Our Lord told us what we must look for before His coming at the end of time, so that we need not fear like those who have no faith: "And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations bewildered by the roaring of sea and waves; men fainting for fear and for expectation of the things that are coming on the world; for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming upon a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand" (Lk.21:25-28). These are consoling words for the faithful, words to strike fear in the hearts of unbelievers.
Fear is a normal human emotion that plays an important role in human life. It causes us to flee from danger by seeking shelter from the storm, by locking our doors against thieves, and by avoiding unhealthy substances in our diets. Those who lack reasonable fear must suffer the consequences.
One of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost is Fear of the Lord. Sacred Scripture tells us: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps.11:10). The crowds upon seeing Our Lord heal the paralyzed man in today's Gospel reading "were struck with fear, and glorified God Who had given such power to men" (Mt.9:8). Such fear we need today.
But there is an unhealthy fear that we must avoid. Irrational fear can paralyze us. This could have been the problem of the paralyzed man in the Gospel today, whom Jesus cured after telling him, "Take courage, son, your sins are forgiven" (Mt.9:2). What we need is the fear of God, not the fear of man or of the forces of nature like hurricanes and volcanoes. There is much unhealthy fear today, but very little fear of God. Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather be afraid of him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt.10:28).
Fear can immobilize, but it can be defeated. Fear must be brought under control no less than anger, hatred, and the other emotions. God created human beings to be rational creatures, not to be ruled by emotions and instinct like the lower animals.
Worriers must take Our Lord's advice: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow; for tomorrow will have anxieties of its own. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Mt.6:33,34).
But it is not always within our power to control the irrational fears that plague us. Prayer must play its part. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast we celebrate today, was deeply affected at the age of five by the death of her mother, Zelie. Later she suffered from a mysterious illness in which fear seemed to play a significant part. As her father and her four sisters prayed at her bedside, almost despairing of her life, she was suddenly and completely healed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who smiled at her from the statue in her room, as Thérèse herself testifies in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.
We too can pray for deliverance from fear, asking Jesus Christ to heal us as He healed the paralytic, and seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. St. Thérèse herself is a powerful intercessor often invoked by the faithful in years past. The secret of her power may have been explained by Thérèse herself before she died at the age of twenty-four, when she said, "When I am in Heaven God will refuse nothing I ask of Him, since I have refused nothing He asked of me on earth."
St. Thérèse also said that after she died she would let fall from Heaven a shower of roses. This has given rise to the pious belief among the faithful that upon invoking the prayers of St. Thérèse through a novena or other form of prayer one may expect to receive a rose as a sign that one's prayer has been answered.
My mother once in her later years in Nova Scotia, anxious about my father's health and her own, began a novena to the Little Flower, as St. Thérèse is popularly called. As part of her novena she decided to walk to the local parish church each day for morning Mass, expecting in her simple piety to receive a rose. But on the ninth day the weather turned bad and she had developed a cold, so she feared she had failed to complete her novena. In addition, since she had not received her rose, she was greatly disappointed and troubled.
But God works in strange ways. In the meantime, many miles away, I had been working on my monthly conference for a group of sisters. As I sat at my desk I found, to my surprise, that instead of the usual conference, I was writing a sort of prose poem, which I decided to call A Rose. My poem was greeted with blank stares from the sisters, but perhaps it was not for them. I thought my parents might like to see it, so I put it in an envelope and dropped it in the mail. As my mother sadly pondered her situation on that last day of her novena, my father picked up the mail at the door and gave her my letter. You can imagine her joy as she opened the envelope and found her "rose", convinced that her prayers had been heard.
St. Paul offers encouragement for the fainthearted: "Now we know that for those who love God all things work together unto good, for those who, according to his purpose, are saints through his call. For those whom he has foreknown he has also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, that he should be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom.8:28,29).
St. Thérèse, to whom we are honored to give the last word today, echoes the words of St. Paul: "Just as the sun shines simultaneously on the tall cedars and on each little flower as though it were alone on the earth, so Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no others like it. And just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the good of each soul" (Story of a Soul).