When the two shepherd children of La Salette, Maximin and Melanie, first saw "the Beautiful Lady" of the Apparition. a great fear came upon them. The little girl dropped her pastoral staff in sudden awe and wonderment, and the boy spoke encouragement to her that he little felt himself.
It was the old dread of the unknown that so often paralyzes the human heart and robs it of strength and happiness. It was only when Our Blessed Mother arose and spoke those comforting words, "Come near, my children, be not afraid!", it was only then that their courage came, warming back to their hearts, and they had strength to draw close to her – so close they tell us afterwards, that a third person could not have passed between them and the radiant Visitor from heaven.
They felt a great peace in their hearts, a strange and wondrous happiness that held them ecstatically unconscious of the passing of time, as they stood there eating the words of the queenly Messenger. Fear melted from their hearts just as the cold chill of winter is dispelled by the searching rays of the June day sun – and a great calm and peace flooded their souls.
Fear has so blighting an effect. It dampens our fondest hopes; weakens our finest determination,' and makes the joys of the present hour seem so empty and unsatisfactory. If we would only pause then and analyze our evil forebodings, how often we would discover of what unsubstantial stuff our fears are made. Perhaps, too, we would hear in the depths of our conscience the low yet clear voice of encouragement saying to us: "Be not afraid!"
When the Apostles worried and fretted because the skies were darkened and their sailboat was tossing fitfully on the angry waves; when fear gripped their hearts because the sea swept tumultuously across the prow of their storm-ridden bark and the waters began to seep through the tarred pinewood, there came the gentle voice of the Master sounding above the roar of the elements: “’Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm” (Matthew 8:26).
So it has been and will always be for those who sail through the storms of this world with the Master at the prow; and even though at times he seems to be asleep in the shrouds, we must not, succumb to the panic of fear that will stamp us at once as people "of little faith." We must . . . keep our eyes fixed on the great Captain.
"Do not be afraid!" How much good is left undone in our lives each waking hour because we are morally afraid! How often our souls are stained with sin because our courage failed us! We heard perhaps the inner prompting of grace, the voice of conscience urging us to a better life. But then came the cowardly fear of what others would think or say if we changed our ways and sought to walk more perfectly in the Master's footsteps. Our better self urged us perhaps to avoid such an occasion of sin, a bad companion, dangerous reading; but the nightfall found us treading the same old way because we were too fearful to make the effort; we were only a craven at heart.
It may have been that God called us for special service and planted the seed of a religious or priestly vocation in our heart. Perhaps we are even today charting our future course, and we are inclined to follow the crowd, to choose the easiest way, the line of least resistance.
For one, finally, who believes in the sweet doctrine of a Divine Providence that watches over and ordains all things, physical fear is an unreasonable and senseless state of soul. Have we not God's own word for it; namely, that “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Then "’Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” . . .
The words of the Psalmist sum it all up in one brief verse: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me”
And in truth, when the shadows of death do close round about us one day, if we have lived faithful to God through life's long journey, though our hearts quake with fear, like the two little shepherds of La Salette we will hear that comforting invitation, "Come near . . . do not be afraid," and we will awaken as from an unpleasant dream to find ourselves gathered home to our Heavenly Father, at the feet of the Virgin Mother, safe at last in our eternal home.