Friday, September 23, 2011

"Take Courage"

Today's first reading at Mass comes from the Prophet Haggai (2: 1-9). The Israelites have returned from exile and are back in the Promised Land, re-building the Temple in Jerusalem. They compare it to Solomon's Temple and get discouraged. It doesn't come near to the grandeur of that Temple which was built during the height of Israel's power. God addresses their discouragement through the Prophet Haggai.

He says "take courage" three times. He says "do not fear" and he says "work!" These are helpful words for all of us.

First, "do not fear." Fear and anxiety are feelings. The devil loves to use them to agitate us and get us off balance. When we are off balance we are more susceptible to his other suggestions and temptations. So, when we feel fear or discouragement, we must not give in to the feeling. We must reject it.

But we do not live in a vacuum so it's important to replace the feeling of fear with something positive--courage. It's common to think of fear and courage as mutually exclusive; to think that if you have courage then you never feel fear. The opposite is true. A World War I general once said that any soldier who told him he's never been afraid going into battle has either never been in battle or is a liar. The natural feeling to have going into battle is fear, and courage is to not let that feeling determine our action. Courage is a decision. It's an act of the will that rejects fear. It doesn't let the feeling determine the action.

That's where the third word of Haggai comes in: "work!" Having decided to reject fear and be courageous, we act. We put away the fearful thoughts and get to work. We don't worry about the results but we leave those in God's hands.

Padre Pio, whom we honor today, once wrote: "if any thought agitates you, this agitation never comes from God, who gives you peace, being the Spirit of Peace, but from the devil." When we feel fear or discouragement, we need to smell the sulphur behind it. Then we can reject it and "take courage."

The root of that word "courage" is "cor" or "heart." Another way of saying "take courage" is to say "take heart." The best heart we can take is the Heart of Jesus who readily gives his Heart to us in the Eucharist where he is present, body and blood, soul and divinity, including his Sacred Heart. The Eucharist gives us the courage of the Heart of Jesus, a Heart that accepted struggle, suffering, and finally death on the cross, trusting that in this way God the Father would take away the sins of the world and triumph over death.

Take courage! Live in union with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus!

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