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Reflection: Joy, Not Fear

As Advent approaches, a friar recommends relating to others with charity and honesty. In this reflection, David McBriar, OFM, urges readers to never give in to hatred and violence.

“Fear not…be not discouraged.” (Zephaniah 3:15) “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds…Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:5)

“Be not afraid” is also Jesus’ frequent message to his disciples. These words contain a frank recognition that fear is part of life. When danger looms, we fear for the safety of our loved ones and for ourselves. A recent poll has shown that Americans have greater fear now than the fear we had following 9-11.

Fear often drives us to easily caricature or condemn people who are different from us. African Americans, Asian Americans, people from Mexico and other Hispanic backgrounds, followers of Islam, are too often stereotyped. As Christians, we resist such stereotypes supporting laws and practices that honor the dignity of all people. In these days – because of fear – there is an illusion that more assault weapons in our homes and in our public places will make us safe. If we follow that belief, we will not only live in the midst of growing violence but we will also abandon our commitment to the Prince of Peace.

Because of fear, many people demonize the refugees and immigrants. Welcoming refugees and strangers in need is a God-given task. We do well to look to Canada, our neighbor. Welcoming the refugee and the stranger in need is not without risks, but doing it can help us overcome our lingering fears or at least put those fears in perspective. Refugees are not strangers but are much like us — seeking freedom from terrorism, safety for their families, and a chance to live in peace. Jesus was once a refugee in a foreign land. And can we ignore the rich biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger?

Welcoming the refugee and the stranger in need is not without risks, but doing it can help us overcome our lingering fears or at least put those fears in perspective. Refugees are not strangers but are much like us — seeking freedom from terrorism, safety for their families, and a chance to live in peace. Jesus was once a refugee in a foreign land. And can we ignore the rich biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger?

Let us help shape the character of our much-loved land not by abandoning our most cherished Christian convictions but by following the counsel of the prophet Micah, and now in our time the counsel of our Holy Father Pope Francis: “Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God.” At Christmas, God is saying to us: “Here I am.” In Christ, surely, but also in you, in your neighbor, in our world, in God’s creation.

Charity & Honesty
John the Baptist is a central character in Advent. He tells us to relate to others in charity and honesty.

“Let the man with two cloaks give to a person who has none. The man who has food should do the same.” (Lk 3:10) Thus, we retain what we need and provide our excess to satisfy the need of the one who has not. We are to be honest in our dealings. We should not rob others because we have the power or the ability to do so. We are not to use threats of violence and repressive occupation to extort what others need to live. We should be satisfied with what we have and not become anxious because another has more than we. (Lk 3:10-18)

And Paul writes: “Your kindness should be known to everyone.” Kindness, not the AK-47. The cross, and not the assault rifle, holds victory. The victory will be won within our hearts and our relationships. For the cross is not a sign of violence and murder. The cross is the sign and symbol of the victory of good, the victory of love over violence. It is an impossible fight unless the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:4-7)

Of course, we must defend our lives. But, we can never give in to hatred and violence. The mission given to each of us is to live our lives after the example of our Savior and to show the world that it is in living the Christian life that true human happiness is to be found. We do not pretend that being a Christian will make one wealthy, or give one higher status. What we believe is that by living in the way God asks of us, we can become the people he created us to be.

That is what God asks of each of us. That is our mission in the world. And if we live it faithfully, then all people will see in our way of life a way that will lead them also to the way, the truth and the life.

In Advent, we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth. The opening prayer for the 3rd Sunday of Advent calls us to celebrate Advent with thanksgiving and joy. And we all have need of joy in these fearful times. Try taking the word “joy” and speaking it. Speak it frequently. Speak it in the silence of your heart. Let it be the word for Christ. They are synonymous. Hear the word resound in your head and heart. “Joy.” And then the Christ you await will come to you, perhaps in a way as never before. And fear will have no hold over you.

— Fr. David, who professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan friar in 1968, is stationed at St. Francis of Assisi Parish-Friary in New York City.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. Additional reflections by friars can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP website.

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