Then Christ’s words echo in my heart, “Be not afraid!”
Be not afraid.
So powerful is this message that it permeates Sacred Scripture. Pope St. John Paul II even began his pontificate with it. “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ,” he said. “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.”
A large portion of my adolescence was dominated by fear: the fear of rejection, of not fitting in, of failure. I had not opened the door to Christ and instead relied on my own devices rather than accepting his power, as the pope suggested. I found that fear is enslaving.
This changed with various experiences throughout my college years. I remember being on a retreat, as a senior, where we were asked to meditate on the Annunciation and the Visitation. I walked to a hill overlooking the mountains of Northern California and began to re-read and reflect upon a passage I had heard countless times.
As a spunky middle child, I had never much affiliated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She seemed too pristine for my rambunctious, sporty, and mischievous personality. I couldn't relate.
This particular reading of Mary’s assent to God’s plan, however, was different. No longer did I see a dainty girl who only radiated perfection, but a strong and bold woman who accepted God’s will without fear. I read her response of surrender, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” not as a feeble “OK, sure, whatever you say, Lord” but as a “Yes, Lord! Together, let’s do this!”
Mary had opened wide the door for Christ. Her response was whole-hearted, even joyful. She was not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.
“What a bold answer,” I remember thinking. What freedom! Up to that point in my life, I couldn’t recall ever responding to God in that way. I wanted what Mary had, a life without fear. Moments later, I repeated those immortal words, having finally embraced them as my own, “May it be done to me according to your word.” My life has never been the same since.
Mary’s experience of trust in the Lord is what we are all invited to. Her lack of fear is completely possible for Christ’s followers. This does not mean lack of uncertainty, lack of stress, lack of hard choices or suffering. It means overarching faith and trust in God’s plan of goodness over our own.
Mary did not have all the answers. In fact, she asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” as he shared God’s plan of salvation. I can imagine Mary repeating this question years later in the silent recesses of her heart throughout Christ’s torture and crucifixion, “Lord, how can this be?”
This is a question I often find myself asking throughout my day. How can this war be going on? How can this life be ending? How can this poverty be?
God typically answers our questions not with a detailed explanation of his plan, but with himself. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid,” he tells his shaken disciples as he walks on water during the storm. In doing so, he does not belittle or ignore our questions, but redirects them. God alone suffices. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II began his papacy by inviting us to “welcome Christ and accept his power” over our own. It is when we turn inward, relying on our own strength or power, that we become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. It is when we turn inward that we forget who we are.
Pope John Paul II poignantly stated, “So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair.”
How many people do you know for whom these words are true? Pope John Paul II’s prophetic words strike at the heart of many of the issues of our society, issues that we ourselves face daily.
Mary did not know this fear, this uncertainty, this despair. She never forgot who she was in God’s eyes, for she never knew herself apart from him. As we continue to live each day in our various jobs, ministries, and vocations, let us look to Mary as our model of liberation—a model of a life of freedom rooted in God, a life without paralyzing fear. May we repeat, until it becomes the prayer of our heart, “let it be done unto me according to your word.” May we open wide the doors for Christ in order to go out, as Mary modeled for us in the Visitation, to our fearful and suffering world, bringing the light and love of Christ to all we encounter.
Be not afraid!
Question for Reflection: What fears keep you from placing your trust fully in God? This week, ask Mary to help you say “let it be done to me according to your word.”