Be Not Afraid

Four years ago, I was in the hospital, laboring to deliver our seventh child. My husband paced the floors, and a television tuned to Fox News blared from a corner of the room.
Terri Schiavo was dying. And the world was watching.
I watched, too. Between contractions, waves of nausea, and breathing exercises, I listened to lawmakers debate the legality of withholding food and water from a dependent human being simply because she hadn’t yet had the decency to die on her own.
But Terri Schiavo wasn’t the only person whose last days were chronicled on the cable news channels that early spring. Pope John Paul II was dying, too.
It seemed especially fitting that this man, who had spent a lifetime waging battle against the forces of what he called the "culture of death," should offer such a fearless, contrasting example of embracing suffering at the end of his life.
John Paul II was the only pope I ever knew. I was just six years old when white smoke wafted from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel and my mother stood before the television, mesmerized and clutching a dishtowel, as Karol Wojtyla was elected pope decades ago.
Though I paid little attention at the time, the famous opening lines of John Paul II’s inaugural sermon came to have more meaning for me as I grew older:
Be not afraid. Open wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the state, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development. . . . Be not afraid!
It can be hard not to fear.
In the face of pervasive cultural forces that encourage us to avoid suffering at all costs and to rid ourselves of "burdensome" human beings in the womb, in hospital beds, or at the brink of death, it can be hard to feel brave.
As parents raising the next generation of Catholics in a world that often mocks our values and offers all manner of godlessness presented in seductive packages, it can be very hard not to fear.
And sometimes, just knowing that death and pain are real, and that none of us can control when they come for us or for our loved ones, is the most fearsome fact of all.

That day in the hospital, when my unborn son’s heartbeat slowed unexpectedly and became erratic, one nurse ran to the hall and shrieked for the doctor while two others threw me roughly onto my side and forced an oxygen mask onto my face. When my eyes met my pale-faced, stoic husband’s, fear pressed hard against my heart.
Hours later, when I held my healthy, pink-faced newborn son, traced my finger along the gentle curve of his dimpled elbows, and felt his sturdy legs kick hard against the swaddling, I thought of our beloved, dying pope. I recalled his abiding love for families and unfailing confidence in the next generation.
John Paul II once said, "As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live."
And that’s just what I fear.
We are the families in whom he had such confidence. Ours was the generation he predicted would bring about a "new springtime" in the Catholic Church.
But I am no pope. How can I raise up a new generation to wage war against a culture of death that devalues human life, perverts the priesthood, mocks marriage, and forgets its dependence on God?
John Paul II had no patience for such paralyzing fears. I think this is what he had in mind when he reminded us, "The future starts today, not tomorrow." I think he intended that we should establish a culture of life by forgetting our fears, "opening wide the doors to Christ," and letting Him take care of the more worrisome details.
And I am grateful for the reminder.
Today my son Raphael, born into this world just as John Paul II was leaving it, is a barrel-chested four-year-old boy with soul-searching, chocolate eyes. He spends his days in the springtime sun, collecting worms in buckets, hitting trees with sticks, and dreaming of baseball.
Yesterday he approached me with a hand-hewn wooden sword his older brother whittled for him from a tree branch.
"Can you attach this to my belt?"
As I worked the sword through his belt loops, Raphael wiped his sun-kissed face with a dirty hand and squinted toward the trees.
"Where can I find some bad guys to fight?" he wondered aloud.
I watched Raphael march boldly into our open field with his sword at his side.
If we raise up soldiers for Christ, if we place the future of our Church in such capable hands and hearts as these, we will have nothing to fear.

Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is senior editor of
Faith & Family magazine and author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Visit her blog at

Danielle Bean


Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

  • John Jakubczyk

    all I can say is “beautiful.”

  • a friend

    This is quite possibly your best column I can remember.

  • Joan

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story of courage in the face of fear, and for helping us all to have a better grasp of the “capable hands” of God.

  • Maureen G

    Thanks for the reminder, especially in these times, that our true hope is in God. And also, that we are to rely on Him to help us raise up the souls He has entrusted to us in our children. A daunting task but one that He specifically chose us for.

  • Marguerite

    I also watched in horror as Terri was savagely being deprived of her life. Both Our Holy Father and Terri died on the crosses of their beds but what was glaring is that in the first case, the world only offered the evil of murder while faith offered the nobility of true self-sacrifice.

  • Dennis Howard

    Thanks for your wonderful article. That Good Friday was one I will always remember – like the day JFK was assassinated. I was in a bit of a turmoil because the parish I was attending hadn’t said a prayer for Terri Schiavo, although her ordeal had been on television every night for weeks. It was one of those parishes where the “A” word was an unmentionable.

    My last hope was that they would remember her that day when her suffering was joined with Our Lord’s, and then the Pope’s, in a most significant way. They got to the petitions and not a word was said. I left in search of a new parish that was “unambiguously pro-life” like the late John Cardinal O’Connor. Fortunately, I found one.

    It makes me wonder whether some of these pastors who avoid the life issue for whatever reason — it might hurt the collection or scare some people away — realize that the Church is losing far more by skirting this issue than dealing with it positively, honestly, and compassionately. I just can’t understand how we can call ourselves Catholic — or even Christian — and not stand up courageously for life.

    I, too, have 8 surviving children (one died of a heart attack and another at 12 days — total 10) — and they are all now old enough for me to see what they are contributing our society. My second youngest is a young physicist who is now working hard on a practical solution to the fusion energy problem, and expects to have it solved within 8 year. If he succeeds, there will be no more energy problem. Imagine if we had stopped at one or two!

    God knows what he is doing. Our crazy leaders certainly don’t. Again, thanks for the reminder.

