It is October, or, as businesses seem to see it, Halloween season. I’ll be honest, part of me loves Halloween. I love dressing up and parties and candy. Especially candy. But Halloween also means scary things, like scary movies and haunted houses, and I do not like being scared. I don’t even like going to Halloween stores to get things for Halloween because I know they’ll have the scary masks and costumes. As a kid, on Halloween, I used to go trick or treating early so that I would be safely home before the big kids in the neighborhood went out trick or treating in their scary costumes. I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a coward.
Perhaps I should take consolation in the second reading today. St. Paul tells Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” God did not give us a spirit of cowardice. St. Paul here is not talking about being afraid of haunted houses or afraid of snakes. He is speaking of a different kind of fear. He is talking about a spiritual fear. Very often, the thing that keeps us from living our faith boldly is fear. We are afraid to talk to someone about God. We are afraid to let people know that we are Catholic. We are afraid to pray in public. We are afraid to invite someone to Mass. Fear often keeps our faith hidden and private.
But St. Paul says God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power. At our confirmation, we were filled with the Holy Spirit and called to be witnesses. I think Confirmation is one of those sacraments that we don’t often think about or talk about, but Confirmation is important. By our confirmation, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and we are given the graces that we need in order to proclaim the good news to others. Jesus says in the Gospel today that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed to do miracles.
I know what it is like to be afraid of sharing the faith. Even as a priest I experience that. For example, sometimes when I’m meeting with couples for marriage preparation I’ll think to myself, “I don’t want to talk about God too much, they may think I’m overly-religious.” I’m a priest. Being overly-religious is my job. A few months ago I was at lunch with two local Protestant pastors. They were talking to our waitress, and one of them asked her, “Is there anything we can pray for you for?” And my first thought was, “Don’t say that to her; that’s weird. Stop it.” I know what it is like to be afraid to share your faith. But that’s not what God calls us to.
“I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have […] For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice.” God has already given us a spirit of power and of courage. He has given us the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets to speak to kings and rulers, the same Holy Spirit who gave the Apostles courage to preach the faith, the same Holy Spirit who gave the martyrs the strength to endure suffering and death – that is the spirit we have received. In our Baptism and Confirmation, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who does not ration His gifts but pours them out in abundance. We don’t have anything to be afraid of. We have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, dwelling in us. That is amazing. If we really believe that, nothing else should matter. What do I have to be afraid of when God dwells in me? Why should I worry what other people think about me when God is with me? God didn’t come down from heaven, suffer, die, and rise from the dead so that I can be a coward.
Scripture tells us that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power. So whatever in us is prone to cowardice is not of God. And, if it is not of God, then we should not obey it. It is as simple as that. Anytime we hear a voice in us telling us to be quiet, to not share the faith out of fear and cowardice, we ought then and there to recognize that that voice is not of God and make a conscious and deliberate effort to act contrary to it.
Sometimes we can think, either consciously or subconsciously, that living our faith in a public way is going above and beyond what is asked of us as Catholics. But it isn’t. Sharing our faith is only living out the grace that God has given us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. If you have been confirmed, then you have been called to be a witness to the faith. To share and defend the faith is not going above and beyond; it is simply living out the grace that God has given us and that we accepted in Confirmation. When we share the faith with others, when we live the faith in public, evangelical way, we are like the servant in the Gospel parable, doing only what we were obliged to do. When we fail to share our faith, when we hide it out of cowardice and fear, we are rejecting the grace and the call of God.
So we’re going to practice something right now. I’m guessing that at some point over the next few days, someone will ask you, “What did you do this weekend,” or “How was your weekend?” Maybe it will be a coworker, a neighbor, a family member, or the person who cuts your hair. And you have a choice, do you say that you went to Mass, or do you hide that? So I want you all to repeat after me. “I went to Mass this weekend.” Go ahead. Now, here’s the next step. Again, repeat after me. “Would you like to come with me some time?” Most Catholics are terrified of those words. But again, that’s our mission. That’s what God calls us to. They may say, “No.” That’s okay; they’re allowed to say no. Our job isn’t to force people to come; but our job is to invite people. So that’s your challenge for this week. Invite someone. Don’t be afraid.
Lord, stir into flame the grace that you have given us. Deliver us from any cowardice and fear. Help us to be courageous in sharing the good news of your great love.