Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirteenth Sunday: Fear is useless. What is needed is faith
This Sunday I would like to consider a difficult topic, but one we all have to confront, fear.
The Miriam Webster’s first definition of fear is that fear is an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by the anticipation of danger. There are many other ways that fear can be defined including the prudent use of reason, such as “If I don’t study for that test I’m afraid I might fail the class” or “If I have another drink, I’m afraid that I might not be able to drive, might get into an accident or might get a DUI.” Fear is often used in the Bible as showing reverence such as “the fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom, “Proverbs 9:10. But for this homily I will stick to the first definition of fear a strong emotion in response to an anticipation of danger.
Jairus, the Synagogue official, was afraid. He came to Jesus with the plea of a desperate Father: his daughter was dying. Could Jesus please come and heal her.? Jesus left immediately. He was momentarily delayed when a lady touched his cloak and was healed, but that’s a homily for another day. At Jairus’ house there was a horrible, pitiful scene. People were wailing because the girl had died. Jesus knew that her death was only so people could witness the Power of the Gospel. He knew He would heal her. What He said to Jairus was supremely significant: “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” I love Luke’s translation in his parallel to Mark’s words: “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.”
Fear is useless. What has ever been accomplished through fear? How has fear ever helped a situation, no matter how grave it may be? Think about this. When has fear ever led to anything good happening? Again, I don’t mean fear used as prudence or as reverence, but fear used as a response to anticipation of danger. A man or woman is considering getting serious about a relationship. But he or she is afraid of getting hurt. So the opportunity to grow in love is rejected. A man is afraid that he might not be a good husband or a good father, a woman is afraid that she might not be a good wife or a good mother, so a new relationship of love is rejected or wonderful reflections of the love of a husband and wife united to the love of God are not allowed to come into existence. An intelligent student could take a step into a difficult career, but is afraid that he or she might not succeed in the classes, and so a great nurse or doctor or lawyer or engineer never comes into existence. So much is lost because of fear. “Fear is useless” the Lord says, “What is needed is faith.”
Fear destroys our capacity for faith. When we have faith, we know that no matter what the outcome of a situation may be in this world, there is infinitely more to life than what our eyes see. There will be a better outcome than we could ever imagine. If we have faith, we know that if a situation does not work out, we will still be a better person for having been in that situation. The old hack that it is better to love and lose than never to love is true. People enter into marriage, or in my case become priests, or women become sisters, because they have faith that God is leading them in a direction which will only turn out positive in the long run no matter what the immediate result is. I spent 14 years in a religious congregation. Priesthood was always right for me, but I was not a good fit for the religious congregation. Still, I am a better priest because of those 14 years and because of that congregation, the Salesians of St. John Bosco. I was blessed by not being afraid to join the Salesians, and then blessed by not being afraid to take a step from the secure life they gave me. My story is no different than the story of anyone who refuses to give in to fear. St John of the Cross wrote something that every husband here and every wife here and every one of us must have the courage to live in our lives. St John of the Cross wrote, “I went without discerning to that for which my heart was yearning.” We must have faith in God to guide us and not be slaves to fear.
Nothing good ever flows from fear. Fear destroys faith. Fear is an instrument of the devil tempting us to give up on God and His Goodness. Fear tells us to give in to a world that has rejected the Living God. We can easily become prey of the one who wants to use our fear against us. The devil wants us to deny the power of God. He wants us to give up on God. The devil can’t attack God, but he can attack us, particularly our trust in God, and he does this through fear.
In 2 Tim 1:7 we read:
God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control.
The opposite of fear is courage. The word courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor, and the Latin word for action, acta. Courage is the action of a heart that has faith, that trusts in God.
Look at the martyrs. Two of my favorite saints are women, Perpetua and Felicity. They were threatened with every conceivable terror if they did not give up their faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, the thought of being thrown to the beasts scared them, but they did not fear that they would be left alone in that horrible arena in Carthage in 203. Felicity said, “I will suffer in Christ, and He will suffer in me.” She was a woman acting with what her heart told her was true. She was a woman of courage. She was a woman who rejected fear.
The great fear that we all must confront is the fear of dying. We know that none of us is going to get out of this life alive, but we fear death. The devil uses this particular fear to destroy our faith. He tells us the lie that all is lost if we die. The evil one is trying to get us to reject God’s Goodness, to reject heaven. He whispers in our ears that if God is so good and has such good things waiting for us, then where is He now when the doctor says we have only a year or two to live, maybe less. But if we keep our eyes focused on heaven, if we reject fear and trust in the Lord, if we have faith, then our journey to God will reflect the destination He has prepared for us.
Melissa and Jonathan David Hesler wrote:
I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God
You split the sea so I could walk right through it.
You drown my fear in perfect love.
You rescue me so I can stand and say, “ I am a child of God.”
©CCLI License #2368115
From the decisions we must make in life to the very end of physical life itself, fear is useless. What is needed is faith.