A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

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What are you afraid of?

Let’s face it.  We all seem to be afraid of something.  For some people,  it is driving in the dark.  For others, it is the fear of flying.  When you stop to think about it, many of us have some kind of fear which can limit our line of activities.  But in addition to material fears, there are spiritual fears as well.

Just what is “fear”?  Many dictionaries would likely describe it as a disagreeable emotion caused by the belief that someone or something can cause me pain or anxiety.  But can one handle “fear” once it makes its appearance?

In the Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 14:22-32) the theme of “fear” plays a rather significant role.  Here is what the Gospel tells us.

Jesus goes up to a mountain to PRAY.  It is his way of coming into personal contact with God the Father, which is necessary for making proper judgements about other people.  Meanwhile, some of his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Suddenly, heavy winds emerge and tend to blow the boat almost out of control, causing the disciples to panic.  No doubt, they were AFRAID.  And that FEAR  was intensified when they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them.  They presumed that Jesus was a ghost.

When Jesus was about to reach the boat, he told the disciples that it was he and firmly stated ” Do not be AFRAID.”  Impetuous Peter then asked Jesus if he (Peter) could walk on water toward Jesus.  After an affirmative response  Peter got out of the boat and started to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But the winds were still strong and Peter became FRIGHTENED.  He began to sink and called out for help.  Jesus reached out to Peter, helped him, and then said, “O you of little faith.  Why did you DOUBT?”  Peter doubted the power of Jesus because he was afraid.

What lesson can we learn from the Gospel?  Two of the themes appear to be bound together, namely, “prayer” and “fear.”  Our potential lessons can be learned from that juncture.

First of all, there is “prayer.”  Jesus goes up to the mountain alone to pray because  this is how he has his personal encounter with God the Father.  Consequently, we must constantly “climb our mountain” (whatever it is) to have our personal encounter with God.  It is that encounter that gives us the courage and authority to deal with fear, whatever its source.  Therefore, we should ask ourselves precisely what is this “mountain” where I can have a personal encounter with God.  Silent/sacramental prayer?  Close friendship?

Secondly, we must also discover what is that item of which we are afraid.  As a disciple we should be fearful of sin, particularly if it is easy to commit.  In fact, it is prayer that strengthens our faith and enables us to believe in the authority of Jesus.

Prayer strengthens faith and conquers doubt.  As he  stretched his hand to help Peter in his moment of doubt, so Jesus stretches his hand to help us in our moments of doubt.  Maybe it is time to ask ourselves what is it that we fear the most?  Not just on the practical level, but on the spiritual level as well.

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