“Do not be afraid,” says the Lord, “once I was dead, but now I am alive.” (Revelation 1)
Here’s a question. If we had to name the single most famous and beloved little part of the Bible, worldwide, what would it be? Everybody’s favorite? Right, Psalm 23. Everybody loves the 23rd Psalm.
The Lord God Almighty rules the cosmos not as a capricious tyrant, nor as an absentee landlord, but as an attentive shepherd. He knows what we need, and He provides. Our spirits droop; He revives us. We get lost; He leads us back to the path of life. We walk through a dark valley, but we fear no evil. Because we feel His crook and His staff on our little flanks, keeping us moving forward, even through the darkness.
He knows where He leads. To a table with an overflowing cup, and the oil of gladness. To the house of the Lord. To unending goodness and kindness.
Ok, now: Everyone familiar with the image of Divine Mercy? The picture of Himself which the Lord revealed to St. Faustina, during the 20th century? A famous painting, with the Lord Jesus in white, with rays of light flowing from His Sacred Heart. The pale rays signify the water of Holy Baptism. The red rays signify Christ’s Precious Blood, shed for our salvation.
Anyway, is it going too far to say this: That the Divine Mercy image really gives us the perfect visual depiction of the 23rd Psalm? If we could translate the words of Psalm 23, not into Spanish or Swahili, but into an image—wouldn’t it be the Divine Mercy image revealed to St. Faustina? Give me an Amen?
Do not be afraid. Once I was dead. But now I am alive.
Fear can do us good. I live in mortal fear of getting up in the pulpit to talk, without anything properly prepared to say. Parents fear that certain videogame devices will swallow-up whole their children’s heads and hands and necks. And we all rightly fear that we would offend God, that we would displease our Creator and Father.
But one thing has always distinguished Christians from everyone else. We do not fear death.
At least we don’t fear death when we focus and meditate. Human beings naturally recoil from dying, by a kind of kneejerk instinct for survival. That can’t be avoided, and it’s a good thing. But a Christian meditates, prays, puts everything in the hands of the divine Shepherd. The Christian entrusts his natural life to the loving Lord Whose Heart lies open, with blood and water flowing out for our salvation. The Christian meditates on all this, and finds peace, even in the face of imminent, unavoidable death. The martyrs of Christ have sung their way into the lions’ den, or to the stake, or to the gibbet.
Do not be afraid, says the Lord. I Myself was dead. But now I am alive.
Divine Mercy Sunday during the Jubilee Year of Mercy! We won’t see another such day in our lifetimes!
That the Lord emancipates us from fear, relieving us of the deepest anxiety: that is indeed a great work of mercy. We can live in the truth. We can face reality as it is. Not running away. Not deadening our minds and perceptions with false comforts and fantasies. Because, truly, we have nothing to fear.
Jesus, I trust in You. I know that You will forgive every sin I confess. I know that you will go to any length, to keep this little lamb on the safe path. Thomas doubted. So You came back to the Upper Room a second time.
Christ lived His Paschal Mystery–the most-bitter suffering and the most-sublime triumph—He underwent His Passover–so that the 23rd Psalm could be not just a pious canticle for us, but the most fundamental reality of our entire consciousness. Jesus Christ—the Divine Mercy, the Alpha and the Omega, Thomas’ patient friend—Jesus turns our day-to-day existence into a living, breathing Psalm 23. Fear no evil, because goodness and kindness will follow you. A table will be spread before you. You will dwell in the house of the Lord.
What else do we read in Sacred Scripture? Perfect love casts out fear. His perfect love for us casts out our fears. We need not fear the unknown. We need not fear whatever lies beyond, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.
What can we not accomplish, for the glory of the Father, when Christ purges fear from our souls? What feats of tender, patient love can we not undertake, with joy, when we possess Christian fearlessness? We will conquer the earth with love! Let’s start right here. Let’s conquer the Roanoke Valley with love. Seriously.
He will see us through. His mercy endures forever. Though we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, we will not want for anything.