Earlier last week, I was invited to the Jesuits, and I accepted their offer to enter the novitiate to discern religious life. My discernment to join the Jesuits has been something I have wrestled nearly a decade. I often held back from the decision because I feared how it would affect my life and how others would define me. I feared joining sooner because I feared how it would impact others. Now that the decision has become a reality, I will be honest in saying that fear has not gone away.
In Sunday’s Gospel, we encounter the disciples locked and hidden away, fearful of the events from the crucifixion. In their hour of distress, Jesus appears to them and offers them peace, healing, forgiveness, and love. In an instant, they find hope amongst their community.
One of them, however, was not with them that evening. Thomas, who remained in fear, could not believe what his friends were trying to tell him. He needed evidence, proof. He needed to encounter it himself.
We are so much like Thomas. We live in wounded, doubting fear, incapable of believing possibilities beyond our limited scope.
In fear, we neglect realities because we worry about how we might be perceived. In fear, we stumble because we don’t want to open our eyes. In fear, we do not change because the painful, uncomfortable, and awkward known is certainly more barrable than the unknown. In fear, we despair until we finally touch, feel, see, and experience it for ourselves.
Friends, family members, and mentors try to convince us of a painful truth, reveal a reality we refuse to believe, or direct us toward wisdom that will help us succeed.
- Perhaps they are telling us about an unhealthy relationship.
- Advising us to seek help with depression, anxiety, suicide, or mental distress.
- Reminding us to go to the gym, study, or pray.
- Telling us that we don’t have to live this way.
Regardless of their attempts, their words fall on deaf ears. Fear limits our capacity to trust others. Fear more profoundly limits our ability to trust ourselves. More often than not, the discerning doubts that we struggle to accept are often steeped in rich goods, loving truths, and beautiful grace.
- The truth is that we are inherently good.
- The truth is that we are lovable beyond measure.
- The truth is that we are worthy of God’s grace.
- The truth is that all of these riches, goodness, and truths of life are part of our very being, something we do not have to earn.
Returning to Sunday’s Gospel, Thomas needed to see, feel, and touch Christ to have his fears dwindle. To believe the unbelievable. The image and vision of Christ still wounded and scarred is not what he could have imagined. Yet, through his fears and doubts, Thomas reached forward to encounter and touch the wounded resurrected Christ, still bearing the scars of crucifixion.
So often, we think that healing means a clean slate–unblemished plastic surgical perfection. That is far from reality. Healing means wholeness. Wounds, if we do not attend to them, have the power to injure us further through infection and trauma. Only when we expose them to the light and carry them with us do they scar and become examples of wholeness, healing, and hope.
Fear is often contained in the wounds we bare. They warp our perception of ourselves and cause us to hide in obscure reality, unable to recognize the healing nature of love.
In the case of Thomas, his unbelief in the risen Christ was rooted in his love for his friend. Jesus had died, and it broke his heart. To imagine him alive again was a painful prospect. He didn’t want to get hurt again. Thomas’s desire to touch the risen Christ is rooted in love. He needed to feel the friend he loved and know it was real.
We all desire the same.
In my own life, this sacred tension has been devastatingly true. While I know of the triumphant power of love, fear has dictated so many of my decisions. Fear has limited my life. Fear has influenced me to follow the voice and influence of the crowd while neglecting the voice and vision of my heart. Fear reminds me to keep doing what I know, so as not to risk the possibility of failure.
The fear that often prevents us (especially me!) from progressing is rooted in some notion of love.
- I often don’t take risks for fear of disappointing those I love.
- I often don’t make changes because I am comfortable with the status quo, and I love an element of what I am doing.
- I often don’t leave a place because I worry I won’t find new people to love wherever I go.
- I fear a particular group because they look, act, behave, or believe differently than those I know and love.
My discernment to join the Jesuits was not easy. It was tied to fears of harming the various communities that I’ve grown to love. It was tied to fears of uncertainty that I needed to make the “perfect decision.” It was tied to fears of doubt of the unknown journey ahead. It was tied to fears that my application would be rejected.
Despite my fears, tugging me along the way was a guiding truth of love.
Like Thomas, I am tired of being fearful. I am frustrated by my lack of freedom. I am ready to touch the wounds, to encounter the fears, and to engage them honestly.
As we celebrate the resurrection of Easter, we are reminded of the scars of our crucified lives – the insecurities, fears, weaknesses, and doubts that mark us. Rather than concealing these wounds, let us follow the example of the resurrected Christ and embrace them honestly. Let us also draw inspiration from Thomas’s willingness to confront our doubts and fears rather than shy away from them. Let us take the necessary unbelievable risks and bear our scars honestly. Let us choose love over fear.
Congratulations!! Dan and I will be praying for you!
Bobby, I’m so very proud of the person you continue to be. Whatever life you choose, my only hope is that you will find an enriching fulfillment. Congratulations on this very difficult decision and I will always be here.
Change is always an adjustment and I’m sure that a step of this magnitude is a bit fearful. However, I wasn’t surprised when I read it. You have always been faith filled and such a wonderful person. I will keep you in my prayers and I hope that your discernment eventually brings you peace. ♥️✝️♥️
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I’m certain you will be a great addition to the Jesuit community. Congratulations on your decision and May God’s many Blessings be on you as you progress in your new life.
Couldn’t be more excited for you Bobby. Good luck on this journey and please know we will always be here to support you!
I am honored to be here on your mailing list that shares your stories, especially this one! I’ll be praying for you no matter what path you choose! You have been blessed to have a way of getting our attention through your words and deed! You are Special!❤️
Peace and Godspeed, Woody