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"Do Not Be Afraid"
April 22nd Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee struggling to row their boat against the strong wind and waves. Suddenly, Jesus appeared to them while walking on the water. “It is I,” He said. “Do not be afraid.” The disciples wanted Him to enter their boat, but they suddenly found themselves “at the shore to which they were heading.”
St. John Chrysostom pointed out that the Apostles found themselves in this situation because of their desire to see Jesus, Who had retreated to a mountain to pray alone. The Apostles waited for Him all day; when darkness came, they could not resist their longing to see Him and embarked onto the sea. Being fishermen, they knew the dangers of such a journey but they were willing to face danger, so great was their desire to see Our Lord.
In the allegorical sense, this Gospel passage provides a powerful message for the lives of all Christians. Many saints—including my patroness St. Jane Frances de Chantal—endured “spiritual aridity” in which a soul experiences great dryness in her prayer life and feels separated from God. A soul experiencing aridity receives no spiritual consolations, no moments of feeling emotionally close to God. Such a state can aptly be described as a darkness and it is a great trial for a person to undergo. Prayer feels forced, countless distractions fill the mind, and doubts often add to the soul’s anguish. The person can wonder why he is even bothering to pray and whether God is hearing his prayer.
However, St. Francis de Sales wrote that it is during such moments that our prayers are the most powerful and meaningful to God. He compared prayers offered during spiritual aridity to dry roses. Fresh roses have a mildly fragrant aroma but this odour becomes much stronger and sharper when the rose is dried. Likewise, St. Francis de Sales said, prayers offered in the midst of spiritual dryness or darkness are more fragrant to God. This is because such prayers show that our faith is unshakeable and that we are not willing to abandon God despite the darkness.
In the midst of the storm and darkness, Jesus told His Apostles, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” He says the same to us in our trials and darkness. When we do not feel God in our lives, when praying is hard, and when the darkness seems to overwhelm us, Jesus reminds us that He is with us and that we need not fear. He will lead us to Himself if we allow Him. Even when we cannot feel His presence, may we continue to persevere in our prayer, trusting that even in our darkness, Our Lord is guiding us to the light of our heavenly home.