Jer 20,1013; Rom 5,12-15; Mt 10,26-33
I have a priest-classmate, who when we were seminarians was well into Martial Arts. He was so good that he was winning competitions up to the national level. He can fearlessly face bad guys brandishing knives or guns and disarm them in seconds. But he has one well-known weakness. He has a great fear of injections. He would vigorously shudder at the mere sight of a syringe. When we became a priest, he would plead with me to accompany him to the hospital when he got sick. As a former roommate he trusts me and I can calm him down. So, when I left to enter here at Mepkin, I think he was more worried than sad. He shared that he made one resolution: never to get sick because I can no longer accompany him to the hospital.
What do we fear? Are our fears diminished or increased by age?
For months now, the coronavirus has been wreaking havoc all over the world! Fear grips everyone as the health hazard terrorizes indiscriminately.
Fear can petrify or paralyze. Fear can also lead to violence. Fr. Thomas Merton wrote that fear is the root of war.
Our Gospel reading today is part of the Lord’s Missionary Discourse. Words of persecution are followed by words of exhortation to fearlessness. Three times the Lord says, “Fear not!” Persecutors cannot keep the Gospel hidden. “Fear not!” The consequent danger even of death must not frighten the disciples, for mere men can only kill the body. Fear is properly directed to the Evil One who can endanger the whole person by eternal damnation. But still, “Fear not!” says the Lord, for the Father watches over those who are his own. He knows and cares for the smallest details of their lives. In dealing with what threatens us, the Lord has one admonition – do not be afraid!
Even if our fears may be based on reality, the Lord says, “do not be afraid for you are worth more than sparrows.” Our value is given to us by God, far beyond our worth. It is infinite, for God’s love for us is infinite.
There may be terrors in our lives but measured against the love and power of God, they add up to nothing. This assurance should embolden us as his disciples.
In our Cistercian-Trappist recent history, we have modern martyrs that witness to this fearlessness: the martyrs of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. Twenty-four years ago, in May 1996, a radical Muslim faction in Algeria abducted seven of the Trappists in the Atlas Mountains and held them hostage demanding that France release several of their own imprisoned compatriots. After several weeks passed, and still, the French government refused, the abductors decapitated the monks.
With the Vow of Stability, the monks discerned and decided to remain at Atlas, despite the prevailing situation of tension, despite the awareness of the possibility of violent death.
In his journal entry for Lent in March of 1996, Fr Christian, the Superior wrote, “We must be witnesses of Emmanuel, that is ‘God-with-us’. There is a presence of ‘God-amongst-us’ which we must assume ourselves. It is in this prospect that we understand our vocation to be a fraternal presence of men and women sharing the life of Muslims, Algerians in prayer, silence, and friendship. Church-Islam relations are still hesitant, because we have not yet lived long enough at their side.”
The seven martyrs of Atlas are a mature fruit of the local Church and the people of Algeria: they decided to stay so to continue their life in that Church, among those people. Their desire was to be Church for the people of Algeria.
Of them, Dom Bernardo Olivera wrote:
They followed Jesus to the very end, in keeping with the absolute, radical nature of the Gospel. They assumed the attitudes, the options of Jesus. They embraced his destiny. They were disfigured with him, to be like him. They took on themselves the cross of abnegation in order to hasten the coming of the Kingdom. They preferred nothing to the love of Christ, Servant of the servants of God.
With Jesus, all together, we journey towards the Father.
Starting from our homes, our communities, through the Church to the ends of humanity.
We are not called to die but to live radically. And if the price of fidelity is death, let us pay the price, knowing that it is in this way that life is purchased.
Do not be afraid. Today Jesus assures us that we are not alone in doing what is right. Our work for the kingdom is under the loving gaze of the Father, who inspires and empowers every one of His children.
The Lord today admonishes us to go out to proclaim that love in a world full of terrors. We are commissioned to share the good news. We need not fear.
God’s love protects us, embraces us eternally, overcoming fear, overcoming death.