Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ”!
—ST. JOHN PAUL II, Homily, Saint Peter’s Square
October 22, 1978, No. 5
YES, I know John Paul II often said, “Be not afraid!” But as we see the Storm winds increasing around us and waves beginning to overwhelm the Barque of Peter… as freedom of religion and speech become fragile and the possibility of an antichrist remains on the horizon… as Marian prophecies are being fulfilled in real-time and the warnings of the popes go unheeded… as your own personal troubles, divisions and sorrows mount around you… how can one possibly not be afraid?”
The answer is that the holy courage St. John Paul II calls us to is not an emotion, but a divine gift. It is the fruit of faith. If you are afraid, it may be precisely because you have not yet fully opened the gift. So here are five ways for you to begin walking in holy courage in our times. (These five means are also “hidden” in a homily Pope Francis gave during the dark hours of Easter Vigil in April, 2013)…
I. LET JESUS IN!
The key to the words of John Paul II to “not be afraid” lies in the second part of his invitation: “Open wide the doors to Christ!”
The Apostle John wrote:
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him… There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… (1 John 4:18)
God is the love that drives out all fear. The more I open my heart to Him in childlike faith and “remain in love”, the more He enters, driving out the darkness of fear and giving me a holy confidence, boldness, and peace. cf. Acts 4:29-31
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
The confidence comes from not knowing about Him as one would from a textbook, but knowing of Him as from a relationship. The problem is that many of us have not truly opened our hearts to God.
Sometimes even Catholics have lost or never had the chance to experience Christ personally: not Christ as a mere ‘paradigm’ or ‘value’, but as the living Lord, ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition of the Vatican Newspaper), March 24, 1993, p.3
Or we keep Him at arms length for many reasons—from fear that He rejects me, or will not provide for me, or especially, that He will demand too much of me. But Jesus says that unless we become trusting like little children, we cannot have the kingdom of God, cf. Matt 19:14 we cannot know that Love, which drives out fear…
…Because he is found by those who do not test him, and manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. (Wisdom of Solomon 1:2)
Therefore, the first and foundational key to not being afraid is to let Love in! And this Love is a person.
Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change… —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, n. 1, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va
II. PRAYER OPENS THE DOOR
Thus, to “open wide the doors to Christ” means to enter into a real and living relationship with Him. Coming to Mass on Sunday is not the end per se, as if it were some kind of ticket to Heaven, rather, it is the beginning. In order to draw Love into our hearts, we must sincerely draw near to Him in “spirit and truth.” cf. John 4:23
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
This drawing near to God “in spirit” is foremost called prayer. And prayer is a relationship.
…prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit… Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2565, 2560
Prayer, said St. Theresa of Avila, “is a close sharing between two friends. It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who loves us.” It is precisely in prayer that we encounter Jesus, not as a distant deity, but as a living, loving Person.
Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is life… —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va
When we simply speak to God from the heart—that is prayer. And prayer is what draws the sap of the Holy Spirit from Christ, who is the Vine, into our hearts. It draws in Love who casts out all fear.
Prayer attends to the grace we need… —CCC, n.2010
The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts. —Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 1578
So you see, God wants you to open wide your heart to Him. And this means a giving of yourself. Love is an exchange, an exchange of time, of words and trust. Love means becoming vulnerable—both you and God becoming vulernable to one another (and what is more vulnerable than hanging naked upon a Cross for one who may never love you in return?) Just as drawing near to a fire banishes cold, so too drawing near to Him in “prayer of the heart” expels fear. As you carve out time for supper, you must carve out time for prayer, for that spiritual food which alone nourishes, heals, and liberates the soul from fear.
III. LEAVE IT BEHIND
There is good reason, though, why some people are afraid. It is because they deliberately sin against God. cf. Deliberate Sin They choose to rebel. That’s why St. John goes on to say:
…fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
But you might say, “Well then, I guess I am doomed to be afraid because I am constantly stumbling.”
