Fear is listed in the Catechism under the category of the morality of the passions. Fear is a human passion. Passions are neutral, “neither good or evil” (CCC 1767). There are many passions, but the principal ones are “love and hatred, desire and fear, joy, sadness, and anger” (CCC 1772). “Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices” (CCC 1769). Our fear trigger can be used for good or for evil. God asks us to trust in Him so that our fears are “brought into the virtues” rather than allowing fear to be “perverted by the vices.” For example, when something triggers fear in me and I turn to Christ praying, “Jesus, I trust in You”, the Lord hears my cry and responds with grace to change my fear to faith.
Fear can rob us of the vibrancy of faith that comes through the vessel of trust. St. Faustina once wrote, “The Lord visited me today and said, ‘My daughter, do not be afraid of what will happen to you. I will give you nothing beyond your strength. You know the power of My grace; let that be enough’” (Diary, 1491). Do we know the power of divine grace?
I was afraid to leave my children alone after the murder of a loved one. I was afraid to drive after a car accident that totaled my car. Most of us relate to times in our life when we felt paralyzed by fear. Looking back we realize that God did not abandon us to our fear. He carried us to a place of safety revealing His merciful love, and restoring our faith. The school of divine mercy is a spirituality of trustful confidence in God. The word trust denotes an attitude of man toward God that is consistent with faith in Him but also defines our communion with the Infinitely Good God. At baptism we received the perfect love of the Trinity that takes away fear. We experience times when love triumphs over fear as in the following profile in mercy.
Profile in Mercy & Trust
In January 1945, Edith Zierer, at the age of thirteen, escaped from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, emaciated and on the very of death. She was separated from her entire family and was not aware what had happened to them.
Although she could barely walk, she managed to make it to the train station, where she climbed onto a coal wagon. The train moved slowly, but the wind cut through her and the cold became unbearable. She got off the train in a village Jedrejow, where she sat down in the corner of the station. Edith waited, unable to move, a girl in the striped and numbered uniform of a prisoner, late in an unbearable war. Nobody looked at her.
Death was approaching, but a young man approached first, “very good looking,” as she recalled, and “vigorous”. He wore a long robe and appeared to be a priest. “Why are you here?” he asked. “What are you doing?” Edith said she was trying to get to Krakow to find her parents. The man disappeared. He came back with a cup of tea. Edith drank. He said he could help her get to Krakow. Again the mysterious benefactor went away, returning with bread and cheese. They talked about the advancing Soviet army. Edith said she believed that her parents and younger sister, Judith, were alive.
“Try to stand,” the man said. Edith tried and failed. He carried her to another village, where he put her in the cattle car of a train bound for Krakow. Another family was there. The man got in beside Edith, covered her with his cloak, and made a small fire.
His name, he told Edith, was Karol Wojtyla. Although she took him for a priest, he was still a seminarian who would not be ordained until the next year. Thirty-three more years would pass before he became Pope John Paul II and embark on a papacy that would help break the Communist hold on Central Europe and so transform he world.
A twenty four-year-old Catholic seminarian and thirteen-year-old Jewish girl were in a ravaged land. Karol Wojtyla had already lost his mother, father, and brother. Unknown yet to Edith, she had already lost her mother at Belzee, her father at Maidanek, and her younger sisters at Auchwitz. These two young people, Karol and Edith, could not have been more alone.
The future Polish pope was shaped by such events of his youth and countrymen. The faith of this man of unshakeable conviction moved him to lead the Church with the same heart as he showed to Edith, an abandoned Jewish girl whose life he saved by offering her tea, bread, and shelter when nobody was watching. He had every reason to fear for his own life. He chose to risk, to trust, and to act in accord with mercy and fortitude. Would I have done the same?
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
Few are called to the papal mission that was Saint John Paul II’s. However, we are called to be vessels of merciful love, lifesavers for those in need. Scripture teaches, “Perfect love casts our fear” (1 John 4:18). Have you ever met real love that was absent trust? Too many so called love relationships are based in fear. It’s not like that with God. The mercy of God is that He loves us first, perfectly, faithfully and with a love worthy of our reciprocal love and trust.
Trust enters into our duties in our state of life and makes us joyful in the way that the converted prodigal son was joyful when he was reconciled to his father. Reflecting on the scene of the Prodigal Son we clearly see the merciful face of the Eternal Father for a wayward child. The Father’s love is steadfast and extravagant in the embrace of forgiving love. Our Father desires only man’s temporal, spiritual and eternal happiness in communion with Three In One.
The Lord Jesus said to Sister Faustina, The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is my desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts (Diary 1578).
The saints demonstrate the simplicity of life, the ordinary means accessible to all, by which we grow in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love—through an attitude of trustful faith. The lives of the saints also reveal the secret and necessity of fortitude, one of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice). The development of the virtue of trustful courage demands listening and hearing the Lord (“My sheep know My voice” John 10:27), stepping out in faith, self-emptying love, dependence upon God, and “love that casts out fear”. We overcome ourselves when God puts us in uncomfortable situations that require more of Him and less of us. Think of Peter walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. The Lord will allow us to be in circumstances wherein we suspend the logic of human reason to trust in His will so miracles come forth. Trust helps us to develop a love of mystery while letting go of the need to know. That’s the freedom for which we are created. Whenever the emotion of fear arises, let it get caught up into virtue not vice. Then our life will be a profile in unbounded mercy.
Prayer: Healing from Fear to Trust
Eternal Father, with honor and expectant faith, I lift up my heart and life to You. In Your mercy, touch me with graces of healing so that I may be set free from the tyranny of fear. Please lead me on the beautiful path of trust that is the way of perfect love. I beseech You, Almighty Father, to guide me in the way of confidence and courage like that of Your Son Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother Mary. Father, form me please into a child of trusting love, courage and mercy.