One of the remarkable aspects of our time in Yuma this winter has been our association with St John Neumann parish where we have become part time parishioners. This is a wonderful Catholic Christian community offering daily Mass and all sorts of other activities calculated to grow one’s faith life. As you know, Helen and I have become members of the traditional choir. Consequently we are called on not only to sing at Mass on Sunday’s and Holy days of obligation but also at funerals. This week we have 3 funerals Masses to participate in. We are blessed to have Fr. John Friel as our pastor. Fr John, who is in his early 70’s, is a former US Navy Chaplain and a previous Oblate of St Francis De Sales. He ceased to be an Oblate when he joined the Arizona Diocese of which Yuma is a part as a diocesan priest in the 90’s. The parish also has an assistant priest and 2 serving deacons as well as a retired priest [Fr Leroy] who assists with Sunday and daily Masses.
At Mass this morning, Fr John reflected on the scripture readings from the 1st letter of St John for yesterday [1 John 4: 7-10] and this morning [1 John 4: 11-18.]. As a Catholic Christian raised in the Pre-Vatican II Church, I am intimately familiar with the culture of fear that accompanied many missions preached at the time. The focus was always on sin particularly mortal sin and the reality of Hell and Purgatory. Fear was the instrument used by many Priests to try to reach their audience and many of us were left with the impression that “divine retribution” was just around the corner. We weren’t encouraged to contemplate the “love of God” so poignantly emphasized in the parable of the Prodigal Son or in the two scriptures quoted above from the 1st Letter of St John. That is not to say of course that God’s justice does not need to be satisfied but that is why God blessed us with the Redemptive Act of Jesus who enabled a relationship with our loving Father. God doesn’t want us to fear Him nor to shrink away from a relationship with Him because of fear brought on by our sinfulness. He knows that we are sinful but He loves us anyways. As St John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” [1 John 4: 11-18]. Many of you I am sure if you are of my vintage will have been spiritually scarred as I was by the misguided emphasis placed by some Priests and religious teachers on Sin and the consequences of Sin. It’s not that Sin doesn’t offend God and it’s not that we are not called to avoid Sin and the occasions of Sin. To bask in God’s love means we have to love one another for without God there is no love. Every occasion of love that we experience in our life is a reflection [imperfect though it may be] of the love that God has for us. The greatest gift you can give yourself is to allow the love of God to permeate you so that you are saturated with that love. When that happens, fear will become a distant memory and Sin will begin to wither on the vine as it is choked out by the immensity of God’s love for you and His forgiveness. I experienced the immensity of God’s love myself when I lay close to death in 2009 and that experience will forever change me. Look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are God’s loving creation. He desperately wants your company in eternity and He doesn’t want fear to impede your relationship with Him. Don’t allow the enemy to convince you otherwise.