Be Not Afraid
On my recent trip to New York City, I visited for the first time the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Located on the tip of Roosevelt Island in the East River, the memorial commemorates what Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union address, identified as four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. With these words, Roosevelt sought to resist the increasing isolationism that he encountered throughout the nation, at a time when international events threatened all those freedoms.
Though Roosevelt listed freedom from fear as the last of those freedoms, it strikes me that fearfulness often is the root of threats to the other three freedoms. When we fear another’s viewpoint, or question the reliability of facts when making political decisions that affect us all, we are tempted to discount the importance of freedom of speech. When we are encouraged to fear or ban others from our shores based on their religious beliefs, freedom to worship for all persons is endangered. And if fear and anxiety make us accumulate as much as we can without regard for others, then the true wants of those in need will not be addressed, and our humanity is diminished.
As Christians, we do not deny the reality of fear. Fear is a very human emotion. Yet in this season especially, we remember the words, “Be not afraid.” Those were the words that Gabriel spoke to Mary in a small home in Nazareth. Those were the words that angels offered to frightened shepherds on a hillside as the brought tidings of great joy. Those were and are the words that Jesus offered to his disciples, and to us.
Each of us has the freedom to respond to what we perceive as threats with all the reason, skill, and compassion that God has given us. Each of us has the capacity to defend those four freedoms.
If we wonder how we can do that, when the larger events of the world seem beyond our control, perhaps we can listen to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt. After her husband’s death, she was instrumental in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrined those four freedoms. Reflecting on the challenge of defending human rights, she wrote, “Where after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home…unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
Freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. May they have meaning for us here in this “small place,” this parish that we love, so that our witness may resonate with in a world so in need of all these freedoms.
Adapted from the rector’s Clergy Viewpoint column of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge, December 14.