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God did not make Death nor Fear

By 30 June, 2018January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries

Commentary on the XIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 01 2018,  New York.

(Book of Wisdom 1:13-15.2:23-24; 2Corinthians 8:7.9.13-15; Saint Mark 5:21-43.)

What is Death? Probably, we experience it mostly as a separation. Bodily death is the separation of the soul from the body; it is also the separation from persons who are united by love and we know that it is temporary. Furthermore, this separation is not absolute and is rather replaced by a new form of presence: Christ promised to remain with the disciples until the end of time and he sent them his Spirit. Those of us who had the divine fortune to personally know our Father Founder, will always remember his words: I will help you much better from Heaven. With a bit of sensitivity and attention, we can confirm that these promises are being fulfilled.
Many of us continuously live in the presence of some beloved person –a grandfather, a friend of the family…whom we never knew personally but hold an important place in our lives. And, of course, there is the Communion of Saints; the multitude in heaven inspire us by their example, and remain present to us in ways of which we know not. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth, said St. Thérèse of Lisieux before her death.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus confirms the “relativity” of death, when He says of Jairus’ daughter that she is not dead, but asleep. This miracle introduces us to the real world, the eternity, the Kingdom of God, which we can see when we are not asleep. The main purpose of the miracles he worked in the presence of the disciples alone like the raising of Jairus’ daughter was to enable them to perceive God’s presence in Jesus and in their own lives.
We need to be reminded of our true identity as beloved daughters and sons of God, of what we actually want, and to get a picture of the fears that are inhibiting us. This enables us to understand more clearly the importance of sharing our spiritual experiences, our failures and the graces received, to be confirmed by the community, by our religious family.
Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s early followers, interviewed a prospective patient at great length, taking a detailed family history, and getting as elaborate an account as possible of what the man was suffering from. At the end of the consultation, Adler asked the man: What would you do if you were cured? The man answered. Adler replied: Well, go and do it then.
That was the treatment. In accepting our true identity, we will drive out fear and be able to use the talents our Father has given us. This was probably the reason why the servant who buried the money in the Parable of the Talents was not able to use them and overcome his fear: his eyes were blinded to see his real nature and he could not trust his master.
Touching the hem of Christ’s garment; this is a very simple act of faith. But it was enough to Go in peace and be cured of her disease. It might almost look like superstition, but it was a powerful message of the woman, welcomed by Jesus and deserving His response. This is our case: by cherishing and clinging to Prayer, the Word of God and the Eucharist, we do really touch the hem and the heart of Jesus: a spiritual power will come out of Him.
Spiritual death, as the First Reading suggests, is our separation from God. It can be perpetual but we mainly experience it temporarily, as Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: Your brother, was dead, and is alive again. If death is separation, accordingly, the true meaning of life is union. This explains why Jesus says of Himself, I am the Life. And this is why we experience a constant resurrection, which raises us not only on the last day, but on this day too, right out of whatever weighs us down. And we ask ourselves why does repentance spring up over and over again in our soul, in the lives of all who are sinners, but not arrogant. This is the daily effect of resurrection, when we accept the challenge of living in a permanent state of Purificative Prayer, the response to the subtle and small commandments in our heart, to live out the threefold spiritual rebellion against my ego, my dominant defect and my attachments.
It is not an overstatement to say that Purificative Prayer leads us to a new life, to a resurrection. Remember that The lamp of the body is the eye… But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be! (Mt 6: 22-23). We are unconsciously shaped by stories we have been telling ourselves. An idea or a desire has you. Consciously or not, they guide your goals, desires, and actions like a compass…this is not less than a possession, because we identify with a false version of who we are. We know that fear debilitates us it becomes our greatest enemy, mainly because it is frequently invisible. Every person suffers from some fear, known or unknown.
When we are driven by fear, we run the risk of compromising our values and principles out of fear of how others will perceive us. We all want to be loved and accepted. Why do we fear being rejected and turned back? Why are we willing to conform and compromise our values just to be part of the group? Because at the core of all our insecurities lies the fear of being alone, we want be part of the group; separation is far too much like death. Fear’s true power lies in the loneliness that it imposes upon us.
