If a cosmic stranger from another solar system visited Planet Earth this coming weekend of October 31st, he/she or it might surmise Earth folk were celebrating some kind of a Festival of Fear. Stores and homes are decked out with a variety of scary images of death, flying witches and bats. Children and adults parade around dressed up in frightening masks and costumes. But far from being afraid, all seem to be having fun.
Halloween is a fun holiday, but those fears haunting many aren’t funny! Halloween—the Eve of All Hallows, all holy ones—challenges us to live the words the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, “Do not be afraid”; the same words often used by Jesus of Nazareth. The admonition to “fear not” appears over and over in Christian scriptures! If you repeat those affirming words aloud to yourself daily as your morning prayer, imagine the consequences!
Being afraid (something adults are ashamed to admit) can be attached to a particular threat…some authoritarian person, snakes, flying, growing old, the dark, being a failure, or that most common fear of having to stand up alone and speak to a large audience. Fears can come and go as we move from one age to another, or grow into toxic worry.
As a Catholic looking back at my youth, I believe I suffered from the disease of Toxic Worry. The psychiatrist Edward Hallowell (and no, that’s not a play on Halloween) describes it as a disease of the imagination that is insidious and invisible like a virus that worms its way into your consciousness where it actually dominates your life. Toxic worry shrinks your enjoyment of life, cripples your creativity and your ability to love. I picked up the virus of this disease from the Baltimore Catechism and its moral teachings. Back in those days I feared the occasions of sin, and that could include motion pictures, magazine photos, your thoughts, meat on Friday, even your friends, it seemed. Really, just about anything.
The toxic (meaning poisonous) worry like all infections spreads to life itself, and while it continues to involve religion, it moves beyond it to anxiety about yourself and how you appeared to others, your popularity, your failures or successes. Marvelously miraculous is the human body in its self-healing abilities to mend wounds, and so too the mind which, with maturity, causes some fears to disappear. However, there can be those deeply embedded fears that remain. I was fortunate to find a mentor who helped me resolve my toxic worry by simply having me meditate on these liberating words: “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
So if you are burdened with some fear, I suggest you slowly love and accept whatever worries you, along with all of life’s problems and threats. Strive to truly love yourself; all your body, your mind, talents and inabilities, blunders and attainments, as you daily pray with zeal, “Do not be afraid!”