TEXT: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 11, 2020
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 11, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
On March 4, 1933, our country was in the middle of
the worst depression in its history—what we still call “the Great Depression.”
Unemployment was at 25%, the stock market had plummeted up to 89%,
and millions of regular Americans were forced into homelessness,
some migrating from state to state
desperately looking for any kind of work they could find.
And the nation reacted as people often react when catastrophe strikes:
it was gripped with fear.
And filled with this fear, Americans wound up rejecting the sitting president,
and electing a new president: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
And in his very first words as the newly inaugurated president,
Roosevelt told the frightened nation:
“….first of all, let me assert my firm belief that
the only thing we have to fear is fear itself
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Those words were more than just an empty platitude.
They were and remain an iconic summary of American fortitude,
fortitude that has been a hallmark of our nation since its founding.
Whether facing the great depression,
or the great wars,
or the great pandemics,
—like the Cholera pandemic in the mid-1800s,
or the Spanish Flu that in 1918.
Whatever the challenge, threat or crisis,
Americans have always known that their worst enemy was fear,
and their best weapon was hope-filled courage.
I think back even farther than Roosevelt, to the beginning of the Civil War,
when President Abraham Lincoln stood before Congress, on July 5, 1861,
and told them:
“..having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose,
let us renew our trust in God,
and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.”
And, of course, Lincoln didn’t just talk a good game.
He himself was determined to show an example of courage, not being afraid,
to the people he led,
often exposing himself to danger,
even after multiple failed assignation attempts.
For example, he would often ride on horseback, alone and unprotected,
in and around Washington,
once narrowly escaping an assassin’s bullet that missed him by only inches.
Or the time in July 1864, when a Confederate army attacked Fort Stevens, in DC,
with the president inside the Fort.
History tells us that at one point, as bullets were flying all around,
Lincoln stuck his head above the wall,
so that a young soldier had to shout out to him:
“Get down, you damned fool, before you get shot!”
We can’t even imagine a president doing something like that today.
When asked about these repeated apparent acts of recklessness,
he simply replied,
“If I am killed, I can die but once;
but to live in constant dread of it, is to die over and over again.”
Of course, he wasn’t the only President to show physical courage.
George Washington, as President, road at the head of troops in 1794,
to squelch the Whisky Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania
In 1833 President Andrew Jackson prepared
to lead an army against rebels in South Carolina.
Roosevelt himself made many dangerous trips during World War II,
including to Morocco, Algiers, Tehran, Cairo, Malta, and Italy.
All of these are physical expressions, public restatements,
of the quintessential virtue of courage at the heart of American success,
and summarized in the legendary declaration:
“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Fear has no place in facing the problems that face America, and it never has.
It has nothing to do with victory: Fear incapacitates and leads to defeat.
But for the last 7 months our nation has been almost paralyzed by fear,
fear of the Coronavirus that has killed 215,000 of our fellow citizens.
Then a little over a week ago, it was disclosed our President, Donald Trump,
had contracted that terrible disease.
Again, many Americans were struck with fear:
love him or hate him, he is our president.
Besides, many thought, if THE MOST protected and safe man in American
can get Covid, anyone can.
And so millions waited anxiously for news from the White House and Walter Reed.
Thanks be to God, the news wound up being not only good, but fantastic,
as after a few days of treatment
the President seems to be as good as new, and back at work.
Amazingly, however, many in the media and the political left seemed,
what can we call it…disappointed?
Many of them had been mocking the president,
sometimes subtly, sometimes giddily,
for becoming a victim of a disease they said he didn’t take seriously.
Some said he had been “hoisted by his own petard.”
Not too long ago the same people would have called that, “blaming the victim.”
But then he got better, and on returning to the White House told the nation,
speaking of COVD:
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it.”
And then the leftists in mainstream media completely lost it.
Wolff Blitzer of CNN called it an, “outrageous” statement,
and said, “everyone should be afraid of Covid.”
Watergate’s Bob Woodward called it, “heartless and cruel.”
Jake Tapper of CNN, responded,
“ it’s okay to be afraid of COVID
and it’s okay that it’s dominating your life…”
And the leftist politicians chimed in across the board.
