Thursday, June 22, 2017

"FEAR NO ONE."


Homily for June 25th, 2017: Twelfth Sunday of Year A.  Mt. 10:26-33.
AIM: To help the hearers face and surmount their fears.
 
AFear no one,@ Jesus says at the beginning of our gospel reading. There is no emotion more universal than fear.  We even share it with the animals. In our earliest years our greatest fear is being abandoned. Across the distance of eighty-five years I can still feel the panic I experienced on losing sight of my mother in a crowded New York City department store. We were reunited a few minutes later. But when you are only four and get separated from your mother in a crowd, a few minutes can be an eternity. 
In 1932, when I was four, I heard the grown-ups talking in shocked tones about the kidnaping of the Lindbergh baby. I remember lying in bed, listening to noises in the house and thinking: >They=re coming for me.= I tried to overcome fear by telling myself: >Daddy and Mummy don=t have a lot of money. No one would bother kidnapping me.= It didn=t help. I was still afraid.
As youngsters move into adolescence they shift their sense of dependence from their parents to their peers. Peer pressure, the desire to be thought Acool@ and Awith it@, leads many teenagers to do things they know are wrong out of fear that if they don=t go along with the crowd they will be made fun of and rejected. A few  years ago two undergraduates at Harvard, a young man and a young woman, were arrested for stealing over $90,000 from the student organization for which they were treasurers. From modest backgrounds themselves, like many others able to attend Harvard because of its lavish scholarship program, they were corrupted by observing the expensive lifestyles of a small minority. They resorted to theft in attempt to break into a world they viewed as exciting and attractive.
Peer pressure can continue into adult life. Fear of being left out is sometimes called Akeeping up with the Joneses.@ Priests encounter this at weddings. Priests want weddings to be happy and joyful occasions for all concerned. This desire can be frustrated, however, when people ambitious to make a big splash try to turn a religious ceremony into a Hollywood production. It starts with balloons in the sanctuary C and goes downhill from there. A priest I know walked into the sacristy before a wedding to find the father of the groom and the best man setting up a bar.  Tempers became frayed when Father told them that if the bottles were not removed, there would be no ceremony. So in case you=re wondering what priests are afraid of, I=m sorry to tell you that one of our fears is weddings.
AFear no one,@ Jesus tells his twelve apostles at the beginning of today=s gospel. The words are part of the instruction he gives them as he sends them out to proclaim the good news of God=s kingdom. The values of God=s kingdom are radically different from the values of the world. AI am sending you out like sheep among wolves,@ Jesus says earlier in the chapter from which today=s gospel is taken (Mt. 10:16). His apostles had every reason for fear as they ventured forth into a hostile world. Tradition says that they all suffered martyrdom. Jesus tells them to overcome their fear by looking to him and making him their model: ANo pupil outranks his teacher, no slave his master. The pupil should be glad to become like his teacher, the slave like his master@ (Mt. 10:24f).
If ever there was a man with reason to fear, it was Abraham Lincoln, in the opinion of many the greatest American president. He held that office during the terrible Civil War which threatened to tear apart the country he loved. Lincoln was not formally a member of any church. But he was a deeply religious man, imbued with the teachings of the Bible. Lincoln scholars tell us that his much used Bible falls open easily to Psalm 34, where a finger smudge can be found by this line: AI sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.@
The great French saint, Francis de Sales (1567-1622) wrote this about fear:
ADo not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today, will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.@
In the Mass for the inauguration of his pastoral ministry on April 24th, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI asked: AAre we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us?@ The Pope was reminding us that sometimes God is himself a source of fear for us rather than fear=s remedy.  What can we do then? St. Augustine answered this question when he said: AIf you fear God, throw yourself into his arms and then his hands cannot strike you.@ The nineteenth century English priest, Fr. Frederick Faber, may have had Augustine=s words in mind when he wrote some verses with which I would like to conclude:
My God, how wonderful thou art, thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful thy mercy-seat, in depths of burning light!
How dread are thine eternal years, O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night, incessantly adored!
How wonderful, how beautiful, the sight of thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power, and awful purity!
O how I fear thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope, and penitential tears!

Yet I may love thee too, O Lord, almighty as thou art,

For thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart.

No earthly father loves like thee, no mother, e=er so mild,

Bears and forbears as thou hast done with me thy sinful child.

Father of Jesus, love=s reward, what rapture will it be

Prostrate before thy throne to lie, and gaze and gaze on thee.