Many of us remember John Paul II, that is, Saint John Paul the Great, celebrating mass in New York City’s Central Park in 1995, saying “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. God is with you.” This message of his carried weight because, among other reasons, he had gone through great darkness in his own life. He had seen the Nazis and the Communists each taking their turn trying to destroy his country and his people.
Our Lord, in Matthew 10:24-33, expands on this message. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul should not be feared because, indeed, God is with us. God pays close attention even to small sparrows, and all the hairs of our heads are counted. God sees us and he knows our needs, and he will provide for us both in this life and in the next.
The one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, however, must be feared. What does this mean? Jesus, himself, explains it in the same passage: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Our only fear, and this is a healthy and salutary fear, is that we should ever deny God by sinning. My friends, let us not rely on ourselves, unsteady as we are, but on God’s firm love, grace and mercy.