Be Not Afraid – the First in a Series…
We all know what it is to be afraid. We know that fear can serve us well by warning us: danger ahead! But, fear can also tempt us, in the face of domination and control. Play it safe, we might say to ourselves. Go along with the crowd. Remain silent; pretend we haven’t seen, or heard. Try to please others. Or, stay stuck in a system that simply won’t budge. Most of all, fail to discern truth from excuse.
But, the truth is, this kind of fear diminishes everyone. Makes puny the human heart, mind and spirit… leads to death rather than life. The truth is: it even diminishes the power of God. Perhaps that is why God- or God’s messengers- speak these words so often, time and time again, “Do not fear. Be not afraid.” These are words spoken to Abraham, by then withered in age, with not a child in sight, despite the promises of God. “Do not be afraid, Abram…. Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your descendants be.” Words spoken to the broken, enslaved people of Israel through Moses: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…” Words tenderly spoken through the prophet Isaiah to a disconsolate people “stuck” in exile in Babylon, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Words spoken to a “perplexed” Mary, at her Annunciation, by Gabriel. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Words spoken by Jesus to his first disciples, during his ministry: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Words we all need to hear, at one time or another, if we’re honest.
And, if we’re honest, they’re words we need to hear, right now! For those of us who treasure the work of the Second Vatican Council, fearful questions emerge. Such as, will the liturgy that has given us so much life become stilted? Will we understand the prayers we will be hearing? Will the God of majesty and awe… as well as intimate tender care… become a God who loves to see us grovel? If so, how will that affect us? How will the new words square with the words of Irenaeus, one of the early Fathers of the Church: “The glory of God is the person fully alive”? And, what will happen to the music we love to sing, in times of sorrow, as well as exuberant joy?
Fear can dampen the human spirit, even to the point of asking, “What’s the use? Nobody’s listening!” We’ve witnessed a number of bishops simply give up, despite some heroic efforts on the part of a few, like Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania. So, what will happen to us?
Let me suggest this. We are a people of remembering. In every Eucharist we gratefully remember our God and Jesus, the Christ, to the point of knowing Christ’s undying presence in our midst. So, we must “Be not afraid.” And we must draw strength from our ancestors in faith who have done the same. Like Esther, who heeded the words of her adopted parent Mordecai, thereby helping to save her own people from death: “If you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this?” Perhaps we, the People of God, have come to royal dignity through our baptism for just such a time as this.