Today’s psalm reminds us that the just man does not fear an evil report – that his heart is steadfast. Jesus reminds His disciples that they are to be those who shed the light of the Gospel to the world. Both of these readings, among others, have been echoed in countless exhortations to be bold. Most recently in the first words of Karol Wojtyła, newly installed as Pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid”.
We might hear this exhortation equally clearly in reverse: do not let cowardice into your life. Do not be a coward.
Harsher words, but holding a truth too often avoided: that we are afraid to be scorned, to lose respect, to be shunned. And in the light of that fear – of that cowardice, we attempt to control other’s affections, seemingly safeguarding our hearts by never letting others be offended by what we believe.
And yet we are called to speak the Truth – with charity– but the Truth, and that undistilled. And it is a charity to tell the Truth, even when it is not received.
As it is an act of charity to tell the Truth, it is equally true that it is an act against charity to withhold the truth. We would want someone to tell us if we had something strange stuck in our teeth – how much more if we had something sinful stuck in our soul?
One of the great successes of Christianity is that the majority of the civilized world agrees on need to shelter the oppressed, feed the hungry and cloth the naked – the commands Isaiah passes on from the Lord. This was not always the case. Even though we have not yet accomplished these goals fully, you would be hard-pressed to find any whole people or nation that does not hold to these truths.
Yet as laudable as these goals are, they are not what set us apart as Christians. What makes us truly Christians, is conversion: the call by Christ to a relationship – a relationship in turn calls others to conversion, to change.
We have many modern examples in our time: Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Father Damien of Molokai, Padre Pio. We admire these ‘greats’ of our faith because of their relationship with Christ – and the actions that sprung from that.
Perhaps you recall when Mother Teresa, at the National Prayer Breakfast with the President of the United States, spoke of the evils of abortion and contraception to any country that would accept them. Pope John Paul II made waves in his consistent affirmation of the true meaning of marital love, celibacy and human love. Padre Pio was known to chase penitents out of the confessional when his gift of reading souls revealed their lack of sorrow. Father Damien shamed his fellow clergy and countrymen when he willingly served those whose condition of leprosy kept others away.
We need their examples, and more – because cowardice is creeping into the Body of Christ. We are in danger of becoming cowards to the world: content to preach and believe when it is easy – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and so on. Terrified to preach when it is hard. So-called ‘marriage’ between men or between women. Euthanasia. Abortion. Contraception. In-vitro fertilization. Immodesty in dress and behavior. Divorce. Living together before marriage.
We have only to look to our family life, our circle of friends or our fellow workers to see that there is not a single kind of relationship where the proclamation of these truths are not desperately needed. We all have family, friends and co-workers who need to hear them.
Still we hide that light under a bushel basket. Some, perhaps reading these words, hide even themselves to avoid the light of these and other truths.
Being a Christian means knowing Christ, and Him crucified. And when we do know Him, we realize that we are weak, fearful & trembling. It is only the power of God that gives us any authority, any peace.
We trust in God – that He will give us the right words. That the Holy Spirit, promised where two or three are gathered, will be with us. That through our baptism we are made priest, prophet and king. That in the sacrament of reconciliation we are purified to carry out that threefold dignity. That the Eucharist will strengthen us. That confirmation will send us prepared from our community to the world.
If we are truly members of the Body of Christ, we have to be about the work of Christ: calling people to repentance, announcing the coming Kingdom and suffering.
We must not be a people of cowardice. Ours is the power of God, demonstrating His Spirit in our actions and our words. And it’s all or nothing. We are either a light shining in the world, or a smouldering wick in the darkness. We choose which one.
Be bold evangelists to a world that needs God’s Truth. Choose to live as salt of the earth and light of the world. Confident in Christ as our head, let us be not afraid.