Today's readings concern overcoming fear. The first reading tells about people who see the wonders the apostles perform, but do not "dare to join them." In the reading from Revelation the sight of Jesus causes John to fall down "as though dead." But Jesus touches him, saying, "Do not be afraid." And in the Gospel the apostles keep the door locked out of fear and then experience an even greater fright: Jesus appears to them. He first words, however, are,
"Peace be with you." Jesus wants to help us overcome fear.
I would like to tell you about a man who overcame fear in a remarkable way: Thomas Byles, the oldest son of a nineteenth
century Congregational minister. Inspired by his father, the young man began a serious study of the Bible and early Christian writers. The more he read the more he became convinced that Jesus founded the Catholic Church. You can imagine the fear he had to overcome to tell his family he was becoming a Catholic, but not only that - God was calling him to the priesthood!
Ordained in 1902 the bishop assigned him to a rural parish in Essex, England.
There he dedicated himself to youth. During Lent 1912 he told the altars
servers that he would be gone for several weeks after Easter. He was going to
America to do his brother's wedding. He mentioned that he was travelling on
White Star Lines. One of the servers said, "Isn't that the Titanic? I hear it
is so strong even God couldn't sink it."
The priest smiled and mildly scolded the boy: "Nothing is greater than God.
But I am not going on the Titanic, but on the Olympic."
As things happened, his brother sent a ticket for the maiden voyage of the
Titanic. He boarded as a second class passenger on Wednesday, April 10.
Passenger from all classes - and a variety of nationalities - came to him for
confession during the first four days. On Sunday, April 14, Fr. Byles
celebrated the same Mass we have today - the Second Sunday of Easter. Speaking
in French and English, he warned about "spiritual shipwreck" - that is, falling
into temptation. We need the sacraments and prayer, he said, like a life belt
to not drown in the turbulent sea of this life.
Close to midnight, Fr. Byles was on the deck praying his breviary when he
felt a sudden jolt. Realizing something serious had happened, he went to third
class to help passengers - especially the ill and mothers with small children.*
They were the first placed in life boats. Fr. Byles blessed each one, making
the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
He began giving general absolution and praying with those on board. Twice
they offered Fr. Byles a place in a life boat. He replied that a shepherd does
not abandon a flock in danger. Many survivors remembered seeing the outline of
a priest in his cassock with people huddle around him. As the Titanic began
tilting upward he led them in the rosary - Catholics, Protestants, Jews and
non-believers all joined in the prayer.
Fr. Thomas Byles' body was never recovered from the icy Atlantic.** A
remarkable man. A man who by Jesus' grace overcame fear. A man who heard Jesus'
word, "Do not be afraid."
This Sunday we celebrate the Divine Mercy. It an invitation to overcome the
fear that separates us from God. Yes, God is like an immense ocean -
mysterious, greater than anything we can imagine. But that ocean can take our
sins - no matter what you or I have done. When we turn to Christ our sins
disappear like drops of water in the immense sea.
Jesus gives that assurance today. Receive the Holy Spirit - whose sins you
shall forgive are forgiven them. Like Fr. Byles - in Jesus we can overcome
fear. "Do not be afraid," he says, "Once I was dead, but now I live forever and
*A survivor recalled: "We saw before us, coming down the passageway, with
his hand uplifted, Fr. Byles. We knew him because he had visited us several
times on board and celebrated Mass for us that very morning. 'Be calm, my good
people,' he said, and then he went about the steerage giving absolutions and
blessings." See FR. BYLES AND THE "SHIP OF DREAMS" by Mark
**Much of the data regarding Fr. Byles, I drew from "A Titanic Hero: Thomas Byles" by Cady Crosby.
This remarkable young lady put together a compelling account of the priest's
life. Besides the written version, Cady recorded an audio CD of her book.
