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“Do not be afraid.” “The phrase “Fear not! (or equivalent translations) appears only slightly over 100 times in the Old Testament, as well as slightly over 40 times in the New Testament.” (Some claim there are 365 such citations in the bible, but, while inspiring (one for each day of the year) it is not biblically accurate.)

For Saint Pope John Paul II, this phrase, or more specifically “Be Not Afraid” formed the theme of his papacy. In fact, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Faith, this is what he says about it:

“The exhortation “Be not afraid!” should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation … Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God. When pronouncing these words in St. Peter’s Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words “Be not afraid!”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (cf. Jn 3:16).”

There is so much in the world that can cause us to fear. Loved ones die. Crime occurs. People get shot. Illnesses come on suddenly. Relationships end. And more. And so it is easy to see why it is we may become afraid. Of course it would be a mistake to presume that God is ordering us not to be afraid. Rather, God is reminding us of his constant presence.

This is the message of today’s gospel. The storm must have been very bad if Jesus had to reassure experienced fishermen not to be afraid. This is hardly the first time they have been in a boat, after all. And yet what is it that is reassuring? It is that Jesus is present. Nothing more is needed.

Think about your own life. Is it not the case that when things are really bad what we need most of all is to know we are not alone? The presence of Jesus coming across the water is terrifying until they realize it is Jesus. The apostles are frightened behind locked doors until Jesus appears to them.

The encouragement for us is the message of Easter. We need not be afraid, for Jesus is always with us. We need not be afraid because Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. To be sure, the lives of the apostles are better knowing Jesus is with them, but there are still problems. This gospel passage is not a post-resurrection passage. Peter will still deny. The apostles will still run away.

What Easter reassures us of is that even when we fail, Jesus still offers the repentant heart a chance to return to him. And so, when you are going through really hard times, remember the reassuring presence of Jesus and his eternal life which is offered to us as well.

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