Bishop David A. Zubik
The very first article that I wrote for the Pittsburgh Catholic was in the summer of 1990. It was entitled: “No be worried!” and was a reflection on the anxieties we face in our lives.
At that time, I shared the story of my maternal grandmother, in whom I confided much, especially about my own worries. My Porchy (the nickname I gave her) immigrated to the United States from Slovakia in 1920. She never fully captured English grammar but her messages were truly from her heart. When I shared with her my anxieties, her response was always the same: “No be worried!”
My grandmother was woman of great faith. While she didn’t have much formal education, she knew God and she knew about Him. I suspect that her advice against worry came from her knowledge both of God’s words and His ever-abiding presence with us.
As I reflect with you on my grandmother’s words, I began to think about how many times God speaks those words in the Bible.
Remember Abraham. When God tapped him to be the father of many nations, Abraham was frightened. God responded: “Don’t be afraid!”
When our dear Blessed Mother was visited by the Archangel Gabriel with the news that she would become the mother of the Savior, she too was frightened. God’s words to her: “Don’t be afraid!”
When Joseph was understandably perplexed and upset by unanswered questions about Mary’s pregnancy, God sent the Archangel Gabriel to him in a dream with the words: “Don’t be afraid!”
After Saint Peter had an amazing catch of fish, at a time when he thought it was nearly impossible, he was frightened. Jesus said to him: “Don’t be afraid!”
When the apostles were in a boat being rocked by a terrible storm, Jesus came upon them and said: “Don’t be afraid!”
When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on the first Easter morning and found it empty, she didn’t recognize Jesus in the garden. She was frightened, and Jesus said to her: “Don’t be afraid!”
From the heart of God to her own lips, my grandmother was right when she told me: “No be worried!”
So, what about you and me? As you and I fast-forward through our days, how do we receive God’s words: “Don’t be afraid”? How do those words sound when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or you’ve lost your job, or you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, or you face foreclosure?
How do you respond to those words when your spouse cheats on you, or you’re addicted to booze, drugs or gambling, or you haven’t heard from your adult kids for several years, or somebody has said something about you that is clearly false, or your body is breaking down in your senior years?
How do those words sound: “Don’t be afraid”?
Is God for real when He asks us to not be afraid?
He sure is!
But let’s get something straight. God recognizes that moments of fear are real. God is not asking us to deny the fear that comes with cancer, foreclosure, divorce, abuse, aging, unemployment, addiction, loneliness or betrayal.
How do we know that? Because of what Jesus Himself went through.
When Jesus went into the desert in anticipation of His public ministry, He was all alone—except for the devil. And He was afraid.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane anticipating His imminent betrayal, He was afraid.
When Jesus was on the cross and felt forsaken by everyone, including His Father in heaven, our Lord was very much afraid.
Fear is a normal, natural response to real threats in our lives. Jesus felt fear because He was fully human, as well as fully God. You and I should not be ashamed of our fear.
But God does not leave us in fear, because God does not leave us. His response to our fear is found in words spoken by the angel to Joseph in one of his dreams: “And they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
When you and I think about the fears that Jesus faced in the desert, in the Garden or on the hill of Calvary—in all of these moments Jesus knew that His Father, our God, was with Him. God is also with you and me, offering support, strength, guidance and peace.
Yet there’s something else that we need to think about. When God says, “Don’t be afraid,” God is also speaking from His own fear. How can it be possible for God to fear? After all, God is perfect!
What God fears is that our fear might drive us away from Him; that our fears will break our relationship with Him.
When we face a great moment of fear, we are tempted to blame the problem on Him.
At the very time we have an opportunity to learn important lessons about life and grow closer to God by trusting Him with our fears, we are tempted to turn our backs on the Lord and bolt. As we are literally hell bent on blaming God as the cause of our fears, it is important to remember (as my Porchy did) the response of our ancestors in the faith, such as Abraham, Mary, Joseph, Peter and the apostles, and Mary Magdalene. When God told them, “Don’t be afraid,” they trusted. They trusted in Emmanuel—“God with us.” Their trust allowed Him to carry them through their fears.
The same can be true for you and me. And when we follow their lead, we also help to alleviate Someone Else’s fear—God’s. We can emulate our ancestors in the Bible and take away God’s fear by not falling into the temptation of blaming Him and by not turning away from Him.
And so, as I share with you once again that beautiful advice given by my grandmother, “No be worried,” I hope you and I can take her advice to heart. Why? Because God is Emmanuel. God is with us.
No be afraid!
Photo credit: Justin Merriman