Fear. It paralyzes us to immobility. We’ve all experienced it to some degree.
- we hear a friend saying something skewed about someone else; we want to correct them, but…
- we see a stranger who obviously could use some assistance, and we hesitate…
- someone we love tells us a hard truth, and we lash out because we weren’t ready to listen…
- we want to share our faith with someone really in need of the Lord, and we stay silent…
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (NAB: 1 John 4:18)
Saint John gets it right. He answers the question, “Why do I fear?” saying, “the one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” It makes sense if you think about it. We have all experienced this too, to some degree, having done things for others because we love them. When there is love, obstacles don’t stop us; we find a way to overcome.
This is what we are called to by baptism. Jesus summed it up:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (NAB: Matthew 22:37-40)
Love God and love your neighbor. The saints and martyrs understood this. Because of their experience of God’s love, they were moved to love God in return, and to express this love by extending it to their neighbor . We have all met people who do this.
In the six-plus years of working as part of the formation team for VOICA (Volontariato Internazionale Canossiano), it always amazed me when I would ask our volunteers arriving in Rome for their preparation, “Why did you come?” Many came to have an experience of mission, to travel, to ‘give back to God’ in thanksgiving for what they have received.
But it would happen from time to time, someone would arrive at our door to begin their preparation for two years in the missions, and when asked, would reply, “I don’t know why I’m here. I was compelled somehow. It was all I could think about.”
But that doesn’t sound rational, does it? Yet, love is like that. It makes us do things that take us beyond our fear because we are immersed in another reality. In the case of these volunteers, they had no plan what they would do when they would get back home after mission, only that they had to respond.
This reality (virtue of love) is the root of vocation (which will need to be discussed in a forthcoming post!). Vocation is what makes it possible for the heart to commit to something greater than itself; to give of itself to another. We get a sense of such a capacity in meditating on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. God’s angel presents himself, tells the person(s) not to fear, and then gives news which will change their lives (commit them to something not currently in their plans):
Luke 1:13 “But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zechariah, for thy prayer is heard.” (Zechariah and his wife were to expect a child in his old age)
Luke 1:30 “And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” (Mary’s great response, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; do unto me according to your word!)
Luke 2:10 “And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people.” (The shepherds left the comfort of their fires to go to seek the baby Jesus)
Is it possible for us, too, to respond in love, and put aside our fears? Let us, then, ask the Lord to help us to grow in love for Him, that we too will be compelled to be agents of love; always grounded in that of God. A love that drives out all fear, allows us to commit to the Lord’s plans, and that makes us courageous witnesses to His glory and goodness.
Therefore, I tell you, too, “Fear not.”
“Let nothing trouble you
Let nothing frighten you
God never changes
Patience obtains all
Whoever has god
Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.”
St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)