Newscasts have learned to rely on a number of phrases to capture our attention. They start with “Don’t leave, when we come back, the danger of using too much salt in your food!” move on to “The frightening truth of sitting down for too long” or “What you may not know about the water you’re drinking.” Why do they do this? Because fear sells. Fear glues watchers to their seats, sells magazines off the racks, and puts money in the pockets of the system. We only have to turn on the TV to see that, more often than not, the whole world is governed by fear.
For Jesus what opposes faith is not doubt or a lack of faith; what opposes faith is fear. In several passages, Jesus challenges his listeners to “not be afraid.” Remember that moment when Peter sees Jesus walking on the water? “Lord if it’s you, let me go to you,” (Mt 14:28), he says, and he climbs over the side of the boat and starts walking on the water. At first Peter keeps his gaze fixed on Jesus, but he soon deviates his gaze and when he sees the tempest, the winds and the waves, he becomes very afraid. Jesus lifts him up and says, “Man of little faith, why did you fear?” (Mt 14:31). In another passage, Jesus is asleep on the boat, and his disciples are afraid by the storm. When they wake him he calms the winds and the waves and asks them, “Why did you fear?” (Mt 18:26).
Why do we say that fear opposes faith? A world without God can only live in fear. Fear locks us out of life, it locks us out of love. The fear-filled cannot love deeply, because love always involves risk. There’s the fear of losing our jobs, our health care, and our retirement benefits. There’s the fear of having more responsibilities, fear of having children, and fear of losing what we have. How does the world deal with these fears? It deals with it by telling us to accumulate wealth and amass possessions. “You are free to do whatever you want,live your life and enjoy it.” We end up focusing more on what we have than on who we are becoming. Contraception, abortion, euthanasia, drugs, sin are symptoms of our fear, our grasping our life. The reality is that we can become addicted to anything that is good, whether it is codependency in our relationships, pleasure, or money. Anything can become a source of addiction if it is drawn by fear.
A recently ordained Bishop wanted to get to know his parishes he had under his care. As a parish priest he had been very involved with the youth, so he decided he would invite some of the parish youth groups out for dinner. One evening he took one of these youth groups out to a restaurant. When the group had received their entrées the Bishop said, “Well, why don’t we bless our meal?” The leader of the group mustered some courage and told the Bishop, “Your Excellency, we normally don’t do that, because we don’t want to impose our values on the people surrounding us.” The Bishop, taken aback, responded, “Not impose your values? Don’t let them impose their lack of values on you! Don’t be afraid to manifest and live your faith!”
In today’s Gospel, we hear that the Apostles had their “doors locked for fear of the Jews”. That is very telling. The Apostles had already seen the resurrected Christ several times. They knew he was alive, and yet, they were still afraid. They certainly had good reasons to be afraid. Imagine what they must have been thinking: What if they come out to kill us? What will they think of us? We’re outlaws. What if the Jews see us and they start judging us? The reality is that there is always a good reason to be afraid; we can spend our entire lives in fear of what is beyond those doors, of what will come tomorrow, and never enjoy the gift of what is real: the present. The Apostles were afraid. The doors were locked. Even Peter had a reason to be afraid of seeing Jesus, for he carried the guilt of having denied Christ. What did Jesus do in this situation? He broke down those doors. He stood in their midst, and he gave them his peace. He didn’t give them a guilt trip; He didn’t say “You guys abandoned me. I can’t believe it; I trusted you so much.” No, his first words were “Peace be with you.” (Jn 20:19-23) Then he showed them the signs of his love, the signs of his crucifixion, as if to say, “This is how much I love you.” He broke down the doors of their fear with his peace and with his love.
What happened next? “Suddenly, there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were, tongues of fire appeared on their heads” (Acts 2:1-2). In this moment Jesus gave the Apostles the Holy Spirit. The same spirit that created Heaven and Earth, the same spirit from the days of creation, and it is the same spirit that has been given to us to overcome fear. Now, not only will they not be afraid, but will be compelled to preach what they believe, and to tell others of the faith in Jesus Christ that overcomes all fear. Now not only will they not be afraid of what others think or do to them, but they will eventually die as martyrs of what they believe in, of who they believe in not even fear of death has a grasp over them now.
After giving them His Spirit, Jesus then says, “As the Father has sent me, now I send you, I send you” (Jn 20:21). That sense of mission is what motivated the first Christians. Their conviction was that fear does not drive our lives; what motivates us is the presence of Christ in his Holy Church. Today we celebrate that we share the same mission, and that the strength of Christ and the peace of Christ has not lost its force in the last two thousand years. In those moments, when our Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was born, so were we, so was our life.
Today, just like the Father sent Jesus, he also sends you and me the Holy Spirit as a call to be full-time Christians, not just Sunday-mass Christians. He sends us the Holy Spirit to dispel all form of fear in our lives, so that we may live fully and love fully, and not only behind the locked doors of our church but every day of the week. He calls on us to be fearless Christians: fearless Christian lawyers, fearless Christian doctors, fearless Christian mothers, students, friends, even fearless Christian politicians! We strive to be fearless, because Christ has overcome all forms of fear. We strive to dispel the fear of living our faith publicly, and of defending what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful in the name of Christ. When we strive to love God we know that there is room for only one fear in our lives and that is the fear to lose God himself: fear to sin, to lose God’s love.
Let us ask ourselves what steps we’re taking so that our faith may guide our entire existence. How open are we to receiving the peace of the Spirit and the peace of Christ? We cannot be a Christian depending-on-the-moment, just sometimes, in some circumstances, or on some occasions. We cannot be Christians in this way because it contradicts the very fiber of our existence: we are children of God! You are Christian in every moment of every day. Let us commend our mission to receive the Spirit and to preach the Gospel of Christ to Mary, our Blessed Mother, who was also there with the Apostles, and who knows what it is to be open to receive the Spirit and to go out and preach the Word. May we be men and women of generous hearts so that we may receive the spirit of courage, light, and joy. May she help us to be brave so that we can live the message we were sent to preach by her Son. May she help us dissipate our fears so that we can live every aspect of our lives, our jobs, our school, our family, and our society in the presence of the Spirit, in “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
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