Fear and lack thereof is the theme today. We see in the first reading Peter and John. These are men without fear. They look very different than they do in the Gospels. Even after the Resurrection, they lacked the kind of confidence they exude today. The difference is the Holy Spirit. They had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and they were no longer afraid of anything, certainly not death or persecution.
In the Gospel we see a couple of disciples leaving Jerusalem. Night falls, so they decide to stop for the night in Emmaus. Why? They were afraid of highway robbery. It was not safe to be walking outside after dark, particularly not in an age without flashlights or streetlights. They even convince the fellow traveler whom they have been talking to stay with them, since the sun was setting. When they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they get up and go back to Jerusalem. No fear. They do not wait until morning. They go immediately.
“Perfect love casts out all fear.” What is perfect love? “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” When we know that we are loved, we are not afraid anymore. This lack of fear is different from drunkenness or stupidity; in such cases a person is too blind to see the danger. The kind of fearlessness we Christians experience is very different. We see the danger but we are not afraid.
This fearlessness is the true mark of Christians, from Peter and John who were not afraid of preaching about a man who had been executed, to St. Agnes, a twelve-year-old girl who was not afraid to die for her commitment to Jesus Christ, to countless other martyrs and saints who have suffered for the faith. To be willing to die for what you believe in is not impressive. Crazy people do that all the time. Terrorists do that all the time. Martyrs are different. Martyrs are witnesses. They are unafraid because they know that they are loved. There is an enormous difference between a person who dies out of stupidity or hatred or insanity and a martyr who dies joyfully because of a love that is greater than any suffering, who dies because no earthly suffering can take away the joy that God gives.