Fear Will Not Prevail

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

I was a high school teacher in New Orleans ages ago and as faculty moderator of S.A.D.D., Students Against Drunk Driving, I had to pledge to abstain from alcohol. I don’t remember if it was at all times from that moment on or just to not get behind the wheel if I did, not to ride with a driver who did, and not knowingly allow others to do both. I didn’t drink, so such a pledge would not severely cramp my style.

Each fall around Homecoming S.A.D.D would sponsor Drinking & Driving Awareness Week and arrange for a badly mangled vehicle to be strategically placed by the student parking lot. For a week this crumpled heap of metal sat on the lawn, a silent memorial to bad choices, altered lives, inconsolable grief, and preventable tragedy. I would glimpse this display as I walked the halls. Then after school I would hang out by the student parking lot as students waited for their rides home. One by one, they would tell stories of their own brush with alcohol-related vehicle fatalities: a family member, a neighbor, a friend. It seemed everyone knew someone. And with a knowing look we asked the question repeatedly—Why? It was frustrating that young lives were cut short by careless decisions and irresponsible behaviors, loved ones gone before their time, families devastated, angry and inconsolable, survivors condemned to unbearable guilt and shame, friendships shattered, dreams and hopes denied. And the pain would linger never knowing comfort. Where was God, and how did such tragedies fit in God’s plan?

Now every death is not necessarily a tragedy. All living things will encounter death as just one part, one very essential part of the natural cycle of life. Life unfolds as each day passes. We are born. We grow up. We discover the world around us with all its beauty and wonder. We rejoice in friendship, family life, and career. We strive to be productive members of society, building up the community, reaching out to children, the poor, the elderly, and those in need, laying the foundation for a lasting legacy. Then gradually we begin to slow down, to take stock, and to help guide the next generation to pick up the slack, to gather those we love to celebrate our blessings, to pass on our wisdom, and to look ahead to a new life in God’s embrace.

But life is not as simple. We will know hardships, challenges, obstacles, even failures. We will experience fear, inadequacy, opposition, persecution, and isolation. And while we share God’s gift of life, the journey of self-discovery endures, of making the world a better place, of loving our neighbor as Jesus loves us, of building up the community of God’s people, of serving those in need. And when the time comes for us to surrender this life, and it will come for all without exception, we might question the Divine Wisdom who gave us a share of his life, to share life with others around us, who extends to us even more in the life to come. We will confront darkness and uncertainty and the unbelief of the godless. But God whom we trust gives us courage, hope, and strength. “Do not be afraid. I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute … but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

We have heard often that the world will end in great upheaval. Yet people in every generation will think that violence and natural disasters they’ve experienced are the worst ever. Mother Nature and human technology seem to outdo themselves every time: black death, tobacco and alcohol abuse, crack, meth, heroin, military aggression, nuclear accidents, AIDS, Ebola, SARS, COVID, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, climate change, you name it, every age has its fears. And Jesus tells us, “These things will happen, yet the end does not follow immediately.”

Fear is a great motivator. And some people will anxiously point to signs that the end is near. Yet signs abound of life, opportunity, and hope enduring. God never tires of proclaiming hope. Each spring, we witness renewal as nature awakens. Children in our midst are a powerful reminder that God is not done with humanity, because where there are children there is laughter, song, and hope for the future. Forgiveness is still possible, and we can still become better people, and salvation is within reach. Each day the sun rises delivers new beginnings. Expectations of darker things to come can make us miss actually living in the present and experiencing life’s blessings unfold before us. Hope is a longing grounded in faith and reality. We acknowledge shortcomings and limits. We anticipate perfection to come with conviction and confidence. Opportunities for meaningful living are all around us. We teach our children not to give in to society’s pressures that tell them they lack power or hope. It’s time we listen to ourselves.

Next Sunday is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. It is a chance to stop and survey the life we have lived thus far, especially our life of faith, to regain perspective, to reset priorities, that in the end it matters more that we have lived as God calls us, with kindness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, honesty, and justice. Paul invites the Thessalonians to hold on to hope, to look forward to Jesus’ return with eagerness, yet to live their lives to the full in the present time. We know not when the end will be. The best preparation is to live each moment alert and aware, making the choices that point to who we are and what we believe, and extending to others the joy, hope, care, and compassion that God generously shares with us.

We do not need reminders that life is fragile, that time is short, that hope is in short supply. Rather, we should reflect on life’s blessings and realize that opportunity abounds, that we are not entirely powerless, and that the long road ahead eventually leads to abundant life in God’s eternal embrace.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022

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