What I am speaking of here is not those venial sins that arise from human weakness and frailty, from imperfections and the like. These do not cut you off from God:
Venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness. —CCC, n1863
What I am speak of here is knowing that something is a serious sin, and yet deliberately committing it. Such a person naturally invites darkness into their hearts rather than Love. cf. John 3:19 Such a person is deliberately inviting fear into their hearts because “fear has to do with punishment.” Their conscience is disturbed, their passions are aroused, and they easily weary as they stumble in darkness. Therefore, in opening wide one’s heart to Jesus through prayer, one must first begin that prayer in the “truth that sets us free.” And the first truth is that of who I am—and who I am not.
…humility is the foundation of prayer… Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic Liturgy and personal prayer. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2559, 2631
Yes, if you wish to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, you must make a decision to turn away from all sin and unhealthy attachments:
Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin upon sin. Do not say, His mercy is great; my many sins he will forgive. (Sirach 5:5-6)
But if you sincerely approach Him “in truth”, God is waiting with all His heart to forgive you:
O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy… Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1486, 699, 1146
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. (1 John 1:9)
Confession is the place designated by Christ Himself for one to be liberated from the power of sin.cf. John 20:23; James 5:16 It is the place where one draws near to God “in truth.” An exorcist said to me that “One good confession is more powerful than one hundred exorcisms.” There is no more powerful way to be delivered from a spirit of fear than in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.cf. Making a Good Confession
…there is no sin which He cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him... If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va
Many of us may do the above, and yet, we are still prone to having our peace disturbed, our interior security rattled. Why? Because we do not depend entirely upon the Father. We do not trust that, no matter what happens, it is His permissive will—and His will is “my food.” cf. John 3:34 We are happy and peaceful when everything is going well… but angry and disturbed when we encounter obstacles, contradictions, and disappointments. It is because we are not totally abandoned to Him, not yet dependent solely upon His designs, the way the birds of the air or the creatures of the forest are (Matt 6:26).
True, we can’t help but feel the sting of these “thorns”, cf. Accept the Crown of these unexpected and unwanted sufferings—and that is human. But then we should imitate Jesus in His humanity when He abandoned Himself completely to Abba: cf. The Rescuer
…take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)
Notice how after Jesus made this prayer in Gethsemane, an angel was sent to comfort Him. Then, as though human fear evaporated, Jesus stood up and delivered Himself to His persecutors who had come to arrest Him. The Father will send the same “angel” of strength and courage to those who abandon themselves totally to Him.
To accept the will of God, whether it is to our liking or not, is to be like a little child. Such a soul who walks in that kind of abandonment is no longer afraid, but he sees everything as being from God, and therefore good—even, or rather, especially, when it is the Cross. David wrote:
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Following the “light” of God’s will casts away the darkness of fear:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Indeed, Jesus promised that we would find “rest” in Him…
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. (Matt 11:28)
When we take the yoke of His will upon us, that’s when we find rest from the anxiety and fear that seeks to overwhelm us.
So don’t be afraid if God seems distant in your suffering, like He has forgotten you. He will never forget you. That is His promise (see Isaiah 49:15-16 and Matt 28:20). Rather, He sometimes hides Himself and His intentions in the painful disguise of His permissive will so as to reveal to us whether or not we actually trust Him and will wait for His timing and providence. When it came to feeding the five thousand, Jesus asks:
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test [Philip], because he himself knew what he was going to do. (cf. John 6:1-15)
So, when everything seems to be collapsing around you, pray:
O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything! (from a powerful Novena of Abandonment)
…and surrender to your circumstances by returning to the duty of the moment. My spiritual director often says “Anger is sadness.” When we lose control, that’s when we feel sad, which manifests in anger, which then gives fear a place to dwell.
If following Him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust Him, be confident that He is close to you, He is with you and He will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do. —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va
Lastly, fear is vanquished by joy! True joy is the fruit of the Spirit. When we live points I—IV above, then joy will be born naturally as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. You can’t fall in love with Jesus and not be joyful! cf. Acts 4:20
While “positive thinking” is not enough to drive out fear, it is the proper attitude for a child of God, which then creates good soil for the seeds of holy courage to sprout.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. The the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)
Thanksgiving “in all circumstances” 1 Thess 5:18 enables us to open wider our hearts to God, to avoid the pitfalls of bitterness and embrace the will of the Father. And this has not only spiritual but bodily repercussions.
