Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faith. . .Not Fear

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."  (Matt 17: 20)

How often do you do things on a daily basis that have their motivation anchored in fear?  More than you probably know if you're like me! 

So many times we proclaim our faith in God as being rock solid, immovable.  We are very certain of ourselves at these times.  We are like Peter at the Last Supper who proclaimed to Jesus that he would never leave the side of his Master even if it meant that he should die doing so.  Yet, a few hours later, Peter denied knowing Jesus not once, but three times!  And this was one of the closest friends Jesus had. 

If we truly had a strong faith in Jesus, if it runs deep as we claim, then why is it that we fail so often and in so many ways to follow the Will of the Father?

Over the centuries and to this very day, there have been, and are, some very well meaning people who have attempted to coerce mankind into following God's will through harsh threats and promises of eternal damnation if we fail to do so.  They have painted God as an angry God with an axe to grind.  According to them, He waits for the very moment that we step out of line (sin) to condemn us.  There is no room for the mercy of God according to them.  As a result, many begin to follow the Will of God not out of love for Him but out of fear for their very eternal salvation.

If our lives are dictated by fear, then we have, in that moment, lost our way and our faith.  Jesus often told us not to be afraid.  He knew the human heart was fragile and prone to fear.  He understood that most people are not naturally courageous and give in from time to time to fear.  By telling us not to be afraid, He was actually telling us to live in faith which is founded in love.  We must detach ourselves from the secular world as much as possible because that world is dominated by fear.

When we allow fear to rule our days, we also allow our emotions to override our life.  With our emotions in charge, we are more susceptible to losing proper perspective.  The world becomes a frightening place from which we cower.  We often lose our ability to trust, striking out in anger, often at those who mean the most to us.  Through these actions, we begin to lose our precious connection with God Himself. 

God cannot exist in an atmosphere of fear.  His love is a love that basks in the certainty of faith despite what the moment may be saying.  Hell is a place of fear, hence, God cannot be anywhere near that place of eternal isolation and fear.  Fear, in short, eliminates the ability to love.

God is not found in fear.  He is, in fact, if we allow Him, our refuge from fear.  He often comes to us quietly even silently in the depths of our heart through nothing more than faith alone.  This can happen to us anywhere and at any time.  He can come to us in public settings as well as in the privacy and tranquility of our hearts.  Often, during times of intense interior storms, our faith grows because it is in these moments when we understand our total reliance on the Father.  We may be afraid in those moments, but instead of acting out of fear, we choose to act in faith, trusting the Creator of us all to see us through. 

Satan's territory is fear.  He operates and comes to us in moments of fear.  It is in these moments that we are often tempted the most.  He tempts from the weakness that is fear.  He causes insecurity to grow inside us until we can stand it no longer and, rather than turning to God in faith, we succumb to the temptation, often lashing out at the world around us and God as well.  In moments of temptation, if we act upon faith, we become stronger, more secure in ourselves and in our relationship with God. 

It is only through God that we can come to feel the true security that faith fosters.  For most of us, our faith proves to be a mystery.  So often, it seems to us that we have a strong faith.  Most people when asked if they have a strong faith will answer that they most certainly do.  However, in those weak moments when Satan is actively tempting us, we sadly often fall into the temptation and the accompanying sin.  When something happens to us to make us afraid, we become weak and feel incapable of going on.  This is fear.  Faith, on the other hand, gives us strength and the confidence that this too shall pass because God will be with us to weather any storm that may come along. 

Why is it that human nature tends to lend itself into giving in to Satan's temptations?  Lack of faith!  Satan is blatant in his approach, appearing often to be in the guise of something completely innocent, so much so that we do not recognize it.  With eyes of faith, firmly fixed on God, we will see through Satan's ways. 

"In love, there is no room for fear."  (1 Jn 4: 18)  The Apostle John knew full well that faith and fear or love and fear cannot coexist.  He witnessed Peter's denial of Jesus and saw what happened to Judas when Judas responded out of fear to his sin of betrayal.  He also saw and understood that faith fosters mercy as was revealed on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus forgave Peter for his sin.  Fear blots out the chance for love to develop.  Certainly, we all are afraid of something all throughout our lives.  It is part of the human condition.  But responding in faith will keep us from sinking into a mode of living in fear.  When we choose to live in fear, we choose to live without the graces of God and in the process, deny ourselves His strength and courage.

