Do we choose the conceited illusion of control, or do we trust in God?
Recently, I spent time talking to a man who seems to exist in a permanent state of rage about everything — headlines, the Church, the pope, the presidential campaigns — and it seemed to me that the taproot of all of his anger was a deep-rooted sense of fear. The fear was about things spinning out of his control, or his perception of control; that if he could not control circumstances personally, the people in leadership positions were supposed to be able to control things in just the way he would prefer, by proxy, in a manner of speaking.
Things aren’t going as he thinks they should; leaders aren’t saying what he wants them to say, and he’s angry, and he seems terrified that if all the important words are not said, and said, and said again, then somehow things will collapse — nations and churches and societies and the whole world. Centers will not hold unless human beings continually hammer them down.
It seemed a conceited and egotistical, dare I say almost idolatrous notion: that if man does not uphold the world, it would cease to be. It might be true that a society run wild in service to its brokenness will become a society diminished, but as a Christian man, I kept wondering why he had so little faith in the Holy Spirit. A few moments spent contemplating the Crucifix, or in reading the lives of some saints, is enough to help us recognize that God uses every action, for good or for ill, to eventually bring things around to his own good purposes, and that, as St. Philip Neri has said, “We can trust in this.”
After we spoke, I wrote in my journal:
Why is everyone so afraid? Don’t we realize that fear is the foundation that supports so much of our sin? I’m stupid, and sometimes I will not be afraid when perhaps I should be. But I’d rather be stupid, naive and bumbling, than so afraid, all the time. Everyday, I ponder the Sacred Heart of Jesus before me, “abode of Justice and Love … enriching all who invoke thee …” and I realize that every concern can be placed into that huge heart, and left there, in complete trust. Nothing is safe or pure. Everyone will have a turn (or several) in the crucible. But the Sacred Heart is a self-immolation, never consumed. It is there, in the crucible with us. What is there, then, to fear?
A few days later I was happy to see a priest writing something very similar in Aleteia’s Spanish edition — and isn’t Google Translate a wonderful thing? Asking “Do You Make Decisions out of Fear of out of Love?,” Father Carlos Padilla writes, “At one point in the Star Wars saga, Master Yoda says to Anakin: ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.’ The fear that we may lose what we love can lead to anger. Fear can close us in on ourselves, and ultimately cause the thing we fear most, to happen.”
Too right. A fear that one’s country is losing its greatness may cause one to put too much hope in men or movements that ultimately become so alienating to others that constructive compromises are impossible and the very thing one has dreaded becomes unstoppable.
A fear that the Church — the eternal, supernaturally founded and sustained entity that continues to exist despite humankind’s fecklessness and error — will crumble and fall unless the message of human sinfulness is hammered out daily, may cause one to become an unpleasantly scolding nag whom people would rather avoid. If the fear of your words being mistaken for an adjudged approval (rather than as a simple statement of fact) keeps you from greeting someone with “it is good that you exist” before telling them why they are filthy sinners, then your evangelization will only ensure that they do not exist at all in the pews.
Father Padilla writes that Anakin Skywalker moved to the dark side when the fear of losing his wife drove him to seek powers over life and death that belong to God alone. Humanity’s great sin, since Eden, has always been our wish “to be as God,” so that the world might spin according to our own minds, because we can never, in the end, fully understand the mind of God, and to simply “go on trust” is so very hard.
Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of Aleteia’s English edition