Fear and Transformation

The school where I used to work in England has just had a visit from the School Inspectors. Whatever your take on government oversight of schools, the end result, whether positive or negative, tends to be teachers collapsed in corners (often the corners of pubs) trying to knit together their shredded nerves.  My heart goes out to my former colleagues, who have yet again gone through one of those terrible patches where things that are central to our lives, our livelihoods and our self-esteem, are held up for remorseless, impersonal and occasionally questionable judgment.   We can often ask, is this the price we have to pay for progress?  Are fear and anxiety the only tools available, as we work together for a better world?

And yet the language of judgment is very much part of our faith tradition.  On the feast of the Presentation of the Lord the first reading speaks of the one who comes like a refining fire – not a comfortable image at all for the one we are supposed to welcome into our lives. However, as so often in scripture, the readings, taken together, invite us to understand such images in a new way.  Above all they invite us to look beyond the terror.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of this coming of the Lord as bringing not terror, but release from fear.  He brings release from the fear of death and the terror of annihilation. Luke describes the Lord coming into the Temple, not in a firestorm, but carried in the arms of his parents. He is greeted not with fear but with love and awe, not as the remorseless judge, but as the rescuer of his people – and not just his people, but all people, everywhere. If this is fire, it brings above all light and lightness of heart.  God’s transforming fire is one of us. He walks among us and tells us ‘do not be afraid’, ‘judge not and you will not be judged’.  And at the same time he invites us to say to the Father ‘they kingdom come, they will be done’.

When we make this prayer, we find ourselves praying to enter freely and generously into the world around us.  This world of ours that longs for change in every generation, as it struggles and groans to find glimpses of God’s kingdom. We acknowledge our calling to discover our role in that struggle, not out of fear, but out of love for the one who says, ‘follow me’.

What, then, is my role, as a worker or an owner, a manager or an employee, a parent or a child, a politician or a voter, a teacher or a nurse?   How are we being called to work together for the common good, to bring hope and humanity to the workplace and the marketplace, to free our companions on the road to seek a better way of serving?

Our own path begins when we welcome the transforming fire, not as a storm of destruction, but as a beacon of hope.

Fr John Moffatt SJ

John Moffatt SJ (born England 1959; entered the Jesuits 1982; ordained 1992) is a Jesuit priest. He has studied at Oxford, London and Innsbruck. He has worked as a school chaplain at St Ignatius College, Enfield and Wimbledon College, Merton. He has also worked as a university chaplain and at the Jesuit Institute—South Africa, in Johannesburg. John Moffatt SJ is the author of ‘The Resurrection of the Word: a modern quest for intelligent faith’ (The Way Books: 2013) and ‘The Faith Delusion’ CDs (Radio Veritas and Jesuit Institute, 2014). See also moffatt.wordpress.com.

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