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Pastor's Letter 20200621 - 21 June 2020 Witnessing In Spiite of Fear

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  June 21, 2020

12th Sunday-Ordinary Time

A Message from Father Michael


Today’s Theme:  “Witnessing in Spite of Fear”


Scripture Note

Today’s Readings give us examples of how envoys of the Lord have always faced their fears when giving testimony to the world.  A corrupt society does not welcome reform.  The powers that defend the status quo will always recoil against any attempt to undermine their positions of power:

·       In our First Reading, The knowledge that God was with him enabled Jeremiah to remain faithful to his difficult task as a prophet (Jeremiah 20:1-13;) 

·       Then, in our Second Reading we hear how Paul drew a contrast between Christ and Adam: sin came into the world through Adam, whereas abundant grace came through Christ (Romans 5:12-15.)  With the power of this grace, the disciples of The Way are imbued with confidence and bravery as they face evil;

·       Our Gospel Reading gives us Christ’s own words, as He exhorts his disciples to be open and fearless witnesses, assuring them of God’s special care in all their trials.

Do Not Be Afraid

When Jesus sent the apostles out to proclaim His teaching openly and to witness to Him before the world, He knew He was asking them to put their lives in danger.  They had good reason to be afraid, knowing they would have to face hardship and persecution.  So, not once, but three times, He said to them: “Do not be afraid” (of human beings who can kill the body, but can do no more.)  Jesus understood their fears and took them seriously, by addressing their fears and trying to allay them; trying to give them courage, so they could move beyond their fears—knowing that fear could make them so timid as to be unable to fulfill their mission.  He urged them to have complete trust in the resources within themselves that are a gift from God.  Jesus assured them that God knew every detail of their lives, and they should trust that they could overcome every crisis, if their faith was sufficient. 

 There is such a thing as “holy fear of God.”  In Biblical terms “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10.)  This stems from the fear of “displeasing” God; the fear of losng God; the fear of “eternal damnation.”  These can be powerful, motivating forces. 

 History has taught that ancient peoples attributed all manner of suffering to the action of “the gods.”  Largely living by instinct instead of intellect, our species developed from creatures who were mere pawns in their existence in the natural world.  Only millennia of intellectual development has served to overcome these fears.  Fear can create suspicion, distance, defensiveness and insecurity.   We see this in our everyday lives when people are preyed upon by misinformation, emotions and blatant misleading opinion.  A most recent example is pandemic of the Corona virus—just one in a series of natural crises that have plagued our species over the milennia.  Yet, in spite of centuries of history, and manifest developments in knowledge of viral impact, world populations have been driven into a frenzy of fear, over an infectious agent, the likes of which have affected mankind many times in the past.  (It should be recalled that mass hysteria was also seen as the greatest predator at the beginning of WWII, when, in his 1933 inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt coined the phrase, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  How apt this is in connection to our most recent pandemic.  When the facts of the matter prove that less than 1% of the population are likely to experience death from it, public reaction to the virus was out of all proportion to the actual threat.)

 We know fear is normal, and natural…that we will be afraid; that courage will sometimes fail us.  All those who have accomplished great things have known fear at one time or another.  We think of people like Martin Luther King and Jesus, Himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

 Fear is not necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes it has a protective function, warning us in the presence of danger.  In such cases, fear is a “grace.”  Nevertheless, fear can be a handicap, paralyzing a person, and turning them into a coward. 

 There is a story of a magician who encountered a mouse with a crippling fear of cats.  Taking pity on it, he turned the mouse into a cat.  But then, it became afraid of dogs, so, the magician turned it into a panther.  Then it became afraid of hunters.  At this point, the magician gave up, and turned the panther back into a mouse, saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help, because you will always have the heart of a mouse!” 

 The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah lived out his vocation during a time of great turmoil, one which saw the defeat of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He lived with constant threats to his life, yet, in spite of everything, he remained faithful to his calling as prophet. His conviction that God was “on his side” enabled him to overcome his fears and remain faithful to his mission.  (The Hebrew temple was constructed under Solomon, king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah;  included ritual sacrifice and ritual cleanings;   and it is said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. Jewish historian Josephus wrote: "the temple was burnt four hundred and seventy years, six months, and ten days after it was built," ca 586 B.C.)  

 While occasionally we will be fearful, we must not let our fears cripple us.  To live a Christian life requires courage—but then, to live in any meaningful way does.  Courage is needed more than heroism.  Of all the virtues, courage is most important, for without it a person cannot practice any of the others.  Our faith, which is the source of our courage, gives us freedom from fear. Unless we can overcome fear, we cannot live a dignified human life.  Nevertheless, we know that fear and courage can, and do, coexist—they are not mutually exclusive.  We demonstrate courage when we are fearful, but carry on in spite of it. 

 To have the heart of a mouse will not suffice, if we are to be a disciple of Jesus.  Firm belief in our Savior will give us a brave heart.   

Witnessing in Spite of Fear

In the Gospel, Jesus calls for witnesses, that is, people who are not afraid to be seen as a follower of His—out “there” in the midst of the “skeptical and hostile.”  Fortunately, there are always those in the Church, who are able to overcome their fear and witness to the Gospel in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.  This occurs because of the fact that our enemies deal in fear. 

Fear is a powerful, controlling force among people.  We see examples of this virtually everywhere we turn.  Advertisers bombard us with products to prevent our succumbing to one or another misfortune or malady.  We take precautions against the anomalies of weather, sometimes out of all proportion to impending threat.  We curtail our intake of all manner of foodstuffs on the advice that some one or another “hidden chemical” lies within them that will do us harm—perhaps immediately, or in the long run.  Sometimes, people guard against totally imaginary threats, manufactured by the media to sway our choices.

The fear of witnessing to our faith in Jesus stems from a variety of sources.  One is a natural fear of being the butt of ridicule.  If we are in a group of people who hold a particular view, and we come out against it, there is a fair chance we will be perceived to be naïve, misinformed, “silly,” or even a threat to prevailing opinion.  This is why people have an inbred fear of public speaking.  Getting up in front of an audience to present ideas without knowing the probable reception that might be received presents an intrepid situation for most of us.  Public opinion is of paramount importance to most people.  The degree to which we are accepted provides necessary external validation for many people’s self-image. 

Then too, there are cultures wherein to be an apologist is to put one’s life in danger.  Nonetheless, those societies also need witnesses, because faith, and Christian values are being eroded.  It may be even more difficult to be witnesses when we are likely to face not so much hostility or opposition, but something even more disconcerting—a deadly indifference.  To witness in this case requires a special kind of courage.  It means overcoming our fear of public opinion and our ego.

Prudence dictates that it is not advisable to expose ourselves to physical danger, merely to express our views.  There are many ways to “get our point across” that don’t require such risks.  Self-control is of paramount importance when one faces opposition.  “Timing,” too, is critical to obtain the best audience for any idea.  And we must realize the importance of allowing the seeds of truth to “germinate” before they can develop.

 One of my favorite poems says it this way:

…As far as possible, without surrender,

Be on good terms with all persons….

…And whatever your labors and aspirations,

In the noisy confusion of life,

Keep peace in your soul….  

From “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, 1927 

May God Richly Bless You!

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