17 October 2007

A stillborn life of fear

St Ignatius of Antioch: Philippians 3.17-4.1 and John 12.24-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

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Maybe it isn’t death that you fear most. Maybe there is something or someone, the thought of which or whom, clutches your gut in a vise-grip and wrings your adrenal glands dry, sending you into a hard-breathing panic—run or fight, flee or do battle! Or maybe your fear is more subtle. Not the sort of spiked shock that jolts us when a door slams in the night or when we round a street corner and there, only inches away, stands a stranger. Perhaps your fear is more intricate, more complex; a fear with some finesse—a long fear, anxious, spiced with apprehension and that not-knowing sense of a soon-to-arrive surprise, grim and dark with vicious possibilities. Imagine the terror of slowly losing control of your mind. Or the darkness of addiction. Or the daily dread that rises from a failed marriage, or an unsuccessful career, or an arid spiritual life. Imagine believing that God is abandoning you, pulling away, becoming distant and angry. Imagine hating your life. Then the fear of death seems like a welcomed wind.

Jesus teaches his disciples that they must die like a grain of wheat before they are can produce much fruit. How are they to die? Except for John, all of them are martyred—the seeds of their blood sown for the Church. Jesus means literal death, literally one must die to bear the best fruit. Our martyrs, our witnesses in death, bear this out. He also means that before death you must die to self so that what gifts you have may be used for others: “Whoever loves his life loses it…whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Is there any sign for us here and now that we have lost of our life for Christ and stand ready to follow him? How do we know that we have fallen to the ground like that grain of wheat and are now ready to produce much fruit?

Are you afraid? What do fear? Whom do you fear? Is there a fiber of dread in you? Even a sliver of apprehension about who you are or what you will do or who it is you need to serve? I ask b/c fear is the soul’s signal to us that we love our lives too much. Anxiety is our defense against surrender. To be afraid is a sign that we still need control, still hope to be in charge, still want to own our future—a future, by the way, that in virtue of your baptism properly belongs to Christ alone. Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it…” We have lost our lives to him. That worrying disquiet, that nervous vigilance against submitting fully to grace, the fear you feel welling up when your plans go awry, when your strategy for your soul’s progress is thwarted, that fear is your billboard announcement that you are not willing yet to be a servant. The thick hull of your seed is not yet willing to crack, to germinate, to produce much fruit.

Listen to Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the first century church in Rome, asking his brothers and sisters in Christ not to rescue him from martyrdom: “I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread…Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn…Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being.”

We are citizens of heaven, so our minds must not be occupied with earthly things. Does this mean that you are to wall yourself up in a cave? No. It means that the country of your soul, the territory of your Spirit is ruled by the sacrificial love of God Himself, and no other spirit—not anxiety, not hatred, not envy or pride, no other vicious spirit—must be allowed to occupy the land of your love for Christ and his Church. Desire only to die in Christ for Christ and pray with the martyr Ignatius that you may obtain your desire.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:50 AM

    WOW! you got me, Father. thank you for this admonition *and* encouragement. (and please say a prayer for me!)