The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode.
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Today is episode 132: Be Not Afraid: Rome Edition
Well, hello friends. This summer we continue to explore some themes from the trip I took to Rome this past spring, and today’s episode is all about fear. Fear is a universal human emotion and at its best, fear serves us. It protects and informs us, but at its worst, fear can severely limit the wide range of beautiful human experience that is available to us, and that is certainly not the will of our loving God.
I’ve heard it said that ‘fear not’ or ‘be not afraid’ are the most common directions found in the Bible, some claiming that there is one instance of that message for every day of the year, and while I can’t vouch for that claim, it is obvious to any reader of the Bible that fear is simply not on God’s agenda for us. Rather, in stories from Abraham to Hannah to David to Matthew and Mary and so many more, God calls on His people to act boldly, even when they have no idea what might happen next, and to trust that God is always with His people as we go.
The day before I left for Rome, I had a short conversation with a friend online about my fears around this trip. I hadn’t travelled internationally in quite a few years, and I did not know what to expect from this sort of format of trip that I had never taken before. I was nervous, but as my friend’s response appeared in the chat box, I said, “amen” out loud because as I considered my life up until that point, I realized that what he said was just so demonstrably true:
“The best things in life live on the other side of fear.”
And gosh, friend, isn’t that the truth?
In his Angelus message on Pentecost, Pope Francis said,
“Today, the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Gospel takes us to the Upper Room, where the apostles had taken refuge after the death of Jesus (Jn 20:19-23). On the evening of Passover, the Risen One presents himself precisely into that situation of fear and anguish and, breathing on them, says: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). In this way, with the gift of the Spirit, Jesus wishes to free the disciples from fear, from this fear that keeps them holed up at home, and he frees them so that they may be able to go out and become witnesses and proclaimers of the Gospel. Let us dwell a little on what the Spirit does: he frees from fear.
The disciples had closed the doors, the Gospel says, “for fear” (v. 19). The death of Jesus had shocked them, their dreams had been shattered, their hopes had vanished. And they had closed themselves inside. Not only in that room, but within, in the heart. I would like to underline this: closed inside. How often do we too shut ourselves in? How often, because of some difficult situation, because of some personal or family problem, because of the suffering that marks us or the evil we breathe around us, do we risk slipping slowly into loss of hope and lack the courage to go on? This happens many times. And then, like the apostles, we shut ourselves in, barricading ourselves in the labyrinth of worries.”
Oof, “the labyrinth of worries.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel seriously called out by Pope Francis there. We humans can long for a feeling of safety, and we so often find it by closing ourselves in to a familiar place, but a closed space just does not allow for the kind of light and air that we need to grow. If you were born and raised Catholic, you might feel a certain kind of safety in sticking with the beliefs and practices that you were taught as a child, and maybe you were taught to be afraid to stray from them or even to study or investigate those beliefs for yourself. Maybe you were taught to fear visiting other churches or having other faith experiences. Lots of Catholics and Protestants alike have fears around things like yoga or the enneagram or even Harry Potter books, many fearing the influence of those kinds of things without ever really understanding them. Some fear ever leaving the church in which they were raised, either physically or figuratively, because they’re afraid of what any kind of exploration or investigation or questioning will bring. Maybe we fear it will lead to a wilderness of sorts and we’re afraid that we’ll never make it back home.
One day on our trip, we experienced a kind of microcosm of that very scenario, and this is a story that I’ve been thinking about ever since.
Our Vatican museum tour was divided into two groups – those in the college choir we were with and then the ‘non-choir’ members. The college group was slated to take a bus back to the hotel after their tour to change clothes and have a quick rehearsal and a simple meal before returning back to the Vatican to sing for an afternoon mass. So, we non-choir members were on our own for a couple of hours, but we were warned by our guide to make sure to be back in plenty of time to get through security at the Vatican so as not to miss that special mass. Well, after our tour finished up, most of us in the non-choir group were a bit discombobulated. We had this block of free time, such great freedom on what was a pretty structured tour, but without direction, we didn’t quite know how to use that freedom. No one wanted to miss mass by getting stuck in an unpredictably long security line, but we were hungry, and we were thirsty, and there wasn’t anything available to eat or drink within St. Peter’s Square itself, so a little band of five of us ventured out to get something to eat, promising to keep each other accountable to get back into the smallest country in the world, Vatican City, in time for mass.
And friend, we had the most lovely time.
