12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 21, 2020

The theme that runs through our scripture readings today, particularly the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah and our gospel passage from Saint Matthew, is one the surfaces more frequently than any other throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  It’s captured best in the words of Jesus taken from today’s gospel, “Fear no one.  …  Do not be afraid.”

And yet, for all of the wisdom that we continually seek to glean from the Word of God, Jesus’ challenge to us to let go of our fears is often met with more hesitancy than we might want to believe.  Fear is a complicated reality, isn’t it?

Occasionally, fear can be a healthy thing that teaches us to live and act in a prudent and responsible manner.  Just take a look around our Cathedral today.  We’re all wearing masks – or in my case, will be – and we’re all socially distant one from another out of a fear that reckless behavior on our parts could put us at risk for contracting the coronavirus, with all of its potentially dire consequences.

Yet, more often than not, fear can be an unhealthy thing that has the power to paralyze us and prevent us from making appropriate choices and decisions.  Perhaps that’s why in today’s gospel as Jesus commissions his disciples to embrace the mission of the gospel, he reminds them to cast aside their fears and to place their trust in God’s promises.  It seems Jesus knew quite well that fear could unreasonably cripple his disciples and prevent them – and us – from proclaiming the truth that we have all come to know and embrace through his presence in our lives.

Years ago I read a book entitled “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen.  Nouwen reminds the reader that one who ministers to God’s people is called more than anything else to speak to their fears and the intimate concerns of life:  birth and death; union and separation; love and hate.  Yet, he goes on, no minister can save anyone but only offer himself as a guide to fearful people.

We’re all afraid of something, aren’t we?  …  We’re afraid of thunder and lightning – cancer – our kids taking the car out by themselves for the first time – snakes – the dark – suffering – letting go of life – meaninglessness.  …  Even Jesus, confronted with the reality of his own suffering and death, prayed that the cross would pass him by the night before he died.

Yet, the scriptures remind us today that when we’re paralyzed by fear, the only thing that can unfasten the chains that bind our hearts and lives is our faith – and the knowledge of our ultimate value and worth in God’s eyes.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your father’s knowledge. … So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  …  Make no mistake, our faith won’t magically change the reality of our lives.  It doesn’t automatically cure our illnesses and lift our concerns.  But faith enables us to live our lives with hope!

And why is this so?  Because authentic faith for us as Christians is rooted in a relationship with the person of Jesus.  It was Jesus, after all, who faced the greatest fear that any of us can ever confront in life – suffering, death and extinction – and overcame it in the Easter event by rising from the dead.  And it is Jesus who promises us a share in his life through faith.  …  Do you recall these words from John 3:16?  Sear them into your hearts as you confront your greatest fears.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Recall the wisdom of the prophet Jeremiah:  “The Lord is with me, light a mighty champion; my persecutors … will not prevail.”  Our awareness and trust in God’s presence and grace makes all the difference as we confront our fears.

I suspect that we’ve come to appreciate that reality during these past few months more than we might realize.  …  We’ve confronted a deadly virus that enveloped our world and still has a hold on us.  We’ve been consumed with the grief that comes from loss – loss of health and even loss of life.  We’ve faced the pain of loneliness and isolation.  We’ve seen the heartbreaking consequences of hatred and discrimination that still cause some of our brothers and sisters to live in fear simply because of the color of their skin.  …  Yet, for all that we have seen and endured, our very presence here today – and as you participate in this Mass from your homes – is a reminder of the power of faith in the face of adversity.

So, my brothers and sisters, “do not be afraid” – something that is easier said than done, yet something that is surely possible with faith.  …  Why?  …  For our faith reminds us that you and I are held firmly in the palm of God’s loving hand – a reality that hardly guarantees us a perfect world – but a reality that nonetheless enables us to face all that life unfolds with hope!