Posted by: mmreflections | December 10, 2008

True Love Casts Out Fear: December, 2008

There were times in some life situations when I found myself confronted with different degrees of fear, worry, anxieties, frustrations, anger and resentments.  While meeting with the priest who was and still is a dear mentor for me, I spoke to him of these concerns and fears.   He related to me a very frightening situation he experienced one night upon returning to the parish rectory where he was assigned.  He was confronted by a robber as he was going from his car to the door.  He was not sure what was going to happen as his assailant demanded his money and any other valuables.  He feared for his life as he turned over anything of value he had with him.  For weeks after the experience he lived in fear and dread, reliving the frightening moment over again and again.  While praying for guidance he came to a new awareness of the scriptural passage “perfect love casts out all fear.”  (1 John 4:18)  At that moment he offered all his fear to God and prayed that the Lord would replace this fear with perfect love.  His prayer was answered!  He suggested I consider surrendering my own fears to God and praying for God to replace those fears with his perfect love.

Whenever embarking on a new assignment or being challenged to move beyond my comfort zone to take on new responsibilities, it seems fear, anxiety, worry, frustrations, anger and resentments rushed in like old friends.  I wanted to do a good job with whatever assignment was given me; I wanted to please my superiors; I feared criticism; I wanted to be in control.  My life seemed to be more self-centered and selfish than God-centered. Without my being aware of what was happening, I was hovering on what for me were the lower levels of the ladder described in earlier reflections.  The result was a lack of peace, joy, happiness, serenity and overall well-being.  Frequently when I would pray and read the Bible, my heart would be touched by reminders to not be afraid.  “Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today.”  (Exodus 14:13)  “Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you nor forsake you.”  (Deuteronomy 31:6)  I heard the words of the Lord but was not putting them into practice.  Throughout Scriptures this challenge of the Lord to not be afraid is repeated over and over again. At some point the lesson from my mentor became clear and I began to surrender not only my fears, but anxieties, worries, frustrations, anger and all other concerns to the Lord, praying that he would replace them with his perfect love.  And God heard my prayer!  In the midst of all concerns I began to experience a new peace and joy along with an increasing desire to love and forgive all the people whom the Lord had brought into my life situations.

For me unconditional love became the next rung on the spiritual ladder but it seems I had to first get comfortable with the great unconditional love God had for me.  Initially it was a struggle to believe in my heart that God could love me with all my selfishness, failures, weaknesses and imperfections.  Slowly but surely the impact of believing in this perfect love of God began to touch my inner-most being.  Each time I felt myself sinking into the darkness of fear, worry, frustration or anger I slowly learned to call upon the Lord and surrender whatever situation was confronting me at that moment.  Subsequently I started to realize I could only love the people who were in or were coming into my life to the degree that I had become comfortable with the great love God had for me.

“Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God.  The man without love has known nothing of God for God is love.  Love, then, consists in this; not that we have loved God but that he has loved us.  If God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another.  No one has ever seen God.  Yet, if we love one another God dwells in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.”  (Confer 1 John 4:7-12)

It also became increasingly clear that progressing in love is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our feeble efforts to love on our own are so tainted with and by our own neediness and self-preoccupation that we are destined to fail again and again.  There were times when I felt I was doing some good deed out of love for another only to find myself sad and upset when there was no acknowledgement or expression of gratitude from the recipient.  I had to learn the hard way when it came to helping poor brothers and sisters who came to the rectory for assistance.  Often an act of charity was met by hostility and unpleasant words rather than gratitude when the needy person demanded more than what was given him or her.  This should have awakened me to the realization that whatever expression of love there may have been, it was not unconditional.  I also learned on my journey that even this expression of love, imperfect as it may have been, was a good step in the right direction.  Greater reliance upon God would always be needed in order to love as Jesus has invited us to love.  This effort to love as God has loved us would become the challenge we would face for the rest of our life’s journey.

In our celebration of the Divine Liturgy we are repeatedly called to commit ourselves and one another to Christ our God.  It takes a sincere commitment to live according to the plan Jesus has invited us to follow, which can be summarized in the commandment to love as we have been loved by God.  That is, to love unconditionally all those whom God brings into our life even those who may have mistreated us, rejected us, abused us, abandoned us, humiliated or shamed us, betrayed us; it includes our enemies and those who may even hate us.  We cannot do this without the help of God.  This kind of love unfolds slowly as we take the baby steps needed to get started.  Our love may first be expressed by praying for those who may have wounded us just as Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  When I began to pray for those who may have wounded me, for those who appeared to be enemies, I slowly experienced the peace which Jesus promised to his followers.  St. Paul describes the fruits of the Holy Spirit which would be enjoyed by those who are serious about following Christ.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)

 Living on the lower rungs of the ladder was characterized, as I have repeatedly described, by fear, worry, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, resentment and hostility.  This is what seems to characterize the vast majority of people in our society today, especially with the difficult economic conditions and problems facing every aspect of society. We might call this living in the world.  Life became more meaningful and fulfilling as I took the baby steps of loving in the way Jesus taught us and learning to accept situations over which I had no control.  This fourth rung is our entry into living on higher levels where we begin to experience the peace and happiness God intended for us. I like to think of this as living in the Kingdom of God.  Next reflection will deal with an even higher rung of the ladder.         

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.  Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear.   And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not yet perfect in one who is afraid.  We, for our part, love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘My love is fixed on God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  One who has no love for the brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this:   whoever loves God must also love his brother.”   (Confer 1John:4:16-21)

 

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