Dear friends. In the last reflection on ‘Fear of the Lord’ we saw how this gift leads to the next gift of courage. For when we fear the Lord we fear nothing and no one.
We see this gift of courage active in the life of Jesus himself. He was a man of great courage. He was not afraid to speak when what he saw was unjust. Neither praise not criticism controlled him. He suffered for what he stood for. He did not back down or change his message when the threat of torture and death loomed large. We see this gift of courage especially at his passion and trial.
Then in the Acts of the Apostles, after Pentecost, the disciples went from being filled with fear in the upper room to going out into the temple and market squares to preach and proclaim that Jesus was Lord. In the words of Scripture, they proclaimed the word ‘with great boldness’. They preached the Gospel on their terms, irrespective of the consequences that would follow. And even when they did suffer, they were ‘glad to have suffered humiliation for the sake of his name’. Perhaps St Peter is one of the best examples. Before Pentecost, he is a broken man because of his guilt and shame that followed his denials of Jesus. He is locked in the upper room and is afraid. After Pentecost he is transformed, courageous and bold.
This is the same spirit of courage and boldness that we have received from the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of boldness that we badly need in the Church today, at every level. In recent years, Pope Francis has warned of what he calls a certain laziness to get out there and reach out, share and to make the love of God real and visible. Instead of being embarrassed by our faith, we are to take the risk to share it. He puts it this way:
‘How often we are tempted to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into deep water and let down our nets…Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission…We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralysed by fear and excessive caution…Remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy’ (Rejoice and Be Glad, 130-133). And what is the reason for our courage? Because we have something beautiful and necessary to share.
The Latin word confirmare means to strengthen. It is the root word for the word to confirm and the name of the sacrament of Confirmation. At our confirmation, the Holy Spirit’s gift of courage was stirred up in us and we were anointed with chrism to strengthen us for our vocation to witness to the Gospel.
As Christians today, we need that strength to face the many challenges that await us. The Spirit’s gift of courage strengthens us to do what is right, to live by what is true and to be faithful to God when we are tempted to sin.
It is a gift of the Spirit that is also seen in people of faith hope and love who battle cancer and other serious illnesses. The Spirit’s gift of courage also opposes the accusation from cynics that people of faith are weak minded, too timid and other-worldly to be of any earthly use. While society and governments may try to decide our relevancy as Church, we need to reclaim that right ourselves by courageously knowing what we stand for ourselves and what we have to offer humanity.
In these strange days of pandemic, I sense a new opening for hope and for God in people’s lives. Many are beginning to realize that the ‘new normal’ must include some element of faith, prayer, the spiritual life, values, community and kindness. In the last two months, something has broken. Something has given way and something new is breaking through. I believe that the time is right for a new boldness on the part of all Catholic Christians to reach out, connect, care, pray with and pray for, invite and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to do so in the power and life of the Holy Spirit that leads us.
May we be filled with the Spirit’s gift of courage and boldness, leaving behind our fears, trusting in God and convinced that we have something beautiful that people are longing to hear and see.