Be not afraid

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Look to the left. Right there at the beginning of the article. See it? Next to my photo. Yup, those three simple little words, superimposed over the picture of St. John Paul II. “Be Not Afraid.” It’s the official title of this column. It’s been there all along. Ever notice it before? What does it mean? 

“Be Not Afraid,” is probably a phrase that we’ve heard many times in our lives. In the hymn of the same name, we sing, “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow Me, and I will give you rest.” 

“Be not afraid” is a phrase I have learned that is repeated more than 300 times in the Gospels. And it is a phrase that was sounded by the late St. John Paul II, especially in his consistent message to the youth of the world over the last quarter century of his life: “Be not afraid, young people. Get up, Jesus is calling you! He’s your Creator; He’s your Redeemer; He has a plan for your lives. Give yourselves to Him; give yourselves to others out of love for Him, and discover the truth that will set you free — the truth that will guide you through this earthly existence and into God’s eternal Kingdom.”

It was in his very first address as pope on Oct. 16, 1978, that St. John Paul II, appearing on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square right after being elected, said (at least three times) to all of us, “Be not afraid.” 

I believe that our young people — and all of us, for that matter — could relate to what St. John Paul II said because he so fearlessly practiced what he preached. He dodged Nazis and then the communists when he grew up in Poland. He studied for the priesthood in secrecy. He challenged communism, suffered an assassination attempt and went home to the Father after facing a long and debilitating illness. He was tough — physically, mentally and morally. He was unyielding in his beliefs. It is, therefore, a fitting title for this column.

It is also an ongoing message that needs to be repeated today and every day to everyone, but especially the young. Be Not Afraid. Today we live in a society where even the most innocent are sometimes treated as disposable objects. Be Not Afraid. Many abuse themselves with food, drugs, sex and alcohol. Be Not Afraid. Many live with broken relationships and broken promises and broken lives. Be Not Afraid. Hungry and lonely. Be Not Afraid. Out of work, out of savings, out of time. Be Not Afraid. Afraid? Be Not Afraid.

There is no doubt that things are tough right now. We are all waiting for the next shoe to drop. We’re all a bit afraid. Time and time again, however, when we join together as a people, as Christian people, we can make a difference in the world! It is this very spirit of prayer, self-giving and of caring and service to others that will get us through these difficult times. But to make it through, we need to set our sights on someone greater than ourselves. The reason St. John Paul II was not afraid, is that he set his sights on Christ. We must do the same. 

St. John Paul II also stated in his first address: “Be not afraid to welcome Christ. Be not afraid. Rather, open wide the doors to Christ! Open the frontiers of your states to Christ’s power of Salvation, your economic systems as well as the political ones, the wide fields of culture, of civilization, of development. Be not afraid!”

At the conclusion of his homily at his Inaugural Mass, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI continued the message of St. John Paul II when he said, “At this point, my mind goes back to Oct. 22 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in St. Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: ‘Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!’ The pope [JPII] was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let Him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, He would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But He would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The pope [JPII] was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the pope [JPII] said: ‘No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing ... absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred-fold in return. Yes, open wide the doors to Christ, and you will find true life.’”

Pope Francis in his address to the young people at World Youth Day XXVIII, continued the theme when he said to those gathered in Rio, “Do not be afraid. Some people might think: ‘I have no particular preparation, how can I go and proclaim the Gospel?’ My dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah when he was called by God to be a prophet. ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ God says the same thing to you as He said to Jeremiah: ‘Be not afraid ... for I am with you to deliver you’ (Jer 1:7,8). He is with us!”

Amen.

Frank Lucca is a deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic Parish in Swansea and St. George Parish in Westport, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 40 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and three grandsons. So blessed!

Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net

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