2017 A ☼ 12th Ordinary ● Father Kevin J Forsyth
“Faith Over Fear” ©
At 1:33 pm on December 7th 1941, the secretary of the Navy telephoned the White House and informed President Roosevelt of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon hearing reports, Eleanor Roosevelt hurried to her husband’s side. Years later, she reported that, “while cabinet officers and aides were running about in a state of near panic, the president maintained an almost supernatural calm.” FDR demonstrated not the slightest fear whatsoever although he did think it probable that the Japanese would soon begin an attack on the West Coast of the continental United States.
“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” With those words, FDR gave great hope to a nation during its worst crisis … until “9-11.” His reaction to the horror of Pearl Harbor indicated FDR practiced what he preached; he was not afraid.
While Jesus would agree with FDR, the Lord took it one step further: “fear no one.” In another Gospel passage, Jesus said, “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” For the disciple of Jesus, fear is not an option. However, rejecting fear doesn’t mean that life in Christ won’t contain threats or dangers, or that following Jesus will be a breeze. We will have a cross to pick up, embrace and carry.
Thanks to “9-11,” Americans again know fear more than at anytime since December 7, 1941. Postal workers face chemical threats. Schools go into ‘lock-down’ at the slightest sign of trouble. Airports face the challenge of providing tighter security. College graduates, armed with fresh degrees, struggle to find that first good job in a still jittery economy.
Baby boomers wonder if there will be anything left in the Social Security Fund when they need it. Church leaders worry about a shrinking and aging clergy – and boy are we aging! (And shrinking in numbers, not necessarily in size!) Catholics in the pew anguish over church mergers or closures. And if you really want to talk about fear, there’s the price of oil and gasoline – to say nothing about the rising cost of chocolate! Yes, there seems to be plenty of reasons to be afraid these days.
However, if popular hymns are of any measure, we Americans don’t like to be afraid. The Catholic hymns, “Be Not Afraid” and “On Eagles Wings,” are favorites throughout our land, even being adopted by many Protestant congregations. These hymns speak of our longing for faith over fear and our awareness that God is with us at all times and in all seasons.
In late June, the Church recalls Saints who embraced the call of Jesus to “fear no one.” The English martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher both refused to accept King Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church in England (in place of the Pope) and they were both beheaded by order of that King. Saturday we remembered the Nativity of John the Baptist. Like More and Fisher, J.B. (as I like to call him) choose truth over fear and consequently lost his head, too, delivered to Herod on a platter.
On June 29th, the day Saint Augustine and Good Shepherd merge and become the new parish of Saint Nicholas, we celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul – a feast I secretly love because these two great saints really didn’t get along. They had disagreements recorded in Scripture itself. They each do have a separate feast day but the church also celebrates a feast day uniting them together. I think the Archbishop choose this date to merge parishes in the Archdiocese specifically because of this fact. You see, in spite of not liking each other, Peter and Paul nevertheless worked together for the good of the Church. Follow the good example of Peter and Paul.
But to my point here, except for Peter, who was crucified hanging upside down, all the others were beheaded. What’s interesting to me is these Saints literally lost their heads because they refused to give into fear, yet now-a-days far too many people are giving into fear and are figuratively “losing their heads” in the process. There is something to be said for following FDR’s example and remaining calm and composed. Whether you’re a democrat or a republican – or an independent like me J; whether you’re in a church that’s merging or one that’s closing – fear is useless.
Refusing to be afraid can seem to be a herculean task, especially when we are confronted with a life-threatening illness (like cancer) or an unpredictable financial future. For those with loved ones on duty in the military, fearing for their safety has become a way of life. After the death of a spouse, forging ahead alone can cause some fear and trepidation.
In truth, not giving in to fear is accomplishable only with the grace of God. From our first readings today, the prophet Jeremiah knew this. (And no, he wasn’t paranoid and yes, people were out to get him!) Amidst what he recalls as “terror on every side,” and a hostile atmosphere wherein even those who were once his friends are now “on the watch for any misstep” of his, Jeremiah confidently proclaims his faith that “the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion,” and that his “persecutors will stumble, and not triumph.” Never battle against good – you will ultimately lose.
The great martyrs I mentioned earlier also knew this same faith commitment. The Lord was with them in all their challenges and sufferings, and the presence of the Lord gave them strength and courage to endure it.
Upon his election to the Chair of Saint Peter, Pope Saint John Paul II told the throng gathered in the piazza on that October night in 1978, “Jesus Christ be praised.” Then he added, “Do not be afraid.” Yes, the cold war was still raging and the future of the world looked terribly grim. Yet, one has to wonder if J2P2 (as I like to call him) told the world to “be not afraid” because the Cardinals had just chosen the first non-Italian pope in over six centuries and the first polish born pope in church history! J Be not afraid indeed.
Yet, these first words spoken by the Pope from Poland resound with us even now. As Jesus so poetically stated in the Gospel today, when He said that God is even aware of the birds that fall to the ground, and the hairs on our heads that follow suit, God is in charge – always has been, always will be! So, be not afraid. “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” “In God we trust” isn’t just a national motto. For the Christian, it’s our way of life.
Originally, my homily ended there. But I got a timely Facebook post this past week and I placed in today’s bulletin.
Peppermint Patty says, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve done all that I can do!” To which good ol’ Charlie Brown responds: “Then it might be time to walk away, let go and let God do it. Not everything is meant for you to handle. Trust God.”
So my friends, God sees all and says “Fear not. Trust me.” Believe a blessing is coming your way; believe a blessing is coming my way. Thank you, one and all, and farewell.