Tag Archives: fear

Friday Thoughts: Francesca and William

pierre-auguste-renoir-julie-manet-with-cat-1887

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Julie Manet with cat”, 1887


 

Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.

One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.

In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”

“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”

And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.

Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.

I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.

But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.

And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.

Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.

But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.

No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.

In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.


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—Howard Hain

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Pentecost

Audio homily here:

The Pew Research Center regularly reports on trends in America and in the world and recently they reported on how Americans see their place in the world. Most Americans, the report said, think that we should deal with our own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can. Reports like this don’t make a judgment whether this is a good trend or a bad trend, they just tell us the facts. But the trend seems to indicate that there’s an increasing fear in us that the world in becoming unmanageable, and so we should beware of taking on too much.

Today we’re celebrating the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send not only to his disciples but to the whole world. The Holy Spirit comes not only to us as individuals, to guide us on our way, to teach us all things, to help us to pray, but the Spirit also is sent into our world. Our temptation, unfortunately, is to see faith as just a personal thing and not affecting our whole world.

As we were preparing for this feast, I have been thinking how differently we know the Holy Spirit from the way we know Jesus and, to a certain extent, God the Father. Jesus is God come to us in human flesh, and so he has our “likeness” as St. Paul says. He’s born a child, lives as a man, reacts to events and people around him, he speaks in human words, he suffers and dies and rises. However distant the time of Jesus is from ours, we see and hear him as human like ourselves.

God the Father is also described in human terms. God is “Father”, a description we know is an analogous term. Calling God “Father” doesn’t mean that God is masculine, but the term itself offers us a human reference for God, the creator and sustainer of all things.

But the description of the Holy Spirit is more difficult to grasp, I think. What does “spirit” mean? The scriptures use symbolic ways to describe the Third Person of the Trinity. Our readings for the feast speak of the Spirit as a driving wind, tongues of fire that empowers the disciples to speak with wisdom, with new words, and to act bravely instead of fearfully.

I have been thinking lately of other symbolic ways the Spirit is described. One is a familiar symbol found in the New Testament and in art. The Spirit is a dove who rests on Jesus when he’s baptized in the Jordan by John.

There’s a bird feeder outside the monastery where I live in Queens, NY, and in the early morning before Mass I usually go out with a cup of coffee to watch the birds. Mostly house sparrows, but there’s a pair of doves who are regular visitors. Every once in awhile a hawk flies over and immediately the sparrows disappear. But the doves are the last to go and first back at the feeder. You might call them simple or dumb. But you could also say they’re fearless. They’re not afraid of the hawk.

Remember the bible story about Noah in the ark. Noah wonders if the flood waters are gone, so who does he finally send out? He sends out a dove, who returns with a twig from an olive plant. There’s life there, you can get out of the ark. The dove is not afraid of dangerous places or floodwaters. The Holy Spirit is not afraid of the chaos of our world, but recreates from the chaos.

The Spirit who appears at Jesus’ baptism as a dove also leads him into the desert, the realm of Satan. The scriptures say Jesus is hungry there, but he’s not afraid. Jesus defeats Satan in his realm.

Where are the disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel? They’re locked up in a room in fear when Jesus, risen from the dead, comes into their midst. He breathed on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit whom he promised to give them. And what did they do? They left that room and went out into the world they feared, a world that the Spirit promises to recreate.

Come With Me

Jesus garden

You went into the garden and fell to the ground
and prayed
alone,
yet all humanity was there
holding the cup of death
and hearing itself in your words.
“Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me.
The cup of death.
you drank
contained our fears and cries too,
our sweat of blood.
“Your will be done,” you said.
“Your will be done,”we say
and wait for an angel to strengthen us.

St. Anthony of Egypt

Today’s the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt, the 3th century hermit who, through his biography written by St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, became one of the most important sources of spirituality in the Christian churches of the east and west.

He played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine, who was deeply moved by reading his life. He’s called the father of monasticism because of his influence on the monastic movement in the church after his death.

If you look at his life, you see a simple, ordinary man who took the gospel seriously. Artists love to dramatize Anthony fighting temptations, which he did. But his temptations, when you look at them, are remarkably like our own–if we look at them.

They were constant and varied, sometimes to pride, to crippling anxiety, to lust, to pleasure. They were complex, shifting and troublesome.

For him temptation meant, not only confronting some sudden evil choice, but struggling through life with recurring doubts and deeply held illusions that weigh down the human heart. Temptation for Anthony was a part of human experience, and he showed it was also part of the experience of a saint.

He found, too, that temptation, far from being a time when God abandons someone, is a time when God is near. Beyond increasing self-knowledge, which it does, the experience of temptation reveals to the human heart the power of God’s grace. As he got older, he got increasingly optimistic. His constant message to others was:”Don’t be afraid.”

That’s one of the reasons people were attracted to this ordinary man: he was real, and he shared that experience with others. Speaking to him, they saw themselves as they were and as they could be.

St. Athanasius writes: “Seeing him, the villagers and those who knew him called him a friend of God, and they loved him as a son and as a brother.”