8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I was recently at our monastery in Iowa and was speaking to one of the brothers who oversees their extensive forest. Br Joseph was telling me that the American bald eagles were staging a come back in their area. I, all enthusiasm, said ‘that’s wonderful’ He chuckled and replied ‘Well, our neighbors are not thrilled’ So I asked why. He laughed and said – well their pets are disappearing – cats, puppies, piglets. The gospel today is the well known ‘look at the birds of the sky’ You would not be very reassured about this if your puppy were on the menu for Mr and Mrs American Bald Eagle’s barbecue party. Frankly, Jesus said these words two thousand years ago and our anxiety has not diminished. We are still hoarding money and things to secure our future. As for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field – why does this not not reassure us? We see birds die of starvation, we see pictures of children starving. None of us have experienced perfect security here in this world. Sickness happens, famines happen, wars happen and above all death happens.
So what was Jesus really getting at when He said ‘So do not worry’ He was never naïve? He saw people die of hunger. Jesus Himself was crucified and knew this in advance. I think what He was saying is that our daily anxieties conceal a deeper source of anxiety. And to figure this one out we need to listen to the Holy Spirit in the First Letter of St John ‘There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment’ The greatest fear St John tells us, the fear from which all fears arise is the fear of punishment. The punishment that will come from judgment. The punishment that comes from being alienated from God. It is the lack of connection that unsettles us at the deepest level. We are not aware of this but it symptoms are all the smaller fears we suffer. Whenever there is no fear of the Lord, that is a living connection with Him, then a thousand fears rush in.
Unfortunately we put the cart before the horse. In times of fear and anxiety, we do not step out in trust. We want to be without fear first before we will trust God. Which is not trust at all, but cutting a deal with God and God does not make deals. Jesus is telling us, get it right, first step out in trust and you will not be fearful. Do not trust in your own power to stop worrying. Don’t accumulate wealth to make your worries go away. They will not.
What we see is that when people trust in themselves they swing from a worldly optimism to a dark despair. Worldly optimism ignores death. Recently one of our brothers shared an article with an interview by Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia. He quoted the French Catholic writer, Bernanos who called optimism ‘whistling past the graveyard’ It seems to me the optimism of our world is whistling past the graveyard. But as Christians we do not whistle past the graveyard. We see the graveyard. We stop by the graveyard to pray for our departed loved ones. We feel the fear, we know that sickness happens and wars. But we still hope even in the face of this because deep down something is happening to us as Christians. Again Bernanos who said that Christian hope is despair overcome. This is a very interesting way of describing hope. It tells us that when we see hope, in oursevles or in others then this is a sign that deep within us, in the place where despair can intrude, God is holding us. We do not hope that God will hold us but we hope because God holds us. He holds us with the love of a mother.
Can a mother forget her infant and be without tenderness for the child of her womb? The Father loves us with the womb love of a mother. In this passage from the prophet Isaiah, The Holy Spirit goes out of His way to impress this on us – not a Father’s love but the womb love of a mother. Only a mother can love with womb love. Not the father. The child needs no introduction to its mother. It has been part of her body for nine months. But the mother must introduce the child to its father otherwise the child will consider him a stranger. This is why the Holy Spirit speaks of the womb love of the Father to reassure us that in life or death this womb love will always enfold us. We might feel abandoned but the feeling is not the fact. The fact is that God cannot abandon us because He has the love of a mother for us. Let us hold on to the word rather than be hung up on our feelings.
Let us not repay Him with ingratitude and suspicion. Let us trust Him implicitly instead of insulting Him by putting Him to the test. He is our Father who loves us with the fierce love of a mother.