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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
My dear followers of Jesus,
Our New Testament text from Philippians from today’s Mass states, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” I stopped in my tracks when I read this again for this weekend. This statement is so timely because we are weakened in our Church by much fear and anxiety. So, I want to say a few things about fear in times of COVID-19, one more time. As we surround ourselves in this mantle of assurance from this text, how do we survive the fear that seems to overwhelm us as a people?
I want to start with this quote from Pope Francis, from 2016. Pope Francis says, “Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in one oneself, trapped. Once we feel that way, our fear starts to fester and is inevitably joined by its ‘twin sister’, paralysis: the feeling of being paralyzed. Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons, in a word to live, is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering other, making friends, sharing dream, walking at the side of others.”
This quote was before COVID-19. Yet, this quote names what happens when we are afraid. I have spoken with many people across the country, and fear has settled into our human consciousness and daily lives like never before. Parents are exhausted from negotiating school policies and trying to make a living. Our older population is just frightened to pieces about the possibility of being sick. Our young people, perhaps, are most afraid, because they wonder what the value of life really is and is life itself really worth it. Fear cripple’s leadership in the Church and it covers our family life. Fear is messy and thick, and it is difficult to walk through or just not let it get to us. Fear negates faith in Jesus’ message of hope, and it rips apart our ability to thrive. Fear keeps us short of breath and sometimes keeps us from knowing the value of our lives.
I believe fear can lead us into a deeper, more complete life of faith. First of all, in these complex times, we may believe that faith is a commodity. We can’t purchase our lives of faith. Mass or personal prayer is not just something we achieve or accomplish. It is something we become, growing closer to Christ Jesus in exactly how life is and not how we wish life ought to be for us or the world.
These times of fear may become for us also days of faith and surrender. COVID-19 may easily become for us a time of conversion. I hear so many folks say that they are waiting for everything to be normal again. I sure hope not. This is not a statement of faith. We cannot go backwards in our belief systems. I don’t want to go back to what we had; I want what God will do in us in something new. God is leading our lives now, and God will eventually lead us into something more beautiful and healing. If we believe in God, then we realize we learn constantly to surrender to the love God has for us. We do not always get our way in God. Our prayers are not always answered in the ways in which we think they should be answered. In these COVID-19 months, we might for the first time in our lives find God in the surrender of our hearts and not in the intellectual pursuits of our control, power and authority.
Many people have given up on God and the Church in these COVID-19 months. They do not see the point of going to Church or receiving communion because they want God to be healing us and not keeping us apart. Many people have left the Church because of our country’s politics and the Church’s silence on many issues, including how to maintain our faith during the pandemic. Fear has made a home in our restlessness because every structure we have known in our society has changed. Fear collapses our hearts when we can no longer rely on the steadiness of routine and the surety of Church structure and authority. Fear creeps in every heart that is detached from the normal circumstances of routine and relationship.
We can never go back to what has been in our Church or society. This pandemic is real and has many consequences. This is not a hoax or a way for the government to weaken the Church. Real people have died across the globe and our scientific authorities simply do not know what the virus will do in the future and they do not know how the virus will affect our lives and bodies. The virus teaches us the reality that life is complex, and it is not to be controlled by us or anyone else. Life is fragile and it is real.
One aspect of our fear is that the virus has become a political football. This is so unfortunate for our common lives of faith. Fear and politics destroy our common lives of faith, love and service. I notice that when I say anything or do anything in the parish concerning our common life and the pandemic, I am immediately seen to be on one side of our nation’s political systems or another. In this reaction, I have been scratching my head. I am just trying to lead from the posture of a virus and to help us all live in the context of our faith in Christ Jesus.
So how can we live beyond fear today? I have some simple ways to help us engage our fearful hearts and to help us stop engaging in the turmoil that keeps us from believing in God. First, we need to learn how to be silent, how to quiet our lives, hearts and thoughts. I suggest every morning, upon awaking, we find time to be alone. I don’t know how to foster faith without this kind of routine. We need to face the sins, obstacles and insecurities of our lives. We need to face the truth of who we are in God. Alone time is golden to reduce fear.
In our alone time, I suggest we all read and reflect on the daily scriptures of the Mass. These can be found online or in written resources. There is wisdom in these texts, the basic message of the readings teaches us a pattern in the Christian life and year. In this time of year, our gospels open us to the reality of the Kingdom both in the end of times and at our death. Grace is here for us in these readings. Take time to find this grace.
Deep beathing helps us find God and reduce fear. Intentional breathing exercises can bring about not only physical relaxation, but a spiritual depth and reliance on God. Being in our bodies reduces fear, feeling our bodies, helps us calm down and rely on the holy.
Exercise, eating healthy are not just doctor’s formulas, but also ways in which to help our lives of faith. We need to become what we believe and not just have intellectual pursuits of being on the correct side of Catholicism. Fear has penetrated us as Catholics and living only in the externals will not help us heal in the ways in which we need right now.
We need to talk through our fear. However, be careful about who listens to our fear. Sometimes our friends mean well, but they can also trigger more fear and then not be helpful at all.
We need the sacraments. We need to find ways to let go of sin, doubt and untruth. However, we so need to cultivate a real desire for God, to discover within our beating hearts the truth of Jesus Christ that helps us know who he is for us, and who we are for others. Let us leave fear at the door of our hearts. Let us live in Him.
We need to learn something from our fear, that Jesus is nearer to us than we once thought.
“I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
God give you peace,
Ah, The Spirit ‘s words, heard in your quiet times, has really spoken clearly–thank you. That quote from Phillipians 4, has always been reassuring and you fleshed it out beautifully. Now, if we can live in the declaration of “Thy Will be Done”, and “let go enough to let God”–we may come through unscathed. Pax, A
Thank you for this most beautiful article. I pray that all who read it take it piece by piece set with it and find Peace and let go of fear. Be Not Afraid God Loves Us
Fr. Ron thanks for theses reflections. I have caught myself saying “I wish things would go back to the way they were before,” and you rightly point out that this robs the present moment of its opportunity to transform into a new gift for God. I’m glad you point out the simple basics, like deep breathing, eating properly and getting enough rest, these simple practices help us center on God’s deep love for us, no matter what is going on around us. “If the Lord does not build an house, in vain do its builders labor”, I can still sing the Bill Dorwart version of this psalm, and it means so much to me now. Thanks for helping me take my focus away from fear, and toward trust and faith in Our Lord Jesus. -Dan