The more the pandemic we are in endures and pervades our worlds, the more of our fears are touched. We are simply afraid. We are afraid our loved ones die alone, without our presence. We are afraid of becoming ill, even with a sniffle at this change of season.

We are afraid for the vulnerable people in our midst, especially our elderly. We are scared of inadvertently being carriers and hurting those whom we love most. We fear losing someone close in the randomness of this virus.

Some are afraid for our financial security, our jobs, our plans for the future gone awry. As the balm of autumn gives way to shorter days and the foreboding dark of winter, we experience greyness and dread.

The fears outside and around us also trigger deeper anxieties in our hearts. These fears have been unearthed because our usual way of doing things are disrupted. Coping mechanisms have been stripped away from us: a visit to a friend, social events, even quiet spaces at home are now invaded by other family members. Interpersonal dynamics, hanging by a thread in ‘normality’, are now threadbare. We fear that fear itself will take over our lives.

A weariness has set in: from something we thought would last a few weeks, then months, and which now stretches further into a fog. Vaile Wright, from the American Psychological Association, describes this as “the cumulative effect of one thing on top of another, on top of another, to the point where I think people are either just going numb or feel so overwhelmed that they are frozen”.

What is the Christian response to this level of visceral fear, dread and anxiety?

First, the Christian calls things by their name: I am afraid. This is bigger than me, than us. I am not in control. Naming is the first step to growth. Mature Christians do not denigrate, belittle or trivialise their own inner fears, and even less those of others. Because they see into the fear, they develop a heart of compassion for those who struggle with more of the same. The Christian fully understands that we are not gods and that sometimes, more than we realise, we are not in control.

Secondly, the Christian response is also based on reassurance. The biblical imperatives “do not fear”, “do not be afraid”, and “have no fear” appear in scripture hundreds of times: exhorting, encouraging, reassuring, trusting. Do not be afraid!

The resurrection narratives of Jesus in particular repeat the same theme: a group of disciples huddled in fear in cenacles or hidden rooms, with Jesus entering right into these dark spaces and breathing: peace. Do not be afraid. Repeat it often, and it becomes the archetypal image of a parent soothing a child.

Thirdly, perspective. As we start to approach the final stretch of the liturgical year, the Church’s liturgies speak of the last times, of the end of time, of the renewal of all things in Jesus. Here too, the Christian has a different perspective: not fixated on the troubling immediate, the darkness of the present moment, but embracing a much larger vision of God’s goodness to humanity. Ultimately, and this is not a glib promise, all shall be well.

Fr Frankie Cini, member, Missionary Society of St Paul

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