Do Not Be Afraid

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

Fear no one… even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt 10: 26, 30-31, Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A).

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COVID-19! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God just worked a miracle and it simply disappeared today? Then all our fear would be gone, right?

Well, what about terrorism? Anthropogenic global warming? Economic collapse? The rise of political authoritarianism? Violent crime? Civil unrest? And now, added to these, the unknown aftermath of the pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, we had quite a buffet of fears to choose from, and multiple voices in media, government, and popular activism and culture who were quite happy to tell us, either for good or nefarious reasons, that we really should be very, very afraid right now.

But over and over in Scripture, Christ says, Do not be afraid.

And of course, besides the big global headline fear-generators, we all have things in our personal lives that scare us: fear of losing who or what we love, ultimately fear of death, are the principal matters.

Christ says, Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid.

Fear is a major driver of human behavior, leading us to frenetic activity to distract ourselves from our inherent vulnerability and lack of control over our world, to hoarding resources, to aggression towards or avoidance of anyone we perceive as a threat, to paralysis of action and collapse into passivity (the famous fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms).

And here we are in the Gospel of the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 21 this year) being told by Jesus Christ, fear no one. No limits, no conditions, not a matter of “avoid unreasonable fears, only be afraid of things that are really dangerous.”

Nope. Fear no one. Do not be afraid. Our lives are in God’s hands, like the lilies of the field, the sparrows in the sky. God knows every hair on our heads (no great achievement on his part in my case, as the number decreases with each passing year). How much more does he know your life and mine and all that is in it and how much it all means to you?

Do not be afraid—that is the clear message of the Gospel. And what a high and demanding call that is, don’t you think?

It doesn’t mean we behave foolishly or fail to make proper provision for the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones, any more than his telling us not to worry about our material provision means we quit our jobs to live literally like the lilies. Unless you learn how to photosynthesize, you’d better figure something out, eh?

And so yes, if a global pandemic is raging, wash your hands with soap and water and all that good stuff the experts are telling us to do, and so forth.

But … don’t be afraid. Your life is in God’s hands. The lives of those you love are in God’s hands. A Christian is called to live a life without fear; this is the radical, uncompromising call of Christ. There is no other possible way to read the Gospel.

What are we to make of this? It seems to me that we best understand this when we look at the journey we have all completed just before arriving at this Sunday and its stark call.

We have just completed the long Easter cycle—Christ is risen, alleluia!—the victory of Life over death, Love over hate. We had 50 days to contemplate this mystery, the very center of our faith.

We had the feast of the Ascension, celebrating the entry into glory of Jesus Christ, and the enthronement of Jesus—our Brother and our God—as King of kings and Lord of lords. The absolute victory of Christ and his utter lordship over all creation.

We had Pentecost, where the Spirit was poured forth on all mankind, making us sharers in this victory, this kingship, citizens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people set apart.

And Trinity Sunday, where God was shown to us as a communion of love into which we are invited to participate.

And Corpus Christi, where all of these exalted mysteries are proclaimed as readily available to us, as concrete, visible, and real to us as the sacramental sacrifice and meal offered in every church, everywhere.

So with all that in mind, could you remind me again—what is there to fear, exactly?

I don’t mean to be dismissive or belittling of anyone’s struggle with fear and anxiety in their lives. It is a terrible burden and suffering for many people; in some regards, it is a burden carried by nearly every person, save a few truly transfigured saints.

It cannot be waved away with a few reassuring words about God and all he has wrought for us in Christ.

But… what should we be afraid of, though? We are afraid—OK, we’re weak, we’re poor, we’re frail creatures, and fear comes to us all. But should it?

You’re going to die—some day, anyhow, maybe soon. (Who knows?) Should you fear it, knowing that on the other side of death is Life Itself, Mercy Itself awaiting your arrival?

Be it in a terrible pandemic, a terrorist blast, or some other global calamity, or in all the perfectly normal expected manners of death common to all flesh—what is death in any of its forms but an entry into life?

People you love may die. This is sorrow and distress for you, for any of us. Grief is real, and grief is great. But… to be feared?

Again, the whole human race is on a great, grand procession through time into eternity. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body (Matt 10:28).

Be afraid of hell, the Lord tells us, but this can only call us to earnest prayer and supplication for all human beings, those we love and cling to, those who are strangers, to receive the grace of God to spare them from this.

And once we overcome, or at least accept that we should overcome, the fear of death, what else is there to fear?

Physical suffering? With Christ, it becomes a sharing in his redemptive love. Poverty? Forces us to cling to God with greater faith. Scorn, rejection, mockery, loneliness? Same.

There is nothing to fear in life, if we believe in Jesus. It doesn’t mean we don’t have fear. Like I said, we’re human and weak and few of us are in a place of absolute faith and trust.

But we need to be clear, and especially as the drumbeats of fear sound relentlessly in our world today, we need to stand fast in whatever faith we have, and say to our fear and the fears of others the truth of the Gospel.

Christ is risen. He reigns on high. The Spirit is ours. He is with us. We have nothing to fear.