My father always spoke encouraging words to me throughout my priestly and religious formation and long after my priestly ordination. He would always end our conversation with such affirming words as these: “I thank God for your vocation…Our family is really blessed by your priestly vocation…Thank you for your response to this vocation from God.”
I have longed to hear such words since he passed away about a year ago. He was obviously pleased with my vocation. Providentially, his passing away has made me reflect on my deepest motive for embracing and remaining in this vocation. In order words, I have had to ask myself, “Why should I remain a religious priest? Whom am I trying to please by embracing this vocation? Am I trying to please myself, my loved ones, friends, or am I doing this to please the Lord Jesus Christ who loved me, died for me, and has graciously invited me to be His priest?”
The Prophet Jeremiah’s friends all turned against him, persecuted him, reviled him and planned to destroy him, “’Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.’” Though the Prophet is alone in the face of his vengeful enemies, he is not afraid because his focus is on pleasing God alone. He said, “O Lord of hosts…, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.” (Jer 20:10-13) He overcame his fear of what they might say or do to him simply by renewing and deepening his resolve to please God above and before all others.
The Lord Jesus has two invitations for us in Mt 10:26-33. First, He says categorically, “Fear no one.” When we are overcome by fear for people, we try to avoid doing or saying anything that would offend them or earn their wrath. We may try at all cost to win their affection to the point that we begin to hide the unpleasant parts of the saving truth that God has given to us. This is why Jesus warned, “Nothing is concealed that would not be revealed, nor secret that would not be known.” We are to love and respect all persons without filtering the light of truth in the Gospel.
Secondly, we are to fear God alone, the One who “can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” The soul is destroyed in the sense that it is eternally separated from God, the very life of every soul. This fear of God does not imply a morbid fear of divine punishment but a fear of offending the God who knows us completely and loves us passionately. Jesus thus connects this fear of God with loving trust in God, “Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” This fear of offending God in any way is manifested by a firm resolve to please Him above all and in all things.
We can only overcome our fears when we have a true fear of offending God as well as a firm resolve to please Him in all things out of love for Him. We are to overcome our fears the very same way that Jesus overcame His own fear i.e. by having a pure intention in all that He did, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not deserted me because I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) He overcame His fear of death in Gethsemane in this way, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.”(Mt 26:38) At those dark hours when His disciples slept and He entered His agony alone, He faced this fear by repeatedly renewing His dedication to please the Father above all others, “My Father, you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you will, not as I will.”(Mk 14:36)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our world today is becoming more and more devoid of this fear of offending God. We deny that our sins are actually sins but just a matter of changeable opinions. We justify our sinful choices because we feel God’s words need to be updated to meet our new taste and fads. We brazenly celebrate our sins in Pride parades. We have unnatural sins codified into the laws of our societies in the form of same-sex unions. We cover up clergy sexual abuse instead of protecting the innocent and disciplining the sexual predators.
We also have lost this resolve to please God above all. We are in a “me first” era that seeks self-pleasure above all things. We do not tell the truth because we are afraid of losing the prestige of those who are allergic to truth. We will rather die than sacrifice our personal comfort. We do not do or endure anything unless it has some material or immediate befit for us. God forbid for us to be called a bad name for saying and doing what is true.
Without this fear of offending God and resolve to please Him alone in all things, we become hopeless slaves of fear. We fear the wrong things and we fear the right things in a wrong way. We are afraid of people and what they might say or do to us. We are afraid of falling sick even when we have good health. We are afraid of suffering and sacrifices that may come our way. We are afraid of the future and all that it may bring.
It is only by the special grace of God that we can have the fear of God and purity of intention in all things. Our sins make us more self-centered and more bent on pleasing ourselves. The grace of God on the other hand was won for us on the cross so that we too can choose like Christ to please the Father above all in this world. St. Paul reminds us of the abundance of this grace for all of us in the face of sin, “For if by the transgression of one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ, overcome for the many.”(Rom 5:12-15)
We encounter the very One who said to us, “Do not be afraid,” in each Eucharist. He offers us always the same grace that makes it possible for us to seek to please the Father who loves us passionately. This grace moves us to do the will of God with ever greater purity of intention.
We have a personal choice to make today.
We can either receive this grace in vain and still continue to please ourselves and others while offending God. We thus choose to be hopeless slaves of fears.
Alternatively, we can choose to use this grace to please God alone and above all in all things so that we experience the power of Christ to overcome all our fears.
The choice is ours to make.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!