Freedom From Fear
Have No Fear!
Christ frees us from fear. Like illnesses, fears can be acute or chronic. Acute fears are determined by a situation of extraordinary danger. If I am about to be run over by a car, or begin to notice that the earth is moving under my feet because of an earthquake, I am gripped by acute fears. As they arise unexpectedly and without warning, so they disappear as soon as the danger is over, leaving perhaps only a bad memory. They do not depend on us and are natural. More dangerous are chronic fears, those that live with us, which we carry from our birth or childhood, which become part of our being, and which sometimes we end up being attached to.
Fear is not an evil in itself. It is often the occasion to reveal unsuspected courage and strength. Only someone who knows fear knows what courage is. Fear can really become an evil that consumes and does not allow one to live, rather than being a stimulus to react and a spring for action, it can become an excuse for inaction, something that paralyzes. When it is turned into anxiety: Jesus named man's most common anxieties: "'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'" (Matthew 6:31). Anxiety has become the illness of the century, and it is one of the main causes for the multiplication of heart attacks.
We live in anxiety, and that is why we do not live! Anxiety is an irrational fear of an unknown object. To always be afraid of everything, to systematically expect the worst and to always live in a palpitation. If there is no danger, anxiety invents it; if it exists, anxiety magnifies it. The anxious person suffers evils twice over: first in the anticipation and then in the reality. What Jesus condemns in the Gospel is not simple fear so much or just concern for tomorrow, but precisely this anxiety and disquiet. "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day," he said.
But let's stop describing our fears of different sorts and let's try, instead, to see what remedy the Gospel offers us to overcome our fears. The remedy is summarized in one word: to trust God, to believe in Providence and in the heavenly Father's love. The real root of all fears is that of finding oneself alone, like that continuous fear of the child of being abandoned.
And Jesus assures us precisely about this: that we will not be abandoned. "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up," says Psalm (27:10). Even if all were to abandon us, the Lord would not. His love is stronger than all.
We cannot leave the topic of fear, however, on this point. It would be less than close to reality. Jesus wants to free us from fears and he always frees us. But he does not have only one way to do so; he has two: he either takes away the fear from our hearts or he helps us to live with it in a new way, more freely, making of it an occasion of grace for ourselves and for others.
He himself wished to live this experience. It is written that, in the Garden of Olives "he began to feel sadness and anxiety." The original text even suggests the idea of a solitary terror, as of someone who feels removed from human association, in an immense solitude. And he wished to experience this precisely to redeem this aspect of the human condition also. Since that day, living in union with him, fear, especially fear of death, has the power to uplift us instead of depressing us, of making us more attentive to others, more understanding, and in a word, more human.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap.
[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]