TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
June 19, 2005
“Have no fear of them” (Mt 10:26). “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot fear the soul” (Mt 10:28). “Fear not” (Mt 10:31). Three times Jesus enjoins us to put away fear. We are to put away every fear but one, for he also says, “Fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Mt 10:29).
“The fear of the Lord,” says the psalmist, “is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 110:10). One begins to taste God (sapientia, sapere) by fearing him. A salutary fear, a fear shot through with the tremors of an awestruck joy, is the watermark of adoration in spirit and in truth. Adoration of the Divine Majesty is the first step in living “free from fear” (Lk 1:73).
Freedom from fear begins in amazement at the nearness of God. If you would gaze into the face of God, cast yourself first face down into the dust, remembering the experience of Peter, James, and John on the holy mountain. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Mt 17:6-7).
Herein lies the paradox of the one fear that liberates from every other fear. This is borne out in today’s magnificent Collect. What was the object of our petition today? “O Lord, make us have at the same time perpetual fear and love of your holy Name.” The Latin text says, “timorem pariter et amorem” make us both fear and love equally. We go to God grasping holy fear with one hand and holding fast to confident love with the other. To let go, even for a moment, of one or the other, causes us to lose our balance and fall either into a loss of the spirit of adoration on the one side or into a paralyzing loss of filial boldness on the other. God would have us approach him with the freedom of children who know they are loved, and with the reverence of a holy priesthood called to serve in the presence of his glory.
At the summit of the twelve steps of humility Holy Father Benedict places the exorcism of all fear by the love of God. “Thus, when all these steps of humility have been climbed, the monk will soon reach that charity of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB 7:67). At the same time, in Chapter Four he counts “the fear of the Day of Judgment and the dread of hell” (RB 4:44-45) among the fundamental and indispensable instruments of monastic holiness. It is not always easy to strike the balance. I think that Father Silouane of the Holy Mountain got it right. “Keep your soul in hell,” he said, “and never lose hope.”
The liturgy schools us equally in confident filial love and in priestly reverence. The liturgy places in our mouths words of astonishing boldness and, at the same time, teaches us the language of adoration and of Eucharistic amazement. We enter, day after day, into the Holy Mysteries, daring to utter the ineffable. Like Moses before the burning bush, we hide our faces and remove the sandals from our feet for the place on which we stand is holy ground (cf. Ex 3:5-6). At the same time we are free of the spirit of slavery that would cast us back into servile fear and, having received the spirit of sonship, rejoice to cry, “Abba! Father” (cf. Rom 8:15).
Today’s Gospel carries us into the heart of Christ’s sonship and priesthood, into the abyss of reverent fear and infinite confidence that is his prayer to the Father. It is best read in a Eucharistic key. By that I mean that the Last Supper is the mystical context in which Jesus’ words become clear for us. “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops” (Mt 10:27). The Upper Room is where Jesus enters into his dark night. It is a place of shadows into which Jesus brings a mystery of light: the Eucharist. Judas, “after receiving the morsel, immediately went out; and it was night” (Jn 13:30). It is at table, in the midst of an encroaching darkness, that Jesus hands over the mysteries of his Body and Blood.
On the night before he suffered, with the darkness already folding over him like a shroud, Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26:26). Then, taking the chalice, he said, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27-28). Since that time the Church, made bold by the Holy Spirit, has repeated these words of his in each day’s new light. The Church has carried the mystery of the Eucharist out of the shadows of the Upper Room into every place on earth, offering the Holy Sacrifice “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Mal 1:11, Eucharistic Prayer III). She proclaims from the housetops the gift and mystery of his Sacrifice, calling all to partake of the one Bread and to drink of the one Chalice.
When we partake of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ, we pass over into the jubilant fear of the angels before the Face of God and, even more, into the prayer of Him who “was heard for his godly fear” (Heb 5:7). Thus do we approach the Father in the boldness of the First-Born Son from whom nothing is withheld, confident that, for his sake, the Father will withhold nothing from us.