12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says in that Gospel. Easier said than done, you might reply. And of course there is much fear about at the moment in our present circumstances: fear of the virus, fear of the unknown, fear of financial problems. And fear can be very inhibiting, it can be paralysing. It can stop us living our lives to the full.
The fear that Our Lord is talking about in the Gospel is the fear of being afraid to be seen as one of his followers. Fear is one of the things that keeps Christians from a bold and generous witnessing to the Gospel. Fortunately, there are always those in the Church who, by the grace of God, are able to overcome fear and witness to the Gospel in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Oscar Romero is an outstanding example. He was made Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 at a very dangerous time in El Salvador. But he was not afraid to speak out. He made public the unspeakable crimes being committed, many by agents of the government. He was under constant threat of death but would not be silenced. He said: 'At the first sight of danger the shepherd cannot run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves. I will stay with my people,’
Archbishop Romero was shot dead in March 1980 while celebrating Mass. And was made a saint by Pope Francis in 2018.
According to Romero it didn't take courage. All it took was the understanding that his enemies dealt in fear, and that if he was not afraid of them, they would have no power over him. They might be able to kill his body, but they could not and would not kill his soul.
People like Romero are an inspiration to us. The words of Christ surely apply to them: 'If anyone declares himself for me before men, I will declare myself for him before my Father in heaven'. It's not good enough to be secret disciples of Christ. We have to give public witness to our Christian faith.
In our country we do not place life in danger by being Christians. But we also need powerful witnesses because faith and Christian values are being eroded. It may be even harder to witness in our country. What we are likely to face is not so much violence and persecution, but something which is even more insidious - a deadly indifference. To witness in this case requires a special kind of courage. It means overcoming our fear of what people will think of us or say about us.
When Jesus said to his apostles, 'Do not be afraid,’ he wasn't saying that they should never feel afraid. He knew that at times they would be afraid. The issue was what fear might do to them. It might paralyse them, or make them so timid as to be unable to fulfil their mission. What Jesus was doing was encouraging them so that they might be able to move beyond fear.
He urged them place their trust in God, who lovingly watches over the life and death of even the smallest and least valuable of his creatures - the sparrows. If then God is concerned about the sparrows, we can be sure that he is concerned about us who are his children. We have no guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us. However, we believe that whatever happens, we can trust in God as he is always there for us.