Fear is one of the most powerful of all emotions. Fear has started wars, ended lives, and destroyed belief. Fear is possibly the most dominant weapon in the Devil’s arsenal, and he uses it well. So it stands to reason that one of our primary defenses against evil is to fight fear. And that can only happen through faith.
One person who understood fear was Pope John Paul II. He was elected pope after the upheaval of Vatican II and saw fear everywhere he looked: in the politics and turmoil of the world around him, and in the lives of Catholics who were questioning their assumptions about God the Father. The mystery of original sin binds us, but Christ—and the fiat of Mary, Jesus’ mother—sets us free, if we only dare to claim that love.
The pope wrote a great deal about how we can trust in the Father’s love for us, and we’ve assembled some of these writings in a volume that’s part of the Classic Wisdom Collection. Trusting in God is often easier said than done, and doubts can creep into our faith at any moment; but Pope John Paul II, in the volume Be Not Afraid: Wisdom from John Paul II speaks with conviction about God’s faithfulness.
As the Apostles once did, today too humanity must welcome into the upper room of history the risen Christ, who shows the wounds of his Crucifixion and repeats: Peace be with you! Humanity must let itself be touched and pervaded by the Spirit given to it by the risen Christ. It is the Spirit who heals the wounds of the heart, pulls down the barriers that separate us from God and divide us from one another, and, at the same time, restores the joy of the Father’s love and of fraternal unity.
Perhaps we are looking at fear the wrong way. Perhaps we wait until we experience it, and then try to fight it off. But what if we could start at the beginning? What if we could head off the fear before it took hold of us? Wouldn’t that be preferable?
It’s possible, as long as we begin with love.
It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God’s love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy!
Beginning with love makes all things possible. Love, and trust in the Father, can banish any shadows that our earthly lives might cast over us. And if we have any doubts, all we need to do is turn to the Scripture to see God’s generosity and love toward us all. The pope speaks of the miracle of loaves and fishes, and then goes on to say:
This is an amazing miracle which marks in a way the beginning of a long historical process: the uninterrupted multiplication in the Church of the Bread of new life for the people of every race and culture. This sacramental ministry is entrusted to the Apostles and to their successors. And they, faithful to the divine Master’s command, never cease to break and distributes the Eucharistic bread from generation to generation.
No one pretends that faith will keep us out of harm’s way. No one believes that loving and living in the Father will keep us from fear, or distress, or even pain; these are all part of life. But in order to be unafraid even in the midst of darkness, we have one comfort, one weapon, one reassurance: the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life.
The people of God receive it with devout participation. With this Bread of life, a remedy of immortality, countless saints and martyrs were nourished and from it drew the strength to resist even harsh and prolonged sufferings. They believed in the words that Jesus once spoke in Capernaum: “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If any one eats this bread, he will live forever.”
And, finally, there is the sure knowledge that we are not alone, that we are never alone. The Gospel may entail hardships, but God will never ask you to go through them alone. “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us,” writes the pope. “There is no enemy that Christ as not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
In other words—be not afraid.
By Jeannette de Beauvoir