Faith in the face of fear

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
JACKSON – In the midst of the pandemic and other harsh realities, we recognize that all of us are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. There are significant differences in everyone’s life that require unique responses of all. At the center of last Sunday’s Scripture is the good news that no matter what boat we are in, or cave, as we heard of Elijah on Mount Horeb (1Kings 19), the living God desires to pass by and enter into the boats and caves of our lives.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

Can we see him, feel his presence, and hear him? Do we want to encounter him?
After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes it was compelling to realize that Jesus himself dismissed the crowds after sending his apostles ahead of him on the Sea of Galilee. Here we have the Word of life, the Bread of life, serving as a minister of hospitality. Dismissing 5,000 people not counting women and children, nearly ranks as another miracle. This is the God who calls us by name and holds us in the palms of his hands. (Isaiah 41:13) But it is the storm on the sea of Galilee that assures us that Jesus Christ is present to us in the sudden squalls that strike without warning. (Matthew 14:22-33) As Jesus walks across the water to his storm-tossed apostles the unfolding drama reveals the contrast between the fear that paralyzes and the fear that saves. Without the Lord even the hard-boiled fishermen were going down in panic. With a hand clasp (Matthew 14:31) to save Peter from drowning, the Lord and he settled into the boat, and immediately the peace that only God can give ruled the wind and waves.

This was not the first time that Jesus accompanied Peter through his fears. On the shores of this same lake, Jesus invited himself into his fishing boat to better preach the word to the assembled throng. (Luke 5:1-11) He then directed him back into the deep to cast his nets for a catch that brought Peter to his knees. “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”(Luke 5:8) Actually the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth had softened his heart to be receptive to the gift of holy fear and the ensuing life-giving words. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Like Peter in both encounters with the Lord, we too must take a step toward Jesus and follow his lead through the fog and gloom of uncertainty and anxiety that confronts us.
In the letter to the Romans, last Sunday’s second reading, the Lord is near to St. Paul in his grief over the painful realization that most of his fellow Israelites are rejecting his beloved Savior as the long-awaited Messiah. It was a heavy cross for St. Paul because he loves the Lord and his people and is deeply torn. “I have an infinite sadness and an incessant grief that torments my heart.” (Romans 9:1-5)

The pandemic hit like a sudden squall and now it has settled in like a thick gloom that will not lift. Like St. Paul, currently, a growing number of people are feeling a similar pain with the loss of life, means, in some cases the work of a lifetime, along with the rhythms of daily life. This is a daunting reality that can push us to the margins of our internal and external resources. Yet, it is also an invitation to deepen our faith in the Lord’s nearness in the face of fear. Can we hear his loving words that dispelled the distress of his apostles?

“Calm yourselves. Do not fear. It is I.” When we are feeling most vulnerable and fragile, our faith by the grace of God motivates us not to allow ourselves not to sink into fear. The amazing grace that allays our fears, also gives us the peace of Christ which allows us to walk by faith, and not by sight (2Corinthians 5:7), that shines on us who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. With our options narrowed and our movements restricted, cannot God penetrate this cloud of unknowing to help us nurture our faith and enter more deeply into intentional concern for others, and so give witness to the living Lord.

With the difficult decisions facing many educators, parents and students for the fall semester, allowing the Lord to clasp our hand is a far better state of being than sinking into our own emotional sludge. This is the difference between fear and holy fear, the capacity to hear the Lord’s words that He is near, and to act upon this faith-filled knowledge.