(Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10: 26-33)
When I ask people what their favorite part of the La Salette message is, most quote the opening words, “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid.”
We see Jeremiah surrounded by enemies, and yet his confidence in the Lord is unshaken. The source of that confidence goes back to the first verses of Chapter 1, the moment when God called him to be a prophet. Jeremiah wasn’t so sure. “I am too young,” he said. God answered, “To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Just before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus has been telling tells his Apostles to expect persecution and betrayal even from their own families. And then he tells them, more than once, “Do not be afraid.”
Few of us have the power to dispel the fears of another. We can say “Don’t worry,” but the worrier is rarely convinced. The reason is simple: we are incapable of inspiring the same confidence as Jesus or the Beautiful Lady.
St. Paul makes it clear where our Christian confidence comes from. In reflecting on human sinfulness, he points out that God’s grace has “overflowed.” Grace is far more powerful than the transgression.
The Church is sometimes accused to being obsessed with sin. We begin the Mass with a penitential rite. We spend forty days of Lent each year focusing on our sinfulness. We encourage people to confess their sins regularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our Lady of La Salette, like the prophets, seems to dwell on the sins of her people.
That is true; but by showing sinners how far they have strayed, Mary, the prophets, and the Church are inviting them to turn back. By being reminded of our sins, we are invited to remember God’s grace.
If ever you find yourself keeping your distance from God because of your sins, remember this: no one (not even you) is beyond the Lord’s power to save, no one is beyond God’s willingness to forgive.
Don’t stay away. Come closer, don’t be afraid.