25 June 2023

Do not fear; bear witness

12th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Fear has its uses. Fear of my daddy's belt kept me and my little brother from killing each other on many occasions. Fear might've kept you from doing something stupid like driving drunk or experimenting with illegal drugs. Maybe you remained chaste until marriage b/c the possibility of having a child w/o a spouse scared you senseless. Whatever terrible thing fear prevented you from doing, it probably saved you a lot of trouble, maybe saved your life. Being cautious, being careful is just good sense. But this is not the kind of fear Jesus is warning us about this morning. The fear Jesus is warning us against is the kind of fear that kills the soul, the kind that prevents us doing or saying what we know to be the right thing to do or say. This kind of fear is deeply rooted in cowardice, the failure of courage to risk everything in bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel. If, by witnessing to Christ, you fear losing a job or a friendship or even your life, then consider Jesus' warning: “...do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

We call that kind of fear. . .awe. Reverence. Wonder. Veneration. It's the kind of fear that Job experiences at the end. The kind that strikes us at the root of our being and reminds us that we are dust. Loved dust, yes. Dust given life again in Christ, yes. But still dust. And nothing we have and nothing we are adds even a quanta of dignity beyond what God Himself has already given us. So, when Jesus warns us not to fear those who can destroy the body but not the soul, he's warning us to put our supernatural goal above and beyond whatever we might want to hang onto down here. Whatever it might be that we think is going to heal us, make us happy, free us from death, it ain't. Anything created will die. Medicine, money, career, even family and friends – all created, all temporary, all headed toward death. It is best to make sure that a fear of losing what's always passing away doesn't prevent you from grabbing hold of him who cannot pass away. It is best then to attach yourself to that which is uncreated and permanent. When the time comes – and it will – do not deny Christ the faithful witness he is due. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” That's his promise to us. He follows this promise with another: “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

How do we acknowledge Christ before others? There are obvious, visible ways to witness. Wearing a cross. Praying before meals in public. Bumper stickers. Carrying a rosary and praying it. These are common and easy. Not much chance anyone is going to call you out for this kind of witness. . .esp., in TX. You can ratchet up the danger a bit by talking to co-workers about your faith. Maybe throw in a bit of witness if you teach at a public school. Privately challenge a family member's persistent and public sin. If you really want to feel the full weight of the world's opposition to the Gospel, then you have to go Big. Run for an elected office and bring the Light to gov't corruption. Get a seat on the school board and challenge the theology of Woke Religion. Threaten the Unholy Sacraments of the elites – abortion, gender ideology, and sex w/o consequences. Now you've got the world's attention! When the pressure to buckle starts to bear down on you, what do you do? “Fear no one...do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

Now, I've been assuming here that you're looking for trouble. Actively seeking out chances to bear witness. And that's a good thing. But what happens when you're just living your Christian life, the world finds you, and demands your surrender? Whatever you do, do not play the Enemy's games. He wants you angry, self-righteous, set on a worldly victory. He wants you puffed up with indignation and fury, ready to lash out, seeking revenge for the insult. Do this and you have denied Christ. Like a cornered and wounded animal, you've attacked as you were attacked and the witness you bear denies the Father's providence. He won't take care of me, so I have to it myself. How can He take care of you if you refuse to receive His care? Do not play the Enemy's game! Meet opposition with truth in love. Bear witness to the truth and do so for no other reason than love. Truth is not a weapon to achieve victory. It's not a tool for burying your enemies. Truth is a person, Christ Jesus. He is the Way and the Life. Show the opposition Christ. Don't just tell them true things. Be the Truth for them. Demonstrate the mercy you yourself have received. Show them the Way. Walk it with them or for them. Whatever you think you have to lose, God will provide. 

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