Christ brings peace. The world is a battleground. We must choose every day to proclaim the greatness of God or the problems of the world. Which is your gospel?
This past Sunday–Pentecost–closes the Easter Season with the Holy Spirit descending like “tongues of fire” over the apostles in the first reading (Acts 2:1-11). Then in the gospel, Jesus reminds us twice in this short passage that he imparts peace:
Gospel JN 20:19-23
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Why Peace Twice?
Jesus bids the apostles peace twice in this reading, and numerous times throughout the gospels as well. It is said that when something in the bible was spoken, the number of times it was spoken was done so for emphasis. For example, the song of the Seraphs in Isaiah 6:3, calling “Holy, Holy, Holy” as they honor God, pronouncing the height of sanctity, as they cover their eyes from the magnitude of His glory.
Peace is the fertile ground in a soul where God may enter and plant seeds of faith, growing fruit from which those around that soul may feast. If we have a fearful heart, we host an environment which is hostile to bearing fruit for the Kingdom. Throughout our lives–even daily–we are faced with powerful spoken words (news, gossip, media, and the fears of those around us) which transmit the spirit in which they are spoken.
Ponder Your Spiritual Battles in your interior…
Recently, I have seen the effects of voicing my fears and concerns when I am fighting an interior battle between fear and faith. Often we think we are helping someone feel loved when we express concerns about them. Sometimes we are trying to warn someone of impending dangers or possible problems, however, speaking the fear in our hearts we are giving life to that which is not hope, and certainly not cultivating peace.
When we do our best to be examples of faithful Christians to others, they are watching us closely. Human beings need to see a living example of faith and so they look to those who proclaim to believe in God, however, people who believe in God are often considered hypocrites. Why?
Faith-filled people are in a heightened battle. Temptation to fear (especially spiritually-related fears, such as the final judgement or loved ones’ salvation) are easy ignition buttons to start the fear engines roaring, especially so observers may feel affirmed in their doubts. As easy as blowing dandelion seeds across a field, a wavering soul will scatter when they see a person who is outwardly faithful struggle by speaking fear aloud. This, perhaps gives others an excuse from trying to live a demanding moral life by looking to faulty people instead of a perfect God. “See how they preach but are afraid…and they still have problems in their lives.” We must realize that the faithful are constantly besieged by an avenging enemy, and the idea of perfect humanity cannot exist except in Christ, who is the incarnation of God (and yet fully human) and who splintered death for our salvation.
Jesus tells us to remain in peace because others need an example of what it is to be faithful, but we need his grace to do so. Yes, of course, we all struggle with doubts and fears but it is the main work of the enemy to be constantly assaulting a faith-filled person more vigorously than a non-believer, who is of no threat to his evil schemes to get the world to believe that he doesn’t exist.
But here is where we of faith mess up; the struggle of trusting God against our fears should remain mostly interior. The minute our fears are spoken we give life to them and as Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
What do we do?
Because I have caught myself in the act of mindlessly “worrying aloud” more often lately, I have been working on an action plan with help from some of my favorite podcasts, saints, books and scriptures (not to mention my amazing sisters-in-Christ!)
First and foremost…Our human side.
When feeling fear and worry, we must conduct a short self-diagnostic to determine the category of concerns, because a practical problem is not the same as a spiritual temptation to fear. (Many of these understandings come from “Discerning Hearts,” the rules of St Ignatius of Loyola, and much can also be learned from the spirituality Theology of the Body.)
- Is this an actual physical condition that requires medical attention?
- Am I physically exhausted, overspent, or hungry?
- Have I endured a great loss, change, or stressful circumstances lately?
- Where did this thought begin? Did something happen that ignited this concern practically speaking, or did it stem from when I accepted the doubt and fear offered by temptation? If this last scenario is your answer, then read on.
Reject and repent…
First of all, when it’s not a practical set of circumstances that have lead you toward being discouraged, take immediate action. Reject the temptation to worry; repent right away and offer an act of faith. “Lord, I am sorry for any doubts I may have or worries I have chosen over your powerful goodness. Forgive me and I choose to believe in your providence over these concerns.”
Remember and recount…
Remember at least a few times in your life where you were worried about something and turned to God who answered your prayer. Perhaps it all worked out fine and you went on with your next set of worries, like we often do as human beings, but it’s important to count your blessings. Take the time to write them down and keep them handy. A nice long list of answered prayers in a journal next to your bed is a powerful witness to your interior self, especially in the dark of the night when the battle always seems magnified.
Give thanks and praise...
Speak a prayer of thanks at that very moment you feel darkness. The powerful name of Jesus is a strong-hold and sends demons flying. The tempter cannot stand against the mighty name of Christ and praising Him in a moment of temptation will send the tempter fleeing like students running from your fingernails over a holy chalkboard. Give witness to His goodness in the midst of the struggle, and encourage your interior self to strength once again. I find this to be the most powerful tool in my worry box.
The Mighty Word of God and His Creation
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Philipians 4:8
Because the Word of God is alive and eternal, its power can at last reclaim for your interior warrior its spiritual foothold. Restore yourself again to the presence of the Lord through His mighty word and let the Holy Spirit breathe his strength right back into your heart. The power of God through His Holy word will remind us of our dependence on Him as His beloved children.
When all else seems lost…
An interior battle ought to stay just that as we are becoming aware of it and do what can be done to resist it. However, when we continue to lose heart after fighting against the fear, it may be time to turn to a fellow Christian for consolation. The importance of WHO you turn to is what matters most.
We don’t all have Spiritual Directors (although I HIGHLY recommend you find one) but we do all have spiritual superiors, such as priests, elders, or faith-leaders. Even a strong faith-filled friend who has solid foundation, rooted in the principles and tenants of Christianity is a constituent.
Just look up, not down…
What is NOT a good idea is speaking to those in any place of spiritual minority to you. If you are a priest, for example, you are not going to turn to a parishioner. If you are a mother, you should not voice your doubts over your children. If you are a team leader on a retreat, you will not be proclaiming your worries to those assigned to you for counsel. The trick to seeking spiritual enforcement is to turn to someone in spiritual authority equal to or above you.
I have made many mistakes in my life because I was caught off-guard worrying and then speaking my struggles to those who look to me for spiritual strength, which was discouraging to us both.
God can do so much with even a small offering in the movement of our will. Rather than consider how big the world’s problems may become and making that your topic of conversation with those around you, pick up a crucifix and spend five minutes pondering “How big is my God?!” After that, which side of the battle will you proclaim to those who are listening?
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”–John 16:33