Faith Transforms Fear into Fear of the Lord

Homily – Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
June 5, 2016
St. Philip’s, Bemidji – 5:30 PM

Focus:              Faith transforms fear into fear of the Lord.
Function:        Arise from your fears!


Two mothers. Two sons.
Two widows. Two dead sons.

Two women filled with two emotions: grief and fear. Grief at the loss of their only sons; Fear of being alone and forgotten.

The widow at Zarapheth was living on the edge of poverty. Just prior to her son’s death, she was preparing to make a cake which she and her son would share, and then they would die.  They were living during a time of a severe famine and she had no more food.

The widow in the Gospel lost her son in his youth. Unlike the widow at Zarephath, she was accompanied by a large crowd at the passing of her son.  She was surrounded by her community.  Yet, I’m sure she had to wonder: Who will be with me a month from now?

Both of the widows had to ask the question: Will I be alone? Will I be forgotten?  Who will take care of me?

Along with their sons, the widows’ hope also died.

They were afraid.

Two widows.
Two dead sons.

Two sons raised to life.
Two sons given back to their mothers.
Two men of God recognized as prophets.

And fear seized them all.

Fear seized them all because they had never seen anything like this before. And they were in awe.  Wonder and awe at what God had done for these two women.  With their sons restored to them, their hope was restored to them as well.  The darkness of their fear and grief was dispelled and they were left with only awe – wonder and awe at God’s action in their lives.

God’s saving action in their lives transformed their fear into Fear of the Lord.  They went from fear to holy fear – wonder and awe. “What just happened?!” That holy fear that sends goosebumps down your spine and sends a chill through your chest as you realize you are standing in the presence of the Divine – in the presence of God himself!

A year or two ago, my mother went on a Marian pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Over the years, many pilgrims have experienced healing by bathing in the water at the Lourdes shrine where Mary appeared.  My mom brought back with her several bottles of the Holy Water from the springs at Lourdes.

One day, several months after she had returned from the pilgrimage, she was sitting before the Lord in a time of adoration. As she prayed with the Scripture readings for the day, she looked at the Lord in the monstrance on the altar and prayed, “Lord, let me be your hands and feet this week.”

And then she heard something. It wasn’t an audible sound, but she heard a voice deep within.  “Give a bottle of the Lourdes water to Jeannette.”

Now Jeannette was a neighbor who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

My mom was afraid. “How is she going to react?  I don’t know Jeannette THAT well.  I’m just supposed to walk up to her and say ‘Here, I know you were recently diagnosed with cancer and I think God wanted me to give this bottle of Holy Water to you?!’.  She’ll think I’m crazy!  She probably doesn’t even know about Lourdes!”

Fear.

Fear discourages us. It paralyzes us.  We can become dead in our fears – dead like the sons of the two widows.  We become unable to move – unable to respond in love to what God calls us to do.  

Yet God does not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-control. God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit – his spirit – with its seven gifts.  When you were confirmed, the bishop prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with these words:

“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of (1) wisdom and (2) understanding,
the spirit of (3) right judgement and (4) courage,
the spirit of (5) knowledge and (6) reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of (7) wonder and awe in your presence.

Wonder and awe in your presence. Holy Fear.  Holy Fear in the presence of the Lord.  Fear of the Lord.

So, my mom prayed. “Lord, if you want me to give this bottle of Holy Water to Jeannette, you have to make it as least embarrassing as possible.”

The next day is Sunday. As she and my dad leave the house for Mass, she shoves a bottle of holy water in her purse.  They arrive at the Church.  Jeannette is not there.  My mom breathes a sigh of relief.

Then, just before Mass begins, Jeannette and her husband walk into the Church. They sit right in front of my parents.  My mom’s heart begins to pound.  Fear.

Mass ends, and they leave their pew and walk to the back of the Church. My mom turns to my dad and says, “Go on ahead, I’ll be right there.  I need to give Jeannette something.”

She walks back to Jeannette, opens her purse, and gives her the bottle of Lourdes water. “Jeannette, I went a pilgrimage to Lourdes a few months ago, and I thought you might like to have a bottle of the Lourdes water.”

Jeannette has a look of shock on her face – a look of wonder. “I cannot believe this!”  Her eyes well up with tears.  “I’ve been reading about Lourdes and was just saying that I wish there was some way that I could get a bottle of that Lourdes water.  And now you just opened your purse and gave me one out of the blue!”

Later that week, she received an email from Jeannette’s daughter.  The closing line of the email read: “Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, faith transforms fear into fear of the Lord.

Faith allows us to see God’s action in the world.

Faith allows us to trust in Him, despite our fears.  He gives us his Holy Spirit so that we can push through our fears, and when we do, we see his presence clearly and we are filled with a Holy Fear.  We are filled with wonder and awe in the presence of the Lord.

And so, brothers and sisters, I offer to you today the words that Jesus offered to the son of the widow.

“I say to you, Arise!”

Arise from your fear of inadequacy at what you can or cannot do, and stand in awe of what God has done and what God can do through you, if only you respond with your “yes” to what he is asking of you!

Arise from your fear of failure and realize that it was the “failure” of the cross led to the true victory over sin and death!

Arise from your fear of not being accepted or loved and stand in wonder of the truth that you were created in love by a God who is love itself!

Arise!

Arise from your fear of Hell – your fear of being unforgivable or unlovable – your fear of rejection – and stand in wonder and awe of Christ’s mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out in the water and blood that flowed from His [point] pierced side on the cross to wash away your sins – stand in wonder and awe of his blood poured out for you that gives real power to the words uttered by his priests: “I absolve you of your sins…” “Take and eat, this is my body.” “Take and drink, this is my blood.”

Arise from your fear that keeps you from a lifelong commitment and stand in the holy fear of a life poured out in service to another, for it is only in making a gift of ourselves that we truly find ourselves!

Brothers and sisters, Arise!

Arise from your fears…
and stand in the fear of the Lord.

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