12 May 2020

Fear is a reflex

5th Week of Easter (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Fear is a reflex. Like jerking away from physical pain. It's job is to protect us from harm. It helps us make split-second decisions that keep us alive. Fear warns us away from danger. It works hard to convince us not to take risks. By nature, fear is irrational. It arrives w/o deliberation and does its work quickly and passes. But we can nurture fear. We can hold onto to it and feed it, giving it longer life and more control. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” NB. do not let, do not allow, do not choose to be afraid. Fear is an animal reflex. A thing of the moment. Choosing not to live in fear is a thing of faith and reason, trusting that all things work for the good in God's own time. Jesus says that he leaves his peace with us. His peace is a part of our inheritance as sons of the Father. But that peace is not the peace of this world – security, safety, freedom from want. Christ's peace is the sort of peace that comes with knowing that come what may he has won the war. Not every battle we are called upon to fight in his name. But the war. From all eternity, he is the victor and that victory is ours to enjoy w/o fear.

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10 May 2020

No time for a troubled heart

5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. . .” Easy for him to say, right? He's not suffering through a deadly pandemic. International economic collapse. Political unrest. And the dissolution of western civilization. How can our hearts NOT be troubled? At 7.00 this morning, the JHU COVID-19 tracker reports over 4 million cases of viral infection worldwide. 1.3 million of those in the U.S. The U.S. unemployment rate is higher than it was during the Great Depression. We are seeing spikes in suicide, domestic abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and psychological trauma caused by isolation and loneliness. Churches have been closed since mid-March and our political culture is poisoned with fear, ignorance, and power-grabbing politicians. If your heart isn't troubled. . .I have to wonder if you're paying attention! Nonetheless, Jesus commands, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” How, Lord? “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” When Christ gives us a command, he also gives us the gifts we need to obey. We are never left on our own to flounder and fail. If he says our hearts should be at peace, then we have what we need to make them so.
As has been the case for the last 2,000 years, as followers of Christ, we find ourselves straddling two worlds – this world and all its problems AND the world where we truly belong, the Kingdom of God. And as has been the case for the last 2,000 years, as followers of Christ, we are charged with living in this world while never submitting to it. Never allowing ourselves to be assimilated into the powers and principalities that deny the kingship of Christ. We are charged with living in this world as signs of contradiction, as sacraments of the Father's mercy – visible, tangible, working priests and prophets for His kingdom. When we become “too much with the world,” we take on the priorities and principles of the world. We begin to act and think and speak like those who are ruled by the world. We cease to smell like the flock, and we start to stink like the herd. And our hearts become troubled. We lose who we are in Christ and struggle to see the gifts he has freely given us. With these gifts we can be at peace. Despite the troubles of the world, we can choose to be at peace. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Do allow your hearts to be troubled. Do not choose to be anxious, worried, upset. Instead, choose to trust in God. Choose to trust in me. 
What does this mean? Say, we choose to trust in God and his Christ. Does the corona virus magically disappear? Do we move back into a booming economy? Are all the psychological problems, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, and political unrest magically resolved? No. Will my mortgage and credit cards be paid off for me? No. Will I be given free medical insurance? No. Then what's the point of trusting in God and His Christ? First, it's what you vowed to do at your baptism. It's what you've been saying you do every time you come to Mass. Every time you say, “Amen.” Second, trust is a loving relationship between persons; it's not an incantation that produces guaranteed results. Much less an incantation that guarantees the results we want. Third, trusting God – having faith – means keeping our eyes firmly glued to our final end, our ultimate goal – eternal life with the Father. Nothing this world can throw us can force our eyes to shift. We can choose to look elsewhere. But we cannot be forced to look elsewhere. And lastly, there is no other viable option for eternal life. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So, do not let your hearts be troubled. Troubled hearts do not bear witness. Troubled hearts do not love as they ought. They do not forgive as they ought. Troubled hearts do not work in charity for others, or lay claim to their eternal inheritance. Nor do they produce the good fruits of teaching and preaching the Good News. Troubled hearts belong to the world b/c the world needs troubled hearts to maintain control and power. Troubled hearts seek out false security and safety and believe empty promises of a world perfected by policies and procedures. The heart at peace in Christ doesn't fear disease or disability or death b/c such a heart knows that Christ is always there, always present and in control – come what may. The heart at peace in Christ is calmly settled into the kingdom of the Father and rests confidently in the knowledge that all this too shall pass and be made right in His time. Yes, there is suffering behind us, with us, and ahead of us. But the peaceful Christian heart knows how to suffer well; how to suffer with a divine purpose – for the salvation of others. So, while you suffer, “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.” And believe in the work Christ is doing through you.

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