It’s easy to write these three words. Especially while sitting in a cozy apartment with a cup of warm tea and the company of good friends around the table. But the words that Pope Saint John Paul II declared over and over throughout his papacy are not merely meant to be an easily quotable slogan written in pretty typeface. We must not mistake the simplicity of this phrase for a lack of demand. Because in the face of the world, “Be not afraid” is an absurd exhortation. In the face of terrorism and cancer and child abuse, it’s impossible. But in the face of the crucified Christ, it makes sense. More than that, it’s made possible. Not easy, but possible. To proclaim “Be not afraid,” is to proclaim relentless confidence in the One who has conquered death. It’s to leap into the deep unknown and trust that although you are hurtling through darkness, there is a pair of pierced hands waiting to catch you below.
Over and over again, the Lord speaks through scripture to tell me to be strong and courageous. To lift my drooping hands and strengthen my weak knees. To believe and not fear. But my “be not afraid” often doesn’t look like Saint Joan of Arc’s fearless martyrdom. It usually looks like clutching my crucifix as I force myself out of bed to face the day, or mustering enough energy to whisper “Lord, I need you,” when my heart is ripping at the seams. But this is where the beauty lies—our choosing to live fearlessly is actually choosing to lean on Christ as we trek through the wasteland. He is the one brandishing the sword and guiding our steps. He is the fearless One, which is why we need not be afraid.
But sometimes the brokenness of the world is not the only thing that scares me. Sometimes it’s what Jesus is asking of me. But JPII’s words echo still.
“Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice. Do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the Tree of Life. It is the source of all joy and peace. It was the only way for Jesus to reach resurrection and triumph. It is the only way for us to share in his life, now and forever”
Regardless of the fear and anxieties that close in, the truth remains the same; Jesus Christ is bigger and stronger than any of them. A tiny animated asparagus from Veggie Tales recently reminded me that God is even bigger than Godzilla.
Whatever the fear, the response is the same; Be not afraid.
Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us!