Once again today we hear Jesus proclaiming that his disciples should not surrender to fear as they carry out their mission. He even tells his followers that they are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows and that every hair on their head has been counted. Jesus assures us that God’s loving, fatherly care accompanies us in all of life’s diverse situations.
Historical Note. “Be not afraid,” “Non abbiate paura” were the encouraging words that the newly elected Pope John Paul II spoke to the crowd assembled in Saint Peter’s Square in October of 1978. These bold words came from the lips of a man who knew hardship and danger; he had lived through the Second World War, endured the Nazi regime, and suffered under Communist rule in his native Poland. The new pope was also speaking to a world that experiences a panorama of fears: terrorism, hunger, drugs, corruption, infidelity, and war—and the temptation to lapse into pessimism or cynicism.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II’s book on the first fifteen years of his pontificate (1978-1993), contains an entire chapter entitled: “Be Not Afraid.” The pope reflects: “When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words ‘Be not afraid!’ in Saint Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church…. The exhortation ‘Be not afraid!’ should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation.”
John Paul II continues. “Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God…. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words ‘Be not afraid!’: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (cf. Jn 3:16)…. The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear.”
With obvious conviction, the pope states: “At the end of the second millennium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: ‘Be not afraid!’… Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world…. And this Someone is Love (cf. I Jn 4:8, 16)—Love that became human, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says ‘Be not afraid!’”
Conclusion. During his lengthy pontificate (1978-2005), Saint Pope John Paul II (canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014) has frequently repeated Jesus’ injunction “Be not afraid”; it is like a recurring theme of a grand symphony. The pope who began his papacy with the words “Be not afraid!” asks each of us to once again personally hear those words today.
James H. Kroeger, M.M.
Mission / Father’s Day
Fill my heart with your love, Lord Jesus,
the kind that drives out all fear,
the kind that forgives all things,
the kind that hopes for the best,
the kind that transforms my wounds
into fountains of grace to sanctify
my life and my world.
Drive from my memories, Lord,
the darker shadows of the past
that blind me to the good in others.
Free me from resentments and grudges
that keep me from living life to the full.
Into your hands, my Lord and my God,
I place all my dreams and fears,
my hopes and disappointments,
my regrets and my joys,
all for the glory of your name
and the sake of your kingdom.
Prayer by Father Joe Veneroso, M.M.