So something sort of funny… and sort of embarrassing… happened to me while driving around town just last week. There I was — listening to some music in my car. And a song came on that I really started getting into… I mean I just started jamming out… right there in the middle of traffic… happy and carefree with the windows down. Dancing and enjoying myself. I was totally lost in the moment.
But then, I rolled up to a red-light. And I happened to notice the car beside me had a Saint Bede magnet on the bumper.
I sort of sheepishly turned my head to see if I recognized the parishioner… and to see whether they had noticed me…and my bad dancing… and OF COURSE… they DID see me…
They were looking over with a big grin from ear to ear — they were waving — they were laughing. I WAS CAUGHT… OH MAN………
So, I sort of sheepishly waved back, and waited for the light to turn green. Part of me felt embarrassed. Part of me felt awkward and self-conscious.
But you know — in that moment — I made up my mind to just OWN IT.
So as the light turned green, I sped off, and went right back to joyfully jamming out in my car — I kept on dancing — regardless of who may or may not see me.
Now, WHY on earth am I sharing this story with you all?
Well, because I think something similar needs to happen with how we live out our Catholic faith today.
Now more than ever, we need to unapologetically, shamelessly, and joyfully OWN OUR FAITH.
Yea… sometimes being unapologetically Catholic might make you feel a little embarrassed. Yea… sometimes it might put us into awkward positions and place demands on us that are inconvenient. Yea…we probably will feel self-conscious about what other people might think or say…
But that’s no excuse to stop dancing!
In our gospel today, Jesus says this amazing words:
“Fear no one.”
Fear is so persuasive, isn’t it?
Fear of offending. Fear of being different. Fear of making someone upset or being misunderstood. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Fear of being alone. Fear of being ostracized. Fear of being canceled.
To all that, Jesus comes in and just says: “Fear no one.”
Here’s the thing: When Jesus speaks, it’s not just empty talk. There’s power behind His words. When he says stuff like: “Do not be afraid. Fear no one. Take courage!” — he has the power to create courage in your heart! He dispels the fear and gives you permission to have faith in Him!
He then goes on to clarify himself: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
What’s he getting at here?
Simply put, Jesus is saying that we should only fear the Lord and so follow Him at any cost to ourselves. He’s making the point that any price we might pay now for our choice to follow Jesus is absolutely NOTHING compared to the price we would pay later if we lost our soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his life?”
Fr. Peter Rookey, a priest well known for his healing and deliverance ministry, was once asked if he ever got afraid while he performed exorcisms. His reply is very telling: “My greater fear” he says “is of offending God who has given us everything… including life.”
That leads us right into what Jesus goes on say: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
The cold hard fact is this:
Our loyalty to Jesus and the Gospel — our loyalty to the Church and her teachings — needs to become the foundation… the defining reality of our life. Our commitment to the Truth needs to supersede any and all other loyalties we might have. There’s just no avoiding it:
Loyalty to Jesus is more important than loyalty to our friends.
Loyalty to Jesus is more important than loyalty to our country.
Loyalty to Jesus is more important than loyalty to our political party.
Loyalty to Jesus is more important than loyalty even to our family…
Nothing should ever be able to compete with our absolute, sold-out allegiance to God.
While on silent retreat this past week, I read a book on the life of St. Vincent Ferrer. One time, after hearing of the saint’s fame for working all sorts of miracles, the King of Granada, Spain — a faithful Muslim himself — personally invited St. Vincent Ferrer to come and preach to him and all his court… And astonishingly, after hearing the saint share the message of Jesus — crucified and raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins — the King decided he wanted to be baptized a Christian.
Ok AWESOME! Good job, St. Vincent Ferrer!
But that’s not the end of the story, unfortunately… because the King’s advisors immediately began to warn him: “Wait, you can’t do this, your Majesty! Your subjects who still believe in the Koran will never consent to be ruled by a Christian! You’ll be dethroned! Think of the consequences!”
And so, out of fear… Fear of losing his political capital… fear of being rejected by his own people… the King decided not to be baptized after all.
What a tragedy! If only he had listened to Jesus’ words: “Fear no one.”
Contrast this story with that of St. Thomas More, whose feast day we just celebrated this past Thursday.
St. Thomas More was an incredibly influential lawyer and judge in England during the 1500’s and became a close confident and personal advisor to King Henry VIII himself. When he was told that he needed to either accept the King as head of the Church or face the consequences, St. Thomas More chose to remain loyal to the Catholic Church.
It would cost him his earthly life, and yet it would gain him heaven.
Listen to these amazingly brave words that St. Thomas More wrote to his daughter, Meg, just before he went to his martyrdom:
The Lord’s “grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience… I will not mistrust Him, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear… Therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”
What a phenomenal example of someone who did not back down… who did not betray his well-formed convictions…who stayed faithful to the love of His life — the God who created Him — all while remaining charitable, respectful, and sincere.
Here is a man who was not afraid of those who could kill the body, but who could not kill the soul! Here is a man who feared no one… not even a powerful, worldly king. Here is a man who unabashedly OWNED his faith to the very last breath, regardless of the cost!
When we look into our own hearts — do we find that kind of integrity? Do we discover that kind of resolve? Are we ready and willing to unapologetically and shamelessly OWN OUR FAITH to that extent?
As our culture marches on, and as the prevailing views become less and less informed by the traditional, rock-solid teachings of Christ… we are all going to have to make some very hard choices.
We will each need to make a choice between remaining faithful to our Lord, or forfeiting Him. Between acknowledging Him, or forsaking Him.
Many of you are already facing situations like this at your places of business, in your schools, or in your neighborhood communities. Many of you are wrestling with this in various ways within your extended and immediate families. I don’t want to make light of any of this — I know how hard and how complicated this struggle is…
But my encouragement to you would be this:
Fear no one.
Stay strong in the faith you know to be true. Be charitable always. Don’t be obnoxious or overbearing. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your words and actions. Listen. Always try to understand those with opposing views.
But never give in. Never be disloyal to Jesus and His Church. Never compromise on the things you know you can’t in good conscience compromise on.
And keep on dancing!
I think that’s really the key right there…
Rather than getting all angry, bitter and afraid when we look and see where the world is heading — what if instead, we all became even more joyful?
What if Catholics started standing up for the Truth — What if we really OWNED OUR FAITH — and yet we did it singing and dancing???
That’s what all the saints of previous generations did! They didn’t go around gloomy and sad… moaning and complaining that the culture wasn’t more conveniently compatible with their personal Christian beliefs.
The saints just became more and more insanely joyful — they REJOICED to suffer for the Name of Jesus… What Jesus said to them in the darkness, they spoke in the light. What they heard whispered, they proclaimed on the housetops. Because they knew that the LORD was with them, “like a mighty champion” as our first reading from Jeremiah put it.
Therefore, they could OWN their faith — they could really DANCE — totally free from any embarrassment!
They really could take Jesus seriously when he said to them:
“Fear no one.”