In fascinating new research on the human brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf explains how our brains are not “fixed” as once thought. Rather, our thoughts can and do change us physically.
As you think, you choose, and as you choose, you cause genetic expression to happen in your brain. This means you make proteins, and these proteins form your thoughts. Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. —Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf, BakerBooks, p 32
Research, she notes, shows that 75 to 95 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life. Thus, detoxifying one’s thoughts can have a dramatic impact on one’s health, even diminishing the effects of autism, dementia, and other diseases.
We cannot control the events and circumstances of life, but we can control our reactions… You are free to make choices about how you focus your attention, and this affects how the chemicals and proteins and wiring of your brain change and functions.—cf. p. 33
Ex-satanist, Deboarah Lipsky in her book A Message of Hope taupublishing.com explains how negative thinking is like a beacon that draws evil spirits toward us, like rotting meat draws flies. So, for those who are pre-disposed to being grumpy, negative, and pessimistic—watch out! You are attracting darkness, and darkness drives out the light of joy, replacing it with bitterness and gloom.
Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! —POPE FRANCIS, Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va
Perhaps it will surprise some readers to know that my recent writings dealing with war, chastisement, and the Antichrist were written with Easter joy in my heart! To be joyful does not ignore reality, sorrow, and suffering; it does not play-act. In fact, it is the joy of Jesus that enables us to comfort the mourning, to liberate the prisoner, to pour balm on the wounds of the wounded, precisely because we carry to them authentic joy and hope, that of the Resurrection that lies beyond the crosses of our suffering.
Make conscious choices to be positive, to hold your tongue, to keep silent in suffering, and trust in Jesus. One of the best ways to do this is to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving in all things—all things:
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)
This too is what it means when Pope Francis says, “not to look among the dead for the Living One.” Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va That is, for the Christian, we find hope in the Cross, life in the Valley of Death, and light in the tomb through a faith that believes all things work to the good for those who love Him. Rom 8:28
By living out these five means, which are fundamental to every authentic Christian spirituality, we can be assured that Love will conquer fear in our heart and the darkness descending upon our world. Moreover, you will be helping others by the light of your faith to begin looking for the Living One as well.Wss
ALL, WITH MARY
To all of the above I say, “add your mother.” The reason this isn’t the sixth way to “be not afraid” is because we ought to invite the Blessed Mother to accompany us in everything we do. She is our mother, given to us beneath the Cross in the person of St. John. I am struck by his action immediately after Jesus pronounced to him: “Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:27)
We too, then, ought to take her into our home, into our hearts. Even the Reformationist, Martin Luther, understood this right:
Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees… If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother. —Christmas Sermon, 1529
Mary doesn’t steal Christ’s thunder; she is the lightning that leads the way to Him! I cannot count the times that this Mother has been my comfort and solace, my help and strength, as any good mother is. The closer I am to Mary, the closer I come to Jesus. If she was good enough to raise Him, she’s good enough for me.
Whoever you are that perceive yourself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away your eyes from the splendor of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm… Look at the star, call upon Mary… With her for guide, you shall not go astray, while invoking her, you shall never lose heart… if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal. —St. Bernard Clairvaux, Homilia super Missus est, II, 17
Jesus, the Sacraments, prayer, abandonment, using your reason and will, and the Mother… in these ways can one find that place of freedom where all fear dissipates like fog before the morning sun.
You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. Because you have the Lord for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold… (Psalm 91-5-9)
Print this out. Keep it bookmarked. Refer to it in those moments of darkness. Jesus’ name is Emmanuel — “God is with us”.Matthew 1:23 Be not afraid!
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|1.||↑||cf. Acts 4:29-31|
|2.||↑||cf. Matt 19:14|
|3.||↑||cf. John 4:23|
|4.||↑||cf. Deliberate Sin|
|5.||↑||cf. John 3:19|
|6.||↑||cf. John 20:23; James 5:16|
|7.||↑||cf. Making a Good Confession|
|8.||↑||cf. John 3:34|
|9.||↑||cf. Accept the Crown|
|10.||↑||cf. The Rescuer|
|11.||↑||cf. Acts 4:20|
|12.||↑||1 Thess 5:18|
|14.||↑||Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013; www.vatican.va|