I had a very unusual encounter with darkness just a few days ago. Unusual in the sense that such a thing rarely happens at least to the degree that it hit me the other day. It was quite intense. It is important to set the scene a little. I had been invited to Belfast to celebrate a special day with the Christian Brothers, the men with whom I had worked and shared my life with for over twenty five years. The day of the celebration was commemorating, to the day, one hundred and fifty years ago, the arrival of the first four Christian Brothers in my native city. On top of this I am a past pupil of the Brothers and a former Head of RE in my alma mater. I mention all this for two reasons: I certainly belonged at the celebration and there was much for me to celebrate and give thanks for on the occasion. However a couple of things were sowing seeds of doubt. I knew I would be welcomed by the Brothers but I was concerned more about the Bishops and priests. Would they welcome me? Would they include me? Worse still would they slight or exclude me? What should have been joyful anticipation was beginning to slide into a swamp of doubt.
It took me a while to name it but very quickly I realised Fear had stepped in beside me. I am not sure if you have noticed how common fear is. I have been struck by voters in Britain, and last week in the United States, claiming that what had motivated their recent vote was fear. Fear of the Unknown, fear of what might happen, fear of the stranger, fear of not having enough. Is there much fear in your life? One of the great casualties of fear is freedom. Fear paralyses us. I was amazed the other night how it gradually tightened its grip on me. I began to tell myself that I was not really wanted at the celebration. I won’t fit in. I’m not good enough. Fear has many masks. Sure I had plenty of work to do without travelling north. It would be a good chance to catch up on some desk work. House work! Twice I woke during the night. I got back to sleep fairly quickly but was conscious of the anxiety. In the morning it occurred to me I could have a lovely day here in Dublin. At this stage as well as freedom being a casualty another casualty was joy. Gradually fear was sucking the joy out of my day. It is interesting how fear builds on previous bad experience. The time we failed. Our mistakes. It reminds us of the voices that told us we’ll never make it, our efforts will come to nothing. Is there much fear in your life? Do you know where it comes from? How does fear influence your life? Does it stop you doing things? Saying things? Going places? Does fear suck the joy out of your life?
Despite being a bit drained by the fear, despite what should have been joy-filled anticipation being a bit worn, I went to Belfast last Saturday. I knew deep down it was important to go. I know from past experience that even the slightest giving into fear, feeds it. I was very glad I went. I had a most blessed day. The welcome was warm and one or two people that I had predicted may be hostile, or at least cold, were in fact the opposite. I felt accepted. I felt included. I had fun. It was a positive uplifting experience. Had I given into fear I would have missed all these blessings. I am so glad I went. There was no victory for fear on Saturday. How did this happen? How did the day that began with the tight bind that stifled and restricted, end in a day that had joy in the heart?
I firmly believe that fear is the opposite of God. The Lord wants us to be free. To sing. To dance. To run. To laugh. The Lord does not want us paralysed. Nor bound, nor stuck. So where does fear come from and how does it get such a hold on us? Of course we can trace it back to childhood, to an overly strict parent or a harsh teacher, or the playground bully. Undoubtedly one or more of these may well play it’s part but I believe it may be something deeper. I believe fear fundamentally comes from the evil spirit. I say this rather than use the word devil as that quickly descends into the horned, spikytailed caricature. The evil spirit is cleverer and more subtle than that. The fork and the brimstone would be a dead give away. If only evil was so easily recognised! The evil spirit wants us to live in darkness. To be unhappy. How do we fight fear? The most powerful way of fighting fear and its origin, is through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God, the third person of the Holy Trinity uses its gifts of courage and hope. Immediately you see the fruits of the Holy Spirit which include joy and peace. So then in the face of our fear we move slowly, one step at a time, but decisively, asking the Holy Spirit to swirl round us like a protective cloak, protecting us, warming and encouraging us, not to give fear another victory.