It is difficult to live in faith when we exist in a world ruled by fear.  By through our faith in Jesus Christ, we can come to live in faith and experience the peace of God in very real ways.  We will be better able to see past the weaknesses of others and, instead of dwelling on their shortcomings, we will see them more as God sees them.  We will extend ourselves in love to those in need more readily, avoiding the temptation to distrust any stranger in need as a panhandler out to get something for nothing. 

Faith will not eliminate fear from our lives.  To the contrary, it may seem like we're living in an even more fearful environment.  But faith will give us the grace to carry on in God's ways.  In the upcoming New Year of 2011, try faith a little more.  Give God a chance to act in your lives in moments of fear and allow this year to be the year of Faith!   Not fear! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

That's What the Season Is All About

Over the last several days I have heard media types as well as many others say, "That's what the season is all about," when referring to giving that goes on at this time of the year.  And they are right.  At least partly.

Christmas is the season of giving and unfortunately it seems it is the only time that most people are in the giving mood at the same time.  There is a certain excitement to this time of the calendar when everyone scurries about buying gifts for friends and loved ones and seeking just the right decoration to add the perfect touch to the home.  More often at this time of the year, friends and family get together just because.  There is really no reason except to enjoy one another's company.  While we do tend to do that in the summer months as well, there is a warmth to gatherings at this season that seems to be missing in the middle of the year.  Yet, this really isn't what the season is all about.

We witness various social and religious organizations kick into high gear gathering in gifts for those in society who have little or nothing.  Children's smiles light up the television screen as Santa doles out those presents at community gatherings.  It truly touches the heart deeply to see these young members of society be, for one moment, the center of attention for something good.  All of this is done in the spirit of the Magi whether it is acknowledged or not.  The Magi, the Three Wisemen, those first gift givers to the Christ child those centuries ago when Jesus first appeared on earth as a man. Even though these things are tremendously good, they still are really not what the season is all about.

At this time of the year, we often look back over the last twelve months to see where we have been and, perhaps, look forward to where we might be going in the upcoming year.  It is good to be retrospective about one's own life.  We do need to understand what we have done and what our lives have meant up to this point so that we may better focus on how to make our lives even more meaningful to our family, friends, and community.  Introspection is good and can produce mighty results.  And, yet, this is not what the season is all about.

What Christmas is about is all these things and so much more.  The television anchors and others do have it right when they say that the season is all about giving.  However, it isn't, nor should it be, centered around people giving to other people.  That is just a reflection of the true giving that has fostered all these good works.  We gather with family and friends in the spirit of love, togetherness, and caring, again a reflection of the real meaning of Christmas.  And, yes, taking care of those who are less fortunate in our communities is also a mere reflection of the real gift of the season.

You see, the real gift of the season is a gift that cannot be measured in human terms.  It cannot have a value of any sort placed upon it.  It is without price.  And, yet, it is priceless!  For the true gift giver of Christmas, the first one to give of self completely and without reservation is God Himself.  And that gift is, of course, His Son, our Lord and Savior.

This is the Gift that matters.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  (Jn 3:16) 

God becomes man in the person of Jesus Christ.  Without this most loving act, everything else we do during this season would have no meaning at all.  Everything would be an empty gesture, void of any substance whatsoever.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, when we gather together as a family with friends, we gather in honor of the love that God has shown us by giving to us His Son.  When we provide for those who have next to nothing, we do so not because it feels good, but because we are imitating the Creator of the Universe, God Himself.  Every 'Merry Christmas' we exchange with someone else is in imitation of the Son of God imparting His peace upon us.

So, as we draw very close to the day of Incarnation, Christmas, take a few moments to pause and reflect how you and your family have lived out the true meaning of Christmas.  That true meaning is, undoubtedly, love.  The love God has for us and the love we show Him through our actions at this holy season of Christmas as well as throughout the rest of the year.

May God give you His peace now and throughout the year.  And may you remember in the back of your mind as you go about celebrating this remarkable fact that all is in imitation of the Father who loved us beyond description so much so that He became one of us! 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010