By Debbie Shannon, Director of Ministries & Development
The lines were exceptionally long at the Lenten Reconciliation service I attended this week. In fact, I was the very last penitent to leave two and a half long hours after arriving and choosing a confession line. As my feet ached standing at the end of my line, I contemplated joining others who had succumbed to sitting on the floor while waiting to shift a few inches closer to the confessional. Ultimately, I decided God was asking for a bit of additional penance from me, and it was the least I could offer Him, so I stood.
Having that much additional time for preparation, I got to revisit the list of sins I was bringing for absolution a bit more than I had anticipated. It was a severe mercy to contemplate why I fall prey to some of the sins that appear on my confession list so often. My first conclusion was pride. Pride seems to be at the root of so many of my sins. Yep, that’s it…pride.
Well, the line was still long and so I had time to think a bit deeper. Is it just pride? What makes us so vain, arrogant and proud in the face of God. Deep down, I think most of us are actually more insecure than we are proud. Then came the aha moment…deeper still, underneath pride is the real enemy – Satan’s tool – FEAR!
“Fear not!” is the most repeated command in the Bible. In fact, it’s been said that there are 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible — one “Fear not” for every day of the year! A little internet research (and you know everything on the internet can be trusted) shows that actually, there are more than 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible! They may not be the exact phrase, but “Fear” is spoken of over 500 times. Clearly, God wants to make a point here. “Do not be afraid!”
I lie because I fear being ‘found out’. I take what is not mine because I fear being without. I envy and covet my neighbor because I fear others are ‘one up’ on me. I skip Mass because I fear I will miss out on something more exciting or entertaining. I speak ill of, or gossip about, my neighbor because I fear being found lacking myself, so I belittle them first. I could go on and on, and did in my mind that night. It is really ‘fear’ that drives my temptation to sin. And the devil loves it!
So, if Jesus came to forgive us and save us from sin, and fear is the root of all sin, it’s no wonder He kept stressing, “Do not be afraid.”
Of course, when someone tells me, “Don’t worry,” I think, “Sure, that’s easy for you to say…” But, Jesus didn’t just leave us with an empty cliche’. He gives us ammunition against Satan’s ace in the hole. He told his disciples (and us), “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)
Meditating on the crucifix of Jesus I see a man who embraced that which paralyzes all of us – the fear of death. I know He experienced great suffering in His agony in the garden. He knew what lay ahead of Him, but rather than be paralyzed with fear, what did He do? He trusted the will of the Father.
How do I set down my fear and take up this peace Jesus offers me? I must trust Him.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Trust! In his masterful reflection, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Blessed John Paul II says, “Have no fear! Do not be afraid of God’s mystery, do not be afraid of His love; and grandeur! Man does not cease to be great, not even in his weakness.” (CTH, p.12)
The message and devotion to Jesus as The Divine Mercy is based on the writings of Blessed Faustina Kowalska, an uneducated Polish nun who wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God’s mercy. Even before her death in 1938, the devotion to The Divine Mercy had begun to spread. The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us — no matter how great our sins. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than sin. A decision to trust completely in Him, to set down our fear and trust the mercy of God with thanksgiving, brings peace!
“Do not be afraid…for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10) and “My peace I give to you, My peace I leave with you…even in that long confession line!