Monday, February 25, 2013

Fear, Trust, and Relationship

Icon of the Transfiguration
Readings for Sunday, February 24/ 2nd Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

As I was reflecting on the Gospel passage for this weekend, a question came to my mind: ‘Why are we not all saints?’ After all, we come week after week, some of us even daily, to the altar of God to receive Him in the flesh. We have dozens of opportunities for growth in faith and countless ways for us to encounter God here in our community. So why are we not saints? I think the answer is that same as that feeling Peter, James, and John experienced and they were surrounded by the cloud of God’s Presence: fear.

There is a reason that God tells us not to be afraid over 300 times in the Scriptures. There is reason that Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI each began their pontificates with that refrain – “Be not afraid!” And there is a reason that in this time of chaos in the world around us a devotion has arisen whose mantra is simple yet profound: Jesus, I trust in You.

What is keeping us from being saints? Fear.

We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid of others rejecting us if we live our faith more visibly. We’re afraid of not living up to our own expectations, so we keep the bar low. Sometimes, because people aren’t perfect, we have been hurt by others and are afraid to trust again. We might be afraid of the possibility of being called give up something we love. And some are simply afraid of the implications of God’s existence might have on their freedom or enjoyment of this life. These and other fears keep us bound up. The devil loves to plant these little seeds of fear into our hearts because they paralyze us and keep us moving forward. The invitation the Lord extends to us is to trust.

The thing about trust is that, unless you are naturally disposed to be extremely trusting, it is something that takes a while to develop and it takes a good relationship to develop it. This is the primary goal of the Christian life: relationship with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This is one of the things that I appreciate most about Pope Benedict – if you look at any homily, exhortation, writing, or encyclical, they almost always include at some point the fact that we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. He says it in a dozen different ways, but the message is always the same. We must know Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI
As we heard last weekend in the Gospel, the devil knows well the scriptures and he likes to put them into use to try to trip us up but it is by relationship with God that we can see the truth of things. As a Catholic Church we have done a great job sacramentalizing people, a decent job catechizing people, but a poor job of evangelizing people.  We have lots of people who are Catholic – they’ve been baptized, receive Holy Communion, maybe even been confirmed and married in the Church – and yet the number of empty seats in the pews tell us that they haven’t been evangelized. They haven’t heard the gospel in a way that really reached them. They might know their catechism lessons and know what the Church says they should do. But the lack of a living relationship with Christ means that all of that is in vain. When the Father says to Peter, John, and James “Listen to Him,” He doesn’t mean simply hearing the words and being able to spit them back out on command. It’s not with our ears that we are called to listen by with our heart. It’s only by hearing the Gospel with our hearts that we are able to follow Jesus, to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to live for Jesus.
Too often, as St. Paul points out, we get caught up in all the things of the world around us and forget that we were made for Heaven, that we were built for union with God, and that this life is just the testing ground to see if we’re ready to do it for eternity.

As we come today to receive Holy Communion, let us remember that it was God who took the first step in pursuing a relationship with us and He awaits our step to Him in return. Let us ask for this grace today to take one step closer to Christ today, that we might come to know Him more deeply, and be able to trust Him as He leads us down the path to holiness and Eternal Life.