Uncertainty and unpredictability have affected the lives of millions. How can we carry on in spite of these fears?
Fear is a generic term that designates a wide range of notions. It’s a natural psychological reaction that can be very useful at times. First, it’s a survival instinct that originates from our animal nature. It can save our life when it makes us run from danger. It’s also a stimulant that keeps us wary. It can also paralyze us or make us do foolish things. At a deeper level, fear makes us nervous, especially about the future and things that are out of our control. Nevertheless, it is possible to overcome it. Friar Alain Quilici, Prior at the Dominican Convent in Toulouse, France, explains how to do it.
How do we fight our fear of the future?
We are afraid of the unknown, and the future is an unknown. Our aversion to sickness and death is written in our DNA, our instincts, and remains a fundamental fear in us. We are impelled to manage this anxiety through insurance (retirement, fire, theft, health plans), to multiply the guarantees against all our fears under the pretext of realism. Nevertheless, the insecurities stay the same: all the precautions in the world will never be able to protect us 100% from danger.
The only antidote is to live in the present, focusing on what we have to do today. St. Aloysius of Gonzaga said, “If they told me I was to die soon, if it was time to play I would keep playing.” In the Gospel, this is what Christ invites us to do: “Do not worry about your life … Look at the birds in the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
When Christ tells us, “Do not worry,” what does he want to free us from?
He wants to free us from all our human fears, the most natural ones. Christ knows us intimately. And in the Gospel, calls for peace in our heart are frequent. The Apostles, in a boat during a storm, had good reason to be afraid. All these fears are legitimate. Jesus does not hold this against us; on the contrary, he wants to calm us down, like a mother who says to her child: “Don’t be afraid, I’m here.”
God’s action, as revealed to us through Christ, is a calming action. The Lord, who invites man to not be afraid, reveals himself as master of the events that threaten us. He is more powerful than they are. He watches over us. It is not like a human invitation to overcome fear by sheer will; rather, he appeals to us to confide in Him. This is the battle of the believer.
The remedy for fear is to put ourselves in God’s hands. St. John Paul II took up this mandate in another context, the fear in our societies: “Do not be afraid of others, do not be afraid of yourselves. Be free!”
Is Christ’s appeal to us realistic? Can we really stay calm?
Christ does not repress either visceral fear or death. What he does is transform them. He conquered death, which then became the doorway to eternal life. The martyr is afraid, without a doubt, but he confides in God. St. Thomas More, in the letters he wrote to his daughter when he was in prison, speaks much about his anguish facing death but, when they bring him to the platform, he finds the strength to jest with his executioner: “I’ll thank you now for doing your job, because afterwards it will be rather difficult.”
Do saints get afraid?
Jesus himself, in the throes of death, was afraid. The saints and martyrs trust the His teachings: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body …” (Mt 10:28). The Gospel is a great book of comfort. We see it in the Parables. Even though God is a demanding teacher, He is also very comforting.
What should we actually be afraid of?
Betraying God, sinning, not being faithful to His teachings — this is what we should be afraid of. Recall what St. Louis recommended to his dying son: “Above all, keep yourself away from every mortal sin” (those sins we commit knowing they permanently separate us from God if we refuse to ask for forgiveness). As Matthew says, “Fear, rather, Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [hell].”
Being afraid of the Tempter is a survival instinct that keeps us alert. We should be vigilant about temptations, the greatest of which is pride. And we should be aware of temptations that put us to the test: the Devil wants to drag us into evil and make us fall, while God lets us be challenged with temptations to make us grow, like tests students take to pass their final course.
For spiritual adversaries we need spiritual weapons: the moment a struggle gets too overwhelming, make the sign of the cross, trust in a Hail Mary, say the Rosary, do the stations of the cross, give up a useless pleasure—this will put you on the right side of the battle that you should not fear to face.