Good morning, Gentle Reader. We’re all a bit tired here at Liberty’s Torch, as you’ve probably noticed. The news hasn’t helped, being repetitive and alarming by turns. For my part, recently I’ve preferred to attend more to personal matters than to bloviating here.
But this is the right time for exactly that! The Christmas season is supposed to divert us somewhat from our cares and fears. It has various methods – caroling, decorations, parties, eggnog with lots of brandy, and so forth – but standing above all the others is the original reason the Christmas feast was instituted: commemorating the birth of the greatest Figure in all of history, who utterly transformed the world with His teachings, His miracles, and finally His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Jesus of Nazareth might not have been the very first to tell followers to “Be not afraid,” but it permeated His message. Before Him, men greatly feared to die. We were unsure of what would come next, if anything. We didn’t know what parts of our conduct in this life would have a determining effect on what was to come. Yes, God the Father gave the Jews the Decalogue, but swiftly after Moses presented the Ten Commandments to his followers, a cadre of priests avid for greater power arose to add over 600 other rules to God’s simple guide to righteous and harmonious living. The consequence for the Chosen People was a degree of confusion that the various squabbling “religious authorities” of their day did nothing to ameliorate.
Jesus’ New Covenant, blinding in its simple purity, swept nearly all of that away. He restored the original directives and emphasized the reasons for them. Overarching it all were the two Great Commandments:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Recently the Church has turned to emphasizing the Great Commandments as the keys to heaven’s gates. It’s the wisest thing the Fathers of the Church could have done for our fractious and fear-ridden time. Indeed, it’s among the wisest decisions Church prelates have ever made. For as He said, all of God’s law hangs from those two principles. If you’re in step with them, you have nothing to fear from the next life.
But so much that we fear is present in this life! What are we to do about those fears?
The answer is partly determined by one’s personal situation. However, the worst men in the world have put a great deal of effort into making you fear. Can you get a sense for how much of your fear stems from their machinations? Had they not trumpeted all manner of chimerical phantasms at you, how much would be left – and how much of that would lie within your control, such that worrying over it would have some basis in reason?
Herewith, a tale I first heard some years ago. It was told me by a priest who has since gone to his reward. You may have seen it before, but it’s unusually suited to this fear-filled moment in time.
A man was feeling unwell, unusually so, and went to see his doctor. The doctor agreed that the man’s run-down condition and general malaise merited a close look, and ran him through a battery of tests.
The results of the tests were grave: the man was terminally ill. He had only a few months to live. When the doctor told him of his condition, he was immediately stricken with a great fear. “Doctor,” he said, “I’m afraid to die. What happens when we die? What lies beyond death?”
The doctor, an unusually humble man, whispered “I don’t know!” He reached out to take his patient in his arms when there came a commotion in his waiting room. The two men looked toward the door as it burst open and the doctor’s pet dog, a large Newfoundland, swarmed in, jumped into his arms, and smothered him with dog-kisses. When the siege had lifted somewhat, the doctor turned to his moribund patient and smiled.
“Here is our answer,” the doctor said. “My dog has never before chosen to go exploring, but he chose this day to leap over our fence. And what did he do then but to come here, to my office. What did he know of what lay beyond that door? Nothing, except that his master is here, and that was enough.”
The doctor tousled his Newf’s head affectionately. “So it is with us,” he said. “We know nothing of death, and nothing of what lies beyond it…except that the Master is there. And that is enough.”
I’ll be taking the weekend off from Liberty’s Torch. Expect to see more sententious drivel next week, probably Monday. Until then, enjoy your Christmas. And be not afraid.