|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VI: ”The Proof of a True Lover” (second entry)
In the excerpt above, Kempis concludes a section on the temptations of the devil who constantly attempts to pull us away from God through pride, acedia, and evil thoughts. Why fear when “Jesus will be with me, as a strong warrior”? Death is preferable to sin for Kempis (and for Christ — see below).
|Today’s First Reading, Acts 18:9-18
Paul, likely feeling discouraged and more than a bit upset by his likely quick rejection at the Corinthian synagogue, is bolstered by Jesus Himself in a vision, who begins speaking to the man from Tarsus with the words above. Paul is to go on preaching, now to the Gentiles (thus, he is the “Apostle to the Gentiles”). As we read, he stays there another eighteen months, teaching the people. During this time, the Jewish leaders try to stir up trouble for Paul with the Roman officials. Unlike Pilate with Jesus, Gallio will have none of it, and leaves the Jews to their own dispute. Paul stays on “quite some time” before deciding to continue his missionary journey in Syria.
Especially as we mark the 100th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s birth, I am reminded of the theme of his first homily as Holy Father: “Be not afraid!” His whole pontificate is marked by this exclamation in his teaching, outreach, and personal witness. If Christ is for us, who can be against us? (see Rom 8:31) Complete trust in the Lord is needed, then fear is overcome (see Lk 8:50, Mk 5:36).
Kempis writes of the temptation to sin. Luke writes of the temptation to give up evangelizing. Both come from the devil. In these few short years we have on earth, we need to develop an unfailing trust in God. Ultimately (that is, regarding our eternal destiny), the only legitimate fear is offending the Almigjhty. Witness Scripture:
I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. (Lk 12:5-7)
This is easier said than done, of course. Turning to prayer and the Word are necessary for strength. The words of the psalmist below (and mentioned in Kempis) are a wonderful remedy for trepidation. Let us have frequent recourse to them and to the entire psalm.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid? (Ps 27:1)
Finally, we should pay special attention to what Jesus says to Paul immediately after the sentence in the headline: “No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city.” We are not alone in this fight! The Lord has nurtured many good Christians with whom we have common cause. Let us work together to drive out fear and build up the Kingdom, praying, with Jesus, “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).