Be not afraid

There is a phrase that we’ve heard many times in our lives. In fact, it is a phrase that, I have learned, is repeated more than 300 times in the Gospels, which would seem to elevate its importance. That phrase is “Be not afraid,” which coincidentally is the title of this particular Anchor feature. 

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.” And it is a phrase that was sounded by Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and especially the late Pope St.  John Paul II, in his consistent message to the youth of the world over the last quarter century of his life. 

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

At the conclusion of his homily at his Inaugural Mass, Pope Benedict XVI continued the message of 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!’” 

Pope Francis has continued to stress these three little words. In his homily at World Youth Day in Rio and just recently, when he opened the Holy Doors at the Vatican basilica, where he added, “We should not be afraid: we should allow ourselves to be embraced by the mercy of God, Who waits for us and forgives everything.”

As we can see this is 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. People are blowing each other up and slaughtering their fellow person. Be not afraid. The rhetoric that is pitting people against each other in this country. 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 especially with the situation in the Middle East and in Europe. Even the presidential election process, which is usually a time for looking to positive change, no matter what your politics, seems to be doing just the opposite. 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 Pope John Paul II was not afraid, is that he set his sights on Christ. We must do the same. Pope 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 his first World Youth Day in 2013, Pope Francis presented three simple ideas as the main theme of his homily — Go — do not be afraid — and serve. “Go,” he said, “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, a young man like you, 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!”

He continued, “Do not be afraid!” When we go to proclaim Christ, it is He Himself Who goes before us and guides us. When He sent His disciples on mission, He promised: ‘I am with you always’ (Mt 28:20). And this is also true for us! Jesus does not leave us alone, He never leaves you alone! He always accompanies you.”

He concluded, “Jesus did not say: ‘One of you go,’ but ‘All of you go’: we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the Apostles to live in isolation, He called them to form a group, a community.”

Carry on! Together we can! Let’s get going! Be not afraid!

Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 37 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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