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Fearless: The Holy Boldness of Jesus and the Saints
March 13, 2015
“I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.” – St. Thomas More
“Be brave! Do not be led by what others think or say.” – St. John Bosco
“You snakes! You brood of vipers!” Jesus thundered, “You whitewashed tombs!”
His followers were aghast. Didn’t Jesus realize who he was speaking to? These were the scribes and Pharisees! They were learned and powerful, and they claimed the authority of Moses. And yet, here Jesus was excoriating them like common criminals! They had never seen him this angry. He was normally so patient and kind. What was going on?
But Jesus didn’t stop there. “How will you escape being damned to hell? You hypocrites, you blind men. Woe to you!”
The Boldness of Jesus
Does the angry Jesus startle you? Very often, Christians tend to focus on the meek and gentle Jesus, the Jesus with a kind smile and children in his lap. This isn’t wrong of course, for Jesus was humble and kind—he said so himself (Matt. 11:29). The meekness of Christ is a beautiful reality that we should imitate. But we cannot forget that the same Jesus also stood toe to toe with the most powerful men of his day, rebuking them with prophetic zeal, harsh words, and fire in his eyes. If we ignore this holy boldness of Christ, we will be left with a caricature, a Jesus of our own making.
Yes, Jesus was fearless, and his enemies knew it. He never adjusted his message to make it more palatable to his audience. In fact, Jesus preferred to let hundreds, even thousands of people abandon him rather than change or soften his message one little bit (see John 6). Popular opinion simply didn’t matter to him.
Jesus’ enemies admitted his fearlessness, ironically when they came to tempt him. “Master,” they said cringingly, “we know that thou art direct in thy talk and thy teaching; thou makest no distinction between man and man, but teachest the way of God in all sincerity.” (Luke 20:21). “Direct in thy teaching.” “No distinction between man and man.” In other words, Jesus didn’t care if you were a humble farmer or Caesar himself, he was going to speak the truth without compromise, regardless of the consequences. I can almost imagine them uttering these words with a tone of wonder and grudging respect, as if to say, “We are cowards and fear the verdict of men, but we know you are quite different.”
The Will of God
Jesus had no fear, and his courage was born from one thing: His complete submission to the will of his Father. “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish the task he gave me,” he explained to his disciples, who puzzled over the source of his seemingly endless energy. Obedience to the will of God consumed Jesus. It was his passion, the source of his zeal and his joy, the driving force behind everything he did. Accomplishing the will of his Father was more necessary to his existence than eating and drinking.
Jesus knew that pleasing his Father was the only thing that mattered. If his Father was pleased, he really didn’t care what men thought of him. The great saints, those men and women of faith who were most like Christ, also exhibited this holy courage. They were unafraid to confront kings, popes, and bishops if it was required, and they chose rather to suffer persecution or martyrdom than keep silent.
Of course, these saints were also humble and obedient. There was no spirit of rebellion or proud self-will in them. If they were told by legitimate authority to keep silent, they would obey—not out of fear but out of submission to the will of God expressed through their superiors. Humble obedience and fearlessness are seemingly contradictory to us, but the saints exhibited both, and so should we.
Why do I bring this topic up? If we look at the modern world, we see nothing but hostility toward the Faith. In the Middle East, Christians are being martyred in the most brutal way. Every day brings a new threat. Persecution is open and the choice is clear: Serve Christ or die. To live and embrace the Faith in such circumstances requires a great deal of holy fearlessness.
But in the “civilized” West, persecution is no less present, albeit in a different and more subtle form. We are asked by the powers that be to acquiesce, to compromise on the most fundamental moral issues that exist—things like the nature of marriage, the protection of innocent human life in the womb, and the nature and purpose of human sexuality. Our suffering may in the form of an angry boss, the loss of a business, or simply persecution with words. While no one is holding a knife to our throat, the choice is just as clear: Serve Christ or suffer.
Tragically, there are many bishops and prelates who are Pharisees—who fear the opinion of men more than they fear God. There are many in the hierarchy who would rather make peace with the world and its evil ideologies than suffer with Jesus in obedience to the will of God. As St. Paul said, “I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, [they] live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
These men will have their reward, but as for us, let us serve Christ. Let us choose always to obey God rather than men, no matter what the cost. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the holy boldness that he gave on the day of Pentecost to the once cowardly St. Peter. Let us strive after the courage of men like St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, an St. Edmund Campion, who joyfully chose martyrdom rather than deny the truths of the Faith. Most of all, let us take up our crosses and follow Christ, who said, “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” May the will of God be done.
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