Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf
and Isaac Jogues
"Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." (Luke 12:7)
Who of us hasn’t been afraid? There is a fear for every moment of life. There were fears that we had as children just because we had great imaginations and vivid dreams. There were the usual fears of young people, like: are we popular, what if we don’t get chosen or asked out? Other fears emerged as young adults, for example, the fear to dream big, the fear of failure, the fear of not belonging to anyone. There are fears of the people who live in dangerous neighborhoods or in violent relationships. There is the fear of being discounted, dismissed and disrespected. There are fears that drive us to drink, to addictions, to the "safety" of our house, our room, the darkness of our mind and spirit.
As we read the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, there are so many references to fear and to being afraid that we begin to realize that fear is a long-standing human condition. The Gospel for today invites us to reflect upon our fears, our personal fears, the fears that keep us awake at night and the fears that make us anxious all the day long. So many of us fear physical pain, we fear suffering, we fear the emotional pain that others can inflict upon us. Fear is such a fundamental human experience that we never really overcome our fears. When we allow ourselves to be dominated by fear, overwhelmed by it, then we discover how dehumanized we feel. Our self worth and our dignity are diminished and we allow ourselves to sell out to the closest security blanket we can find. To make matters worse, we also feel guilty for losing control over our lives. Who can save us from this mess? Who can save us from our fears?
This is when a Gospel like the one we have today lifts us up and helps us make sense of our fears. God’s personal love for us is more powerful than any human fear we can have. And the more we trust in that love, the more courageous we become.
The martyrs whose lives we celebrate today are examples of just how powerful God’s love is. All of these men, St. John de Brébeuf, St. Isaac Jogues and companions kept going back into the settlements of the Native American peoples of New York and Canada despite being captured, tortured and cruelly treated time and time again. Their letters tell us how they overcame their fears by believing that God would always protect them, even in their death. Fear makes cowards of us all but love, indeed God’s love gives us the strength to overcome all fear. Our fears will never go away, but they will never control us again once we allow God’s Love to transform us day after day.
I once celebrated a Mass for a College Newman center. The student president got up to speak after Mass. She said that when she first got to college, she was afraid to be Catholic, afraid to speak out, afraid to take on leadership roles. Then she started repeating a prayer every morning that someone gave her: "Remember you are a daughter of God, a God who loves you and cares for you. So today, show that love to someone else." That prayer, she said, took away all my fears! Yes indeed, we are worth than many sparrows!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is stationed in San Antonio, Texas.