Thursday, May 05, 2016

Do Not Be Afraid

By Colleen O’Sullivan

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid.  Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.  No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  He settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them.  (Acts 18:9-11)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.  When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.  So you also are now in anguish.  But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”  (John 16:20-22)

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I will give you rest.
(Be Not Afraid, lyrics by Bob Dufford, SJ)

I just finished reading Redemption Road: From Grief to Peace through Walking the Camino de Santiago by Brendan McManus, SJ.  As the title tells us, it’s the author’s tale of his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  The story takes place several years after his brother’s suicide.  He has with him a shirt that belonged to his brother and his goal is to get that shirt to the end of the road.  Doing that, he hopes, will relieve him of the burden of anguish and grief he has been carrying for so very long.

I could hardly put the book down.  The author is such a wonderfully descriptive writer that I felt as though I were walking with him.  That being the case, I have to say there were many challenges along the way and chapters where I found myself actually feeling afraid.  At one point, suffering from leg and foot problems, he literally couldn’t go another step.  He hadn’t seen anyone for quite a while.  Much better hikers than he had passed him some time before.  There was no sign of anyone as far as he could see behind him.  There was also no shelter in sight nor any that he knew of in the vicinity.  That would have been the moment where I would probably have caved, given in to feelings of desolation and failure, and gone home.  But he doesn’t and he makes it all the way to the end.

I think it’s moments like those that Jesus addresses in today’s Scripture readings, particularly in the Gospel reading.  Certainly Jesus knows we all have fears of many sorts.  Brendan McManus had physical challenges to deal with along the Camino.  He experienced loneliness.  He was still very much grieving his brother’s death.  He didn’t know if he had it in him to make it to his goal.

Paul may have been assured of safety during his 18 months in Corinth, but in other places, the apostle didn’t fare as well.  He was arrested and imprisoned on more than one occasion and, as Christian tradition holds, eventually executed in Rome for his faith.  He had to have been afraid at times.

The disciples gathered around that table after supper on Holy Thursday were frightened and uneasy.  What would they do without Jesus?  How could they go on if he weren’t with them?  If only their friend would stop talking about leaving them. 

Jesus doesn’t promise that everything in life will go well because it doesn’t for anyone, not even him.  He asks us not to be afraid, though, because he walks every step of the way beside us.  When we have a relationship with him, a prayer life that enables us to recognize his presence at our side, our fears lose their power to overwhelm us.

Jesus also tells us not to give in to fear because there is resurrection ahead.  Sometimes that takes the form of making it to Compostela or dragging the last bit of the way to Finisterre beyond that, and discovering that the travails of the journey are more than compensated for.  For others, it’s knowing that in spite of the opposition of the world (or your family or friends or neighbors), our sowing of God’s word meets with success in some quarters.  For those weighed down by grief and sorrow, it’s the healing peace and joy that lie beyond the mourning.

For all of us, it’s knowing that Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. Throughout this Easter season, we have been celebrating with joyful hearts the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.  This Sunday we celebrate his Ascension into heaven, where Jesus is waiting to share his Kingdom with us for all eternity.

In prayer, share with the Lord any fear you’ve been carrying around.  Picture Jesus walking beside you day by day, helping to carry your burden or worry.  Finally, thank God that through Jesus’ Resurrection, we have the hope of a life beyond this one where there are no fears, only endless joy.

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