A couple of years ago, a group of scientists have found a protein in the brain of a rat that acted as the fear factor. They found that this protein molecule is essential for triggering both the innate fears that rat is born with--such as the shadow of an approaching predator--as well as fears that arise later in life due to individual experience. They found that eliminating the gene that encodes this factor makes a fearful mouse courageous. When this 'mighty mouse' was placed near a cat, the mouse didn't even flinch. The finding, the researchers say, suggests new approaches for drugs designed to treat conditions such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. Don't we sometimes wish that we can take a pill to take away our fear and anxiety? Don't we wish sometimes that we can be more bold? But is having a fear that bad? Do we want to be bold all the time?
Fear is a natural emotion that helps us warn against danger and also helps us realize where our limitation is. But also we know there are many occasions where fear is paralyzing and counter-productive. Seven years ago when I was still working as a chemical engineer for a plant down in Geismar, our operators used to work with hazardous if not fatal chemicals. One chemical that we produced was dangerous to health if inhaled at a concentration of less than a hundred parts per million. So whenever there was a leak, our operators would put on a SCBA gear. On one occasion, one of our new operators went out to investigate a leak, and it turned out to be a major leak. All we heard over the control room radio was a lot of yelling from this operator. He was panicking and hyperventilating. We wanted to assure him that more help was on the way and that the situation was under control. But this operator could not hear us because he was yelling and panicking. We simply coudn't help him because he was overcome with his own fear. Only when he became calm, could he hear us over the radio and take our instruction.
In our gospel, we find Peter boldly stepping out of the boat into the stormy sea. I'm sure Peter knew the laws of nature--that you can't walk on water. What was he counting on when he stepped out? Was it Peter's confidence in himself? Or was it Peter's confidence that Jesus could suspend laws of nature. It turns out that Peter was more confident in himself. When Peter stepped out, Jesus suspended the laws of nature and allowed Peter to walk on water, but Jesus also allowed Peter to face his own fear, especially the fear of drowning and death. This was not to be the first time that Peter faced death; his life was under threat numerous times, especially when he 'saved' himself by denying Jesus three times. However after Pentecost, Peter would face his fear of death more boldly. By letting Peter step out of the boat, Jesus allowed Peter to experience how small and frail he really was. Only in realizing that he was small and in need of help, did Peter able to cry out to Jesus, "Lord, save me!" We think that we need to be bold, strong, and fearless for ourselves and others. Perhaps that's the way our world teaches us--the survival of those who appear to be the fittest. Like that inexperienced operator in the chemical plant, we can be overcome by own fear and panic, not realizing that all along Lord is present right there. In our first reading, Elijah hides in fear for his life in a cave after his life was threatened by Jezebel. Our own fear can appear like a strong wind, earthquake, and fire. Our own fear can be so loud that we cannot hear Our Lord. But when we humble and quiet ourselves like a little child, may be we can begin to hear Jesus in the silent whisper--"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"