To Our Priests: Cast Out Fear This Christmas

If there is one word to summarize the year 2020 it is fear. Even as pandemic fatigue has set in, fear is still dominating much of the world at present. In the face of so much fear, the Church is meant to be a beacon of light and hope. She is meant to stand athwart of the darkness as a witness to the peace and joy that comes from Christ alone. 

Unfortunately, this has not been the case at far too many levels within the Church. More and more Catholics are becoming frustrated with the incessant calls to be afraid for our health, as opposed to calls for radical trust and dependence in Christ. Many are craving strong leadership that points to unwavering reliance in Christ, repentance, turning to Him with our whole hearts, and holiness. As some of the world returns to lockdowns and countless Catholics are unable to attend Christmas Masses due to limitations in seating, now is the time for bold leadership that leads us to the Light of the World and calls us to abandon fear.

There are many Catholics who find themselves waiting for the hierarchy to call us in these dark days to “Be not afraid” as St. John Paul II did at the beginning of his pontificate. The love of Christ casts out all fear. This is what we are told in the First Letter of St. John, but also throughout all of Sacred Scripture. Christ repeatedly tells us not to fear and doubt. He especially tells us this in the midst of tremendous storms. He never fails us. We are the ones who are unfaithful. We are the ones who become afraid and paralyzed. If we would only turn to Him in trust and surrender then He would provide everything we need during this pandemic.

The saints demonstrate this to us time and time again. We read the lives of the martyrs and often marvel at the serenity with which they were able to endure horrific tortures before giving their lives for Christ. It is true that these saints are given great graces from God to endure what they must, but it is also a lesson for each one of us. If we surrender everything to God then we will be open to receive all of the graces we need in order to endure the difficulties and afflictions of this life with peace and even joy. He will always provide what we need if we trust in Him.

This is the message our world desperately needs to hear right now as it continues to groan under the weight of this pandemic and the darkness fear brings with it in times like these. We are called to be prudent, but we should be leading with a message of hope that is bolstered by our immense faith in God and our burning love for Him. Yes, there is a pandemic, but death is not the end. Times are difficult right now, but the Savior of the world is coming at Christmas. He loves you and He wants to bring you peace and joy, especially in times that are lived in the shadow of the Cross.

In his book, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI discusses the absolute necessity of the priesthood preaching joy. He talks about how in our Fallen world, we have forgotten how to rejoice and often see it as wrong to do so. This explains why the world is reacting to this pandemic the way it is and the incessant calls to isolate and cave in on ourselves. The priest as a representative head in the Church is meant to draw us out of this self-imposed darkness and call us to rejoice in the Lord.

Therefore, you should become evangelists first, heralds of the Good News. A renowned thinker of our time said that this age is characterized by the inability to mourn. I think that we must say, even before that and even more, it is characterized by the inability to rejoice. Joy appears to be something almost amoral, an attack on the righteousness in this world, where so many are tortured, where so many go hungry, where so many are robbed of their freedom, where so many suffer unbearably.

These sentiments are rampant in many corners of the globe in response to this pandemic. They have even swept within the Church as many live in constant fear as opposed to in the hope we have in Christ. It is the boldness of the Good News preached by our priests to the world that helps to cast away fear and draw us away from the lie that we cannot rejoice in our trials.

People are lonely, isolated, and many feel abandoned by the Church and her leaders. This is yet another devastating blow to the hierarchy after years of clergy sex abuse scandals that only seem to slow down only to be blown wide open again. This is not a time for the clergy to continue with the status quo. This time of darkness and fear is an opportunity for the priesthood to reclaim its identity. After all of the pain and loss of confidence within the faithful, now is the time for the priesthood to rise up and truly lead us. 

This means showing us what it means to be called to be a priest of the Eternal High Priest and to guide us along the way of the Cross. To show us courage, radical trust, confident hope, unfailing charity, and holiness. To truly believe that Christ will provide us with the peace that surpasses all understanding. To call us to become the saints we are made to become. For them to become the priest-saints they are called to be, which means to be united with Christ Crucified despite the costs. This calling means leaving behind comfort, safety, and self-love in order to lead a fearful flock in a time of crisis. To preach the Good News with abandon. The priesthood can never be reduced to the depravity of the scandals. Priests are called to be other Christs in the world. We need to see Christ in them in this darkness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI again:

When we snuff out the light of joy, when we renounce joy, then the world just becomes darker, sadder, and more discouraging. Eugene Ionesco once said: One can love men only if they carry God within them. I would like to add: One can love the world only if it is willed by God, if it carries God within. But this is precisely what faith shows us. And then there is a new factor that is stronger than all the terrifying things that we may record, then there is, nevertheless, a reason to be glad. This is why the believer is a man of joy, and he will be so all the more, the more he is a believer, and the joy that faith arouses is a power that changes the world. We owe a debt to the world and to men if we let this joy be snuffed out. We do not improve it but, rather, we deprive ourselves the task that was assigned to us.

The world needs our joy. This Christmas is an opportunity for the priesthood to step away from bureaucratic forms of leadership that only furthers greater distrust of the hierarchy by the faithful. We don’t need bureaucrats. We need spiritual fathers. Now is the time to boldly call us to follow Christ. To trust in Him completely, so that we can be set free from fear and rejoice despite our circumstances.

This is the leadership we need this Christmas and every Christmas moving forward. We want to be led to the freedom from sin, death, and fear that is found with the Incarnate Word of God, born of Our Blessed Mother, with St. Joseph at her side in a dark cave on Christmas Eve. We have been give the answer to the fear that is paralyzing so many people. We have the reason to hope.

Christ and His Church should be a radiant sign of hope to the world. We should look different from the prevailing culture, not the same. Deep down, we know that we haven’t done enough throughout this pandemic to lead people away from fear to a radical trust, confident hope, and unfailing charity found in Christ. Now is the time. Please, dear spiritual fathers, cast out fear and call us out of darkness into the light of the Incarnation this Christmas.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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