  • Mary B

    It is hard not to fear! I am old enough to have vague memories of JPI but John Paul II the great was so visible, empowering, unavoidable that his memory eclipses all others. Our families will change the world but it will be a battle. There will be wounds and losses. We must remember that Christ has already won.

  • Yvie Chevrette

    I always enjoy your column,Danielle.Sometimes they are profound and often so full of humour.Please continue.I always look forward to reading you.I have 5 children,thank God for each and every one of them.Was afraid many times as I raised them mostly on my own.I remember John Paul11 and loved him. Yvie

  • Kathy A

    My 4 year old son – John Paul – was born April 1, four years ago. In thinking about his birth and all that was happening in the world around us those days I laugh that this bright eyed boy of mine was born on April fool’s day. We are called to be “fools for Christ”. I can only hope to be foolish enough my for my Lord . . . beautiful column Danielle.

  • COffeemom

    For me too, this is my favorite of your columns, I think. And that is saying something indeed! It is such an important message to remember, from our beloved Pope, Il Papa: “Be Not Afraid” and I agree that those opening lines from his inaugural speech grow more germaine now than ever. Thanks for this lovely lovely article. YOu did it again. M

  • Mary

    I had my daughter March 24th, 2005 (Holy Thursday). At the same time, my dad was dying of cancer. He died May 21, 2005. But, he learned so much on the dignity of dying from the late JP II. That was such a hard, yet spiritually growing year for me. Thanks so much for sharing this Danielle! Now, I can truly see this year as a huge blessing.

  • Catherine

    Wow! What a powerful essay. Thank you! I have a large portrait of JPII hanging in my hallway to always remind me to “be not afraid!”

  • anne

    i needed that. God bless you.

  • Mary Alexander

    Beautiful and I agree with the commentator who proclaimed this your best. I am grateful that the school my children attend, (Catholic of course)honors Terri Schiavo day every year with a special assembly.

    May the culture of life, and sacrifice and Christianity overcome the culture of death. I have 8 warriors in the fight. And I believe in them.

  • Liz

    As a convert, John Paul II was my “first pope” even though I actually was born during the pontificate of Pius XII (that dates me I know). I remember being fascinated with the election of John Paul I and then shocked by his death a little over a month later (and I had no intention of becoming Catholic at that point!). John Paul II became a fixture long before I converted. On my way into the Church when I heard those oft quoted words about a new springtime I think I took them differently than a lot of Catholics. I thought about what the first springtime of the Church was like, and I received them as both a message of hope and a warning of tough times ahead. Most of the cradle Catholics seemed to be thinking only of revival and folks flocking into the Church. It seemed to me that there needed to be some awareness of the fact that for the early Christians “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.” So now that things are becoming darker and darker it seems to me that the true light of the Church will finally be able to be seen once again. When those Catholics who have been holding on for cultural reasons find that it’s not so culturally acceptable to be Catholic they will have to choose to either be really Catholic or go elsewhere. When bishops and priests find they are no longer accepted in the local clergy associations or at governmental functions perhaps being more explicitly Catholic in their teaching won’t be so uncomfortable.

    A young Catholic in my family said to me recently that it’s time for the Church to stop thinking in terms of being Aristotelian gentlemen and worrying about our status in the culture and get back to simply being authentic Christians. I have great confidence in some of the young Catholic adults I know (not all of them to be sure, but a significant group of them). They’ve come through secular universities, bad Catholic colleges and public schools yet they have a tenacious hold on orthodoxy that puts the cradle Catholics of my generation to shame. I almost certainly would have become Catholic many years earlier if I’d known any cradle Catholics who took their faith as seriously as these guys. Danielle is a good example. She’s raising her kids to be serious warriors for the faith, not simply kids who go through the mill of CCD and come out on the other side as non-Catholics or mere pew warmers.

    The culture doesn’t like us. So what! The Roman society didn’t think much of Saints Peter and Paul, nor Linus, Cletus, Ignatius, Clement, Perpetua, Felicity, Lucy, or the other countless Christians who died for their faith. At this point we aren’t dying. We’re rarely even in legal trouble. It isn’t popular to be Catholic. You have to create your own sub-culture in order to protect your children’s faith. At this point you may even have to keep your kids out of CCD or change parishes. You can’t let them watch TV unsupervised like my parents thought they could. You can’t even watch TV uncritically yourself (not even so called news programs). We live in a hostile world. That’s what the new springtime of the Church is like. Embrace it, take up the challenge, read about those first and second century saints and then follow their example and teach your children to do the same. Perhaps once again we’ll be those people who turn the world upside down. John Paul II certainly believed it. I have great hopes for my grandchildren (concerns as well of course), but my hopes don’t lie in the solutions of the secular society, but rather in the promise of Christ: “Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” The battle is already won, the enemy just doesn’t know it yet.

  • Tony Esolen

    Thank you, Danielle — a beautiful ray of gladness!

    He has overcome the world….

  • Holly

    As a cradle Catholic who left and came back I want to say Bravo to you all here. Brave ones are needed for these times.

    I was ignorant in my Christianity. Wordly but like Paul I think I got my wake up call. Not as harsh as Paul but called back nontheless. I hope Im up to the challenge.

    I to hope the best for the next generation. I worry for them because the battle is on. Its been won but we need them to be aware of keeping that battle gear (The Word, Sacrements, etc.) on for future reference. To keep the wolves at bay. [smiley=happy]

    I hope we succeed. I think my only hope to contribute to them is to try to pray for them. Including our religious and priests.

    I hope to that Im up for this task. I dont have children but nieces and nephews and worry for them. I hope by the grace of God Im an excellent surrogate lioness to help them. I hope they find there way back to the Church someday. So say a prayer for the children lost in the culture because of bad teaching and the sway of the media etc.