|Kinvara, Co. Galway, Ireland|
The first line in today’s Gospel has only three words, but it says an awful lot: ‘Fear no one’. God never wants us to be afraid. Three hundred and sixty-six times in the Bible are the words ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is constantly reassuring us that He is there and He only has plans for our happiness.
At this time we are seeing many people living in fear for all kinds of reasons: the unrest in our country, the virus, plagues in different parts of the world. What is happening? For one thing, I think God is telling us to wake up. When people feel their life is in danger—such as with the virus—they begin to think in a different way. It is interesting to see in hospitals how open people are to me as a priest. Many people will talk to me there, who wouldn’t normally and the reason is because their focus has changed. They are suddenly seeing what is really important: themselves, or their loved ones, in danger of death. Times like that make us focus on eternal things and that is good. My life on earth may be suddenly about to end. What happens now?
Think of all the time and effort we put into training for a career, often tens of thousands of dollars and years of study and yet that career will probably end in forty or fifty years and then it’s over. Sooner or later our time on earth will be over and we will go into the next world, which is for all eternity. How much time do we spend preparing for that one, which is eternal?
It makes me sad when I hear young parents say that they aren’t going to teach their children about God, because they want them to be free to choose when they get older. So they won’t have their children’s minds formed in the ways of God, but they will be formed by the violence in video games and the immorality on tv, because one way or another, their children’s minds will be formed.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’ Don’t be afraid of what can happen to us while on earth. Be aware of what can happen to you after you die. Fear God and be aware that everything is in his hands. He is the One who has the ultimate say in everything. To ‘fear’ God in that sense, means to have respect and awe for who God is and to recognize that all things belong to him and are subject to him. If times of turmoil help people to wake up to God’s presence and how small we are, then that is a good thing.
God does not want us to be afraid and if we have a relationship with him, we know that we have nothing to be afraid of. If we are focused on God, then even when events around us are disturbing, or even frightening, we can have a quiet confidence. Whenever our own death comes, we will go to be with the God, whom we have hopefully made part of our lives on earth. People who have ignored God for years are the ones who will panic, because they have nothing to turn to. Even if they know they should turn to God, they don’t know who God is.
Jesus says, ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 7:21). People say they don’t need to go to church. They practice their faith in their own way. Each must decide, but are they just doing their will, or God’s will, because Jesus tells us we must do the will of the Father, not just our will, even if we speak of God.
During the Superbowl half-time show this year, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira put on a performance that they said was ‘empowering for women’. It caused quite a reaction, because anyone who saw it realized that it was completely degrading for women. But before they want on stage to do that performance, they gathered around to say a prayer to ask the Lord to bless them and keep them save. Their prayer may well have been sincere and it is not for me to judge, but if we are to love the Lord we must also do what He asks us to do. I know there are fortune tellers who will begin by praying the Our Father, or Hail Mary. Yet what they are doing is forbidden in the Scriptures. ‘It is not those who will say “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven’. The Lord asks us to do his will, not just to use his name, because one without the other is meaningless.
Baptizing your children and making no effort to bring them up to know God is hypocrisy, because at Baptism you make a promise to God to raise them in the faith. If you’re children have had their children baptized, but are not teaching them about their faith, you can remind them of that. They made a promise to God. ‘Oh, God doesn’t mind.’ Jesus says that God does mind!
‘Fear no one’ (Matt 10:26). We will meet many situations in this world which may be frightening, but they are all short-lived. In the first reading Jeremiah knows that the people are plotting against him and he is afraid, but he also has confidence in God, that God will rescue him, whether in this life or the next. Jesus was terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane, because He knew what was about to happen. Yet He had total confidence in the Father and trusted all things to him. Human fear is a normal reaction to danger. But fear of God is something completely different. It is the fear, awe, or loving fright, that helps us to be in the right relationship with God. You can love God and still be in awe and reverence of who God is. That is part of what we learn when we come close to God. What we also have to be careful of is that we are never casual in our approach to God.
You hear me reminding you often of the respect and reverence we need to show when we receive the Eucharist. It is very easy to become casual and we need to be so careful of that. That is why I keep saying, ‘Don’t walk away with the Host, don’t reach out to take it. Put it in your mouth as soon as you receive it.’ Remind yourself who it is you are receiving. If I believe this is really the body of Christ in my hand, I am not going to walk anywhere with it. I will stop and place it in my mouth; not ‘flick’ it in my mouth, but place it in my mouth. In the same way, how we dress also says a lot about the reverence we have for God. The church is a holy place and we should dress appropriately. How would you dress if you were going to meet the pope? Well, here you are coming to meet and touch Jesus.
The more our love for God grows, the more reverence we will have for him. One naturally follows the other. Remember the words of John the Baptist referring to Jesus: ‘He must grow greater. I must grow smaller.’ Before God there is nothing to do but bow down and worship, with love and awe.
‘Fear no one… Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’