The summer before I became Catholic, I decided to get baptized during an impromptu baptism call. I was the last person up, because I was nervous. Yet, something in me told me to go. And so I prayed, as a Protestant, that God would make me a saint. I went forward not knowing how significant this moment would be in my journey home.
After I decided to become Catholic, I talked to my friend Andy about the confirmation process. I told him that I didn’t have a baptism certificate, and I didn’t want to be put down as “conditional”. At that moment, my parents sent me a text telling me something had come in the mail and they would bring it with them on their weekend visit to campus. It was, to my surprise, my baptism certificate!
Memories like these helped me during the difficult moments of my conversion. They gave me the courage to ask God for more signs, more healing in certain areas of my life, and more boldness when I prayed. They also allowed me to see that God multiplies our small acts of courage with more grace and fortuity.
Yes, I know that we are going through difficult times right now. But, I also know from my experiences that God will prevail. We are never alone. This is why I want to explore the two central questions fear poses to us and how we are to answer when these challenges arise.
Who is God?
Fear often stems from a faulty understanding of God. For example, we are tempted to think that God is only present in our lives during mass, when we are feeling or behaving well, and so on. Perhaps we read the scriptures and assume that since all good things come from God (James 1:17) the bad stuff entails that God has abandoned us (or, even worse, despises us). Nothing could be further from the truth.
God is our Father. He loves us and does not merely tolerate us. He is not caught off guard by our troubles or surprised by our upsets. He loves us in the same way a good father loves his small and fragile child.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
For instance, I remember how much I struggled to view God as a father. I didn’t want to associate God with any human titles, because people have wounded and disappointed me. However, this mindset ruined my perception of the world, made me suspicious of everything, and stretched the patience of those around me.
It also placed me at odds with my faith, because Christ is both truly God and truly man. In Christ’s incarnate existence, He visibly demonstrated that God and man are not at war but meant to be one.
Moreover, Jesus referred to God as His heavenly Father and cried out to Him when He felt troubled. In knowing that He is God’s beloved Son, Christ was able to endure the pain of rejection, lack, hunger, disappointment, and eventually the cross.
When I finally paused in order to meditate and pray, as Christ did so many times, I thought more about God as my father. I thought about how He loves me in the same way He loves Christ, because I am really part of His family! Those precious moments of silence allowed me to realize that God is far more present and interested in our lives than we often care to notice.
We are often so stretched by our anxieties that we forget all of the times that God has been faithful to us; we forget that God is the one who makes our lives beautiful and worth living; we forget that it is not our job to bend reality and solve every problem. Our job is to be loved by Him and, in return, simply love Him and others well.
This solution sounds simplistic to some extent, but I think it reflects Christ’s own words on what truly matters (Matthew 6:25-34). When we place God at the center by remembering that He is there and loves us, then everything else attempting to give us value and certainty becomes secondary.
Is our faith mature?
Faith is not a motionless and unexercised thing. Like all relationships, especially the most important ones in our lives, it requires care, communication, nurturing, and ultimately growth.
So, faith inevitably has an intellectual component, even though it is often practiced in an undisciplined manner. An immature belief in God waxes and wanes with our mood or peer pressure from our surroundings. But, a more mature faith holds to the truth and understands why it does so. It rests upon something more solid and fundamental when desolation strikes. As St. Paul says in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The only way to find assurance in the things hoped for is if we know why we hope.
The reasons for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) needn’t (and shouldn’t) be only intellectual. They can include memories of God’s faithfulness and moments where we felt God’s presence. They can include our friendships with other fellow Catholics and Christians who inspire us to be better believers. We see, for example, God tell the prophet Elijah to seek other faithful men when he is frightened and in despair - and even to eat (1 Kings 19:5-18)! It is nevertheless essential to have intellectual machinery in our arsenal - like an argument for God’s existence we find convincing - because they can help us withstand the storms of emotion. Sometimes we must talk to ourselves in order to reason through our fears.
All of this is to say that a proper understanding of God and a more mature faith enhance our love of God. In the process of growing and understanding, we experience what sacred scripture teaches: “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Love tells us who we are and therefore allows us to be free from the voice of the evil one and despair. Love directs our eyes to the reality of God and allows us to see what truly matters and what falls by the wayside.
This truth reminds me of what a priest once told me. He noted that the saints were simple people in that they were masters of focusing on only one thing. And, in focusing on that one thing, everything else made sense and became bearable. That one thing of course being our perfect Heavenly Father. Rest in Him when you are afraid. He will not abandon you.
Suan Sonna is a philosophy student at Kansas State University and a protestant convert to Catholicism.