• Steve Auth

Holy Monday: The Vaccine for Fear

Mission in the Cloud. What a night last night! Well over 120 of you in attendance, many with friends or spouses you’d invited. Thank you for being a part of Day 1. In one short hour, we covered a lot of ground on the topic of fear. It started out pretty dark, until Fr. Shawn gave us the Vaccine for Fear—Jesus.

Here’s a summary.


“Caravaggio Confronts His Demons”

The great Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio spent much of his short adult life on the run. He grew up an orphan in Milan, “adopted” by a street gang who’s motto was “No Hope, No Fear.” He was rescued by a wealthy patron who saw his genius, but he never fully escaped his rough start. After murdering someone in barroom brawl in Rome, he skipped from one town to the other seeking safe haven in exchange for the brilliant artistic commissions that remain his legacy today. He died mysteriously on a voyage from Naples to Rome in 1610; this painting, “The Denial of St. Peter”, was one of his last, painted earlier that year. It’s about what happens to us, what happened to him, when we let our fear control us, and instead of running to the one person who can get us through it, we panic and deny him instead.


St. Peter started the night on the right course. At the Last Supper, he swore again his firm allegiance to Jesus, accompanied him to the agony in the garden, and was one of the few Apostles who tried to defend him when he was arrested. He followed him to the kangaroo court at the Sanhedrin. But then, he got distracted. Saw a warm fire. “Let me just warm myself for a moment. Get refreshed for the fight ahead.” Suddenly, in that moment of weakness, the Devil pounced, in the form of the accusation from the woman in the center, then the guard on the left, then Peter himself on the right. Peter panicked in fear for his life. Three denials. “I tell you, I do not know the man!” (Mt 26:74)

But there are four accusing fingers in this painting, if you look carefully. Why four? I think the fourth stands for Peter’s realization of what he’s just done, denied his best friend. Far worse than what would have happened if he’d just stood firm.


When I meditate on this painting, I keep being drawn to the creased brow on Peter’s forehead, one of the only elements that is highlighted by Caravaggio, so that we don’t miss the point. Letting fear take control of him, he’s now faced with a far bigger fear: for his eternal future. His face is one of horror as he literally feels himself slipping into the black darkness that envelopes him.


We’ve all been there, done that.


But Caravaggio references a ray of hope here, I think. He knows that we know the ending. Christ will overcome his cross, conquer death, and then—come back for Peter. He finds him on the shores of Lake Galilee one misty morning a few weeks later. And there, he gives Peter reconciliation. His penance: three “I love you, Lord”’s. Then he makes him the head of his Church.


Even in the darkness, Christ is here. He’s that flickering flame we see over St. Peter’s right arm. Just a glowing ember, but alive.


It’s our job to stir up that ember, to get back on track, to be missionaries for him, to let him help us overcome the darkness. Time to move from fear to joy.



“With Jesus, We Can Walk on Water”

Fr. Shawn gave us a rich reflection on how Jesus can help us overcome our fears. He used the Gospel text of Matthew 14:22-33. In the midst of the storm, the Apostles, who believe Jesus has abandoned them, suddenly see him walking towards them on the water. They can’t believe it’s really Jesus; they forget who he is, that He can do anything.

Only Peter is brave enough to answer Jesus’s call to step out of the boat into the storm. Incredibly, with the Lord’s help, Peter finds himself actually walking on the water towards Christ. But then, he gets distracted. (Sound familiar?) He notices the wind blowing hard; then a giant wave rolling in. He loses sight of Christ, and zeroes in instead on the wind and the waves. He begins to sink, to be mortal again.


Then Jesus reaches out and rescues him.


Missionaries, this has been a year of fear. Fear of the Covid, fear of death, fear of being alone. And at the same time, many of us have been cut off from our only true source of succor and support, Jesus in the sacraments. It’s time to end this. To use this Holy Week to refocus on Him, not the wind, not the waves. On Jesus. He’ll get us through the storm. He’ll make us walk on water. With time, he’ll make us into saints.


Takeaways: “What do I fear?”



We had three incredible takeaways last night:


  1. Set up a special prayer space somewhere in our homes. A place that reminds us of Him, that is beautiful, spiritual, quiet. Go there to pray. to lean into Jesus to help us through the day. To make us into saints.

  2. Make a list of our deepest fears in our prayer journals, then turn them over to Christ. Let him equip us to be missionaries. Stop focusing on how strong the wind is, how high the waves are, and how scary the darkness is. Lean into Him. Use the “Holy Spirit” method, not the “white knuckle” method.

  3. Pray the Litany of Humility (posted on the prayer tab in our site.) This special prayer lists virtually every fear one of us could be suffering from: shame, humiliation, not being loved, and so on. I challenge you to identify a fear you have that is not included here! When we put our fears in the hands of Christ, the Litany allows us to move on with our mission. To walk on water.

A missionary

March 30, 2021


ABOUT STEVE AUTH

Steve Auth serves as chief investment officer of Federated Global Equities and has led New York City street missions for ten years at Old St. Patricks in SoHo and across the city. 

CONTACT STEVE AUTH

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