Love and fear

Homily for Jan. 5, Wednesday after Epiphany, Memorial of St John Neumann

“Take courage, do not be afraid, it is I!”

This is a beautiful and comforting phrase from the Gospel today. It shows us that when Jesus is with us, we need not fear, even if the storms literally or figuratively rage around us, and even if God shows Himself to us in disconcerting and unexpected ways that strain our faith, as when He allows suffering, or frightening situations, in our lives.

This same theme of not fearing God is in the first reading too: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” To understand this correctly, we need to know what love really is.

When I was in college, a student gave a presentation comparing modern and biblical ideas of love. One example she showed was a poster of little kittens with the caption, “Love is a warm and fuzzy feeling.” If that is what we think love is, we will conclude that, as long as we have warm and fuzzy feelings for God, we can do whatever we want without fear of punishment. But love for God is not about warm and fuzzy feelings. As an illustration of God’s idea of love, the student showed us a crucifix. This is how God shows us His love: in sacrificing Himself for our sake. Perfect love isn’t primarily about feelings, it’s about actions. Love for God requires acting in a certain way towards God and towards our neighbors. As St John says in the reading, “If we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.

So, in other words, if our love is perfect, we will give ourselves completely to others, like Jesus gives Himself completely to us. Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel that the commandment to love God and neighbor is the summary of all the law. Hence, the more perfect our love, the less reason to fear on Judgment day. “God is love, and whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in him.”

Today is the memorial of St John Neumann, who came to America as a missionary and died at the young age of 48 as bishop of Philadelphia. He had worn himself out doing works of love, especially helping immigrants and establishing parochial schools. Today, let us ask him to help us with his prayers and example to love perfectly, so we can meet our Lord after death without fear and join the ranks of saints in heaven.


About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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