By Father Joseph Breighner
Holy Week is a time to look at the fears that run our lives. Let me begin with a story.
On a fairly regular basis I give week-end retreats at St. Joseph’s In the Hills in Malvern, Pennsylvania, to groups known traditionally as Men of Malvern. The rooms that the priest lives in for the weekend have been upgraded significantly in recent years under the leadership of Jim Fitzsimmons, the president.
In the distant past, however, conditions in the rooms were quite different. To put it mildly, they were not always kept in the best condition. On a Friday night years ago, as I was preparing to go to bed, I saw a huge spider on the wall in my room. My first instinct was to kill the spider. As I looked for something to smash the spider with, the spider ran for its life. It ran straight to the crucifix hanging on the wall. The spider, in its fear, ran to the crucified Christ.
I didn’t kill that spider. The spider had shown more faith than I had. I spent the night sleeping, or at least trying to sleep, under that cross and under that spider. I never forgot that lesson that the spider had taught me. In our fears we do things to hurt ourselves and to hurt others. In our faith we turn to Christ who once said so well: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.”
It was fear that led many of the people who plotted the crucifixion of Jesus. He did challenge religious leaders: “You lay heavy burdens on other peoples’ backs!” He did ‘break’ the literal interpretation of ‘working’ on the Sabbath, by curing people, and then telling them to carry the mats they had formally lay on. His miracles aroused suspicion, and no doubt, envy. The religious leaders of His day were not working such miracles. Out of their jealousy and envy (forms of fear) they would accuse Jesus of working miracles by the power of the devil. And there was indeed fear that the large crowds that followed Jesus might frighten the Romans, and they would destroy Jerusalem. Ironically, that fear did indeed come to pass years later, not because of Jesus, but because of fear among the Romans. All of which goes to prove that fear really does not protect us. It just makes us worried and anxious. It’s a false friend. Wisdom from on high, from God, does help. Love from God, our higher power and higher self, does help. Fear is simply a composite of old programs that run our lives, and keep us from being the loving people we really are.
Having fears is not a reason to beat ourselves up. Fears come from a lifetime of programming. The response to fear is love ourselves, and even love our fears. Like the spider, our fears are just programs that we have. Perfect love does cast out fear. Love yourself with all of your fears. If the fears stay, or if they go, just love yourself as you are. That’s how Jesus loves us. That’s how he loved his apostles.
Right after telling Peter that he was the “rock I will build my Church on”, Peter attempts to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Jesus responded: “Get thou behind me Satan. You are thinking as humans think, not as God thinks!” The former words of Jesus are chiseled on walls in Basilicas and Cathedrals. The latter words of Jesus calling Peter, Satan, are chiseled nowhere to my knowledge.
Peter would learn to face down his own fears and become a rock by watching Jesus face down his fears. Jesus faced down his own fears to die on a cross to model to us that people can kill us but they can’t hurt us. They can’t destroy who we really are. When we surrender our lives moment by moment, and decision by decision, to the living Christ, Christ truly lives in us. Death, not life, died on that cross. Fear didn’t save us. Love did.
Copyright (c) March 28, 2013 CatholicReview.org