I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Luke 12: 4-5
In 1930, the Church canonized St. Isacc Jogues and his Jesuit companions as the North American Martyrs. Seven Jesuits and one Jesuit lay missionary were martyred between 1642 and 1649. These men suffered greatly at the hands of the people they came to evangelize. They came to this part of the New World knowing full well that their lives would be in constant danger, not only from the indigenous peoples they came to baptize and catechize, but also from the inclement weather, difficult living conditions and the lack of food and water.
These men were committed missionaries. They fully recognized the dangers that awaited them. They had to face many fears: fear of disease, fear of the bitter cold without adequate clothing or housing, fear of starvation, and fear of death from natural predators and waring tribes. There is a powerful phrase in the Book of Revelations, Chapter 12:11: Love for life did not deter them from death. They knew they had to overcome all their fears in order to live out their missionary commitment.
If there is one thing that every individual is aware of, it’s their fears. Our fears manifest themselves early in life and then there comes a time when we realize that those fears will never go away.
When Jesus was instructing his disciples in today’s Gospel about their real and sometimes hidden fears, he teaches them that God can help them overcome all their fears. They may be fearful and anxious about what they are to wear, what they are to eat, where they are to live but God will always Provide. They are to rely on the goodness of others when they may not have enough for themselves. God’s goodness makes everyone capable of being good.
Hidden fears are dangerous. We all walk around with fears in our hearts, some are very visible in our face and speech, others are well concealed within our awareness. Some of us do not realize how we are controlled by our fears: our fear of not having enough of food and resources, our fear of being told what to do by others, our fear of dying. We mistakenly believe that we can overcome our fears by being more powerful, having more money and being better armed than the people around us.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid of those who those who can kill the body, but after that can do no more.” This is difficult for us to grasp. For so many of us, our greatest fear is of those who want to take away our human life. Human instinct takes over. We either fight or run from this danger. This is normal. And yet, like our saints we honor today, we can choose to overcome this fear and allow our lives to be at risk for the sake of the Gospel.
Jesus also goes on to say: “Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna, yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.” What does Jesus mean by that? I think he means that we may be willing to sell out our Gospel values for saving our human lives and our creature comforts. I think we all know what our Gospel values are. We were given a list of them in Sunday’s Gospel. Are we wiling to risk our human life for living the Gospel and the values the Gospel teaches us? We all need to answer this question.
The first letter of St. John says it well: Perfect love drives out fear!” (I John 4:18) May Love help us overcome every fear we have!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.