You may have seen the documentary on TV aired a few months ago about the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Even today, seventy years after the Second World War ended there is a continuing fascination about the War and how it was possible that Hitler and Mussolini could ever have come to power. It amazes us how Hitler, in particular, was able to achieve such complete and total control over the people of Germany, almost all of whom were Christians. A Lutheran clergyman described the Nazi rise to power in these words: “They arrested the Communists and no one protested; they arrested the Jews and no one protested; they arrested the labour leaders and no one protested; they arrested the Catholics and no one protested; finally, they came for us and there was no one left to protest.”
Still today we ask ourselves: “Why did no one protest against these injustices?” Although it’s difficult to give a totally accurate answer, part of the answer is that the Nazis succeeded in creating a climate of fear. People came to dread the possibility that the Gestapo would come to their homes in the middle of the night and take them away to concentration camps. Fear kept many a good Christian from standing up for his beliefs.
What fear keeps us today from standing up for our beliefs? There are so many injustices occurring in our own country; what do we do to oppose them? Is there a difference between the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps of Germany and Poland and what goes on in the abortion clinics of our own land? What fear is stopping more people in this country from protesting against this barbaric and inhuman practice? Are we getting to be like those people in Germany and Poland during the War who just stood by, saw what was happening and did nothing? We collaborate by our silence. And isn’t the killing of unborn children just the tip of the iceberg? What else is on the reforming social agenda these days? Euthanasia for one. Surely, if we lose our respect for human life eventually we will lose our respect for everything else and we will surely descend into the chaos and depravity that many Hollywood films portray so graphically and, seemingly so prophetically.
So, is it true that we don’t act because of fear? Maybe. Fear makes us behave in strange ways. Have you ever watched people mess about in boats and notice how those who can’t swim react when someone playfully rocks the boat? Normally calm, rational people go into a blind panic when they think they are going to end up in the water. Yet on the other hand it’s also true that fear can sometimes move people to acts of tremendous courage.
On numerous occasions Our Lord cautions his disciples to resist fear. And in today’s Gospel he cautions against a particular kind of fear – the anxiety that can literally take over our lives if we let it – an anxiety that isn’t caused by an actual threat to our safety and security, but rather a ‘potential’ threat in the future. It’s a nagging fear that destroys our peace of mind. For example, we can be in perfectly good health, but anxious about the possibility of illness in the future.
It’s easy to see why psychologists call fear ‘our worst emotion’. Fear has the potential to literally cripple us. Someone once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The nagging persistent kind of fear is evil for a number of reasons. Primarily, it destroys our peace of mind by keeping us from enjoying the good things we already have. How can we be grateful for what we have if we worry about the future? A few years ago I spoke to a man who has millions of pounds in the bank, and yet he’s still worried about the future and whether he’ll have enough cash to support his family when he retires! It seems ‘more’, for some people, is never enough. Instead of enjoying his life and his success, he worries. What sort of life is that?
One writer describes the effects of fear in these words: “Insecurity works on our nerves. We become tense and project our inner tensions on the world around us. We see others as enemies and opportunities as threats. Work is competition and life a battlefield. We fear the dangers we know and even more, the dangers we don’t know but suspect at every corner we turn. A fear that can be named loses its terror and blunts its edge, but a fear without a name, a ghost without a face, dark as a shadow and swift as a storm, increases its fright and paralyses action.”
Among the many ways that Christ came to offer us redemption is redemption from this kind of fear. “Let go of fear”, he tells us. “How?” we ask.
By learning to trust Him!