Be Not Afraid! Christ Holds in His Hands the Destiny of This Passing World

“Someone exists who holds in his hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld; Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega … And this Someone is Love. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when he says ‘Be not afraid!’” —Pope St. John Paul II

Eugène Delacroix, “Christ on the Sea of Galilee,” 1854
Eugène Delacroix, “Christ on the Sea of Galilee,” 1854

Suddenly and unexpectedly our lives have changed this year. After a long spell of warm sun, light breeze and smooth sailing, the days of inclement weather have arrived, when the waters are rough and the winds against us. The COVID-19 pandemic, unstable political and economic outlook, moral values at the crossroads, the crisis of family, the assault on religious freedom and more, constitute our tough reality and some of the reasons for widespread fear among us.

Yet, it is fear itself we should challenge in our current predicament.

It seems like the Lord is asleep and not paying attention to us. To the contrary, as the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The Lord shall not abandon his Church, even if the boat has taken water to the brim and is about to sink.” For those who maintain the faith, hope, and love, there is no reason to fear. God is always with us. God is love. He is in control. He knows ‘what is inside a person.’ Only he knows!

At the end, as Saint Paul exclaims: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Therefore, be not afraid!

At his inauguration Mass, Pope St. John Paul II laid out the central message of his pontificate: “Be Not Afraid.” He reflected on that phrase in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope: “When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words ‘Be not afraid!’ in St. Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church. Their meaning came more from the Holy Spirit, the Consoler promised by the Lord Jesus to His disciples, than from the man who spoke them.”

His appeal “Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ, open them wide!” targeted not only Catholics, or even solely Christians. It was addressed to all people in the world. And the world surely needed evangelizing. As Gian Franco Svidercoschi, an Italian journalist and author, observed: “Man’s temptation to refuse God in the name of his own freedom and autonomy had by this point transcended all religious differences to take on planetary proportions.” Hence, we have the usual papal address (“Urbi et Orbi”) to every one of us. Replacing God with Man translates into human self-deification, but it frees us not from fear. The Lord does. 

To admonish us to welcome Jesus, John Paul II exclaimed: “The exhortation ‘Be Not Afraid!’ should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation … Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God. When pronouncing these words in St. Peter’s Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words ‘Be not afraid!’: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (cf. John 3:16).

St. John Paul II reminds us that we need, perhaps more now than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: “Be Not Afraid.” The saint who experienced both totalitarian regimes — Nazism and Communism — firsthand, pleaded with us: “Man who, even after the fall of Communism, has not stopped being afraid and who truly has many reasons for feeling this way, needs to hear these words. Nations need to hear them, especially those nations that have been reborn after the fall of the Communist empire, as well as those that witnesses this event from the outside. People and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Revelation 1:18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of the human story (cf. Revelation 22:13) — be it the individual or collective history. And this Someone is Love… He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says ‘Be not afraid!’”

Karol Wojtyla recalled these words “Be not afraid” on many different occasions during his pontificate. It is one of the most important keys to his mystery. When he visited the United States in 1987, he told the youth of Los Angeles gathered in the Universal Amphitheater: “Dear young people of America, listen to his voice. Do not be afraid. Open up your hearts to Christ.” We should remember that today.

Can anything good come from the problems America and the world are facing today? Absolutely, yes. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family bonds, reflect on our lives, spend time face to face with God, talk to our friends, devote more time to your children, talk to elderly and lonely people and more. This is a time to build, to unite, to support each other, and to be good and kind to one another. We must love now more than ever.  

John Paul II completely trusted God. His whole life seems to have shown us how a man who is not afraid lives, because “love always brings victory.”

Therefore, Be Not afraid! “The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear.” John Paul II’s legacy shines on us more than ever.