I want to give the people who are taking part in our liturgy from home a sense of what we are living this morning. When people arrived at the Church I greeted them from a distance. I checked their names off a list and reminded them of many things:
While we may find this moment difficult or odd given our liturgical history, while we may not like this moment; while this moment is unfamiliar it is our moment. We are doing these unusual things, because we love one another and we are concerned about the safety of each other. This is our best effort given what we know. While we are afraid of what this virus can do to people we love, these actions are rooted in love.
In our first reading, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah we get a sense of what happens for the prophet Jeremiah as he responds to God’s call. He experiences the threat and intimidation of those who oppose his words – words he is speaking on behalf of God. In the midst of this fear of his opponents, Jeremiah speaks of his confidence that God is with him, taking his side.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds his followers to Fear No One. It is almost like a command. He reminds the people not to be afraid of those who can harm the body. They should fear those who can kill the soul. In other words, fear the evil one – the one who can distract you, stealing your soul, the capacity to love, to be compassionate, to be generous, and to care. Stealing your goodness – those are the people you need to fear.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans that Jesus – his life, death and resurrection have brought life. Sin and death have entered the world through one man; Adam. Life has entered the world through one man; Jesus. As I prayed with sacred scripture this week my imagination was captured by the theme of fear and what it often does to us.
As a child I remember being afraid of the dark, of bees, of chickens, of doing things wrong, of being the centre of attention, of not impressing/pleasing my mom and dad, and of getting in trouble at school which would displease my parents. These fears at times paralyzed me. I retreated into myself. I hid myself from the world. I said very little. I did not connect much with others. I worked hard but I worked quietly.
My childhood fears have been replaced by different concerns. The dark, chickens, bees, pleasing mom and dad are no longer uppermost in my mind. Today, I still want to do what is right, I want to do a good job, I want to please God, I don’t want to leave anyone behind, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I want to lead people to God and to freedom. I want people to serve God out of love and not out of fear. I do not want to stand in someone’s way as they journey towards God.
Jeremiah is afraid. He says that God is beside him so he is not afraid. While his confidence in the nearness of God is praiseworthy, we see the evidence of his fear in his desire that his enemies be crushed. Fear hardens our hearts. Fear creates shame, blame, resentment, hurt, anger and exclusion. Fear makes us hard, spiteful, vengeful, and resentful.
Jesus says, do not fear those who can harm the body, rather be afraid of/worry about/be concerned about those who can harm the soul. Fear harms the soul.
We are not good at dealing with our fears. We often deny them. That is not helpful. Paul says that Jesus has given us a way to deal with our fears. He invites us to love. Paul invites us to imitate Jesus.
Fear hardens our hearts. When we are fearful, mercy and compassion disappear and forgiveness goes out the window. When we are afraid we freeze up and we alienate others, we drive people away and we exclude. When we are afraid we create our own hell; we miss seeing the God who dwells within us and around us.
Swirling around us today are concerns about systemic racism, about our economy, about our right to do what we want, when we want and how we want, about our health and many other things.
As we face these fears let us remember that our God is with us. John tells us God is love. When our hearts are soft, caring, generous, patient, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, inclusive we know we are loving. When we blame, shame, accuse, harden our hearts, exclude we know that fear is driving our car.
Whether we are here in this Church or reclining in our favorite chair we are called to love. As I interview the children in preparation for the celebration of the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist I remind them - the Spirit comes to awaken in us our mission to serve one another. Jesus feeds us so that we can serve one another. Each time we serve our brother and sister in need we give our God exquisite thanks and praise.
This week let us praise our God often as we love one another unconditionally.
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Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI