Last Sunday we celebrated Easter and during the weekday Masses we heard the moving gospel accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples. The faith of the Early Church was based on these appearances. I am certain that in the midst of persecution those Christians found solace and strength in those stories. When you read those stories one fact seems to stand out. While the apostles and the disciples are filled with joy as they encounter the Risen Lord, the gospels indicate that they “were afraid.”
One of my favorite gospel stories depicts a scene where the disciples are helplessly tossed about in a storm. It is about three or four in the morning and the morning light has not yet broken in. Seeing Jesus walking on the water, they are terrified because they think they are seeing a ghost. As Jesus draws closer to them, He assures his followers: “Do not be afraid. It is I.” Fear kept the disciples from seeing straight.
We also live in a society that constantly preys on our fears. In his book, The Culture of Fear, Barry Glassner asks: “Why are so many fears in the air and so many of them unfounded? Why, as crime rates plunged throughout the 1990s, did two-thirds of Americans believe they were soaring? How did it come about that by mid-decade 62 percent of us described ourselves as ‘truly desperate’ about crime – almost twice as many as in the late 1980s, when crime rates were higher?” Emerging from the last election year, we know firsthand how politicians play on our fears for their own political gain.
Many years ago a university in Germany conducted a little research. It asked students to identify the emotion that they experienced most frequently. The results surprised the researchers. The most common emotion that people experienced, according to the research, was not love or anger or hate. It was fear. Whether we are children or grown-ups, we all have our fears. Some of us are afraid of the dark; others are afraid of the future and the unknown; some others are afraid of failure. We are afraid of what people think of us. We are afraid of getting old. We have so many fears.
God put fear into us to keep us safe. Without fear we will put ourselves in danger. The total lack of fear is risky and it is called temerity. On the other hand, we cannot allow fear to keep us from living our lives fully. We cannot become paralyzed by fear. Courage is not lack of fear; it is the ability to face our fears and do what must be done. We can face all things because the Risen Lord is with us. With St Paul, we can say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Especially during the Easter season we are reminded that we cannot be fearful because by His death and resurrection, Christ has conquered sin and death. For us believers the source of our courage is the assurance of God’s presence with us. When we read the Bible we find God calling many individuals to do extraordinary things for Him. For instance, God calls Moses and asks him to tell the Pharaoh to free the people of Israel. When Moses objects that he does not know how to speak, the Lord pledges to go with him. That is the assurance that God gives to all those He calls. This God will not allow us to face the storms of life alone.
Do you know what sentence occurs the most in the Bible? It is this: “Do not be afraid; it is I.” These words and their equivalents appear in the Bible not just a hundred or even two hundred times. They appear 366 times. It is as if God tells us that He is with us once for every day of the year and an extra once for each leap year. We have nothing to fear.
I know many of us are concerned about many things. We have enough reasons to worry. Thinking about our huge parish I too worry from time to time. However, over the last seven years, God has given me unmistakable proofs of His continued presence with us. He constantly surprises me by solving problems when I go to Him in prayer. I invite you to rely on His unfailing support. Take all your burdens to Him in prayer. As long as Peter kept his eyes focused on Jesus, he was fine. Once he turned his gaze to the wind and the waves, he began to sink.
Let me leave you with the words of Scripture:
But now the Lord who created you, says, “Don’t be afraid, for I have ransomed you; I have called you by name. You are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up – the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, your Savior, the Holy One of Israel... Others died that you might live; I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me and honored and I love you. Don’t be afraid for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43: 1-5)
Storms will always rage and winds will not die down. Even though many things around us cause fear, we rest in the assurance that the Lord is with us, within us.
Let us pray for one another! Let us delight in the joys of Easter!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...