BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
1st Sunday of Lent | March 10, 2019
What are you afraid of?
There was a time when I would have looked at you and proudly declared, “Nothing.”
I don’t mind heights, having climbed to the outer decks of skyscrapers and ziplined through the trees on high ropes courses.
I love the water, having grown up with the power of the ocean as my summer respite.
I appreciate the beauty of darkness and have always enjoyed the quiet serenity that comes with night.
I’ve wrapped snakes around my neck and slept in tents covered with spiders.
And I live for public speaking.
But I must admit, my answer has changed.
I realize now that I do have fears.
Fears that are much deeper than I ever understood.
Fears that in many ways define who I am
And I discovered these fears when I began working at Nativity Prep.
See, Nativity Prep is an urban middle school in Wilmington, Delaware that serves all low-income students, giving these boys the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty through education.
And my first year as an Oblate priest, I was asked to work there as the vice principal.
And in that baptism by fire, I have come to understand what I really fear.
I fear failure. I fear putting all of this work into something and it still not working.
I fear rejection. I fear being told I am not good enough. I fear that others will judge me as inadequate.
But above all, I fear that I will lose the ones I love. I fear that I will lose a student.
Because I have experienced each of those fears realized.
I have failed
I have not been good enough.
And most of all, I have lost students that I love, burying two of them before they ever hit 18.
Maybe that is why I have come to appreciate this Gospel more and more with each passing year.
Because in Jesus’ struggle with the temptations, I see him wrestling with these core fears that so many of us battle on a daily basis.
In the temptation to turn rocks into bread, Jesus must face his fear that one day his needs may not be met. That he will find himself hungry, exhausted. That he will find himself in danger, threats arrayed against him.
In the temptation to throw himself off the temple, Jesus must face his fear that one day no one will be there for him. That he will be abandoned. Rejected. Left alone.
And in the temptation to worship the devil in exchange for the nations, Jesus must face his fear that one day he will not be in control. That he will lose everything he worked so hard to build. That everything will be taken away.
And in his triumph over these fears, I see a model for each of us as we begin this Lenten season.
For Jesus too would see his fears become reality.
He faced sleepless nights aware of the impending threats that circled around him.
He watched as those he loved scattered in his darkest hour.
He experienced the kingdom he was building as it was dashed upon the rock of Golgotha, as the people he taught and healed and led disappeared into the night as mobs angrily cried, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
But he did not allow his fears to win.
For he retained his belief in a God who sustains us, shelters us, comforts us, encircles us, strengthens us, and loves us through it all. And therefore, he refused to allow his fears to define him or the actions he took. He still chose love even in the midst of all he feared.
And in turn, he invited us to do the same.
Whatever fears we face, our God invites us to name them and face them honestly, recognizing that much of what we fear may be realized.
And yet, at the same time, our God then stands beside us. Assuring us that he is there. That nothing can separate us from the love of God. And therefore, we must go forth to live our lives in that love, refusing to allow our own fears to define us or the choices we make.
Maybe that is why it is so fitting that this is the appeal weekend, when I ask for money for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. For in the Gospel, God is reminding me that all the fears around how we will continue to provide for our elderly brothers, while educating our seminarians and keeping the doors of places like Nativity Prep open are just that . . . fears.
For God has been working through amazing parishes like St. Ann’s for years to ensure that we have what we need to continue to be who God calls us to be.
And I have faith that God will continue to work through each of you. Allowing your generosity and support to sustain us. Today, tomorrow, and throughout the year to come. So that I can continue to head back into my own vineyard at Nativity, refusing to surrender even in the face of my own failures, rejections, and loss. Choosing love even in the midst of my own fears.
Thank you my friends. For being the face of Christ to us as Oblates. For building the kingdom of God beside us here in Naples and throughout the world.
May God be Praised.