A few years ago, I attended a Mass at which the homilist was a newly ordained young Jesuit. The homily was his first sermon, and I assume that the Lord gives a profound anointing to a priest’s first sermon. I never learned the priest’s name, or spoke a word to him, but the sermon he preached on that occasion has affected me every day since.
In clear and unequivocal tones, the young priest stated, “God wants to meet you at the point of your greatest fear.” Go, he explained, to the point of your greatest fear, in your mind and heart, and God will meet you there. When He meets you there, tell Him about the fear, and He will help you there.
Those words struck me in my core. I had to admit that although I had consecrated my life to Jesus through His Blessed Mother, and was on intimate terms with a number of saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux in particular, I tended to avoid meeting God directly. I kept Him at arms’ length, in the safe and superficial distance.
What was it that I was avoiding? Perhaps it was the absolute nature of God. With everyone else in the Heavenly court I liked to think that I had leverage. I could pick and choose my intercessors depending on my need. But with God, there is no leverage. There is only God.
And so, I tried it. I went to the point of my greatest fear and met God there. I sat beneath a large crucifix in our parish church and told Our Lord all about my greatest fear. I explained every aspect of this fear, and even the things I realized were silly in this fear, but nonetheless real and daunting to me. And God just listened. He listened as I talked. And, slowly, over a period of several months, which turned into years, God lifted that fear, completely. And I came to know God as a person. A real person. A trustworthy Father, who cares, compassionately.
Why do I mention all this? Because it seems that Satan preys powerfully upon our fears. And fears can be paralyzing. And fear is, in the final analysis, always a lie. But we often feel helpless when we try to fight our fears alone. We have no defense. We just let the tape run in our head cataloging all the things that could go wrong, and probably will go wrong, and all the reasons why we should never hope.
With the Magi seeking the Christ Child we struggle against the relentless “voices singing in our ears, saying that this was all folly.” (T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi).
Hope is the antidote to fear. Hope can only be offered in the darkness, without guarantees. And the reason that we often do not hope is because we do not want to be disappointed. But what if we took the pressure off ourselves? What if we gave up our notion that we can accomplish everything through our self-discipline and will, and just let God do it?
The reason we do not do this is obvious. Because God might not do the things we want. We think that being able to do what we want is freedom. And letting God be free is a daunting prospect. We humans like to control things. But this abandonment in blind obedience to a God who truly loves us is where everything really begins.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great saint devoted to the Immaculate Conception whose Solemnity we celebrate on December 8th, declares, “Through holy obedience we actually become instruments in the hands of the Immaculate. . . . Our will is united to her will, as her will is perfectly united with God’s will.”
And along with holy obedience, fierce hope in God is an attribute of the heart of Our Lady. In his spiritual diary, In God’s Hands, Pope St. John Paul II writes of Mary’s virtue of hope: “Virgin Mary, no human connections, no human support. And therefore, Her hope is the greatest. At all stages of Her life. Under the cross, and especially later: She supported the early Church with this hope of Hers. And Her hope is kept within the early Church. To what extent do we participate in Mary’s hope?”
Hope and obedience. Meeting Christ at the point of our greatest fear. Radical courage.
In these days where there is so much, presumably, to fear, so many dangers, and so much doubt, we can turn to Our Lady and She will lead us to the Cross. Our Lord will meet us there, at the point of our greatest fear. He will listen. And He will hold our heart.
We hope in Him and “this hope will not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:5) We can know this, with certainty, because God has promised it. With Zechariah’s Canticle, we proclaim, “he has come to his people and set them free. . . .free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight, all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:73-74)
In this season of Advent, in which He is coming to earth to be with us, let us go to meet Him. He will be there, waiting, with His unfailing love. And this Love will set us free.
*Image: Virgin and Child in Majesty by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11 [Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy]. This is the center-front panel of Duccio’s Maestà Altarpiece.