In March of 1933, during his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said to a nation that had been battered by more than four years of economic depression and social unrest, “[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” His words were a defiant expression of optimism at a time when the whole world the US to recover from the Great Depression and for Americans to regain confidence.
Ninety years later, we find ourselves, once again, experiencing much fear in our country and in our world. There is the fear that comes with economic and social uncertainty, as well as the fear that comes from seeing news reports of violence in the Holy Land, Ukraine, and in many places near to us. There is the fear of political polarization, as well as the fear of isolation. I couldn’t help but remember FDR’s famous words as I thought about the current situation in which we find ourselves, and as I reflected on the Scripture readings that we hear at Mass this Sunday.
The readings help us, as believers, to ponder what the proper place of fear is in our lives. Consider what Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, a professor of Hebrew Bible, says about these readings in her commentary Ponder: Contemplative Bible Study for Year A:
“Fear” (Hebrew yārēʾ) runs through our readings, but with very different meanings. In the ancient world, fear of God means awe and reverence. Reverence motivates the woman in Proverbs to live selflessly and resourcefully. Our psalmist similarly describes the blessings that come from “fear” or a life of reverence. Reverence may also underlie the active attention and alertness described in 1 Thessalonians. Yet the “fear” that motivates the third servant in the Gospel is totally different. His is not reverence and awe but a paralyzing, preservationist fear (that ultimately leads him to be thrown “into the darkness”!). Our readings call us to examine the motivations that underpin our actions. To what extent are they rooted in self-preservation that paralyzes us versus reverence that opens us to live meaningful lives? (p. 317)
When we hear Proverbs praise someone for fearing the Lord, or we sing in the responsorial psalm, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord,” we can easily think that the Word of God is telling us we should be overcome with the kind of “unreasoning, unjustified terror” which FDR said threatened to paralyze the US during the Great Depression. But nothing could be farther from the truth!
As Leonard-Fleckman indicates, fear of the Lord is about recognizing, with awe and reverence, the greatness of the God who freely and lovingly entrusts himself to us. In fact, this God is so powerful, yet unthreatening, that he gives himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine so that, Sunday after Sunday, he can sustain and strengthen us with his life and love. God gives himself to us in this way so that we can then fearlessly, generously, and selflessly dedicate ourselves to reverencing/serving him by reverencing/serving everyone we encounter in the coming week.
I want to make you aware of a small change to our liturgical practice at Mass that Bishop McClory has asked all the parishes of the Diocese of Gary to make starting next weekend.
It has been the practice in our diocese for the last 20 years, which we have observed at St. Maria Goretti, to remain standing from the praying of the Our Father through the reception of Holy Communion. This is a practice that bishops are allowed to permit in their dioceses.
Bishops are also allowed to ask that people stand from the Our Father through the Lamb of God, then kneel for the invitation to Communion (Behold the Lamb of God…Lord, I am not worthy…) and stand again for the Communion procession. Bishop McClory is now asking that we observe this alternative practice at Mass, starting the evening of November 25.
I very much appreciate your cooperation with this change in practice, so that we can express with our bodily posture our communion with the rest of Church of Gary. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.