My twin brother, Matthew, who will finally be ordained on April 24th, was entrusted with giving the evening reflection at the seminary that he attends. I've read several of the mock-homilies that he's had to give over the years in preparation for the priesthood, and I think that this one is his best one yet.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think, and stop by his blog and give him some words of encouragement. Seminarians are always in need of our kind words and our prayers.
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Evening Prayer Reflection
by Matthew Hardesty
Our reading this evening, in another translation, contains the famous "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" passage. The Season of Lent can often engender "fear and trembling" so how should we best understand this? Certainly the third theology class was in "fear and trembling" last week as we waited for our faculty vote! But let's go a little deeper…
This year I've been assigned to Sacred Heart in Glyndon and one of the highlights for me has been teaching every Wednesday in the parish school. And I have tried each week to follow the example of my good, dear friend, St. John Bosco, "The Apostle of Youth." St. John Bosco was a priest of the Diocese of Turin, Italy and was ordained in the 1840's. One day on a visit to the juvenile prisons, he was mortified to see the squalor in which the boys were living and the unchecked disorder and violence that overcame them. He resolved then to make it his mission to help these boys, to reform them, and to reach out to other problem boys before they ended up in prison. He attracted them first with games, music, and adventures to their favorite hills and countrysides in Turin. He could juggle, walk on his hands, and even play the trumpet. The boys loved that he wanted to spend time with them; for most of them this was the first act of kindness they had ever been shown.
Once he won their trust, St. John Bosco was then able to celebrate Mass for them, to hear their confessions, to teach them catechetical lessons, and even various trades and other skills. Soon the boys realized that behind the games and the adventures was a Holy Priest of God who showed them that they were lovable and good. In him they found the love of Jesus Christ. St. John Bosco showed them that they had a human dignity and value. He never lorded his authority over them. He never whipped them into shape or reprimanded them. In fact he rarely punished them at all. "A kind word or a glance," he wrote, "does more to encourage a child than a severe reprimand, which only serves to dampen youthful enthusiasm."
Soon the roughest, most violent boys of the streets of Turin abhorred the thought of disappointing Don Bosco. They hated the thought of doing the slightest thing to offend their beloved father. Sitting at his feet was like sitting at the feet of the Magister Bonum, the Good Teacher, Himself.
I think this is the type of fear and trembling we should have before God and the only type that should be engendered among those that we will teach and shepherd some day. Like the boys of Turin, our fear of God is not a servile fear, a fear of punishment or wrath but a filial fear, the fear a son has for his father out of deep love, honor, and respect. And the trembling we have before him is not the fright or horror one feels before an oppressive master but the dread of offending the Father we love. Ultimately this is a fear and trembling that never stays with fear, but always leads to trust, confidence, and abandonment to the Father who has captivated and tamed our wild hearts.
How will we, in turn, be regarded by those under our care? Will they be compliant out of servile fear or out of reverence for Christ, in whose Person we will minister? Will we be able to win their hearts at all? One can have perfectly reasoned catechesis but this falls on deaf ears if the people don't see Christ in us and hear His Voice in our words. The faithful, especially children, can spot a phony from a mile away. They know within the first few minutes of spending time with them, if we are with them begrudgingly or to fulfill an obligation or if we are with them because we love them, have high hopes for them, and would give our lives for the salvation of their souls.
Let's examine our hearts during the remainder of Lent. Do we have a servile fear or a filial fear of God? Does an awe and reverence for the Father accompany the decisions we make throughout the day? Do we detest all our sins because of His just punishments or most of all because they offend Him, our God, who is all good and deserving of all our love? The fear and trembling we keep before Him can easily determine the fear and trembling we call forth from His People. We will play a large part in forming their image of God. We must present a Lord deserving of their trust and abandonment. Let us never forget the words of the Psalmist: "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared" (Ps 130:3-4).