Image: The Pool, Palma il Giovane [public domain]
Have you ever had the sensation around 3 AM, when all is dark and quiet, and unexpectedly you hear an out-of-place noise or glimpse an unexplained motion, and you are suddenly paralyzed in both speech and physical response? You want to scream or jump up and run or fight, but all you can do is lay there, motionless and speechless?
What causes this? Certainly nothing is pinning you down or holding your mouth shut, but you are completely paralyzed in word and deed. The answer is fear. It is an internal prison where you are restrained both verbally and physically, and, at least for a moment, you are helpless.
This type of fear is usually short lived—once your brain is able to discern that the noise was the weak wall hook giving way to gravity or the movement was the cat jumping from dresser to bed, it gives you permission to relax. You are free to speak or act at will. There is, however, another type of fear that causes one to become unable to speak or to perform deeds; this fear can be more long-term and may hold someone in slavery to it for years or even the rest of their life.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus healing the mute and the lame, those who are paralyzed in speech and in action. Unlike the spiritually blind and the deaf, the spiritually mute can see and hear the truth, but their mouth is unable to confess the truth. The fear to commit their lives to something greater than themselves immobilizes their mouths. They do not trust themselves—nor even God to help them—to follow the Lord in a righteous manner. They believe if they do not confess the truth or commit by proclaiming their faith, they will not be held accountable and can continue just blabbering along in life. They avoid saying anything that may be of substance or commitment for fear that they might be held to their confession.
The spiritually lame are similar to the mute in that they can see and hear the truth, can even confess it, but are paralyzed from acting on it. They live in fear of the rest of the world: “How will they respond to my belief, confession, and Christian action?” They are immobilized from engaging in good deeds, those deeds that proceed from love of God and neighbor. They cannot perform the works of mercy, spiritual or corporal, out of fear that someone might think that they are a Christian and be offended by blatant Christian acts. He or she might think, “It might be politically incorrect of me to act and demonstrate the Christian life.”
Tolerance vs. Love
Since the 1960s, this has been one of the devil’s greatest weapons against the Catholic Church. Catholics are allowed to believe what they want, but they dare not reach out to affect the world; they are to be invisible and quiet in order to be tolerated by secular society. Jesus taught that only love will bring peace; we must love our enemies, not simply tolerate them or—in the words of a popular bumper sticker—“coexist” with them. To tolerate is to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of someone or something without prohibition or hindrance (Dictionary.com). You simply coexist, without trying to correct your brother who may be destined to an eternity outside of God’s presence.
If you had a friend who thought he could fly off a tall building by just flapping his arms, would you simply tolerate his view, or just coexist with him in his view? If you did, you would watch him plunge to his death. This would not be loving him. If you loved him, you would confront him and lead him away from such self-destructive beliefs. You would lead him to the truth.
Jesus calls us to do more than just merely tolerate or coexist with the world; He calls us to love the people of the world. He calls us to love them so much we bring them to our God, so they too can know Him, come to love Him, and be with Him forever. To love is an infinitely higher calling than to just tolerate or to coexist with others.
Freed from Fear
In the Gospels, Jesus gave comfort by His presence, freeing the mouth of the mute to confess the truth. In Mark 7:37, the people were astonished beyond measure that Jesus brought the mute to speak. It is only through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the truth. It is only through Jesus that we can be freed from the fear of committing to Him and confessing Him as our Lord.
Paul tells us in Romans 10:9 that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead, we will have the salvation that Jesus brings to us through our baptism (see also CCC 14, 186, 449). Pope St. John Paul II said, “The word of faith, the word of salvation, is the word of conversion: from this death which is sin, to the life which is in Christ, crucified and risen” (Homily, February 12, 1989). In Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:10 Paul tells us that we die with Jesus in our baptism and are buried with him, but we are also raised with Christ, and as a raised people we confess Him as our Lord (see also CCC 537, 1227). In Act 2:38, Peter lays out the formula for our salvation: first we must speak (specifically, we must repent), and second we must act (specifically, be baptized in the name of the Lord) (CCC 1226). We must speak and act. We cannot be spiritually mute or lame in following the Lord.
We must also confess our sins. The Apostle John tells us that we have no reason to fear a commitment to the Lord for fear we might sin because he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, CCC 1847).
As for the fear of what others might think, we should contemplate the words of Jesus in Luke 9:26: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” If one must fear what others might think of them, only one opinion really counts.
Fear is an enemy that will defeat us if we allow it; it paralyzes our speech and our action. Jesus is the cure to this fear, because He is perfect Love. Again, the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” If we call on Him, He will cast out the fear that causes our inability to speak the truth or act on the truth, leading us to freedom. As John Paul II said, “Salvation means freedom from fear. Perfect love foras mittit timorem (casts out all fear). Let us seek the ways which lead from fear to love!” (Homily, December 13, 1984).