July 8, 2000

"Do not fear, do not be afraid … there is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear… we love because God first loved us." The Cistercian writer Guillaume de Saint Thierry wrote many centuries ago, "Lord, you command us to love you, not because you need our love, but because we cannot be what you created us to be without our loving you."

Loving God who first loves us is not a duty - one of the many oughts and shoulds and musts with which we afflict ourselves. Instead, loving God is integral to our full humanity. It is part of the fundamental structure of our personhood.

Love shatters our defenses and opens us to surprise and possibility beyond our wildest imagining. Love gives us courage and confidence and boldness: boldness - one of the fruits of the resurrection which overtakes the apostles in the book of Acts laying claim to them and drawing them beyond themselves, giving them the gift of plain and direct and confident speech: the capacity to bear witness to the Risen One in the face of threat and opposition without fear and without losing heart.

I think here of the words of Paul in the Letter to the Romans: "…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5: 4-5). Character is the result of endurance, of having passed through the fire, of having remained steadfast, even in the very midst of hell, without despair. It is God's love, poured into our hearts by the Spirit that gives us the capacity to endure in the face of drastic and demanding circumstances. In some elemental way which passes all understanding we know that "all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Such is the hidden power of love which draws us on, draws us deeper into God's own life and overcomes all fear.

"Do not be afraid" the angel Gabriel says to Mary announcing that she shall bear a son, God's chosen one. And yet in the midst of her being deeply troubled and perplexed, she is able to stammer, "Let it be to me according to your word." And with that her journey begins. She not only bears the Word and follows the Word, and finds that her soul is pierced by the Word as he hangs upon the cross, but she is refashioned by the Word in the wind and fire of Pentecost as she waits with the apostles in the upper room. She is deeply perplexed not once but over and over again by the one she calls her son, always mindful of old Simeon's prophecy about being pierced by a sword because of her child.

She had much to ponder in her heart: his disappearance into the wilderness, the hostility of the town, her doubts about his sanity when people said, as we are told in Mark, "He has gone out of his mind." No, it didn't end with his birth or his growing up. It only got stranger and wilder, and yet she suffered for him and with him and because of him and endured - growing thereby into the mystery of her own character: her own identity, vocation and mission.

Bearing the Word into life and through death into resurrection: dying and rising within her own self, Mary knew the power of her son's resurrection by sharing his sufferings, to echo words of Paul. Beyond her fear and perplexity - or better yet, at the heart of her fear and perplexity, the love within her, provoked by God's loving favor and delight announced by an angel - "Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you" - moved Mary to say, "fiat; so be it, yes." And yet, once said, that "yes" had to be repeated at every turning of the way right up to the foot of the cross.

Remembering and pondering in her heart, "the Lord is with you" was the ground of her hope, her deep confidence that "all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" beyond her comprehension but according to God's own desire. It was this deep knowing that led her on in answering availability to all that life set before her.

To enter into the open space, the field of Jubilee, obliges us to pass through the narrow door of our fears: the fear that if I listen deeply I may lose my own certitude; the fear that if I make room for the other, I may lose my singularity and uniqueness; the fear that if I truly open my heart I will lose control and be taken beyond myself; the fear that if I live the mystery - God's mystery - of release, remission and reconciliation - I will have nothing left to call my own.

Though deeply troubled and perplexed, our sister Mary risked all by saying "yes." What about you? "Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you," God says to each one of us. What fears must we face and relinquish in order to say yes to God's project of reordering, restoring and making all things one?

I invite you, after the example of Mary, to ponder these things in your own heart and then engage in conversation around your tables.