Don’t be afraid, just have faith

The following is the TV Mass Easter homily of Bishop Gerald Barbarito.

We come to celebrate Easter in a very different context this year.  The coronavirus has caused a great deal of disruption within our lives, hopefully not illness, and an isolation from others we have never experienced.  We face concerns about our family, employment and other matters that are essential to our lives.  This context perhaps causes us to appreciate more aspects of our lives which we have taken for granted to which we need to give more attention.  Perhaps we need to concentrate more on the everyday aspects of our lives as we have gotten separated from them in the past weeks as never expected.  Perhaps we need also to give more concentration to the lives of others, both those closest to us as well as those not so close.  Indeed, as we celebrate the new life we receive through the Resurrection of Christ, we realize more and more how important our lives are and how much Christ does indeed give us His life, both now and in eternity.

It is our faith that puts all matters in perspective.  Faith is a great gift which guides our lives and we realize, at a time like this, how important that faith is.  It has been a great inspiration for me to  experience the faith of people who, at this time, want to embrace it more deeply and to live it more fully.  Truly a fear and anxiety have gripped us at this time in a manner in which our faith can be put in the background.  As we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, it is so important for us to hear the words of the Lord as He went to the house of a synagogue official whose daughter was ill and passed away.  The Lord proclaimed to a crowd that was jeering and making fun of him, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”  The Lord then raised the child from the dead.  That raising from the dead was a pointing to the goodness of life here and now and to His Resurrection which would bring us all to the fullness of life in eternity.  While the synagogue’s official’s child would again die someday, the life that Christ gives us in His Resurrection is one that goes on for eternity with every tear, suffering and pain wiped away.  It is this faith which reminds us that fear is useless.  It is amazing in the Gospels how many times the Lord refers to the need to suppress fear, anxiety and worry even when they have a foundation to them.

The Gospel passage from St. Matthew that was just proclaimed this Easter morning is the one also proclaimed last evening at the Easter Vigil.  Its message is very significant in regard to the reality that Christ had been raised from the dead much to the astonishment of His disciples.  As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approached the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus, they never expected to find it empty in the face of the reality that He had been raised from the dead.  The words of the Angel, “Do not be afraid,” lie at the heart of what the Resurrection is all about.  They, and we, need not to fear because the Lord has given us the fullness of life.  As these two Marys encounter the Risen Christ as they run to tell the other disciples of this message, they are met by the Lord with the same message, “Do not be afraid.”

There certainly is much in our lives of which we are afraid.  Certainly, the current situation of the coronavirus has emphasized one aspect of this fear.  In some words that Pope Francis spoke at the beginning of the celebration of Mass in his Chapel at the Casa Santa Marta just two weeks ago on March 26, the Pope made reference to the legitimate fears of the coronavirus which face us.  He said, “In these days of so much suffering, there’s a lot of fear.   The fear of the elderly who are alone in nursing homes, or hospitals, or in their own homes, and don’t know what will happen.  The fear of those who don’t have regular jobs and are thinking about how to feed their children.   They for see they may go hungry.  The fear of many civil servants.  At this moment they’re working to keep society functioning and they might get sick.  There’s also the fear, the fears, of each one of us.  Each one knows what their own fears are.  We pray to the Lord that He might help us to trust, and to tolerate and conquer these fears.” 

The very next day, March 27, after Pope Francis spoke these words at Mass, he offered a moving reflection at the extraordinary moment of prayer he conducted at the Vatican in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.  You may have seen it.  The Pope spoke on the disciples caught in the turbulent storm in the Gospel of Saint Mark.  At this present time, the Pope stated that, “It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story.  What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. … In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly. … When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: ‘“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?’”  As Pope Francis reflected, “The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith.”

The Lord knows that we are going to have fear, to have anxiety, and to worry, and He embraces us in these.  They are part of the human condition and, indeed, the Lord Himself experienced them in human nature for our sake.  However, it is only faith that can overcome them and only faith that can put our lives in proper perspective.  What we celebrate today is that our fear is overcome by the power of Jesus Christ.  Without Christ, especially the fullness of that life through His Resurrection, we would have good reason to be desperate in the face of our understandable fears.  However, it is Christ whose loving message casts out that fear.  Even at this difficult time, in which we need to take proper precaution and to care for our loved ones as well as for ourselves and each other, it is only our faith which gives us insight into the meaning of life and brings us the hope and joy which nothing else can.

We look forward to the day when the threat of the coronavirus is over, and we return to life as normal as possible.  Again, perhaps the circumstances of our present situation may help us to more appreciate the day-to-day existence of our lives and especially the people in our lives whom we may take for granted.  However, we also realize that there are unfounded fears that we face every day which limit our life and which only faith casts out.  One of those fears is the fear of being ourselves.  We are so afraid, many times without realizing it, to be the person God has made us to be thinking that it is not good enough.  So many times we place ourselves against the judgments of others and try to be someone other than we are in order to impress.  We need to realize that we are here in this world “to bless and not to impress.”  It is when we bless by being the gift that God has made us to be that we are not concerned about impressions which many times can be false and superficial.  It is only by accepting ourselves, with all of the good qualities that God has given to us, as well as with all of the limitations of our human nature especially in regard to our shortcomings, illness, and death, that in faith we are able to face the reality of life in the context of the Resurrection of Christ. It is here that we need to hear the words of Christ, spoken over and over again in the Gospels, “Do not be afraid!”  His words at the tomb, to those at the home of the synagogue official’s daughter and to the disciples in the storm are just some instances when He speaks them.

One of the defining moments of our modern world was the election of St. Pope John Paul II.  As we know, during his extraordinary pontificate, he faced many difficulties in the world as well as in his own health life.  However, he was able to face these difficulties in a manner which overcame fear to which he would not accede.  This included his ability to be key in the downfall of communism in our world.  As he was elected Pope, a relatively young man from a foreign country, there was a great deal of understandable fear he must have experienced.  However, his first words from the balcony at St. Peter’s Square, he spoke not only to the world but also to himself. There are good ones for us to recall on this Easter as Christ reminds us not to be afraid: “Brothers and Sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power.  Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ with Christ’s power to serve the human person in the whole of mankind.  Do not be afraid.  Open wide the doors for Christ.  To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development.  Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”

As Christ knows each and every one of us on this Easter day and the fears that we face, both at this present time and within our lives at all times, let us experience the power of the life He gives us through His Resurrection and always realize, “Do not be afraid, what is needed here is faith.”  A blessed Easter, free from fear to all of you and to your families!”  Thank you for being examples of faith and let us support each other in the faith of Christ.