Advent reflection: Does fear reverse faith?

One constant joy of visiting Philly (besides seeing my cute parents -- hi Mom!) is getting to attend my old parish, Mary Mother of the Redeemer. It's a lovely suburban community of all ages and backgrounds, led by three wonderful priests who do have the oft-spoken-of, not-oft-seen inner peace and joy the religious are purported to have.

I was home this past weekend for my mother's birthday, which also happened to be the second Sunday of Advent. So off I went to services out of guilt like the good little singing Catholic girl I am.

Rev. William J. Teverzczuk -- who introduces himself as Fr. Bill because his last name doesn't have enough vowels to pronounce it -- was celebrating Mass. And he gave a sermon about the four attitudes that keep us from connecting with God: anger, selfishness, resentment, and fear.

If there was ever a sermon designed to hit home with a congregation in the throes of a recession, this was it. Or at least so I felt, given that I was sitting there newly unemployed, exhausted, tense, worried, and distracted by the fact my pants were too baggy.

One by one, Fr. Bill went down the list. ANGER keeps God at arm's length. SELFISHNESS prevents you from loving creation and Creator. RESENTMENT -- stemming from the Latin resentire, to feel again -- "pokes old hurts" and delays healing. And FEAR ... fear reverses faith.

That's when my ears perked up. Fear you say, Fr. Bill? Why, whatever would make me fearful right now? Perhaps the fact that I'm job hunting during the holidays AND an economic downturn? That every day, another one of my friends is let go? That I'm not seizing the opportunity to follow my heart, or worse, following the wrong path?

Or is it that I become more convinced with each dateless year month I'm never going to be in a committed relationship? That my brother will be attacked on the streets of North Philly? That my grandparents will die before I get a chance to say goodbye?

Or maybe it's that we're headed toward World War III ... that we're frying the planet ... that we're killing people in God's name ... that we're 8 million years away from world peace ... the list goes on.

Yeah, I silently said to Fr. Bill. Yeah, fear reverses faith alright. And the reversal becomes only more pronounced as the nights get longer, the days get colder, and the worry lines in people's faces deepen.

No wonder fear damages our relationship with God. Opening your heart lets all feelings in, fear and faith alike. Acknowledging apprehensions makes them real. It forces us to deal.

And if you're spiritual, a big part of dealing can mean reaching out to a Higher Being you've been doing your best to stay distant from. Because you know that It knows that you both know what you need to do -- and talking about it might force you to do it, even if it's frightening, difficult, or sad.

But then again ... what better time of year to be afraid and then remember faith? We have four (now two) weeks of waiting in the cold and dark for what we know will be an unabashed celebration, centered solely on good news and babies and light and angels and music and cookies. (Ok, cookies aren't part of the liturgical canon. But they should be. Wafers aren't cutting it.)

Simply knowing that good stuff is coming takes the sting out of waiting. It turns apprehension to anticipation. The trick is holding onto that sense of anticipation -- of wonder -- of hope -- when you have no idea how, when, or if a celebration awaits.

So if fear reverses faith, then trust restores it, I decided. Trust in God, trust in myself, trust in the mysterious machinations of a cyclical universe designed by a constant creator.

Trust that we'll all find our purpose, that we'll all be safe, that each person will make the right and noble choices to help set our world on a regenerative path.

Trust that dark turns to light, that celebrations always come, and that Advent is a perpetual and enriching state of being.

I trust that faith reverses fear.