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Facing Our Fears
Deacon Mike Meyer / Sunday, August 13, 2023 / Categories: Blog, Homilies

Facing Our Fears

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Countless surveys tell us that most parishioners appreciate when preachers leave the ambo and preach in front of the congregation. Many feel that it’s more personal, engaging, and it makes for more effective homilies. I have to say that I find these survey results baffling. When I sit in the pews, I hate when preachers approach me like that. I like my space and don’t want the preacher in it or too close to it. That said, I’ve read the surveys and know it’s more effective, but I still don’t leave the ambo. Why’s that? Well, I could say that the ambo symbolizes the Word of God, which preaching is, so that’s where preaching belongs. I could note that the ambo offers maximum visibility and audibility, so moving away runs the risk that some parishioners won’t be able to see or hear the homily. I’d be right on both counts. But the real reason I don’t leave the ambo is that I’m afraid. I guess I know how Elijah, Paul, and Peter felt.

Fear is a common theme in today’s readings. In our first reading, we find Elijah hiding in a cave because Queen Jezebel wants him dead after he defeated her pagan prophets. In our second reading, Saint Paul fears for the salvation of his Jewish brothers and sisters who haven’t accepted Jesus as the Messiah. And Saint Peter’s wondrous walk on water in our Gospel ends with a splash when he takes his eyes off Jesus, and his fear overwhelms his faith. So, let’s talk about fear.

Psychology tells us that fear’s an emotion caused by the presence or anticipation of danger. The perception of danger triggers a response in the area of the brain called the amygdala, which activates the parts of our body involved in fight or flight.[1] Fear’s a survival instinct. It helps us avoid situations that might cause us harm, so it’s not always a bad thing. But fear comes in many shapes and sizes, and it can lead to serious psychological disorders like phobias, anxiety, and depression. Before I continue, let me say that if you experience these conditions or any mental health issue that interferes with your happiness, well-being, or safety, please seek professional help. If you don’t know where to turn, give me a call; I’d be happy to share some referrals.

When it comes to our faith life, I’d bet that fear’s the greatest obstacle to our spiritual growth. I see it all the time. The most common response I get when I ask someone to lead a ministry or activity here at Church is, “I’m not good enough.” That’s fear responding and interfering with an opportunity to develop our relationship with God and his people. Fear causes us to close in on ourselves, focus on our own well-being before the needs of others, and become selfish and egotistical. As the great philosopher Yoda once said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Letting fear overshadow our Christian mission, then, is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught us and witnessed in his life, death, and resurrection.

Christianity’s an outward-facing, risk-taking faith. It commands us to emerge from the cave when God calls and step out of the boat when Jesus says, “Come.” It puts our relationship with God and others before self-interest and even self-preservation. It demands love, and not just any old love, but the greatest love – a love that makes us willing to lay down our life for a friend. That level of love is scary, in part because it compels us to face our fears.

How do we do that? First, we need to trust that God will keep his promises. Elijah would never have emerged from that cave if he didn’t trust God. Peter would never have stepped out of that boat if he didn’t trust God. We need to remember that when the people were hungry, Jesus fed them. When the wind was against the disciples, Jesus came to them, and when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink, Jesus saved him. Jesus says, “Be not afraid” or its equivalent some 17 times in the Gospels for a reason: the one who says, “Come,” never abandons those who respond.[2]

Next, we need to deal with our fears. How? Psychology tells us that gradually and repeatedly engaging with the source of our fears is a great way to conquer them. That means that we need to do or encounter the things we’re afraid of over and over again. If you’re afraid to speak in public, join Toastmasters. If you’re scared of small spaces, sit in my office downstairs for a few hours. If you’re terrified of spiders, get a pet tarantula. OK, that may be pushing it. It’s the same with our Christian mission. If fear’s stopping us from responding when Jesus bids us to come, we need to face our fear, trust God, and just do it, again and again.

Jesus needs us to continue his work in the world, beginning right here at Saint Catherine’s. We really want to start a choir. If you like to sing but are afraid your voice isn’t angelic enough, face your fear, stretch your vocal cords, and come. We desperately need people to lead Bible study and spirituality enrichment programs. If you’re afraid you don’t know enough, face your fear, pick up a book, and come. We need altar servers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and catechists. If you’re afraid to stand in front of a crowd, face your fear, imagine everyone in their underwear, and come. We are Christ’s arms and legs, feet and hands in this world today, and every one of us is given unique talents to contribute to his redemptive work. I think we can all agree that there’s a lot of work yet to be done before the fullness of God’s Kingdom reigns on earth, much too much to leave to a few brave souls. If the rest of us won’t emerge from our cave or step out of the boat, who will?

              It's time to face our fears, like my fear of leaving the ambo when I preach. What am I afraid of? Well, my teachers did a great job instilling in me the importance of good preaching, so I spend a lot of time trying to get every word of my homilies just right. I don’t want to leave my text at the ambo because I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you. But I know that stepping out is more effective and that fear of failure can’t stop us from taking the risks that Christianity demands. I also know that if I begin to sink, Jesus will stretch out his hands and catch me. Look, If I can step out of the boat, even if just for a moment, so can you. Jesus needs all of us. Face your fears, keep your eyes on Christ, and come.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33


[1] University of West Alabama, “Why We Physically Feel Fear,” Psychology and Counseling News (June 21, 2019),

[2] John Shea, On Earth as It Is in Heaven: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Matthew Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004), 250.

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