We ate tomato-basil-radicchio-and-mozzarella sandwiches on the softest focaccia bread. We ate strawberry and mango and straticella gelato. We sipped cappuccino, even though it was after noon and I know, Italians only drink it in the morning, but hey, it was delicious. We shopped in a little jewelry store with beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces from Assisi and we shared laughter and fellowship and a bit of our stories and none this would have happened if we had not left church.
So much of what I have experienced outside of church walls has made my experiences inside church richer, more colorful, and more meaningful and, friend, this day was no exception. As it turns out, our group made it back in plenty of time, but now with the added benefit of full bellies, great memories, and connection with each other. And I didn’t know it yet, but that experience would be a major part of the most overwhelming spiritual experience I would have on the whole trip, but I’ll tell you more about that in another episode this summer.
When we returned to the Vatican, laughing and full and sun on our faces, we found that some members of our group had decided not to leave left the square, or even the building, at all. They were starving and they were thirsty – there was a water fountain inside the Vatican but none of them had a bottle with them to collect that lifegiving water. Honestly, a couple of our friends seemed like they were really having kind of a hard time, so we who had left dug into our pockets for bits of food to share. I had a roll from breakfast and someone else had Cheez-its and that seemed to help some, but I couldn’t help thinking about the abundance they could have experienced if they weren’t afraid to leave the church in the first place. These people were safe in the darkness of that church, sure, but they seemed sort of miserable, and I wished it were different for them.
There’s a scene from Narnia’s The Last Battle, where Aslan has saved everyone and delivered them to a place of pure abundance, but the dwarves in their group just would not see it. They were drinking rich wine and eating sweet fruit the likes of which they’d never eaten before, but the dwarves believed it to be dirty water and an old turnip. They were afraid of being ‘taken in’, of being fooled or losing advantage. They were in a prison of their own making, afraid of the freedom and abundance that was available. Fear always isolates us, always dims the colors of what God has for us in this vast, diverse, and beautiful world that God made in love, just for us.
Pope Francis’ Angelus prayer continues:
“Brothers and sisters, this “shutting ourselves in” happens when, in the most difficult situations, we allow fear to take the upper hand and let its stern voice prevail within us. When fear enters, we close ourselves off. The cause, therefore, is fear: fear of not being able to cope, of having to face everyday battles alone, of risking and then being disappointed, of making the wrong choices. Brothers, sisters, fear blocks, fear paralyses. And it also isolates: let us think of the fear of others, of foreigners, of those who are different, who think in another way. And there can even be the fear of God: that he will punish me, that he will be angry with me… If we give space to these false fears, the doors close: the doors of the heart, the doors of society, and even the doors of the Church! Where there is fear, there is closure. And this is no good.
However, the Gospel offers us the remedy of the Risen One: the Holy Spirit. He frees us from the prisons of fear. When they receive the Spirit, the apostles — we celebrate this today — come out of the Upper Room and go out into the world to forgive sins and to proclaim the good news. Thanks to him, fears are overcome and doors open. Because this is what the Spirit does: he makes us feel God’s closeness, and thus, his love casts out fear, illuminates the way, consoles, sustains in adversity. Faced with fears and closure, then, let us invoke the Holy Spirit for us, for the Church and for the whole world: let a new Pentecost cast out the fears that assail us and revive the flame of God’s love.
May Mary Most Holy, the first to be filled with the Holy Spirit, intercede for us.”
“Fears are overcome, and doors open”, yes and Amen, that is God’s good plan for us, friend, so let it be today, for you and for me and for all our dear ones too.
Thanks so much for being with me, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, you are calling us to boldness and adventure in this one life we’re given. Help us to work through our fears in order to experience the very best and the beauty of what you have created for us in love, and then to share it. In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our mother Mary we pray, amen.
Well, thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week continues a summer series on a bunch of spiritual takeaways and epiphanies I experienced while on pilgrimage in Rome. I hope this one about our musical faith is a meaningful one for you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or at my website. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Regina Caeli (Angelus) prayer of Pope Francis, Pentecost 2023, English translation
2. The Last Battle, (Narnia Series) by C.S. Lewis
3. Song: Psalm 23, by Poor Bishop Hooper
4. Song: Be Not Afraid, by John Michael Talbot
5. Song: Nothing to Fear, by Porter’s Gate featuring Audrey Assad
6. Short Video: Overcoming Fear, with Sister Miriam James Heidland
7. Book: Freefall to Fly, by Rebekah Lyons
8. Website with helpful resources including podcast, writing and more: Evolving Faith – Home for Spiritual Wanderers