Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Part 1: Fear Is A Tool of the Devil

When the Church is fearful and when the Church does not receive the joy of the Holy Spirit, the Church is sick, the communities are sick, the faithful are sick.
Pope Francis
The ascension of Jesus, which we just celebrated, is a time to recognize the complete victory of Christ over sin and death, when He ascends to heaven to sit beside the Father and intercede for us.  I found an additional message in Pentecost this year.  I felt Jesus is also telling us, "Do not fear."  

From the gospel of the day, Mark 16:15-18,  the words spoken by Jesus Christ to His disciples before ascending:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
Caption:  Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky
September 15, 1946 (
National Archives and Records Administration).Photo by Russell Lee.
Some people have taken this scripture quite literally and have actually made a religion of handling deadly snakes believing that they cannot be physically harmed.   This, of course, is not the meaning behind this verse at all.  This verse tells us that as Christ's disciples living in a sinful world, we will be constantly surrounded and threatened by enemies threatening to destroy us.  But Christ is telling us that as long as we trust in Him, no spiritual harm can ever come to us.  Our Lord told us, His disciples. that we can face our enemies boldly and unafraid, knowing that we are already victors over all of our enemies through the Cross.  We don't even need to fear our ultimate enemy, death, because Christ has won the victory for us.
The world will persecute you, but have courage, I have overcome the world, alleluia.
Roman Breviary
Fear is never a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  On the contrary, fear is a powerful tool of the devil.

Pope Francis talked about the negative consequences of fear in a recent homily in St. Martha's House [HERE]:
“Fear,” Francis said, “is an attitude that harms us. It weakens us, it diminishes us. It even paralyzes us.” A person who is afraid “does nothing, doesn’t know what to do.” He is focused on himself, so that nothing bad will happen.” Fear “brings you to a self-centred selfishness and paralyzes you.”
Fear, as Pope Francis said, is primarily concerned with self, which is the opposite of love.  I John 4:18 says: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

"Perfect love" is the love of God imparted into our souls by the Holy Spirit.  St. John the Apostle tells us here that this Perfect Love drives out fear.  However, the inverse is just as true:  fear drives out love.  Allowing our fears to consume us will drive out the Love of God.  That is why the devil can so effectively use fear to turn us away from Christ.  

From Pope Francis:
“A fearful Christian is a person who has not understood the message of Jesus: This is why Jesus says to Paul: ‘Do not be afraid. Continue to speak.’ Fear is not a Christian attitude. It is an attitude, we could say, of a caged animal, without freedom, who does not have the freedom to look ahead, to create something, to do good… no, always: ‘No, but this is dangerous, there is something else, something else…’ And this is a vice. It is the fear of doing evil.”
What does Pope Francis mean: "And this is a vice. It is the fear of doing evil".  Shouldn't we be afraid of doing evil, of sinning against God?  Certainly it can't be wrong to be fearful of committing evil.  

Look again at I John 4:18 - "Fear has to do with punishment." This is exactly what Pope Francis is saying. As Christians we should, of course, be constantly striving to avoid sin. But motivation driven by fear never results in true victory over sin. Our ultimate goal in overcoming sin is to develop the love of God, and fear never leads to love. 

This is the meaning of Pope Francis's words: "And this is a vice. It is the fear of doing evil" The fear of evil may change our actions, but it does not change our hearts.  We are still acting out of selfishness.  We have merely exchanged one sin for another because our motivation is about preservation of self, not about love of God or neighbor.

As we pray in the Act of Contrition: "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love." We will never overcome sin if our only motivation is the fear of the consequences of sin.  We win the victory over sin only through the love of God.

As Christians, we should realize that when we fear, we are rejecting the victory Christ won for us at the Cross.  When we fear, we are saying that our enemies are more powerful than Christ.  This is in direct contradiction to St. Paul's message in Romans 8:31-32:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 
One of the ways in which fear manifests itself is the need to control. Those who are afraid feel the need to control everything and everyone. They do this, in turn, by trying to instill fear into others. Control through the use of fear has always been the weapon of religious fanatics and tyrants. They will always have a bogeyman, someone they can point to as the enemy who must be destroyed. In the 20th Century, Adolph Hitler was the personification of controlling through fear, setting up Jews as the enemy who must be destroyed. We know the result.

