Everyone experiences the fear of suffering.
What is the fear of death or disease, the fear of the loss of security financial or physical, of the unknown future but a fear of suffering? We call these physical evils because they diminish or destroy the body, mind or spirit. But there are also spiritual evils, such as sin, and these are far more to be feared, as our Lord teaches us, because they can "cast both body and soul in Gehenna". To fear these is "salutary", a help to our salvation. This kind of fear is not about what the Lord speaks in today's Gospel: "fear of the Lord" is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And why do we fear suffering and evil? Because we were made by God, for Himself, who is love and life and light without beginning or end, and with whom there is never fear or suffering or death, but only abundant, infinite holiness and joy. And when we lack what God intended for us to have, then we are unhappy. Except the holy fear of God and of offending him by sin, all other fears prevent the life of joyful and hopeful faith and the freedom to love. It was in order to restore these things to the human race after they were lost through the sin of our first parents that Jesus Christ came to suffer, die and rise again.
"It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent. 'The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures.' To fulfill the Father's will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church 'is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.' " (CCC 763)
Fear is a darkness at the margins of our lives, something we do many things, some unconsciously, to avoid. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, the misuse of their bodies and minds, all in a vain attempt to escape from the suffering which is brought on by fear of people, places or things in our world.
Our Lord opens this subject of fear for our discussion in today's Gospel: "Do not be afraid, little flock". But then he goes further and proposes a remedy: "Your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom".
Now, what is the Kingdom? And how does this gift of the Kingdom given by the Father promise to eradicate fear from our lives?
"The kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on earth by Christ. 'This kingdom shone out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ' (LG 5). The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Its keys are entrusted to Peter." (CCC 567)
We the members of His Body, the Church, participate because of Christ in the life of the Kingdom already, here and now. Jesus Himself is the Father's gift so that we may be "branches on the vine" of Christ our Source of Life, united with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, in Rome and with the holy body of millions of members all over the world.
"Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church 'a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.' The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are 'consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.' " (CCC 1546)
So, the life of the Church is the means for us of gaining access to the Kingdom and thus eradicating the darkness of fears, named and unnamed, from our hearts and minds
Some, however, fear the Church. Some say that institutional religion is a source only of conflict because of her claim to the truth. Some say that the rules of the Church are man-made and a cause of suffering in the world. Some fear that the Church is only a group of hypocrites who do one thing on Sunday and another, very different, thing during the week. And so there are many who stand aloof and apart from the Church and refuse to be a part of her life.
A famous author made a very public reversion to the Catholic Faith of her youth a few years ago and even wrote a couple of books about Jesus Christ to the edification of many. Recently, however, she was quoted as saying to the effect, "In the name of Christ, I renounce a Christianity that makes rules about marriage, about contraception, about divorce" and with these words very publicly left the Church again. This sad story illustrates very well the common error that people make: that the Faith and morals taught by the Church do not come from Christ. In fact they do. And the hard teachings of Christ, faithfully taught by the Church about marriage between one man and one woman for the whole of life, the gift of the marital act, the necessity of openness to new human life through every act of the marriage, and all the other moral teachings, in fact put us into intimate contact with the living, teaching, loving and redeeming Christ of the Gospels and of history.
And the Church which he founded: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, of which we are members here and now, today in this place, continues in living continuity with the one Christ, in the living Holy Spirit, to bring us into contact with the Father who has promised us the Kingdom. And His promise of the Kingdom is realized in precisely this way of life that is so very publicly rejected by so many who have refused to commit themselves with courage and perseverance to the way of the Church, handed on by the Apostles, to which we dedicate ourselves today.
And if we fear commitment to the celebration of Sunday Mass, the sacramental life, the teachings of the Magisterium or the authority given by Christ to the Church to "lead us into all the truth", the person of the Pope, the forgiveness of our sins, the life of the Eucharist, the Scriptures and tradition as our rule of faith and life, then we fail to accept the invitation to the gift of the Kingdom made by the Father through Christ together with the Holy Spirit of their infinite love. If we remain aloof in order to avoid risk or in the cynical spirit of the world then we loose an opportunity for the security of joy-filled knowledge that we are indeed the beloved "little flock" of the Lord, His Church, confidently and with courage persevering in the way of the Kingdom marked out for us.
What do you fear? And will you risk letting it go in exchange for the Father's gift of the Kingdom? Answering that question is the first step of your new life in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom already in our midst through the little flock of the Church, His Body in the world.
Praised be Jesus Christ!