Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33
My homily, recorded at the 8:30 Mass at Our Lady of Fatima
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Happy Father’s Day! The last time I had the privilege of delivering a homily at the 8:30 Mass was on March 15, at the time we were just beginning to realize that we would need to make significant changes in our lives due to this pandemic called COVID-19. The President had just declared a national emergency and our Bishop had just issued a decree which dispensed of our obligation to attend Mass.
At that time I spoke to you about not being afraid of the virus and of being HOPEFUL, trusting in God’s goodness as we prepared to experience this new reality, brought upon us by this invisible enemy, that would soon fully occupy the 24-hour news cycle, close our churches, our schools, and so many of our businesses. This has been a very tough three months, hasn’t it?
Three months later many of us are now back here in church. We’re wearing face masks, social distancing, sanitizing our hands before receiving communion, and not participating in many of our ministries as we were before. Many people have yet to return to Mass, concerned, and rightly so, that they are at a higher risk of contracting the virus due to their age or other conditions that make them, or someone they care for, more vulnerable.
We yearn for things to return to “normal.” Many of us aren’t really sure if it’s safe to go to a restaurant to eat, even though we are now able to do so. If we are back at work, we may be required to wear a face mask and to have our temperature taken as we enter the office. Or maybe we continue to work from home, conducting all of our meetings virtually on Zoom. Maybe we don’t have a job anymore as our employer, or our business, has had to downsize or close due to the stay at home orders that have been forced upon us.
Most likely we are all washing our hands much more than we did before and we aren’t sure when we may be able to shake hands with our friends, or give them a hug. We may think that we may never be able to do this again.
The fact is that we still don’t know much about this virus. We don’t yet have a vaccine or a cure for it. We don’t know if the relaxing of the stay at home orders will cause it to spike again. We don’t know what the Fall will bring and if it will be safe to send our children back to school. We get conflicting reports about how dangerous COVID-19 is, and we all seem to have an opinion, formed by which medical professionals or politicians we choose to listen to.
The bottom line is that we are living in a time of extreme uncertainty. There are so many things we don’t know about how all of this is going to play out. We may be tempted to despair due to all of this uncertainty, uncertainty which may have given birth to fear dominating our lives, fear of the unknown, fear over lost income, fear of illness or even fear of premature death.
Fear can be one of the most crippling emotions we may ever experience. The Lord knows this and commanded us some 365 times in the Scriptures: “Do not fear”. By this command, the Lord means that we should not fear any human being, human circumstance, or even the devil himself.
While as good citizens we must respect the current orders of our public officials, we must not fear the current state of the world. The Lord commands us so frequently not to fear because he knows that we are so frequently tempted to let ourselves be manipulated by it.
Because the temptation to fear is so pervasive, so strong, the fulfillment of God’s plan for our lives, practically speaking, probably depends on whether we have consistently accepted God’s grace to overcome fear. If we haven’t, we allow ourselves to be life-long slaves of the devil through fear of death and related matters.
God gives us victory over fear of men and human sufferings by giving us the fear of the Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can remain in awe of our all-holy, all powerful God. We believe that this awesome God is our all-loving Father, who cherishes us as His children. Our faith should fill us with such trust in Him that we are secure in His love and not able to be manipulated by the pressures of fear and the circumstances of our lives. Adopted children of God the Father, do not fear!
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is preparing his twelve Apostles for their mission of building his Church and spreading his Gospel throughout the world. He is preparing them for the times they will feel inadequate or weak, and the times they will suffer misunderstanding, intimidation, and persecution. We can certainly relate to these feelings of uncertainty as we live through the experience of dealing with our current pandemic.
Jesus knows that all of his disciples throughout history will experience fear and uncertainty at times. And so he instructs us about how to deal with it. He tells us not to give in to fear, to never give in to the temptation of discouragement, for one very simple reason: we are cared for and watched over by our heavenly Father.
Nothing in the world happens without God’s knowledge, not even the apparently insignificant activities of little sparrows. And so, if we are engaged in doing his work, we can rest assured that he will guard and bless us. He wants us to trust in him unflinchingly, unhesitatingly.
Jesus tell us that “Even all the hairs of your head are counted” (which in my case must be quite easy for him), as if to say that absolutely nothing about our lives is unimportant to the Lord.
How firmly do I believe this truth about God and his interest in my life? What impact does this truth have on how I respond to situations that stir up feelings of fear and uncertainty?
Jesus has made each one of us partners in redeeming the world. “What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” We receive the truth and wisdom of Christ; it penetrates our hearts; it works on our souls in mysterious ways—and what we receive from him we are called to boldly share with others. By sharing our faith with others, we are able to dispel fear from our lives.
Jesus never seems to get tired of reminding us to keep an eternal perspective on things. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The grave is not our final destination. Life in this world is a preparation for eternal life. We have a mission and an adventure to live out for a short time here below, and then, when our mission is done and our souls are ready, Jesus calls us home to the Father’s house in heaven.
As with everything that tempts us to fear, we must remember that this pandemic, too, will pass. That it is just one more trial we must experience as we journey through this world toward our eternal rest in heaven.
Let us never forget how much God loves us, how much he cares for us, and all he is doing to prepare us to be ready to enter into his glorious presence.
We must remain faithful to his promises, and continue to share our faith with others. In doing so we can overcome the temptation of fear and move forward in confidence that God always has our backs. He is right here beside us as we navigate these treacherous waters of life.
Thanks be to God!