In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus teaches us on the one hand "not to be afraid of men" and on the other hand to "fear" God (cf. Matthew 10:26, 28). We are thus moved to reflect on the difference that exists between human fears and the fear of God.
Fear is a natural part of life. From the time we are children we experience forms of fear that are revealed to be imaginary or that disappear. There are other fears that follow them that have a precise basis in reality: These must be faced and overcome by human effort and confidence in God. But there is also -- and today above all -- a more profound form of fear of an existential type that sometimes overflows into anxiety: It is born from a sense of emptiness that is linked to a culture that is permeated by a widespread theoretical and practical nihilism.
In the face of the ample and diversified panorama of human fears, the word of God is clear: He who "fears" the Lord is "not afraid." The fear of God, which the Scriptures define as the "beginning of true wisdom," coincides with faith in God, with the sacred respect for his authority over life and the world. Being "without the fear of God" is equivalent to putting ourselves in his place, feeling ourselves to be masters of good and evil, of life and death.
But he who fears God feels interiorly the security of a child in the arms of his mother (cf. Psalm 130:2): He who fears God is calm even in the midst of storms, because God, as Jesus has revealed to us, is a Father who is full of mercy and goodness. He who loves God is not afraid: "In love there is no fear," writes the Apostle John. "Perfect love," he goes on, "casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment and whoever is afraid is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18).
The believer, therefore, is not afraid of anything, because he knows that he is in the hands of God, he knows that evil is irrational and does not have the last word, and that Christ alone is the Lord of the world and life, the Incarnate Word of God, he knows that Christ loved us to the point of sacrificing himself, dying on the cross for our salvation.
The more we grow in this intimacy with God, impregnated with love, the more easily we will defeat every kind of fear. In today's Gospel passage Jesus exhorts us twice not to be afraid. He reassures us as he did the apostles, as he did St. Paul, appearing to him is a vision one night in a particularly difficult moment in his preaching: "Do not be afraid," Jesus said to him, "for I am with you" (Acts 18:9). Strengthened by Christ's presence and comforted by his love, the Apostle of the Gentiles did not even fear martyrdom.
We are preparing to celebrate the bimillennium of St. Paul's birth with a special jubilee year. May this great spiritual and pastoral event awaken in us, too, a renewed confidence in Jesus Christ, who calls us to announce and witness to his Gospel without being afraid of anything.
Life abroad is not easy. Once you leave your motherland you will never belong anywhere else again, will be a foreigner even in the very town where you were born. Your life change, your outlook in life change. Sometimes reality seems a big blur, you feel like floating above life.
One need to be strong to be a foreigner. Anything "normal" requires strength and patience as a foreigner is not allowed to be normal. We are required to prove ourselves over and over, only being three times better than a local is that will make those locals find you reasonable, or even mediocre. Having any accent many times is synonym to be stupid and incapable. Never mind you speak your own language and THEIR language, that rarely counts as a sign of dedication and willingness to overcome barriers.
Being bitter is normal. Many times we are stripped of our smiles and our faith in justice or good in other human beings. I know those are moments and not life itself. But sometimes it hurts, and at least for me, I can only dream of those times when I was quietly happy at home, having diner with my parents.
One day I was in a party with a big mixture of nationalities. I was engaged in a conversation with some English people and the subject was something about London at the end of the 19th Century. For some reason I wanted to make a comment on Jack, the Ripper. But being in London for just a few months at that time I didn't know how to say it in English, so I said the closest thing to Portuguese that came to my mind - Jack, the Stripper ("o estripador", in Portuguese). OMG! I don't even remember what was the comment I wanted to make, everybody was laughing. My friend James pointed: Believe me, Vicky, if Jack were a Stripper London would be a much safer place today.
Well, she is not the eldest but the eldest of the girls, let's have it very clear.
It happened on the day I went there to meet the family for the first time. We were all chatting in the kitchen and the friend very loudly said to me: - Let me see THAT ring!
Ok, it is a nice big bold black resin ring. Period. But the big sis eyes nearly drop on the floor and quick she made way to see what was that about. What a relief! I swear I didn't see that happening, it was my love who told me, laughing.
It was the first time I met my boyfriend's brother, his best friend and a funny cousin - all at the same time - for a Sunday lunch at the family's restaurant. The "incident" happened due to total lack of attention (yes, I am trying to excuse myself).
Anthony, the cousin, was telling us a story about a pub in England called "Dirty Dick" and he asked me if I ever heard of that before. To what I unfortunately replied: "Oh, it is full of Dirty Dick's in England... " Needless to say that I couldn't even finish my sentence.
On Sunday morning I swear I saw Robin Hood escaping through dangerous waters. I was about to call the Sheriff but there were too many foreigners gathered for a canoeing competition along the river and I lost track of him. So, my friend Louise and I headed to the city horrified and we definitely were in need of some lunch.
Oh, no! There he was again, near the castle, and I’m sure he ran and hid in there. I did try to find him once more but there were too much Ale on the way, Real ones, and I could not get rid of them.
But then, you see, things do turn around and here I was… I must confess that I committed horrid crimes against nature yesterday. There is probably not an inch of grass in place anymore and Robin Hood might soon come to chase me, together with Greenpeace bores…
Well, I have been advised that Nottingham is a very dangerous place to visit. My arms can tell you, ouch! :-)
After 6 months in London I got the student job of my dreams: in a bookshop. What is even better, a catholic bookshop.
Those nuns were everything for me and I always loved working for them. Because I feel very cold in London and had to stay at the till close to the door I was always fully covered and no rare people would mistake me as a nun... I lost account of how many "God bless you" I've said to smiley customers.
In April 2003 I went to Rome for the beatification of Giacomo Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family. The nuns paid accommodation and full board to all employees to go celebrate with them. That was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
We attended Sunday mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II at Piazza di San Pietro, festive mass at San Paolo Fuori le Mura and a special Audience with the Pope for the Pauline Family. Not to mention the delight of being in Rome.
The nuns were at their HQ house and me and the other girls were lodged in a convent a bit further down the Colisseum. I was quite proud of being able to help people at the table at lunch time, I needed to make myself understood in 4 different languages: English, Italian, French and bits of Spanish. The only one I haven't spoke was my own: Portuguese. But, being in Rome, who cares?
Walking on those streets, sorving that air, delighted with the architecture. Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Navona, Basilica de San Pietro, and, mainly, Sao Paolo Fuori le Mura, Castel Sant'Angelo, the ruins of old Rome. Real cappuccino, gorgeous pasta and people, wine and lots of prayers and enchantment. Ah! And there is Michelangelo. Absolutely magnificent, perfect, enormous. I am sure he wasn't a human being, but something like God's hands in a man's body. One can hardly believe that the marble he touched wasn't really a piece of cloth until he finished his works. There is no words to describe him, his works were the most perfect things I have ever seen.
Walking on and around History & beautiful architecture, what else could I want? Life is just perfect, anywhere. Simply learn how to smile...
Late note on Apr 2008 - Who could believe that that would be the same Italy where I was going to live a year later?