I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | God’s presence within us allows us to face our fears

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The first and third readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time make a simple point: Sometimes in the direst circumstances of life, we discover God beneath all our elemental fears.

Jeremiah states, "More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I the Lord, explore the mind and test the heart, giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruits of their deeds."

Elijah, in the first reading, and the apostles in the Gospel experience God testing us in the very depths of our elemental fears and anxieties, only to reveal to us that He alone is the answer to our profound search for Him.

Elijah was sent to the mountain of God, Horeb. He is filled with self-pity, anger and frustration because Jezebel sent her army after him to destroy him. His inner anxieties are too much for him. Little does he realize that his inner turmoil is self-generated by his attitude toward Jezebel and even toward God.

After all, he had 400 of Jezebel's false prophets slain on Mount Carmel. Nowhere does it tell us that God ordered him to do this. Was this his own unjustified zeal for the defeat of his enemies? Had God ordered their being slain, Elijah wouldn't be consumed with so much anger and self-righteousness. Jezebel is nowhere near to him, yet fear of Jezebel is reigning in his heart, consuming him with the desire to be free of the inner turmoil.

God comes to his aid, not in the rending of the rocks, the strong winds on the mountain, the lightening and thunder, but in a tiny breeze. God is found in a whisper. He simply reveals to Elijah that his perspective of things is disordered. He isn't the only Israelite that believes in the living God. Elijah is ordered to go back and discover that there are thousands and thousands of Israelites who have not abandoned their faith in God. He is to anoint Elisha a prophet and Jehu as king of Israel.

In this entire experience, God allowed Elijah to enter the deep, elemental darkness inside himself, and there discover that God is there to meet him and to set him free of all of his fears. Shortly after this, God took Elijah to heaven in a fiery chariot.

In the Gospel, we hear of the disciples in the boat, caught in a protracted storm and Jesus coming to them in the night. Remember, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people the day before, with five loaves and two fish. Did the disciples really understand that Jesus was more than a remarkable person? I think not.

I picture Jesus up on the mountain praying to His father saying, "Father, I just fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, but they still don't get it. So I need to create an environment that will speak to the depths of their being to reveal that I am truly more than just a remarkable human being."

While it was still light, Jesus sends them into the boat while He goes up the mountain to pray. Already the storm is brewing, and they are rowing against the wind. Finally in the fourth watch of the night, perhaps some ten hours after the storm began, Jesus comes to them. He needed to allow them to experience what they feared was the end of their life.

If the raging storm wasn't enough, He allowed them to see Him as a ghost, or a symbol of evil to finish them off. They were so desperate that they had no hope of survival.

At the climax of this inner and outer chaotic fear, "Jesus spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.'" Peter, never lost for words, said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus invited him to walk on the water. Peter got out of the water and walked on the water, until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the fierce winds and began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me!" The Lord reached out and helped him into the boat.

It was then that the wind died down, and those in the boat "did Him homage saying, 'Truly, you are the Son of God.'"

I picture Jesus greatly relieved, silently exclaiming to His father, "Finally, these klutzes are beginning to catch on!"

The story of Elijah and of the disciples is your story and my story. We aren't yet ready to be taken up in a fiery chariot like Elijah nor to be martyred like the disciples, but Jesus is preparing us.

What do we meet when we are in a crisis? Is it only our profound and uncontrollable elemental fears, or do we meet the presence of the One who created and redeemed us and is awaiting us, to bring us unto Himself?

There is nothing wrong in facing our elemental fears, but what we do in that moment makes all the difference in the world. Every day God gives us moments to admit that the issues we face are far beyond our ability to comprehend. Daily, God invites us to trust Him in the little and big issues of life. It's called surrendering our hearts and lives to God, trusting that He is present in every moment of every day.

As we daily practice abandoning our lives to God, He is preparing us to trust Him, so that when our big moment comes, we will be able to say with Him, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." 

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