The whole world seems shaken these days with a sense of foreboding…with the blood of martyrs flowing through the sand and dying ocean waters red, with hordes of refugees fleeing the the Ukraine, with whole villages slaughtered in Nigeria and Ghana, and on and on and on.
It’s as if the whole of humanity is on the edge, drowning in a pool of anxiety and trembling in fear before a crisis of unknown proportions. I have to fly to Rome at the end of next week, and the words of that black-hooded man holding his bloody knife aloft on a Libyan beach scares the living daylights out of me. “On to Rome.”
So what do I do in the face of such fear? The Church, mater et magístra, answers by giving me Ash Wednesday, with three simple antidotes to my fear: Repentence, Prayer and Love.
Antidote #1: You think the evil you fear is out there? Look within your own heart, where ‘your sin is always before you.’ The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of the next forty days is a recognition that the seeds of hatred and war now growing so rapidly on the international scene have their roots in our own hearts. For, to paraphrase Pogo: “I have met the enemy, and he is me.” So, the last thing I will do before I get on the plane is go to confession.
Antidote #2: Pray. Look on the face of Christ with the same innocence and trust that you knew when first you met him as a child. Seek the quiet stillness of his presence for hours at a time. Pour out your every fear and insecurity. Seek him while he may be found and call to him while he is still near. Pray.
Antidote #3: The third antidote is not a thing at all, but a person. The one who from the Cross looked down on our childishness, our sinfulness and self-destructive violence and said “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
The ISIL jihadist on the beach is not a monstor, but some mother’s son. He once giggled as a baby and he has people who worry about him when he doesn’t call and he had a best friend in grammar school. Somehow he got so hurt or made so many bad choices that he lost his way and fell into a pit of hellish rage and rotting sin. He’s in the devil’s grasp, and we are called to love him like the lost sheep and pray…and not just pray that he won’t cut my head off, but pray that God might give him the grace of repentence, that he might turn away from sin and know the merciful face of Christ and be saved.
Three antidotes to all that sin and all that fear: Repentence, Prayer and Love.