Fascination and Fear

Readings: Wis. 1.13-2.24; Ps. 30.; 2 Cor. 8.7-15; Mk. 5.21-43

In today's gospel, the woman who had been cured approached Jesus with "fascination and fear." Consider her situation. She had been suffering for a dozen years. She hoped that Jesus could heal her. Can you sense her excitement and apprehension as Jesus passes by? She imagines: "If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured." She touches Jesus' clothes. She becomes cured. Jesus asks, "Who touched me?" She steps forward from the crowd: "she fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth." Her experience represents the classical Latin expression of "fascinans et tremendum," which we translate as "fascination and fear."

"Fascination and fear" can describe our emotions when we approach someone or some experience which we can't control completely. Paradoxically, we are drawn to that person or situation, and simultaneously, hesitant about approaching that person or situation. The experience is one of genuine awe; the word awesome aptly describes a situation which is simultaneously fascinating and fearful. A virtually universal example of this feeling is when we were teenagers, and "fell in love" with someone for the first time. Our feelings and our hormones were in turmoil. We wanted to be with that certain person, and talk with that special person, and yet probably we were perspiring, and stuttering. We were fascinated yet fearful.

At a more profound level, "fascinans et tremendum" occurs when we approach God. We know that God is all-good, and that we are not. We have reason to approach God with fascination and fear. We want to be in the presence of God, yet we know that at the same time, we are not worthy to stand in the presence of God. It is healthy and holy to approach God with fascination and fear. The lady in today's gospel was right to approach Jesus with fascination and fear.

For us to develop this sense of fascination and fear regarding being in the presence of God takes time. So many of us are so busy and/or so distracted that we might not give the proper time to develop the fascination and fear that is appropriate for our approaching God. To develop a relationship with anybody takes time: time being together, talking with and listening to each other, emoting with and for each other, on good days and bad days, over a span of years and years. These same factors apply to developing our relationship with God. We need to give God time. The adage is "if you are too busy for God, you are too busy."

What works for you in developing your relationship with God? What works for me resulted from having suffered a heart attack in 2000. As I lay recovering in my hospital bed in a five-man ward in Jerusalem, I began to appreciate every minute of time. Before, time for me had been a commodity to be used, to be spent in productive ways. Now, I began to see time as a gift from God; each minute became awesome. Each minute, I felt a great humility, and related to the all-powerful God with fascination and fear. As a Type A personality I used to keep very busy. Now rather than rush through life, I try to enjoy the simple and subtle moments of life. Inside my bathroom medicine cabinet, I keep on a piece of paper the phrase: "One of best things you can do for God today, is to do nothing."

How about you? What works for you in becoming more conscious of God's presence and power in your life? May I suggest a few steps. First, make time and space for God. Whether it is early morning or at bedtime, while traveling to work or school, establish some regular time and space for God. Second, ponder the beauty and complexity of some creature or some aspect of creation. It could be some person, or the sun, the moon, or stars; the mountains and valleys; flowers and trees; animals and insects, or the millions of years during which creation took place. Third, thank God for his creatures and all creation. If we take the time to appreciate the power and presence of God in our lives, we will grow in awe of God. We will approach God as the lady in today's gospel approached Jesus, with fear and fascination.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley