I’ve never been a gymnast. Given my size and agility, it’s no surprise that I had trouble doing forward rolls correctly in P.E. class, and forget anything like cartwheels. I know I’m awkward, so anything that involved my feet going over my head is something I’m not interested in doing, at least not on purpose.
I do understand that young kids have to learn to tumble while they’re still unafraid of their feet going over their heads. Once they learn the skill of doing a flip, everything else becomes possible. Everything they do will be effortless and natural because they’re not afraid of what they’re doing, like I would be. The key is moving without fear.
Jesus says “Fear no one” in today’s Gospel. There were a lot of people to fear in those days. Christianity was illegal, so it would be reasonable to fear the Romans. There was always a possibility they would be denounced by someone they knew, so fear of strangers was reasonable. The list went on: people you had arguments with; family members who weren’t Christian, especially those you had a difference with; jealous neighbors; someone who came across you while you praying. However, Jesus told his disciples to fear only the one who could take body and soul, a high standard. Christian fearlessness was important to the early Church: by living without fear, they were able to lead fulfilling lives, with a freedom of spirit others envied. Living without fear meant they didn’t get bogged down with ordinary concerns, or get overly attached to material things; they didn’t pledge loyalties that compromised who they were and what they believed. Living without fear meant they could take life as it happened calmly, accept anything that came their way, even ridicule and martyrdom. Their fearlessness in the arena as they faced death attracted people to the faith instead of frightening people away from it.
We should fear anyone or anything that would become more important than Christ in our lives. That is what destroys souls.
These are frightening times, at least I think they are. I’m not rushing to judgement, liquidating my investment portfolio (all right, I don’t have one), or flipping through the book of Revelation to see where we are on the timeline. When I was a kid, I grew up in the midst of Minuteman Missiles pointed at the Soviet Union, and the end of the world was a regular discussion among me and my friends. Keeping Christ at the center of our lives is the formula for living without fear, and the closer we’re in touch with our center, the more at peace with ourselves and the world we will be. Sure, the worst could happen, but we’ll survive it. Even if we don’t survive it, we’ll be all right for we will be with Christ forever. It doesn’t get better at that: we can be optimists at our core, even in the midst of trouble, because we know the best will happen at the end, the best is waiting for us. As long as we embrace this reality and keep it foremost in our minds, then we’ll be able to take what the world dishes out calmly and look ahead without fear.
The old song Be Not Afraid puts it well: “Be not afraid/I go before you always/come follow Me/and I will give you rest.” Living without fear means we can move gracefully through ungraceful times.