Courage, valour, strength, power, perseverance and other such virtues sound like the language of the warriors, fighters and soldiers. They seem either alien or irrelevant to the meek, weak, marginalised, less privileged and the like. But as these instincts or traits seem usual, conventional or even traditional among some communities or even packs of beasts on the earth, if paid proper attention to, break opens blinding light to the paradigm called hope.
But before we could delve more into this paradigm, it is a must to clarify and reassure that courage, bravery and strength of body and will is universal and not a privilege to an elite cult or race or community of people. Some of the bravest and most courageous thoughts, words and deeds have been the produce of men and women whose outward appearance, religious legacy, socio-economic standards have been less relevant to the world. Mahatma Gandhi, Catherine Anne Seaton, St. Damian, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Maria Goretti to name a few.
That one common underlying, terrorising, overwhelming but also exhilarating emotion that either catapults courage into bravery, power into victory, or crushes hope into despair, is fear. Every human heart as well as that of other creatures created by God experiences fear in a spectrum of degree. Yes, even the powers and principalities, thrones and dominions (Romans 8:38, Ephesians 3:10, Colossians 1:16) have an indescribable communion with fear unlike any other creatures created by the One Creator. In the Gospels Jesus not only speaks about fear categorically but also submits His immaculate body and soul to be thwarted by its ignominious magnanimity. In John 14: 27, the Saviour implicitly commands, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. He wants us to believe that dreading something or someone to the extent of loosing hope is nothing but letting ‘the enemy’ devour our soul with the cutlery of our fear.
The ‘Infancy Narratives’ from the series ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, His Holiness gives a scholarly cum theological exegesis on ‘The Twelve Year Old Jesus In The Temple’. When the young son of Joseph and Mary was not found to be among the pilgrims of the temple even after three days of journey back home, Pope Benedict says, “For the parents, this was the start of days filled with fear and anxiety. Further on he writes, “These (three) are days spent suffering the absence of Jesus, days of darkness, whose heaviness can be sensed in the mother’s words: “Child, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Luke 2:48). Here I think it is good to remind ourselves of the Arch Angel Gabriel’s salutation to the Virgin Mary, preluding to the Divine message of chosen to become the Theotokos (mother of God). The ‘messenger of God’ salutes the maiden saying, “Hail, full of grace, The Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28). St. Augustine says, “without the grace of God, we are not able to do anything good” (Chapter 7, ‘On Grace and Free Will’ by St. Augustine). So, how is it that the creature of God – Mary, who is acknowledged even by an angelic power of God to be full of grace, had and express fear and anxiety. Shouldn’t grace obstruct fear or worry. Or should it not repel it like some sort of a super natural shield? Well, the word of God does not shy from describing the exact emotions the father and mother of Jesus went through. But, when they ‘discovered His absence’.
The absence of Jesus. This is key! Mary and Joseph feared the (temporary) loss of Jesus amidst/with them. However, the words, “The Lord is with Thee” by Gabriel to Mary is now by no means irrelevant nor should be rendered false. The Lord has and was always with His earthly parents. Dwelling within them. Especially in Mary, The Lord assured His presence by choosing her and making her be conceived immaculately. In this infancy narrative of our Blessed Lord Jesus, we need to pay attention to the physical absence of Jesus from His family as well as His People of pilgrims. Like Blessed Joseph and Mary, each day, a multitude of the people of Go, spread across the earth, experience His absence. Until He was on earth, fully man and fully God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 464), His parents, friends, brothers, disciples and even foes had every reason to fear the loss of His physical presence among them. By His glorious ascension, Jesus covered His physical presence on earth by the clouds, until He comes again. Nevertheless, by His His real presence, ever radiant and visible in the Holy Eucharist, as well as His Holy Spirit given to His Chosen through the initiation of the sacrament of Baptism, thereafter in the sacrament of Conformation, Jesus is always present with and in us. Therefore, as Joseph and Mary went back looking for Him and found in the Temple of Jerusalem, they teach us that man’s life on earth should not only be deprived by the presence of God but rather ever more be constantly fed by the presence.
Psychologists believe that fear is not synonymous to anxiety. Anxiety occurs as a result of threats that are uncontrollable or unavoidable. Also, they distinguish fear from ‘phobia’ which is: irrational fear. Therefore, it is right to conclude that despair is a complete loss of hope. The original sin gave mankind every reason for a total and complete loss of hope in the everlasting continuity of fellowship with God, more importantly – in His Presence. The flood gates of despair opened up by man’s own doing and distanced his presence from His Presence. Yet, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whomsoever believes in Him shall never perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
St. Thomas Aquinas through his doctrinal treasure ‘Summa theologia’ teaches us that, “Despair, is not the mere absence of hope; rather, it is the retreat of the appetite from the good which is impossible to obtain. Despair is contrary to hope, as withdrawal is to approach. Theologian Edward J. Gratsch, S.T.D; author of ‘Introduction and Interpretation’ of Aquinas’ Summa illustrates this point very simply. He says, “Perhaps the fox in Aesop’s fable disparages the grapes as sour, when he could not reach them.” St. Aquinas emphasis that hope “is a passion of the irascible appetite. One hopes for some good thing that is difficult and arduous to obtain. A child could hope for chocolates when the parents returns home from work. An employee could hope for a good raise in income. A traveller could hope for a seat with a view.
The first among the Ten Commandments is: “I’am The Lord Thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before Me” (Exodus 20: 1-7). If a man’s will surrenders itself to fear or anxiety, bends to be broken by despair, then most often if not at all times, it is because of the two fold reason: Absence of God and Replacement of God with everything else which is not God. “Hope, St. Thomas Aquinas says, presupposes desire.” If one does not desire God, then he does not desire to live by the love and law of God. Hence, does not desire to be a child of God. Therefore, willingly opposes even the desire of hope and rejects the very existence of it. Edward further adds that “experience is a cause of hope”. People fall victim to despair because they do not have an experience of the presence of God. They do not have the experience of His redemptive suffering. Nor do they have an experience or care about the cross of Jesus which is the prima facie of hope.
Despair ruins the soul to everlasting decay. Whereas, hope in The Lord enables the soul to be nourished by His love. Hope springs forth love. Love blossoms courage and strengthens acts of compassion, mercy and justice. The gospel of Matthew, chapter 14 establishes that Jesus went out to them (the disciples) walking on the lake. The disciples were in a boat which was by then being tossed and turned because the wind was against it. When they saw The Man walking on water towards them, they did not believe it to be their Master, and were terrified saying “it was a ghost” and “cried out in fear“. “But Jesus immediately said to them: Take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” Soon after He spoke these words of hope, Peter’s heart was filled with an extraordinary desire. A desire which by human calculations or expectations would merit insanity or a wild dream. But the Gospel writer goes on with the truth: “Lord if it is you, Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water. Come, He said” (Mtth 14: 25-29).
It was Jesus, in this account of St. Matthew, who took the initiative and manifested to His disciples that He can and will make them experience power and might in the very midst of their storms in life. Jesus establishes His Presence of peace within the storm and affirms it with His Word; “It is I”, to those who call Him Lord. With the assurance of this manifestation of the Presence, Peter; the man who was so close well versed with the ways of the sea, makes a supernatural (not simply an obvious) demand, to be able to walk on water towards Jesus. To that supernatural demand, desire, want, you name it…, Jesus simply says, “Come”. Christ fulfils the desire of hope for the extraordinary, at the midst of which (storm) once existed clear and present fear.
May The Lord grant us the grace of always looking out for Jesus, finding Him, to be in His presence, and so be able to drive out despair with the might gift of hope. May our spirit be a fortress of hope built with the rock of God’s word and His Church’s teaching, mortared by His Presence of Body and Spirit, and guarded by the confidence of prayer.