The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Lord Jesus tells us plainly, “do not be afraid,” and, particularly, not to “fear” human beings (Matthew 10:31, 26). At the same time, however, he – at the very least – implies we are to have a certain fear of the Son of God who will “deny” us before the Father if we deny him before others (Matthew 10:33).
We are thus encouraged to reflect on the difference that exists between human fears and the fear of God. Fear is a natural dimension of life. In childhood we experience forms of fear that subsequently are revealed to be imaginary and disappear; other fears emerge later which are indeed founded in reality: these must be faced and overcome with human determination and trust in God. However, especially today, there is a deeper form of fear of an existential type and which sometimes borders on anguish: it is born from a sense of emptiness, linked to a certain culture permeated with widespread theoretical and practical nihilism.
In the face of the broad and diversified panorama of human fears, the Word of God is clear: those who "fear" God "are not afraid". Fear of God, which the Scriptures define as "the beginning of knowledge" coincides with faith in him, with sacred respect for his authority over life and the world.
What are we to make of us?
The fears of adulthood are often – and rightly – felt more keenly than the fears of childhood. Indeed, sometimes it seems that, with the prophet Jeremiah, we “we hear the whisperings of many, ‘…Denounce! Let us denounce him’” (Jeremiah 20:10). Sometimes, as I said, these fears are real and sometimes only imagined. What are we to do so as not to be overwhelmed by fear?
We must take an honest assessment of the situation and view it with a proper perspective. Some battles we fight – whether physical or metaphorical – will be lost. Pope Francis reminds us that “Jesus says not to fear, not because everything will be all right in this world, but because we are precious to his Father and nothing that is good will be lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien put it this way: “Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains … some samples or glimpses of final victory.”
Such a sentiment may seem pessimistic, but it is nonetheless true; in the end, all things of this world will come to nothing; only authentic love will remain. We now await the new heavens and new earth and new life is always fraught with tribulations (cf. Revelation 21:1). This is the way of things, it is the way of the Cross; death must come before new life, the grain of wheat must fall into the ground before it produces many grains (cf. John 12:24).
The long defeat, with its little victories here and there, is easily detectable in our present society because too many people live without a proper fear, without a respect for, and submission to, the authority of God.
To be without "fear of God" is equivalent to putting ourselves in his place, to feeling we ourselves are lords of good and evil, of life and death. Instead, those who fear God feel within them the safety that an infant in his mother's arms feels (cf. Psalm 130:2). Those who fear God are tranquil even in the midst of storms for, as Jesus revealed to us, God is a Father full of mercy and goodness. Those who love him are not afraid: "There is no fear in love," the Apostle John wrote, "but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love" (I John 4:18). Believers, therefore, are not afraid of anything because they know they are in the hands of God, they know that it is not evil and the irrational which have the last word, but rather that the one Lord of the world and of love is Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, who loved us to the point of sacrificing himself for us, dying on the Cross for our salvation.
To keep this perspective, to look upon the world through a truly Christian lens and keep the final victory of Christ before us despite numerous losses along the way, we must draw near to the heart of the Paschal Mystery - and there remain. To this end, it is necessary for us not only to attend the Holy Mass, but also to spend time in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord, to be with him, to speak with him, to learn from, and to become more like him.
Referring to his abiding presence in the Church in the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus said to Saint Augustine, “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me.” Friends become like friends; they do so by spending time with each other. We have already been incorporated into the Body of Christ through Baptism; now it remains for us to say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
If we do so, we will survive the long defeat and be with the victorious Christ. If we become like Christ, we will not give in to despair, we will not fear men who cannot truly harm us, but we will have a proper fear of God born of love. Then, in the end, having been acknowledged by Jesus before the Father, we will “sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he [will have] rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked” (cf. Matthew 10:32; Jeremiah 20:13)! Amen.