Be Not Afraid

I wonder what it would be like to live a fearless life? What would it feel like to challenge oneself to take brave steps in life instead of little tentative steps, fearing what’s around the corner.

I may never know the answer to this question, because I don’t know if I could teach myself to (as the Catholic hymn proudly states) “be not afraid.” I’ve gone through life mostly taking the safe road, the route with very few surprises. Bill and I traveled throughout much of western Europe in 2008 for three months, and that took every ounce of courage that I had. I am still proud of myself, and very happy that we took that risk.

I started thinking about a fearless life yesterday at Mass. We had a guest speaker, a Catholic Franciscan priest. The priests at the church of my formative years where I was baptized, took my first communion, and confessed that I got angry at my younger sister 27 times in the past week were Franciscan. I always have a feeling of familiarity when I see their brown robes tied with thick rope.

This particular Franciscan priest is also a missionary, a common calling for the priests of St. Francis of Assisi. He is located at a missionary in Montego Bay, Jamaica, a beach community on the north side of the island. Montego Bay is a tourist community, but the area in which this Franciscan community works is quite poor. That’s mostly how it goes in tourist areas, it seems to me. There are beautiful resorts, and very poor communities a stone’s throw away. And COVID made their situation much worse.

This priest told us that only 2 percent of the people in the area of Jamaica where his community works is Catholic. And yet, he said, almost all of the schools and food banks and counseling services and so forth are provided by their Catholic community. He wasn’t whining (well, he may have been whining a bit), but he was reminding all of us that despite all of the bad things that are said and believed about the Catholic Church, it does a large amount of missionary work and education and social service.

My takeaway was twofold: I want to send money to his community and to pray for all of those working tirelessly to help the poor. But I also wish that I would have had the courage to undertake some sort of missionary work in my youth.

I can’t even imagine it. I am a homebody. If I get a runny nose, I think it’s pneumonia. I like to go to my refrigerator at any point and grab a Diet Coke. It’s just not in me to be brave enough to live in an area with deep pockets of poverty and, well, maybe snakes and bugs that I don’t like.

Through their church youth group, some of my grandkids have done a considerable amount of missionary work, mostly in the United States. Maybe I will just have to be a strong advocate for them, and live my fearless life through them.

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