On Friday we celebrated the feast of the Sacred Heart, a devotion which, I must confess, I am coming to appreciate as I grow older. When I was a boy I thought the statue of the Sacred Heart in front of my childhood parish was weird: a somewhat effeminate man pointing to his heart, a large red thing which was outside of his chest. As I am becoming an old man, however, I appreciate the importance of heart over head—of an understanding love for individuals rather than simple intellectual analyses of situations. It’s people, not programs. But I still find many depictions of the Sacred Heart a bit too drippy and sentimentalized. Today’s prophecy from Jeremiah also describes the heart of Christ for his people: “The Lord is with me, a mighty champion.”
Fear No One
The heart of Jesus says “Fear Not” three times in today’s Gospel. “Fear no one” Jesus quite simply tells his disciples. Fear is a major factor these days. First there was Covid 19, and then the social violence and our fear that America is hopelessly racist. But even more fearfully, we sense that something worse is coming, that our society is fraying at the edges, that America is coming apart at the seams. The Islamic State doesn’t have to attack us. They just have to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves. A lawless mob pulled down three historical statues in Golden Gate Park, five blocks from here, on Friday night. Do they think rewriting history will bring peace to America? That’s what totalitarian regimes do, but it never works. In the middle of this chaos and violence, Jesus tells us three times, “be not afraid.”
We Are Safe
I was 16 years old when I heard over my little transistor radio that “the Pope is dead.” Paul VI died in 1978, and on Oct 16, 1978, a young polish priest stepped out on the balcony of St Peter’s and said “Non abbiate paura.” Be not afraid became John Paul’s clarion call over the next 26 years, and it has shaped my manhood and my priesthood. There is a God, and a man is safe as long as and to the extent that he carries out his Christian mission. I entered the seminary in 1985 because I thought God was calling me to the priesthood, but I was afraid of becoming a sad, bitter, unfaithful priest. I had grown up with many sad, bitter, and unfaithful priests. But an older priest in the seminary told me one day to persevere, because “nothing can touch a man of prayer.” Happiness and freedom from fear is not complicated. It is simply being faithful to our daily duties of prayer and charity—justice to God first, and then to our neighbor. I can testify that it has worked for me over the last 30 years, and it has luminously worked for many holy priests and laypeople I’ve known in my parishes over 30 years. Truly, we have nothing to fear, and everything to look forward to, in Christ Jesus.
After morning Masses today I took my exercise by cycling down to the beach. So many families were playing in the sand with their children. One Latino father was flying a kite and his son shouted out repeatedly with delight “Papi, papi, dejeme ayudarte!” and the Papa gave his little boy the kite string. Another family—a white mother and a black father, were eating their picnic lunch. The little boy was climbing on his tall father’s shoulders, who indulgently helped him up and down. The little boy kept shouting “daddy, daddy.” As that family was leaving I looked up from my book to say “happy father’s day” and the big man with his long dreadlocks smiled and said “you too.” Happy Father’s Day to all of us!