by Father John P. Cush
Flying back to New York from Rome in late June to begin my service as a summer priest at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace, I had the opportunity to watch some films that I had wanted to watch and had always put off viewing.
One of those films was 2012’s “The King’s Speech.” Perhaps it was my original lack of interest in the subject matter, or perhaps it was the lack, at times, of historical accuracy in the film. Regardless, on the nine-hour flight home, I found myself engrossed in this film and in the story of King George VI.
Albert, the future King George, is a man afraid. He’s happy to remain in the background, knowing that his brother will succeed his father. He’s good at what he does – being a military officer, father and husband. However, he lives in fear of public speaking as he has a terrible stutter. After all conventional methods have failed, his loving wife, the future queen mother, brings her husband’s case to an Australian actor-turned-speech therapist.
Crippled by Fear
He diagnoses what truly is the issue – Albert is afraid of failure, of embarrassing his father, the king and letting down his family and country. He’s so afraid that he’s crippled in his ability to communicate. The future king is terrified about assuming the role of the monarch when his brother abdicates. Through the love of his good wife and the friendship and guidance of his therapist, Albert – now King George – musters up the confidence to become the sign of unity for the British people during World War II. The king was able to overcome his lack of faith in himself and thus become the leader he had to be for his people.
This film reminds me of the Gospel we proclaim this Sunday from Matthew. Peter is able to walk on the water to his Lord Jesus, just as long as he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the Lord. The minute he starts to doubt and his faith wavers, he starts to sink. Like King George in the film, Peter’s self-doubt, his lack of faith, is caused by fear. He is afraid that the Lord is not going to support him, that the winds and storms will overwhelm him and that he can’t make it to Jesus.
At the root of this lack of faith and doubt is fear. It is a dangerous thing to posit belief in a God whom we cannot see. It is a scary thing to live our lives in accordance with the teachings of a man who lived over 2,000 years ago. What if we’re wrong? What if we spend our entire lives trying to live good lives of service and love and ultimately find out that there is nothing else, that we could have done whatever we wanted, even the most immoral of activities?
The question needs to be asked: Do I believe that there really is a God? And that this God has revealed Himself to the world in the Person of Christ? And do I believe that this Christ’s life continues on today in His Body, the Church? Am I willing to risk it, to step out into the waters of life, putting aside my fear and uncertainty to follow Christ?
This fear can exist not only in questions of the existence of God, the revelation of Christ and the necessity of the Church in general but can also be extended to our own lives. If God exists, why should He love me with all my faults, with all my sins, with all my problems and anxieties?
This fear and doubt can extend to our life choices. We can doubt ourselves in our relationships with others – being afraid to let others into our lives, being afraid to love, to be loved and to be vulnerable. Every time we open our mouths, we are being judged. What if the person with whom I share my thoughts betrays me, mocks me or misunderstands me? Am I worthy of the friendship that is offered to me by another? Am I lovable?
This fear can extend even into our choice of vocation. The priest, religious, married person, even the single Christian, makes a choice with his or her life. What if they’re wrong? And yet, one must still choose. The philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, said “Not to choose is to choose,” and he is correct.
No One Is Worthy
About a month before I was ordained to the transitional diaconate, I felt crippled by self-doubt and had a nagging feeling that I should not be ordained. Was I just going along with the program that I was on in the seminary? I felt unworthy of my call, and of course, I was and I am. No one is worthy of the call to serve God as a priest. No one is worthy of God’s love, and nothing I could ever do would make me worthy of God’s love.
Yet somehow, God had chosen me. He had revealed His path to me through family, friends, formators, both priests and religious, through the seminary’s rector and spiritual director and through the will of the bishop. And, deep down, I knew that I had this call and that nothing in this life would fulfill what God’s plan was for me and for my salvation unless I trusted, overcame my fear and went along with His plan. I’m glad that I kept my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and can’t imagine not serving as one of His priests.
Overcoming the fear that exists in us is essential for our lives of faith. The only way to do so is to keep on going, gazing intently on Jesus – the way, the truth and the life for us. The winds and the storms of our lives will rock us; Jesus says to us, “Take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.” May we have the courage to trust in the love and the plan of the Lord for us.[hr]
Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a
Psalm 85: 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9: 1-5
Matthew 14: 22-33[hr]
Father John P. Cush, a doctoral candidate in fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, is a priest in residence at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace.