In today’s Gospel parable Jesus illustrates an important message for us in these days when Coronavirus seems to be on the rise.
Fear is a powerful emotion. At its best, it can protect us from danger and motivate us to do the right thing. But at its worst, fear can hold us back from reaching our full potential. Fear can have a devastating effect upon our lives. It can cause misery and, at the very least, unhappiness. It can be an anesthetic that numbs us into inaction and paralyzes us. It may be fear of losing a job; fear that something I say will offend someone; fear of entering into a commitment- especially a lifelong commitment; fear of what lies ahead of us in the future we cannot see; fear of change; fear of coronavirus, and ultimately, fear of death.
What are some of the effects that fear can have upon us? Fear moves us to lock our doors and become prisoners in our own homes. It causes us to avoid new opportunities that could enhance the quality of life for us or others or produce growth. Fear of losing a job can motivate people even to dishonesty. Fear of groups of people (religious, racial, political, cultural) can cause us to demonize that group and believe untruths about those groups. Fear of commitment can deprive us of a fulfilling relationship or life choice. And the fear of death can keep us from dealing with what will be a reality for all of us and therefore leave us unprepared when that moment comes.
God is always calling us to more, calling us to the fullness of life. Such a call demands that we not allow fear to imprison us. It demands that we trust God’s promise that he will never leave us to face any situation alone.
During this time with Covid-19 We have heard words suggesting “wartime mentality,” where Coronavirus is the enemy upon which we are declaring war. They signal the gravity of this pandemic, and that our actions or inactions can carry life and death consequences. We know we need grit and strength in this moment, but very few of us have lived through anything comparable. So how do we show up to this “war” against the coronavirus, without letting feelings of anxiety and fear become debilitating? Without being so afraid that we bury our treasure.
Picture someone in your life who has lived through war. Who comes to mind? This past Wednesday was Veterans Day, a wonderful opportunity to remember people who faced fear and overcame it for the sake of our freedom. Maybe it’s a grandparent or great-grandparent. There was, for example, a woman we will call Clara. She was 18 years old when she immigrated to the United States with her family from Eastern Europe around 1920. She left behind the young man she loved, an orphaned teenager from the same village who couldn’t afford the trip to America. Clara worked as a seamstress in a factory in New York City and saved up enough money to bring her love over to the States. Alone, she boarded a ship, and made the long journey back to Poland, first by sea, then land and then by horse and buggy. It was a harsh journey that, at the time, women didn’t normally undertake by themselves. She made it to her village, found her love and brought him back to New York. They married and lived a hard life in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They had two children. She held her own family together through many tough challenges. She and so many others, like my parents, who inspire me daily, having raised eight children, did not let fear hold them back and inspired by them neither should we!
The late CARDINAL JOSEPH BERNARDINE of Chicago, who struggled with cancer for the last year and a half of his life; in a television interview said, “you can choose to look at death either as an enemy or as a friend. If you see death as an enemy, it can cause fear and anxiety. It can move you to run away. However, I choose to see death as a friend, which I accept as a doorway to the eternal.” His ability to overcome fear allowed cardinal Bernadine to live the rest of his earthly life more fully and empowered him to be an instrument of God.
When I suggest that God calls us to overcome fear, I am not suggesting that God is calling us to take irresponsible, immature risks. On the contrary this can also be imprisoning.
Our first reading today shows us that overcoming the fear of commitment can lead to a fulfilling marital relationship based on mutual respect and love.
In listening to today’s gospel, we might be shocked that the master was so hard on the third servant, since it may seem that he did nothing wrong. However, the master could not condone the fear that paralyzed that servant into inaction. The downfall of the third servant was that he allowed fear to paralyze him and did nothing with what he was entrusted. I am sure that all the servants experienced some fear when being entrusted with their master’s wealth. However, the other two servants did not allow themselves to be paralyzed by fear, but faced it, moved beyond it and were rewarded for it.
In the eucharist we are about to celebrate Jesus shows us how he dealt with fear and challenge. He also reminds us that he will never leave us to face life alone. May God give us the courage to face the life that lies before us and not allow fear to rob us of the fullness of life God wants to offer us.