boat during a Storm.” Unfortunately, all the disciples are tossed overboard and drowned. In another version of this story, Jesus appears to his frightened disciples and says, “I Am. Do not be afraid” and the boat arrives safely on the shore.

My irreverent version of John's gospel story is meant to be a little cheeky and a little telling. When the Church confronts a contemporary crisis, whether its a crisis in the Church or with the world, how do we normally proceed? There's really no way to answer that question fully, of course, b/c each crisis presents its unique problems, thus requiring unique solutions. Maybe a better question would be: from what resources do we draw when a crisis confronts us? Even better: to whom do we turn when a strong wind blows up a storm? We humans are designed and built to solve problems, and we manage quite well considering our fallen nature. But the same instinct to solve problems often leads us to cause problems as well. When we flounder around trying to solve spiritual problems with secular tools, we invariably arrive at secular solutions that worsen the original spiritual problem. Jesus' last- minute appearance to the near-drowned disciples shows us the best way to deal with every crisis we encounter: look for the Lord and expect to hear him say, “I Am. Do not be afraid.” In other words, we are reminded again that we, the boat, the sea, the storm, all belong to God. Fear in a crisis is not only futile, it can be deadly—spiritually deadening.

Fear has its natural uses. Being afraid for our lives discourages us from doing all sorts of dangerous things. Leaping out of planes. Swimming in Lake Ponchatrain. Driving in New Orleans. Fear even has its supernatural uses. It makes us wary of sin. Using occult means for achieving our goals. But fear can also prevent us from doing the holy work we've been given to do. It can discourage us from risking our time, talent, and treasure in the pursuit of holiness. We are not baptized to seek spiritual safety, to cuddle close with our devotions and watch the world burn. We are baptized to go out and proclaim—in word and deed—the freely given mercy of God. We are baptized to go out and preach and teach and heal and forgive and be forgiven. BXVI, introducing the Year of Faith, teaches us that we must propose again to the world an encounter the Risen Lord. How? He writes, “. . .we need to renew our preaching with lively faith, firm conviction, and joyful witness.” Filled with faith, conviction, and joy, there is no room in any of us for fear. Leave no room for fear. And if fear should blow your way, stop, look for the Lord, and expect to hear him say to you, “I Am. Do not be afraid.”

* Counting the seconds 'til someone corrects my Latin. . .3. . .2. . .1

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  1. Just what I needed to hear this morning. Grabbed me right off with the tidbit about St. Catherine of Sienna, a little etymology, an eyebrow-raising and laugh inducing "alternate story", and apparently some incorrect Latin. What better way is there to start a rainy, cold Saturday?

    By the end there were tears in my eyes, especially with your final sentence. Thank you - excellent!

  2. Nice. I like the Task Force version! Be not afraid, I hear ya. But that Smurf baby above is a little disconcerting?? ;-)