From the depths of the night a sound jolted me from my peaceful sleep. I thought, “This is it; someone is breaking in!” I always imagined that when confronted with this situation, my 5-foot-1-inch self would turn into a Ninja Warrior. To my dismay, that did not happen. In fact, the fear shot through my entire body completely paralyzing me. As time seemed to freeze, so did my arms. I was holding my breath for fear I would create an ounce of noise. I could not reach for my phone — paralyzed with fear — even though it was a mere 6 inches away from my head. Eventually, I realized I had to do something and was somehow able to unlock my arms to call for help.
The point of the story is not that I was nearly scared to death. What was evident to me was that fear is paralyzing! Not just the kind of fear that jolts us from our sleep. The fear we are not worthy of love, the fear we will fail, the fear that we will feel real pain and not be strong enough to bear it. Fears can frame our thoughts and actions. Thoughts and actions such as: I do not need to date because it won’t work out anyway; I will not have a child because what if I mess up my child? I won’t join the seminary, because I’m not holy enough; I will not apply for that job, because I may not get it. Unfortunately, the majority of all the messages we consume are supporting all our normal fears, and even adding new ones: The world is a mess, people are bad, danger is lurking, be afraid!
Before we even know it, every thought and action are done in response to, or because of, fear. This kind of paralysis is paralysis from the grace of God. God knows this, which is why he offers the message of “Be not afraid” 365 times in the Bible.
When I was scared in the middle of the night, the police came and of course my dad, who I knew would be there as quickly as the police. They searched the perimeter of my home and were unable to find any dangerous intruders. They concluded that it was likely raccoons. In my defense, they had to be big raccoons! And, while sometimes our fears make things seem bigger than they are, the message of “Be not afraid” is something worthy of embracing and sharing, particularly in these difficult times. Not to say that fear is not real or that we should not feel it, but rather that Jesus Christ gives us the anecdote to fear. There are some truly scary things happening, but Christ does not want us to live in fear!
We invite you to pray about this and visit benotafraid.dio.org to explore and experience. This effort is a reminder that as Catholics we are in this battle together. We know the battle has been won in Christ and we must live accordingly.
Amber Cerveny is director of Faith and Ministry Promotion for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.