This morning, I would like to recall events from the life of a great man. When he is eight years old his mother dies. When he is twelve years old, his older brother (a physician) also dies, having contracted scarlet fever from a patient. At nineteen years old, the Nazis invade his homeland and inflict much suffering on those he loves. With his father’s death, he becomes the last survivor of his immediate family, at only twenty years of age. After five years of war and occupation, the Nazis are driven out, but the Soviet communists replace them. They will later try to murder him, but they will (just barely) not succeed. At age seventy-three, he is diagnosed with an incurable disease that will slowly weaken him and kill him, and eleven difficult years later, he dies.
These are events from the life of a great man, a man the Church will declare “blessed” this May 1st. He is Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. Throughout his papacy, over and over again, he repeated this message: “Do not be afraid.” He is well-known for saying this, but these words were not originally his. They come from another man, also a man of suffering—accustomed to infirmity, who knew both poverty and exile, one who experienced the deaths of loved ones, a man who was also targeted for death himself. This man is Jesus Christ, who first said, “Do not be afraid. Be not afraid.” In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus says this more than just about anything else.
I recall the trials of John Paul the Great and the sufferings of Jesus Christ lest anyone think their words come from naivety about life and the world, or that their Gospel is not grounded in reality. Jesus knows what he is talking about when teaches us, when He commands us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Jesus never denies that evils exist in this world, but tells us that none of them should make us fear. This is why the Church asks God the Father at every Mass, “Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day, in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety….” We really mean it when we pray this, that we may be free from all anxiety. Christians should care about many things, but not one of these things should make us anxious.
Of what should we be afraid? Poverty? Jesus lived it. Suffering? He experienced that, too. Sin? Jesus has conquered it, and He offers us restoration. Death? Jesus has defeated it, and He promises us resurrection. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that, in the end, everything will be ok. Yet, many people feel crushed by their worries, about matters large and small. How are we to overcome these anxieties and experience the peace Christ wants for our lives? We conquer anxiety with these two things: prayer, and confidence in God’s love for us.
As Saint Paul wrote the Philippians, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus will never forsake us, and He will never forget us. Even if a mother should forget her infant, or be without tenderness for the child of her womb, Jesus will never forget you. So, “Do not be afraid.” The next time you feel worry, the fruit of fear, remove it from your mind and place it on an altar before the Lord. Make a sacrifice of it, a burnt-offering before God, and say, “Jesus, I trust in you. I’ll show up and do my part, but I’m relying on you to take care of this. I sacrifice my fears to you.” It is a high compliment to Him when we trust in Him to be our God, and opens us up to receive His peace.
Always be confident in Jesus Christ’s love for you. The next time you feel worry coming on, this is your cue to pray. Do not be afraid. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that everything will be ok.