Even Joe Biden scornfully mocked the President, saying,
“The president…said ‘Don’t let Covid control your lives.’
“Tell that to the 205,000 families who lost somebody!”
So who is right?
Who should we follow?
Do we follow the advice and example of the political left
who seem to be making fear, especially fear of Covid,
their primary weapon in the coming election?
Or do we follow the President,
who like great American Presidents of the past
tells us not to be afraid, not to let Covid dominate us?
Remember: he’s not saying,
don’t wear masks, or don’t social distance, or don’t be safe.
In fact he says the opposite, over and over again.
But he doesn’t want fear to dominate us, to make us paranoid and overwhelmed.
Masks are a tool to help us keep safe as we go forth with our lives,
not a wall to hide behind in trembling horror.
And so like FDR and Lincoln before him, and Washington before him,
Trump goes out in public, perhaps exposing himself to danger,
not to say, “you should expose yourselves to danger too,”
but to remind us that, we cannot win this fight against Covid
and all its side effects if we don’t remember:
“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Because, as Roosevelt went on to say in his first inaugural address,
when fear takes hold,
“nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror
…paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Who is right, and who should we follow?
For months, literally, I’ve been telling you from this pulpit,
almost exactly what the President said: don’t be afraid.
But I wasn’t quoting Trump, I was quoting GOD.
The most famous person to ever tell us, “don’t be afraid” is Jesus Himself!
Over and over again in the Gospels He commands us: “be not afraid”…“fear not”.
We see the reason for this very clearly in today’s readings.
In today’s first reading, the Word of God tells us:
“The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth…
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!”
In today’s Psalm, it tells us:
“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil;
for you are at my side with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.”
In today’s second reading, it tells us:
“I can do all things in him who strengthens me….
My God will fully supply whatever you need…”
And today’s verse before the Gospel, tells us:
“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”
So…be not afraid!
Remember: we can be careful and concerned about Covid
without being afraid.
Think about it: every year about 2 million Americans
are seriously, permanently injured in car accidents.
But we’re not afraid of being in a car.
Especially if we’re not the driver
—if I’m only the passenger I hardly ever even think about
being in a serious accident.
I don’t get in a car with a drunk or impaired driver,
but otherwise, I get in, and carefully put on my safety belt, and go.
So we can be concerned without being afraid.
We can be careful and take precautions without being dominated.
This is the way Jesus tells us to approach everything in life.
Because He is here with us.
So “do not be afraid.”
And listen and follow the president when he wisely says,
“don’t be afraid of Covid,”
and when he shows us physical examples of his own lack of fear.
And do not listen, do not follow those who call the president
a “fool” for basically quoting Jesus.
Fear is not what made America great.
But more importantly, fear is not from God.
And it is not being afraid, but trusting in God and taking courage from Him
that really made America great.
Many in our country today, those on the political left—
are intentionally trying to make us afraid,
trying to use fear to manipulate and control us—to, “dominate” us.
We see this in lots of ways,
from the way they riot in our streets and cities
or fail to condemn those who do so,
to the way they try to make us think that America has been evil
since its founding by a group of white men.
And we see it in the way they politicize the coronavirus.
They don’t want us concerned; they want us afraid.
They don’t want us safe; they want that fear to dominate us.
But you know what?
Think of that word, “dominated.”
It comes from the Latin word, “domine”—Lord.
In Scripture, God tells us in the Old Testament:
“I am the LORD your God, …You shall have no other gods before me.”
And in the New Testament: “there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ.”
As Christians, we can’t let anything on earth dominate us,
because nothing on earth is our Lord.
Only Jesus Christ is Lord.
As our beloved country continues to struggle with so many problems,
from political upheaval to Covid,
it is imperative that we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ,
proclaim, first to ourselves, and then to our fellow citizens,
the blessed words of our Savior:
“be not afraid.”
In 1932, fear of the Great Depression drove Americans
to reject the sitting president who seemed himself paralyzed by fear,
and replace him with a new president who began his Presidency
by boldly proclaiming:
“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In 2020 do not let fear, especially of Covid, or anything else,
dominate your life.
Rather, follow the command of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the advice of so many great American presidents
who heeded his words:
“do not be afraid.”