The Frightful Effects of Fear without Faith

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The readings for Lent commemorate scary times. This Sunday’s are particularly fearsome for those involved because these people are pushed into something new. Nevertheless, they faced the unknown with courage born of faith and family. For them, raising a family meant generations of succession, and therefore eternal life.

By contrast, today’s increasingly faithless and fatherless world seems paralyzed with fear about widespread abandonment of wives and children, compounded by infant formula shortages, lack of paid parental leave, school shootings, Covid, climate change, and “the deep-seated problems that make society so hostile to children and parents.”

Who would want to bring a child into a world that’s dying?

That list of fears and concluding sentiment came from a recent online article detailing each one. One of the sources cited was the author of a book on “mothering as social change,” who added: “Raising children and caring for people is a social responsibility. We need each other.”

That sounds like what Jesus teaches us and what Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy as reflected in this Sunday’s readings. Unfortunately, the author added:

 “Since overturning Roe could also imperil some forms of birth control, countless Americans could soon find the decision of whether to have a child effectively taken from them, at a time when having a child feels scarier than ever before. … Our society could be a lot better if our care energy wasn’t trapped in the home, in the nuclear family.”

On the contrary. Our faith has always been strengthened by the inspiration a whole family’s holiness provides. In Sunday’s first reading, God says to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Gn 12:1-4a)

Any 21st Centurion with children facing their future as independent adults knows fear of the unknown, both from within themselves and through the faces of their kids. Anything new is scary—including having a family. Old Abram and his wife Sarah couldn’t have children—until God gave them Isaac. Then Abraham became the father of faith for his descendants and for many nations following God’s covenant. They did so while facing many scary times.

Many generations later, God would reassure the prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you.” THEN he told him to forget about the things of this world that he and his people had grown used to. “Put them out of your mind, because, see, I am doing something new!” (Isaiah 43:19).

That something new is documented in Sunday’s gospel reading about Christ’s transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9). It marked the transition from humanity’s old covenant with God to a new one. Upon seeing Moses and Elijah (the principals in the old contract) conversing with the author of that new covenant, the disciples fall on their faces with fear. Jesus tells them “Rise and do not be afraid.” But the “something new” of that covenant still sounded scary. Paul gives us the details through this letter to Timothy, written from a prison cell (2 Tm 1:8b-10):

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

This is courageous advice, considering Paul wrote it inside prison walls, and after having been abandoned by his disciples—just as his Master was. Yet, what gave him courage was his teacher’s assurance that he is with us and all who call on his name. That assurance has been proven over time, as, through the succeeding centuries, the Holy Spirit that Christ sent has empowered individuals to act as families and communities.

Abortion and state-run households are not our ways out of fear. In fact, the new and now conventional wisdom of secular societies might be the scariest thing humanity has faced since the fall of Sodom. We need the inspiration of the Holy Family Joseph, Mary and Jesus modeled for us. That’s what gave this world ministries like The Knights of Columbus, Catholic Charities and the good works of organizations of all faiths and sizes.

Seeing our Father’s face in each other here on earth offers us an eternally renewable cure for the fear that God’s Kingdom is beyond our reach.

–Tom Andel

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