Our fear (whatever it is) results from our sense of isolation. When things are not going well, we get discouraged and give up easily…we think we do not deserve to be appreciated; or when we are challenged by others, we feel hurt and wounded because we think we are rejected, excluded.
In today’s both miracles, Christ refers to fear:
– The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
– Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
What is the opposite of fear? No; it is not bravery or courage. You need to feel fear in order to be brave. If you look carefully to your experience, you will conclude that the answer is acceptance, or in the spiritual realm, faith. For instance, some older adults experience fear to death and eventually this fear decreases with some form of acceptance of death. Beyond this psychological remark, the opposite to our deepest fears is faith, because faith represents the acceptance of Jesus, His words and His deeds. This is what both citations above are putting in front of us. We hear Jesus many times telling people to fear not: But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, Oh you of little faith?” (Mk 4:40). Jesus knew that the presence of fear meant little faith. Faith and fear do not go together: when faith is present, fear is displaced.
Simon Peter, in the garden of the Kidron Valley, uses a sword to attack one of Jesus’ captors, cutting off his ear, which Jesus immediately heals miraculously. But, more than anything, He was healing Peter’s fear. We always need guidance to overcome our fears:
An old man approached the nineteenth century artist, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. He brought his portfolio of sketches and asked the great artist to evaluate them. Rossetti carefully looked through the old man’s portfolio. Then he closed it, and gently but firmly informed the old man that the pictures had little value. The old man was discouraged, but he asked Rossetti one more favor. He said: Would you also look at a set of drawings of done by a young student because I would like to have them evaluated as well. Rossetti agreed, and he began to go through the second portfolio. As he did so he grew in enthusiasm: These are excellent. They show real promise. This student should be encouraged. Who is he? Is he your son? The old man answered sadly: No. These are my pictures which I drew forty years ago. I only wished that I could have heard your affirmation then, because without it I gave into discouragement. I gave up too soon.
Sickness is associated with death. It is often a prelude to our departure from this world. Either the sick person is in danger of death, or because of her or his condition is not truly living. To be healed means to be able to enjoy a full, rich and happy life. Moreover, Jesus refers to himself as a healer when He replies to the Pharisees that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy and He instructs his missionaries to eat with the people that they preach to and heal.
In today’s Gospel is Jesus healing the hemorrhaging woman. According to the purity laws of the Old Testament (Leviticus), a person with an issue of blood is to remain isolated. Also, whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The woman touches Jesus and this is a courageous and dangerous act, since it should have rendered Jesus unclean. In her desperation, she displays considerable faith by risking the consequences of breaking a sacred rule in willfully coming into contact with other people. But her faith renders her clean.
She could not participate in the ordinary life of her society but Jesus effectively restores her to full participation in her community. Therefore, He found physical, psychological, social and spiritual health.
Jesus curbs the fear welling up in the heart of Jairus: Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well. As it interrupted the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the hemorrhaging woman’s healing was not simply a test of patience for Jairus. The interruption had the potential to encourage him, helping to build the faith he had already exhibited, especially since his daughter had died in the meantime.
As a synagogue officer, he knew that the Pharisees and the Scribes considered Jesus a deviant Rabbi and should not be welcomed or even acknowledged. But in the face of the imminent death of his daughter, the he would even sacrifice his dignity and position to have his daughter healed. His gesture is a personification of our Martyrial Sacra: to bring others closer to Christ with the sacrifice of our life and our reputation. After raising the girl, Jesus gave strict orders that no one should know this. Christ’s object in performing miracles was not to astonish those who witnessed them but were also the Father’s way of authenticating His Son’s mission among humanity. Physical healings are a metaphor for spiritual healing, and that Jesus intended for us to also look for those who need spiritual healing for their souls. Do we believe that it is the Holy Spirit who brings upon us the presence of our neighbor?