God, who is Love, never attempts to control us. He says, yes, we have enemies, but as Our Lord told us in Mathew 5:44, " love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  Jesus offers His Love and Mercy and exhorts us to follow Him, but He always leaves the decision to us. As Jesus Christ said in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The way of Love is always by invitation, never manipulating by fear but reaching out with compassion and mercy.  John 7:37:
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them
Yet there are many even in the Catholic Church today who try to force and control people, condemning anyone who doesn't agree with their way of thinking.  They live by strict rules and condemn all those who do not believe as they do.  Pope Francis addressed this in his homily:
“There are fearful communities, that always go on the safe side: ‘No, no, we aren’t doing this… No, no, this can’t be done, this can’t be done.’ It seems they have written on the gateway: ‘Forbidden.’ Everything is forbidden because of fear. And you enter into this community and the air is stale, because it is a sick community. Fear makes a community sick. The lack of courage makes a community sick.”
But doesn't the Bible say we must fear the Lord?  From Pope Francis's homily:
Fear, the Pope explained, must be distinguished from the “fear of the Lord,” which “is holy. The fear or awe of adoration before the Lord, the fear of God is a virtue. But the fear of God does not diminish, does not weaken, does paralyze: it carries us forward, to the mission the Lord gives us.”
Pope Francis might have also added that true fear of the Lord always results in greater love for God and for neighbor. If  love is not the result of our actions, then we know that it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. As Psalm 111:10 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise."

In his homily, Pope Francis also talked about joy being a sign of a true follower of Christ:
A Christian without joy is not Christian. A Christian who continually lives in sadness is not Christian. And a Christian who, in the moment of trial, of illness, of so many difficulties, loses peace – something is lacking in him.
Does this mean that as Christians we never have an unsettling moment, that we never feel anxious and afraid?  Absolutely not.  Even the Blessed Mother felt anxiety and worry n her life, as shown when she and Joseph thought they had lost Jesus and sought Him for three days before finding Him in the temple.

This story has many lessons for us.  Jesus could have easily spared His parents by just telling them He was going to stay at the temple for a while.  And even when they found Him, He did not apologize or try to comfort them in any way.  In fact, He chided His Mother for not understanding when He said, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"

Jesus does not always give us answers to the problems and crises that we face.  In fact, He seldom gives us answers or explanations.  He expects us to trust His words that He will never leave us or forsake us.  He says to us as He said to His Mother, "Why are you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"

As Christians, we must learn to distrust our feelings. Everyone goes through periods of feeling abandoned and alone. As I've shown the Blessed Mother experienced this. Even Christ on the Cross cried out in feelings of abandonment. We need to acknowledge those feelings and then reject them.

As Pope Francis says here, we will have times of "trial, illness, of so many difficulties", but we must never lose our focus. We must never forget that Our Lord will never leave us. No matter how we may feel, we are never alone.
In the Office of Readings from May 17, we are given excerpts of a homily by Saint Gregory of Nyssa.  It says in part:
When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought us by our savior will be fully realized, for all men will be united with one another through their union with the one supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text: One alone is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only child of her mother, her chosen one.
These words tells us that we cannot be united when we are fearful.  Fear divides and separate us, thus making fear one of the most powerful tools of Satan.  Our Lord never uses fear to motivate us.  He reaches out and unites us with love.  St. Gregory of Nyssa goes on to explain:
Our Lord’s words in the gospel bring out the meaning of this text more clearly. After having conferred all power on his disciples by his blessing, he obtained many other gifts for them by his prayer to the Father. Among these was included the greatest gift of all, which was that they were no longer to be divided in their judgment of what was right and good, for they were all to be united to the one supreme Good. As the Apostle says, they were to be bound together with the bonds of peace in the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. They were to be made one body and one spirit by the one hope to which they were all called. We shall do better, however, to quote the sacred words of the gospel itself. I pray, the Lord says, that they all may be one; that as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so they also may be one in us.
There is great disagreement in the world today about what is right and good. Christians around the world are being persecuted and even killed because others do not agree with their definition of right and good.   Sadly, even Catholics disagree with one another about what is right and good. 

I have written about this previously, but I feel that the Catholic Internet is one of the biggest enemies of peace and unity in the Church.   Instead of preaching the Gospel of  Christ and bringing His saving message to the world, we find fault and point the finger at each other for causing the problems in the Church.  Far too many who call themselves Catholic on the Internet are not promoting love and unity, but fear and even hatred towards one another.  As Pope Francis said,
Everything is forbidden because of fear. And you enter into this community and the air is stale, because it is a sick community. Fear makes a community sick. The lack of courage makes a community sick.
In Part 2 of this subject, I will discuss the poster boy of those in the Catholic Internet who are helping to create this sick community spoken of by Pope Francis.


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