Tuesday, 02 February: Candlemas

Reading – Hebrews 2:14-18

15th-century_unknown_painters_-_altarpiece_of_the_seven_joys_of_mary_-_wga23746
“Altarpiece of the Seven Joys of the Mary,” unknown artist, 15th century

I chose to reflect on the second reading for today’s mass because 1) I was supposed to read it at the mass on campus this day befoe a snowstorm shut the school (and the whole De Pere area) down that afternoon and 2) I really enjoy the Letter to the Hebrews.

So much jumps out to me in this selection (just like in the altarpiece above; it’s like a kaleidoscope!) that I can’t choose just one word or phrase as the title for this reflection. First, Jesus is said to share “in blood and flesh” with us and, in fact, share with us the human condition “in every way.” This means that Jesus felt not only our biological drives and needs but our emotional and mental conditions, pleasant and unpleasant, too – which, as we’re increasingly finding, have a lot to do with our physical bodies.

Included in these feelings were joy, anger, sorrow, peace, and, perhaps most importantly, fear – specifically the “fear of death” mentioned by the author of Hebrews. The USCCB explains in the notes to this reading that this fear comes from “the false conception that death marks the end of a person’s relations with God.” We can see this fear today as an apprehension toward the inevitable end of our consciousness, our life, and even our relevance on earth or, for those who do not follow monotheism or the Abrahamic religions specifically, forever.

The gnawing, immense questions of “What, if anything, comes next?” and “How can I exist for eternity?” have certainly tormented me many a night even in my relatively short life. Fear, especially fear of death and what comes after it, drives a wedge between us and God. Instead of fearing the loss of God, we fear the loss of what we know and possess as real, including even our earthly relationship with God.

If we let it, fear will keep us from thinking or interacting seriously with God and lead us to immerse ourselves in triviality and become “subject to slavery” all our life. We will trap ourselves in this world in the belief that it will keep us safe from death, from the outside, from the unknown. In truth, fear only condemns us to death, to existence forever outside the center of reality, to the loss of all knowledge as the meaning behind our world slowly disappears. This fear is immense when fully confronted, and moving beyond it seems impossible.

Thankfully, we have a model, a leader, someone who did first and forever this daunting task. Odd as it may seem, Jesus feared death, just as we all do at some point in our lives. He was fully divine and fully human. Jesus was scared, probably especially so in the moments before and during his passion. The fact that Jesus accepted and went through his passion, though, reminds us of an important point: Jesus’ divinity.

Jesus faced the fear of death but did not run from it or God and thus become a slave of death. Instead, Jesus did what no human had ever done before: completely and fully loved and trusted God, even in torture and death. Jesus embraced fear, entering willingly into the source and power of fear – death – to transform and conquer it through God’s love.

Fear and death ultimately had no power over Jesus – over God – and could not enslave him, because he submitted himself willingly to them but, most of all, to God. The false reality of these two pillars of human life were torn to shreds, flooding light and life into humanity and showing us that death was not the end and fear was not victorious.

We saw this most of all in Christ’s resurrection, through which we are promised a share in the divine life for eternity, if we imitate Jesus and journey willingly into the fear of death and the unknown with him. In this manner, as in so many others, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Wonderfully, Hebrews points out how we all are called and loved by God, “brothers and sisters,” like whom God became in Jesus.

Please, God, may we take your hand and go forth into mystery with you, that we may be transformed in your love and delivered from fear and true death. ~

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