The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops picks a theme every year for Respect Life. This year, from Oct. 1, 2017 until Sept. 30, 2018, the theme for Respect Life is “Be Not Afraid.”
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, the bishop of Trenton, said “Be not afraid,” is taken from the Lord Jesus in the Gospel when he walked on the water toward his terrified apostles who were in the boat, “Be not afraid.” Mt. 14:27 and Mark 6:50. When he healed the anxious paralytic, “Be not afraid.” Mt. 9:2; when he appeared with Moses and Elijah before his frightened apostles at the Transfiguration, “Be not afraid. Mt 17:7; and when he addressed his bewildered apostles after the miraculous catch of fish, “Be not afraid.” Luke 5:10.
This phrase was also used by the archangel Gabriel to an overwhelmed Mary at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” Luke 1:30; and to the puzzled shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Be not afraid.” Luke 2:10. This was also the message of the angel to the confused women at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, “Be not afraid.” Mt. 28:5.
Bishop O’Connell said, “These feelings that arose in the experience of the apostles and Mary and the shepherds who were terrified, anxious, frightened, bewildered, overwhelmed, puzzled and confused, are understandable and very human. They are not unique to them or their circumstances. We all have fear in the face of matters and the unknown. The Lord Jesus knew back then and he knows it now. Jesus was moved to console and comfort them in their fear and he does so to us as well.”
This theme, “Be not afraid,” is timed perfectly for us within our nation and around the world as we encounter a ripple effect of fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. At this time, we as Christians have an opportunity to pray and meditate on the Lord’s presence within the boat of the apostles and within our souls, by trusting and believing that we are not dealing with a “Sleeping Giant,” but a living God who knows every hair on our head, every cell within our body and every tear we have shed. It is only by bathing ourselves in the above scriptures and numerous others that you and I can go out and comfort those who are fearful, running scared and perhaps questioning if there is a God or not.
In addition to the natural disasters that our nation is encountering, we are also dealing with the mass killing of 50 people in Las Vegas and over 200 who were wounded by a 64 year-old shooter, which took place on Sunday, Oct. 1, the very first day of our Respect Life Program and theme of “Be not afraid.”
Because these two events, one of hope and one of tragedy, coincided or “collided” on the same day, we have an opportunity as Christians to “hit the ground running,” by quoting the message of St. John Paul II who said on 9/11, “Evil does not get the last word; God does: Be not afraid!”
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.