Jesus urges us to cast away fear Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Thursday, Sep. 05, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

The Storm at Sea occurs in each of the Gospels, that perilous moment when the apostles are terrified by the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee until Jesus calms the tempest and encourages them to not be afraid.

In the Gospels, the apostles' boat always symbolizes the Church. And so we think of all the times in the history of the Church that there have been storms, difficulties, and challenges, including persecutions, betrayals from within, epic struggles with political powers, global wars, theological divisions, and terrible instances of clergy sexual abuse.

We think of our own lives, the suffering we have gone through, the challenges we have faced, the changes that perhaps have intruded into our lives in an unwelcome way -- all the things that frighten, overwhelm, or disturb us.

'Do not be afraid'

The constant message of the Storm at Sea is Jesus' refrain, "Do not be afraid. It is I. I am with you." Throughout the Scriptures, this urging to cast away fear is God's constant message to us.

Somebody went through all the hard work of counting how many times in the Bible God says, "Do not be afraid!" and it's 366 -- one for every day of the year plus Leap Year.

So, God is constantly telling us, "Don't be afraid. Trust. Trust me. Have confidence that I am with you. Have confidence in my victory over the power of sin and death."

Bringing our fears to the Lord

Before I went to do mission work in the Dominican Republic, I went on a retreat for five days. One of the passages that my priest director asked me to reflect upon was Chapter Five of Luke, the miraculous catch of fish and the call of Simon Peter.

As I meditated on that Scriptural moment in light of my call to go do mission work in the Third World, I started to be filled with great fear -- all the things that I was anxious and concerned about in accepting such an assignment. Fear of not knowing the language. Fear of homesickness. Fear of the poverty of the people and not knowing what to do with that. So many unknowns.

Then, in my prayer, Jesus asked me to write all those fears down, so I actually stopped praying, and I filled several pages with everything that was bothering me, everything I was afraid of.

After going back in prayer, I gave those sheets to Jesus. He folded them up and put them next to His Heart. And I asked him, "So what is your answer to all of my fears and questions about taking this assignment?"

He didn't say anything, so I asked again. And finally, He opened up his outer robe, showing that the fire of His Heart had consumed the paper with my questions on it. The ashes just blew away in the gentle breeze.

In that moment, a great peace settled upon me. In the course of my years in the Dominican Republic, every single thing that I was afraid of actually happened. So the prayer did not magically protect me from the challenges and difficulties of doing work in a foreign country.

But every time something difficult happened, my head and my heart were drawn back to that prayer ,and I knew that everything was going to be alright. I rediscovered the peace I felt when the ashes of my fears just blew away.

Trusting in God

Oftentimes, the Lord simply asks us to trust -- trust that His plan is better than ours and is unfolding exactly as it should, especially when we don't think it is or when we think we know better than God.

We need to simply pray for the trust that the apostles had in the power of the Holy Spirit, the trust to boldly go forth and proclaim the Gospel to the entire world, confiding not in their own strength, but resting in the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the mission they received.

Jesus told Simon to not be afraid. We carry that message in our hearts and we pass it on to those around us. I pondered God's call to trust as I transitioned from Gary to Madison. So many questions. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid."

We carry that message in our hearts and seek to pass it on to those around us. I pondered God's call to trust as I transitioned from Gary to Madison. So many questions, unknowns, and lack of certainty regarding so much rolled around in my heart. I lifted up in prayer so many unfinished plans, projects, and changes in motion back in Gary that I needed to let go of.

Dealing with change

I knew that once again, as so many times in my life, everything was about to change. Different people, a different city, a new place to live, fresh challenges and opportunities. In such moments, we can either wring our hands in fear or open them in welcome. We can either live in the golden nostalgia of the past or grab the bracing opportunity of the present moment.

The Lord has never let me down or abandoned me. I knew that the Diocese of Madison was going to be wonderful, and so it is! Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I have always felt the gentle and consoling presence of this mysterious Divine Fellow Traveler, walking along with me and giving me strength.

St. Teresa of Avila called heaven "the tavern at the end of the world" where weary travelers will find solace, rest, and mirth. If we keep our eyes fixed on this glorious endpoint of perfect joy and love, how can we ever lose heart or courage? As Jesus tells us, "I am with you always, even until the end of the world."

Somewhere beyond the stars is our eternal home. As we make our pilgrim way there, how good to know that the Dawn from on High shines upon us to lead us through the darkest of nights and the most serpentine of roads until we are with the Father forever!