As followers of Jesus, we have accepted a heritage of suffering and persecution. "What they have done to me, they will do to you also." In our eyes, martyrs are the greatest of heroes, and Jesus' death was the glory of His life. We honor and respect those who have suffered for God, and are greatly moved by those who have consecrated themselves to lives of penance and prayer for the sake of Christ. In addition to this, as we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and pray "Thy will be done", we offer ourselves as participants in this suffering. But, when we really begin to witness what suffering entails, our human weaknesses can cause us to fear.
My Parish priest described fear as the primary cause of sin. We are afraid for our personal well being, our reputation, those we love... We are afraid we will not be happy, that we will feel pain, that we will experience sadness, that there will come a time when we do not have the things we need to be "well off". Such fears can cause sins of every kind. Perhaps we feel that we can only be happy if we constantly engage in luxurious acts such as drinking or impurity. Perhaps we feel that our good name is threatened and express it in acts of anger and abuse. Perhaps we fear the future and engage in building up our personal resources at the expense of others. When we are afraid we are most at risk for temptation, and the devil uses fear as a tool for estranging us from the will of God.
Even when we have high moral principles and are not subject to petty sins, fear can mislead corrupt us. The vocation God designates is full of suffering and trials, but we must realize that we can never evade suffering and eventual death, and that at least if we follow God's will we remain under His care. All too often we are afraid to make commitments, or to give up our security, for fear that we are making a mistake and regret it later. Any religious or marital vocation requires us to sacrifice this comfort, and to trust God and/or a spouse with ourselves completely. We are called to be courageous and full of faith. If we pray for God's guidance and then make the wrong decision, He will most certainly not betray our trust, and will make things right.
Slaves are people who are pressed into servitude against their will; these are captives. Theoretically, servants are people who choose to serve, and they are free. When we choose to do God's will, we are indeed free. When we choose to embrace suffering, we are courageous. But if we choose not to do the will of God, we are interfering with justice, and will not receive the desired good. If we fear and reject suffering, it will find us and take us by force, in cowardice. Therefore it is better to be good, and virtuous, and seek God where He is to be found than to cower in fear. For by the former actions, we will be granted happiness, consolation, and reward. This is one aspect of the teachings of the beatitudes. We are truly blest if we follow the instruction of the beatitudes, for in doing so we will be friends of God, free and open to His goodness.
Though we may not be conscious of fear, we do not often discover it within ourselves until we are faced with a threatening circumstance. It is one thing to say and believe that we will die for Christ, and another to stand on the edge of a pit into which someone intends to throw us, or look into the eyes of a dangerous animal who's main intent is to tear us to shreds. It is one thing to say and believe that we will live and suffer for Christ, and another to be faced with rigid penance and prayer, dangerous missionary accommodations, or agonizing illness. It is one thing to say and believe that we are willing to give Him our lives, and another to make an ultimate, forever commitment. For this reasons they say that suffering makes the heart wise, and that one who has not been tempted knows little. If we were never to suffer, how would we ever know that we really love Jesus? Words remain words until we are tested, and only then does our soul receive the beautiful enhancement that only fire can cause.
While fear is a perfectly natural response to danger, love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18) If we love Jesus with our whole hearts, minds, strength, and soul we will find peace in the midst of the greatest of trials. God will never abandon us, or give us crosses too heavy to bear. When the burden becomes too much for us, He takes it upon His own shoulders and holds us in His hands until the danger is passed. Then the love and good that He flourishes upon us is far greater than the pain ever was, and its taste is all the more sweetened because we have known what it is to suffer. We are all the more precious to God if we love without feeling His love, and trust while our minds are clouded with doubt, for this is true and unconditional love that is ever divine in character.