Posted by: mmreflections | September 16, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Fear: September, 2010

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear?  The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?  When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, they stumble and fall.  Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.”  (Psalm 27:1-3)

Are you afraid yet?  Our nation and our society seem to be on overload lately with all that is happening around us and with all the possibilities with which we are being bombarded.  Some parents live in fear all day long until their children are safely home from school.  Many travelers are hesitant to take their next flights because of the dangerous scenarios frequently being impressed upon our minds.  Candidates running for political office seem to be presenting worst case scenarios if the opposition is elected.  Many friends have indicated they no longer watch mainstream media because of the innuendoes, outright falsehoods and misreporting which has become common place.  Reasons presented for us to be afraid can go on and on.  If we were listening to the right voices we might still hear the gentle voice of Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  (John 14:27)

As fears relating to our world, our nation, our churches, our families and our personal lives (spiritual, emotional, physical) begin to mount, I find myself reflecting on the many positive and wonderful gifts which came into my life as a result of how I had confronted fears.  The responses to challenging fears were different at the various stages of my life’s journey.  The response to fear was courage when I was a child, teenager and young adult.  As I entered midlife my response to fear was faith.  In these wonderful golden sunset years, my common response to fear is love

It took great courage to swallow my fears and leave my mother’s side to go off to school for the first time.  In a short while courage paid off as I met new friends and discovered new horizons.  Years later new fear-filled challenges arose as I courageously entered Junior and Senior High Schools.  The prospect of going to college and leaving home for the first time was overwhelming. That first day away from home in an unfamiliar room with a strange roommate is still imprinted in my memory.  My mom and oldest brother had dropped me off and got me settled in my new surroundings, leaving me behind after hugs and encouraging words. For a long while after they left I lay on my bed trying hard to hold back tears and to not be afraid.  That all ended very quickly as I made new friends and began a new phase of growing up.  The need for courage arose again after graduation and the beginning of my first career.  Soon to follow was the demand for even greater courage as I was drafted to serve in the US Army as the Korean Conflict was winding down.  The response to fear over those years was courage, courage and more courage.

In the meantime a new fear began to take center stage.  As I was growing older I began to question my purpose for being on this earth.  Was it to make a lot of money and have many material things to make me happy?  Or was it to become famous and to enjoy all kinds of pleasures never known to me before?  Could it be that my purpose was to become someone great and powerful?  Many questions arose as my time in the military came to a close.  There were decisions to be made.  How would I know the answer?  This is the time when a deeper relationship with God (as I understood God to be at that period of my life) began to unfold.  Time alone, reading the Bible and praying began to dominate my life.  Striving to learn God’s will was paramount.  My response to fear was now faith along with the courage needed to carry out God’s will as I understood it. This is what led me to leave a career with a good salary and to enter the Seminary with the goal of becoming a priest.  It was faith in God that strengthened me to deal with the fears and questions arising as I proceeded to ordination.  The earliest years of priesthood and parish ministry can best be described as a time lived with faith and courage

A time of great transition unfolded when my bishop asked me to go to Rome, Italy for graduate studies.  Faith and courage guided me on that journey which presented great opportunities I would never have had otherwise.  While in Europe I had the chance to meet people from other parts of the world.  I learned a great deal about our Church with all its beauty, flaws and shadows.  Something new was stirring in my innermost being.  I met many priests and people,  some with ideas and notions that were quite foreign to me, some with personalities that were abrasive, some with intentions that were not what I deemed to be in keeping with what I believed to be our purpose for being in Rome.  At the same time my own shadows and flaws began to surface.  Along with all this came new fears, doubts and questions about my own vocation  Fortunately,  I had made new friends with whom I learned to talk openly about these fears, doubts and questions.  In the process I began to accept myself with all my flaws, shadows and mistakes.  At the same time I was learning to love and accept the brothers and sisters I was meeting with all their shadows, flaws and mistakes.  I found myself looking at my church in a different way.  I could still love and serve her even if she wasn’t perfect.  I was a part of her just as I was a part of my family back home.  Just as I could not disown or stop loving my family because of imperfections and shadows, neither could I stop loving  our church.

Returning to the United States and continuing with my service in the church, I began to understand my purpose differently.  I wasn’t here to try to change anyone or anything.  I was here to make God’s love known to all those I would meet. This was a most important gift for me as new challenges began to arise.  I was experiencing situations where there were persons who did not like me or want me to be their priest, often for reasons of which I was unaware.  For some I may have been too old and they wanted a younger more modern priest to serve them.  For others I was too liberal and for others too conservative!  Some did not like the way I celebrated the Divine Liturgy; others wanted to keep past traditions; others did not want any changes at all.  How was I to love them? 

Through it all I kept being reminded of the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid!”  A breakthrough came for me after a trying period in which a particular woman would berate me every time she saw me even in the presence of other people.  Every time I saw her coming I experienced a rush of fear, not knowing what to expect. I prayed for guidance.  As she approached me one day, I noticed she was wearing a new dress and I sincerely told her how nice she looked.  Those few words made all the difference.  I learned she was a deeply wounded person.  She became a dear friend and remained so until she died years later.  I learned from her that love conquers all!  This situation was to occur with others many times.  I learned not to fight but to love and that has made all the difference.  This might be a good time for all of us to learn how to deal with our fears by means of courage, faith and love.

“Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!  Bless the Lord, my soul; do not forget all the gifts of God, who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion, fills your days with good things; your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  (Psalm 103:1-5)

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Responses

  1. Dear Fr. Mike,
    You always write on things I think about day to day. This brought back a ‘lesson’ my mother taught me many years ago, she said “I have 10 children with 10 different personalities and I deal with each one and you can too.” That I will never forget. She always pointed out love to us. Sometimes I wondered why, I now know. Love and trust in God is the reason He created us. She always said “God will never give you more than you can bear”. What wise words to use against fear. Many trials come & go but if we hold onto what you just talked about, we can overcome anything and learn from inner fears. Thank you so much for always being there for us. I treasure each and everyone of you reflections. When some fear overcomes me I just say “Jesus, the evil one is at the door, could you please answer it?” I fear no more but do have many concerns about the world today.
    May God Bless America our Churches and You Fr. Mike
    Keep them coming,
    Kitty

  2. This was a wonderful post..
    It was your love and acceptance the first day I came to St Marys… I told you that I was not catholic and that I had no church… and you said “You do now”..
    Wow…. it changed my life.
    Love you Father Mike,
    Tasia

  3. Father Mike, It is so easy to relate to the theme of your, “Reflection”. Thank You. Also got a chuckle from Kitty’s comment. Jesus, the nasty one is at the door; would you get it please. I’m going to try that one too. Charlie K.

  4. I had to chuckle a bit. All I could think of while reading this in response to your love of Church and God’s people is how that showed so powerfully. I can remember those months of trying to get my husband to St. Joseph’s, and his statement “I won’t go until I meet him (meant you)’/ He walked out after our spending maybe twenty minutes with you, saying ‘I have known him all my life’. It was your love of God and his people that conquered his fears.

    These 30+ years have been an amazing journey. I was blessed to be able to attend the ICCRS Leaders Training at FSU, last week, it was awesome. Even had the opportunity to share a meal with Aunt Kitty. Fr. Mike, it has been a never ending journey that began because of your love for God. Thanks!

    rose

  5. Thought yoiur insights into fear and our response to it is your best posting to date. Courage…faith…love…not fear!
    Ken R.


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