On the First Sunday of Lent we hear about the devil tempting Jesus. He faces Satan head-on. Hearing how Jesus demolishes the devil's sophistries, we might think, "Sounds pretty easy." Well, I would like issue a warning, "Do not try this at home." Do not talk to the devil.
Although Jesus speaks directly to devil, you and I should not do the same. In case you have not noticed, there is a difference between Jesus and us. He is God; you and I are not. He is all powerful; we are weak. He is all-wise; (please don't take offense) we are dumber than we think.*
Let me give a comparison. To take on the devil directly would be like me taking on a kick boxer. Even the most poorly trained kick boxer could have me on the floor, flat on my back, in a matter of seconds. Just so, a minor demon could bring me down - if I try to deal with him on my own.
The devil is like a wolf pursuing a sheep or a lamb. You would think the quickest way to bring down a sheep would be to attack its legs and make it stumble. But reportedly that is not the wolf 's normal method. He goes for the neck. And when he sinks his teeth into the neck, a lamb cannot bleat. It cannot call for the shepherd. The devil does something similar. He wants to first disable our voice so that we do not call out to the Lord.
Have you ever noticed that when you try to set aside a time to pray, that something inevitably comes up? All of a sudden, you remember an unfinished chore or a person you should call. Or better yet, take a quick look at the TV or the Internet . If you are like me, you begin thinking about what you have in the refrigerator.
The devil will do almost anything to keep us from praying. Many families tell me about the trials they go through on Sunday morning, getting ready for Mass. Do you think that these things are just a coincidence? No, the devil attacks at the throat, to wants to take away your voice - so that you will not call out to the Lord.
Sometimes people ask why God allows the demons to attack us so much. I do not know, but I can make a guess. God does it for the same reason he permits anything bad to happen. He has in mind a greater good - namely, that we will turn to him. Sometimes a person has to hit bottom before he recognizes he cannot do it on his own.
There is something else. When we give in to a temptation, it takes power from us. But the opposite also applies: when we resist a temptation, we take power from it. The devil wants to rob us of power, to make us impotent. The Lord wants to make us strong by resisting tempation. The more strength, the more power we have, the more we have to offer to God through Jesus - and the better we can serve others.
I have talked quite a bit about the devil, more than I like to. I want to stress that we do not have to fear the devil. St. Augustine said that since coming of Christ, the devil is a chained power. He compares the devil to a dog tied to a post. For him to attack, we have to step into his territory.
Stay away from certain temptations. Various studies have shown that sexual involvement of any kind, apart from marriage, can harm a person, especially a teenager. One University of California study concluded that "early sexual activity - whether in or out of a romantic relationship - does far more harm than good."** You know, nothing magic happens when a person turns 20. These studies also apply to older people. Stay away from certain temptations. Flee them. Run to the one who overcame the enemy.
In our Seattle Men's Conference we will hear more about spiritual combat - how our men can take their leadership role by putting on the full armor of God. I ask you to join me in praying for the men will attend this Conference.***
And, above all, remember that, by his death and resurrection, Jesus has shackled the demonic powers. When tempted, do not talk to the devil; turn to Jesus As we hear in today’s Psalm:
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him...
He shall call upon me - and I will answer him. Amen.
*In his book "What Americans Really Want...Really", Frank Luntz gives this fun statistic: 90% of the people in our country believe that they are "smarter than the average American"!
**A couple more quotes:
Though a girl is "far more likely to feel used and abused after a typical" hook up, the "impersonality of twenty-first-century adolescent sex victimizes girls" and "plenty of harm" is done to boys as well.
Especially among younger teenagers, casual sex is associated with depression. This impersonality is harmful to both girls and boys; however, girls are especially at risk of becoming victims in casual sexual relationships.
See Adolescent sexuality in the United States
***Here is the prayer: "Lord Jesus, raise up in your Church strong, godly men: Men who respect, care and protect. Men who lead with courage, putting on your full armor. Men who persevere in love as you did – to the last drop of your blood. You live and reign forever. Amen"
Homilies in MP3 Audio