Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sunday 19A. "Earth, Wind or Fire?": God is not found in fear of what He has made but through Faith, a holy fear of the One who made everything

There are so many fears: of heights or depths, of close spaces or open spaces, of crowds or loneliness. There are almost as many kinds of fear as there are people. Some fears can be debilitating and require years of therapy or are kept manageable only through medication and close supervision.

What do you fear? If you are like most people you probably have a very deep respect for the powers of nature, such as the earth, wind and fire. In the case of these fear can be a very good thing because it can save our lives. The powers of nature threaten us with death and perhaps we sometimes are fearful because we suspect we may not be ready to meet God and are afraid of punishment.

"The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who 'first loved us':
If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, . . . we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands . . . we are in the position of children." (CCC 1828)

There is another kind of fear about which we learn in today's Scriptures that can save our eternal life: fear of God which is that "love for Him who commands". This kind of fear is not at all like a cowering before the powers of earth, wind and fire or a "servile fear" of punishment which is lacking in love and trust.

In the first reading from the Old Testament Elijah on Mount Horeb finds that these "salutary" or life-saving fears of the powers of nature are eliminated as ways of finding or knowing God: God is not in the earthquake, in the fire or in the wind.

Where is God? In something so small it takes very great attentiveness, listening and presence to find him: in "a tiny whispering sound". This does not inspire fear as do the powers of nature and is so small as to be easily missed or mistaken for something very unlike those things we think of as God: small, insignificant, only noticed with great effort. And yet, because Elijah withstood the fears inspired by the destructive powers of nature did he survive to hear the voice of God and to have direction for his mission as a prophet.

We sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by things that make us fearful and we are sometimes tempted to think that if God is great like the things He has made that we must also appproach Him through fear. In the Gospel Peter is invited by the Lord Himself to approach the divine Presence on the water and he starts out well. It is only when he gives in to fear of the power of the wind and the waves that he also finds himself unable to approach God.

Peter succumbed to the kind of fear which does not help but rather hinders our access to the Lord. Whatever the fears that frustrate a faith which enables a loving trust, a holy fear of God, we must ask His help to eliminate and overcome them so that we can live a joyful and fulfilling life. Only when fear of the things God has made is overcome by the power of loving Faith will we be able like Peter to "walk on water", fully unleashed to love the uncreated God who made the earth, the wind and the fire. We must ask for the grace of conversion.

"The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: 'Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!' God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced: Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance." (CCC 1432)

That still, small Voice, so hard sometimes to hear, is Present in the holy Eucharist, calling us with the same Divine Love that Elijah and Peter discovered. The holy Mass is our opportunity to practice a holy listening, to offer the gift of an attentive presence to God, and so be rewarded with the experience of growing closer to Him in the love and trust of holy fear which make our hearts capable of holding God's love.

We can make Peter's prayer our own: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.” And we listen for His invitation, “Come.” Our desire, "Save me!", is satisfied as we overcome the temptation to painful fear and instead find ourselves close to Him, knowing His love and power as God, the Creator of the magnificent and awesome powers of earth, wind and fire, and we worship Him as did Peter: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”


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