Fear is Love's Enemy...5 Steps to Banish It! (Part I of II)
Meeting the Father in prayer last year (I promise to write about that soon!) caused the scales to fall from my own eyes and helped me begin to see how much the voice of fear was dictating my life and my (inability) to truly love. While I wasn’t beginning each day striving to reject the Lord’s invitation to friendship, and I was leading some people towards Him (or perhaps more accurately, He was still using me to lead others despite some glaring insecurities and weakness on my part!), looking back I can readily see that I was building my life in a significant number of ways atop a foundation of fear. I was way too stubborn, insecure, and prideful in my desire to control my life and how I loved to let anyone—including the Lord—show me just how much fear was crippling me and eroding my ability to surrender all and allow Him to make me the man, disciple, and lover that He has made and called me to be. Being drawn deeper into the mystery of the Father’s Heart and learning from Him the nature of true love has been a tremendous (and much needed) blessing in my life, and it has continuously revealed to me the truth that:
“Fear, in all of its forms, is a liar. It does not lead to the abundant life for which we have been made and redeemed by Christ to share in...! The voice of fear and the voice of Truth are irreconcilable. Fear never comes from God and its voice leads only to doubt, division, indifference, and insecurity which brings with it a desire for control, self-reliance, and the compartmentalization of our lives…” –Ven. Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Not only is fear the friend of darkness, division, confusion, and control, but it is the enemy of God. That’s right. Fear is Love’s enemy. St John the Apostle shows us this when he writes:
“God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him… There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18)
“Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!” —St. JOHN PAUL II, St. Peter’s Square, October 22, 1978
The holy courage which St. John Paul II calls us to is not an emotion, but a divine gift. It is the gift of faith. If you are afraid, it may be precisely because you have not yet fully opened this gift… So here are five ways which the Father has had to teach me, for anyone to begin walking in holy courage to take back and restore the life and the love for which we all have been made. (These “five ways” I also realized are “hidden” in the homily Pope Francis gave during the Easter Vigil my first year living in Rome…thanks Holy Spirit!)
1. LET JESUS IN!
The key to the words of St. John Paul II to “not be afraid” lies in the second part of his invitation: “Open wide the doors to Christ!”
God is the love that drives out all fear. The more we open our hearts to Him in childlike faith and choose to “remain in love” (loving Him and others in a way that is real—reflecting and united to Christ’s selfless and unconditional love for us), the more He enters, driving out the darkness and lies of fear and giving us a holy confidence, boldness, trust, and peace—especially in the midst of the sufferings we endure which real love demands.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
The confidence which Jesus brings to hearts that are His without reservation comes NOT from knowing about Him, but rather, from knowing Him. The problem is that many of us have not and will not truly open our hearts to God. We keep Him at arms’ length for many reasons—from fear that He might reject us, will not provide for us, or will demand too much of us...We especially fear that the commitment to the love and life that is “in the world but NOT of it” is impossible, and that pursuing Heaven and Real Love first—no matter the cost—will not only kill us but will make us miserable! (apparently the saints are dead, forgotten, and not happy…#fearisaliar #truthbombs)
Jesus consistently reminds us that He respects our freedom. That, unless we become trusting like little children and seek it before all else in our lives, we cannot have the Kingdom of God; we cannot have that Love that drives out fear. Therefore, the first and foundational key to not being afraid, is to let Love in! And this Love is a person who has come not only to free us from the shackles of fear, but to BE the WAY of unselfish love THROUGH whom, WITH whom, and IN whom (#eucharistichearts) we become authentically free, joyful, and holy by choosing to deny ourselves completely, pick up the Cross daily, and follow Him.
“Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change…” —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013
2. PRAYER OPENS THE DOOR
To “open wide the doors to Christ” means to enter into a real and living relationship with Him. Going to Mass on Sunday is not the end per se, as if it were some kind of ticket to Heaven. Rather, it is the beginning. In order to draw Love into our hearts, we must sincerely draw near to Him in “spirit and in truth”:
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
This drawing near to God is called prayer. And prayer is a relationship.
"Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him... prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father…" —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2560, 2565
Prayer, said St. Teresa of Avila, “is a close sharing between two friends. It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who loves us.” It is precisely in prayer that we encounter Jesus, not as a distant deity, but a living, loving person who has come to reveal us to ourselves, heal us, and take us into the mystery of Real Love.
“Let the risen Jesus enter your life! Welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is Life…" —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013
When we simply speak to God from the heart—that is prayer. And prayer is what draws the sap of the Holy Spirit from Christ, who is the Vine, into our hearts. It draws in Love who casts out all fear. But in order for this to happen, we must trust:
“The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly in me and readily embrace the Way of love that I came to show are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they desire to love much and because of this, they ask for much. It is My desire to give much, very much to these souls. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, especially when they narrow their hearts and wall them off to My mercy in fearfully refusing to make a gift of themselves to Me and to others. These souls refuse to trust. They refuse to die to themselves. They would choose indifference and control over trusting in the merciful love which I came to show the world, and which I expect of my followers.” —Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
So you see, God wants us to open wide our hearts to Him. This means a complete giving of ourselves. Love is an exchange, an exchange of time, of words, of trust. Love means becoming vulnerable (literally meaning “wound-able”; able and willing to be wounded out of and for love)—both you and God becoming vulnerable to one another (and what is more vulnerable than hanging naked upon a Cross, wounded, for one who may never love you in return?) Just as drawing near to a fire banishes cold, so too drawing near to Him in honest prayer of the heart expels fear.
3. LEAVE IT BEHIND
There is good reason, though, why some of us are afraid. It is because we deliberately sin against and choose not to listen to God. We still choose to rebel. That’s why St. John goes on to say:
“…fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
You might say, “Well then, I guess I’m doomed to be afraid because I am constantly stumbling!” What I am speaking of here are not those venial sins that arise from human weakness and frailty, from imperfections and the like. These do not cut us off from God…What I am speaking of here is knowing that something is a serious sin, and yet still choosing it. Knowing that Christ explicitly commanded His followers to do something (like to forgive, repent, love, NOT serve 2 masters), and freely choosing not to listen to Christ or do what He commands. Such a person naturally invites darkness into their hearts rather than Real Love. Such a person is deliberately inviting fear into their hearts because “fear has to do with punishment.” When we do this, our conscience is disturbed, our unruly passions are aroused, and we easily and wearily stumble in darkness. Thus, in opening wide our hearts to Jesus through prayer, we must first begin that prayer in the “truth that sets us free.” And the first truth is that of who I am—and who I am not.
"…humility is the foundation of prayer… Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic Liturgy and personal prayer." —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2559, 2631
Yes, if we wish to live in the freedom of the sons of God, we must make a definitive decision to turn away from all sin and unhealthy worldly attachments which do not lead to Real Love:
“Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin upon sin. Do not say, His mercy is great; my many sins he will forgive.” (Sirach 5:5-6)
“Do not allow yourselves to be conformed to the wisdom of the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God; what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Yet if we sincerely approach Jesus “in truth”, we find that, while He has lovingly respected our “freedom” to reject His love, He has been waiting outside the wall we have constructed in our own hearts with all of His own heart for even the chance to forgive us; to forgive anything and everything that we are willing to give to Him:
“If we acknowledge our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1 John 1:9)
"…there is no sin which He cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him... If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms." —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily
Part II of this article will be posted shortly. Stay tuned!
You may contact Luke at: firstname.lastname@example.org