Friday, May 20, 2016

A Faith Bigger Than Fear

What holds us back from being fully the person God created us to be? What keeps us from fulfilling all the dreams He has for us? Why do we resist the inspirations He gives us daily to be more generous and loving to those we meet?

The simple answer is fear. Fear holds us back from achieving all the great things God has planned for us. We are afraid of what others think. We do not want to be judged, criticized or ridiculed. We fear failure. We worry about what it will cost us to follow Jesus with all our heart and strength. How will it affect our relationships and jobs? Will others reject us because of our faith? Will we be called “fanatics” or “bigots” because we take God’s word seriously and make it the center of our lives. We also fear being wrong. What if we go all out in following Jesus and it does not end up being worth it? Finally, we can also be afraid that we are not good enough.

Those who followed Jesus during His earthly life knew very well the fears that we experience today. Even though they found the courage to leave everything behind to follow Him, they still experienced doubts, reservations and fears. We know that Judas began to fear that Jesus was not really the Messiah which led to his betrayal. When Jesus was arrested and crucified, the disciples fled in fear that they would be next. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, they remained holed up in the upper room, hiding from the authorities. They were imprisoned and isolated by their fears, unable to proclaim the great wonders they had experienced.

However, all that changed on Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Spirit came rushing down upon the place where they had been staying. A mighty wind shook the building and fire from the sky descended upon them. They were so overcome with God’s presence within them, that they praised Him in full voice. Not able to contain their joy, they spill out into the street below proclaiming the wonders of God to all those who were passing by. They were no longer afraid what people would say about them. They were no longer afraid that they would be arrested and put to death. They were no longer concerned about their lack of talents or education. In fact, they were not thinking about themselves or their fears any more. Rather, they were caught up in the great wonders God had done for them and in His power. Their joy was so great that they could not keep it to themselves.

The Holy Spirit we received at our baptism and who lives in our hearts through faith is the great antidote to our fears. He inspires us to take the focus off ourselves and our limitations and to put it on God and the infinite possibilities He offers us. The Holy Spirit gives us confidence that no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, God will provide us with what we need to not only get through it but to thrive. He fills our innermost being with such a complete and overflowing joy that we do not care what others think anymore. We no longer measure ourselves by what others expect of us but by what God expects of us. Though we may still experience some nagging fears and self-doubts, they will begin to dissipate as we experience God’s power working through our human weakness. We learn to rely more on His inspiration and power and less on ourselves.

It all begins with prayer. The disciples were gathered in prayer with Mary in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. In fact, prayer is nothing else than allowing the Holy Spirit to raise our hearts and minds to God. By spending some quiet time in prayer every day, we learn to become attentive to God’s voice speaking to our hearts. As we experience His loving presence, we grow in our ability to trust Him. We let go of the doubts that hold us back and begin to make choices based on what our Heavenly Father has planned for us rather than on what we have planned for ourselves or what others expect of us. Our fears melt away as we experience God’s power taking root in our lives. Our prayer time every day should begin with the words, “Come, Holy Spirit!” Then we will experience our lives being transformed as we learn to follow the Spirit’s lead.

The next important step is rooting out sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit cannot work within us and through us if our heart is enslaved to selfishness, greed or lust. If we have too strong a desire for the comforts and pleasures of this world, then our  hearts cannot be attuned to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be free to follow the Spirit if we are enslaved to sin. Saint Paul makes this very clear in today’s second reading. After listing sins which he describes as “the works of the flesh”, he tells us, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The good news is that we do not have to allow our weakness and shame to hold us back. In Jesus, we have the forgiveness of our sins and the power to overcome them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us we will also find the strength to conquer our temptations and put our strength into doing good for others rather than indulging our passions.

When Jesus appears to His disciples on the day of His resurrection, He greets them with the words, “Peace”. At the Last Supper, He reassured them that peace would be His lasting gift to them. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, which Jesus would have used is much richer than our English word. It can also be translated as “health”, “prosperity” and “wholeness.” In essence, peace is what we experience once our fears have been conquered. It is a result of our confidence in God. It is the lingering joy of knowing that we are forgiven and no longer have to be held back by shame or fear. It is the gift God offers us on this Pentecost Sunday as we gather here in prayer.

Come, Holy Spirit! Lead us, your people, to overcome our fears so that we may proclaim the joy of Christ’s resurrection to a world that longs for the hope that only you can give!

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