Facing Fears

God desires our healing and well-being

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AckermanYou can say many things about priestly life, but it certainly is never dull. A family from the parish invited me to dinner one evening and our conversation turned to travel. “I am not a fan of airports and flying,” I told my host family.

One of their daughters, a woman in her 20s, looked at me forlornly and replied: “That’s because you are not a pilot. I’m a pilot, and I absolutely love it. I’ll take you flying sometime!”

I merely laughed and quickly forgot about the conversation. That was so until several months ago, when I received a call on a lazy, free Saturday morning. “Are you ready to fly, Father?” I recognized the voice immediately, which continued, “You are going to love it!”

I had my doubts, but I went — nervously — to a small regional airport near the parish. The plane was ready on the runway, and my parishioner was grinning ear to ear.

“This is your first flying lesson! I am so excited.” At least someone was.

She did her preflight check, and before long, we were ready to go.

“Okay, Father,” she said. “We have clearance; now you are going to get us off the ground.”

“Through prayer?” I asked her, which she thought was quite hilarious.

“Oh, no,” she stated, “push that throttle up when I tell you, and when we hit 70, pull up on the wheel!”

I cannot even begin to say how terrified I was. I began to sweat profusely and had visions of us crashing or driving right off the runway, but she was serious.

“The best way to conquer our fear is to face it,” she replied. “Where is your faith?”

With her guidance, I did as I was told, and before long we were airborne. I must admit that, during our 45-minute flight, I was quite terrified and made a few perfect Acts of Contrition, just in case I met St. Peter. However, it was beautiful, peaceful and very uplifting (no pun intended). I did kiss the ground like Pope St. John Paul II when we landed, but will never forget the joy of that experience.

I most certainly can assure you that I have no vocational crisis; I am a priest and could never be a pilot. I am grateful though for what that young woman said about facing my fears. All of us, whether we admit it or not, have fear and anxiety in our lives. However, when we live in those fears, we forget about God and his desires for our healing and well-being.

In the lives that so many of us lead, perhaps we become overwhelmed by the material needs and demands placed upon us. It can truly be easy to forget that God is always drawing us closer and that many times this requires us to endure some hardship or trial. If we can surrender those trials and fears to his providence, then we experience great grace.

Father Jacques Philippe, a spiritual author I have long admired, wrote in “Interior Freedom” (Scepter Publishers, $18.95) about the need to maintain our peace in God, especially in times of adversity. He writes, “The most important and fruitful acts of our freedom are not those by which we transform the outside world as those by which we change our inner attitude in light of the faith that God can bring good out of everything without exception.”

I have personally seen the healing power of God in the lives of so many people who have suffered profoundly that it never ceases to amaze me how good God is. Although I am sure that none of us wants a crisis, a structural issue, debt problems or even an angry women’s guild, God works even amid these hardships to sanctify us and allow us to know his love.

Admittedly, I have not been up and away since that Saturday flight, but I will gladly go again. God is healing my fears, and he will raise me up on the wings of an eagle or, if more convenient, a Cessna.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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