A CURE FOR FEAR

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - May 1, 2016.  This is also our "Senior Send Off" Mass where we honor our seniors who will be graduating in a few weeks, over the summer or at the end of the Fall Semester.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/050116.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this blog on facebook, twitter or reddit; and your feedback and comments.  Have a great week.  God Bless, Fr. Jim


HOMILY:
Imagine the next time you are going to CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens or just the Pharmacy aisle at your local supermarket... and as you’re picking up Advil for headaches; Zantac for heart burn; Claratin for your allergies (have I suddenly veered into an example where I sound like a 90 year old and where you guys can no longer relate??? anyway...) you make your way down the aisle you are able to pick up a drug to cure fear. That’s not a premise to some science fiction story - but something that appears to be a not so far off reality. The New York Times  last January reported that scientists are working on a drug that will not simply numb you or sedate you when you are anxious about something to alleviate those symptoms - but promises to erase the fear that are tied to specific memories.

Using a test group of arachnaphobes to illustrate how this works - they had three groups of people who were petrified of spiders. Group One was shown a tarantula and then given the drug; Group Two was shown the spider and given a sugar pill or a placebo; and Group Three was given the drug first and then shown the tranatula... They were assessed each groups reactions that first time, three months later and a year later to see how they responded. Amazingly, the one group that was shown the spider and then given the drug within days were able to touch the spider; three months later were able to take it out of the glass container and hold it... even a year later - their fear never returned. Theoretically, the drug is supposed to simply take the emotional response out by blocking some of the brain chemicals that rush in when someone is overwhelmed by their fears. It’s not like a Men in Black thing with a mind eraser that will alter or delete historical facts. So if you had a car accident that caused you fear of ever getting into a car, the scientists maintain, it’s not going to delete the memory of the accident - just the emotional response you are having that is preventing you from driving would be altered. It’s an interesting experiment. And no doubt for some who are severely inhibited with deeply ingrained fears that greatly diminish their quality of life (like veterans suffering severe effects of PTSD) this could be a major game changer.

But – you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – some critics are concerned with any attempts to tamper with human memory. If we start altering our reactions, eliminating our fears - could that lead the way for us to be careless (or rather more careless), or reckless even? What about the darkest aspects of human history where horrific crimes against humanity and wide-spread trauma took place (like the evil of Nazi concentration camps during World War II) In the wrong hands, this medical discovery could be used to do some Orwellian things that we don’t even want to imagine.

Obviously there’s a lot that needs to be considered - the medical, the psychological (and hopefully) the moral consequences of such a discovery. But the reason that this is even a thing, that this is even a road that scientists went down is trying to address a human need, a human desire.


To be free of fear.

No doubt every one of us, to one extent or another, would sign up for that. Full disclosure, I’m including myself in this as well... a week ago as I was heading to the airport for another International Flight – the 5th time in 5 years I’ve done so - you can ask my driver to the airport, I was not exactly happy or calm about the prospect of entering that glorified soda can being thrust tens of thousands of feet into the sky at 500 mph.

And looking around this room tonight, there are all kinds of fears:

I have final exams this week – some of you, there’s a lot of reason for that fear.

What is going to happen when I graduate from Montclair State - for some that’s a more urgent and pressing fear as you will be graduating in a few short weeks. Will I get that job; accepted into that school... Will I find a job – some of your parents have that fear too - will they find a job - will they be moving out anytime soonwhat happens when they do move out!

Sadly the MSU bookstore is closed but the last time I checked, they didn’t have those no-fear pills available. Yet, we already have an antidote that is far less risky, far less questionable, far more effective - right here. In tonight’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus at the Last Supper... the night before his brutal, torturous Passion, Crucifixion and death. Knowing what He is about to face... Knowing what these, his chosen ones whom he loves are about to face... He tells them Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. It is said that of all the things that the Lord tells us throughout the Bible; of all the commands that we are given; of all the directions that Jesus has given - that sentiment is the one said the most (and probably the one we disobey the most as well): To not be afraid. And amazingly, here he is, facing the most horrific of events imaginable and that is what is on His heart and mind to those he Loves - this passionate command to not give into fear.

He says that not as a crazy man being ignorant of what’s about to happen to Him.

He says that not as some happy-go-lucky pollyannaish individual being insensitive to one’s legitimate fears.

He says that as one who knows us; as one who loves us; as one who is with us... He says that as one who promises us not a life free of any pain, or worry or yes even fear – like if we just sign onboard with Jesus He’s like an insurance policy against ANY negative things from happening to us. But rather He speaks heart to heart... He says to us - no matter what it is we face; no matter what the odds; no matter what the fear that is troubling our hearts - He loves us unconditionally. We are wonderfully, beautifully made in His image for a reason, for a purpose... and we find that purpose, we find that meaning, we find that love - and even more - the peace we so desire - when we love selflessly, when we remain connected with Him by keeping His commands, when we allow Him in, when we yield to the Holy Spirit to guide, direct and dwell within us.

For you, our seniors tonight who are preparing to be "sent off", and for everyone else gathered around this altar tonight who have hearts that are troubled, who are afraid of things - both in the short term and the long... As we come to the end of our Academic Year, as we approach the end of the Easter Season, this Gospel couldn’t come at more perfect time. The reality is despite whatever scientific discoveries are made or medical advances are pursued - we won’t be able to ever fully eliminate fear. And Jesus’ isn’t pretending to be simply some pill or antidote to what it is that torments the human heart. Just because we were active members here at Newman Catholic; or went through RCIA and received our Sacraments of Initiation; sang in the choir; went to bible studies or participated on a mission trip - doesn’t mean that we will be inoculated from things that frighten us, terrors that unnerve us.

But the Gospel points out to us that we are faced with a daily choice: To choose not to yield to fear. To choose, instead, to open the doors of our hearts to Christ. It’s something that each and everyone of us needs to commit to doing. Because the sad reality is that the world around us - whether on a global level from the things that leaders, politicians say and do; different threats advancing or from a place closer to home, more locally: family struggles, illnesses, doubts, difficulties and setbacks all of these things are sowing seeds of fear. The secular forces, the evil forces around us, at the same time, seem to be promising fulfillment, promising short-cuts, or even promising just the absence of fear in easier, quicker ways that never seem to work.

What we believe, what we stand for, what we’ve tried to demonstrate to you seniors - is that there is another way. You can make a choice, a different choice to follow Christ - which can be scary too.    Because we're not talking about simply getting to Mass for an hour on Sunday (although that’s an important, first step) but each and every day letting this choice guide how we live, what we do... 

Pope Benedict XVI once very beautifully said: 
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? 
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? 
Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? 
Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . 
No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. 
No! 
Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. 
Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. 
Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. 
And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."

To the class of 2016 - to each and every one of us here, may that be our prayer, our goal, to find the true life, the fullness of life, the peace, the freedom from fear that Jesus Christ wishes to offer each and everyone of us.

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