I am in a small faith sharing group that rotates the facilitator role every month.  A few months ago the facilitator that week gave us advanced notice that the topic was fear – he asked that each of us come to the group prepared to talk about something we were afraid of.  For me that was easy – I was now afraid to go to small group!

As much as I would like to avoid it, today’s gospel compels us to talk about fear – not fear of goblins or heights, but fear of the very fragile life of God born in us.  Last weekend we saw how Joseph evolved as he embraced the unimaginable mystery life gave him in a fear-evoking pregnancy.  Tonight we see how Herod seeks to snuff out unimaginable mystery and cut off those edges life brought to him because of fear of an infant.  Both energies exist in us, so let’s bring them to light this evening as we worship together.

Herod Energy

We are just a couple of days from “Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright,” but now our Holy Family is on the run from a ruler dominated by fear.  Though family connections Rome installed Herod as ruler of Judea at the age of 25, but he had no political clout in Rome.  He ruled for 37 years and he was near the end of his life when Jesus arrived.  He was not Jewish but he claimed his father had adopted the faith.  Nobody in Judea believed him.  He was very insecure, but a great administrator, great at gathering taxes and a master builder.  For example, he built the famous Masada fortress that stands today and he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.  He was an insecure man hiding behind a mask, and when Reality showed up he wanted to destroy Him.

The mystics tell us that we all wear masks, we all want to build monuments to ourselves.  The fragile life of God living inside each one of us exposes these masks, makes them itch and feel uncomfortable.  There is a part of us that fears this fragile life.

If you doubt some form of Herod energy lurks within, read the Sermon on the Mount.  The clear authenticity of these words give rise to fear.  We read about forgiveness, but part of us want to say some things that happen to us are unforgivable.  We read about radical generosity, but part of us wants to say I deserve everything I have earned and nobody has a claim to it.  Part of us gets really afraid when we hear about loving our enemies.  Part of us wants to pull the ladder up so immigrants that do not look like us have to go home.  Part of us objects when we read about going to the margins because we want to go to the top.  Part of us wants to send the fragile Christ life quietly away.

Everything Belongs

Kathleen Norris has a section about Herod in her book “Amazing Grace” that is widely quoted.  She argues what makes Herod awful is not the existence of his fear, rather it is the repression of his fear.  His fear was unacknowledged for decades and thus, erupted in destructive ways.  Once we become aware of Herod energy and can identify it.  Kathleen says if we know where our “inner Herod” is we can tell our “inner wise men” to not go back to Herod, to go home another way.

Richard Rohr makes a similar point in his book about a contemplative way of life called “Everything Belongs.” Contemplative do not reject parts of themselves, they do not pretend you can separate wheat from chaff.  They take it all in with good attention, both Joseph and Herod.  They pay attention to the part of us that embraces the edges of life and the part that runs from the edges.  Richard says “we need not give emotional food to our fears.  We don’t have to shame ourselves for having these fears.  Simply ask them what are you trying to teach me?”  (Page 143).

Like the Christmas story, the Life of God comes to us fragile and vulnerable. In preparing these readings the last two weeks I felt a profound connection to Joseph and his choices when facing this fragile Life.  He could have sent this Life away quietly to protect his life, and many would have applauded him.  Or he could create a safe place for this Life to grow and mature and face the adventure this choice would bring.  These are the choices we face every day as God brings edges to us on which to grow.  May this Eucharist bring us awareness of all these energies within us that we might choose well.

As I ponder my reaction to this daily choice, being in a community like ours makes more and more sense to me.  Without your support and example I know I would make different choices and more often send the fragile nudges of God away quietly.  Let’s make 2014 a year where we more often choose the adventure of making a nurturing home within for the infant Christ.


George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the Feast of the Holy Family

Saturday evening, December 29,2013

Focus text – Matthew 2:13-23


Photo by Waiting For The Word on