Courage, Holiness and a Love that Conquers Fear of Death

We are considering how Courage, like Joy, is one of the signs of holiness in our time.  In yesterday’s meditation, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that we “must love something more than the fear of death” if we are to live. 

Mugshot of Martin Luther King Jr following his 1963 arrest in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo: Birmingham Police Department. Wikimedia Commons.

What do we love more than the fear of death? The truth? Beauty? Goodness? Justice?  The Earth and her creatures?  The young who will be inheriting the Earth? Animals? Forests? Oceans and the beings who live in them? Rivers? Soil and the healthy foods that grow in its ecosystem? The poor? The oppressed? Prisoners?  The sick?  Children?  Victims of war or hatred or projections?

“More than the fear of death” means many things—first it has a literal meaning.  Dr. King and Dorothy Stang and many others have lost their lives in our time while following the teachings of Jesus to put love first.  In the process they have demonstrated to us what courage is and how we all have it in us.

The Student, The Nun & The Amazon – Part 4 of a 4-part documentary on Sister Dorothy Stang and her work. Here we witness Sister Dorothy’s vision, funeral, and legacy. Video by stringfilms.

When the Vatican silenced me for a year. I visited central and south America where I saw liberation theology and base communities in action and met many people who were putting their lives on the line.  One unforgettable lesson happened when I was spending time with Bishop Casigalida, a true prophet (and a good friend of Archbishop Romero) whose diocese was in the Amazon. 

He let me sleep in his bed and I asked him about the sketch of him on the wall and he said it was made by a priest he knew before he was tortured to death in prison.

The week I visited they had a retreat for about 80 church workers defending the rain forest and the people in it.  One night they celebrated a simple mass in a gymnasium dedicated to “Our Martyrs” and at the end people were invited up to light a candle and name three people they knew personally who had been tortured and murdered defending the rainforest and the people.  

“Stations of the Cross 14,” Jesuit mission, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The military soldiers torturing Jesus are dressed in Bolivian uniform; the witnesses have the features of Bolivian men and women. Artist unknown; photo by Patrick Furlong on Flickr.

One person said to me afterwards, “the hard part was limiting it to three; I know at least ten off the top of my head.”

These people wore jeans and tee shirts; they were ordinary people.  I learned something I had never learned in the comfort of North America: That courage is everywhere, it is in all of us.  But we need some great love to call it forth. 


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest (2015), pp. 211-219.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Bishop Casalgalida,” in Fox, The Pope’s War, pp. 45f., 54-62.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Tribute to Archbishop Oscar Romero.” Mural by Jamie Morgan, 2001, Balmy Alley, San Francisco. Photo by Franco Folini on Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

What do you love more than the fear of death?  What do others you know love more than the fear of death?


Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II


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10 thoughts on “Courage, Holiness and a Love that Conquers Fear of Death”

  1. Avatar

    For most of us, our lives are not threatened by death. What we end up fearing most is ‘loss of esteem, loss of our standing in the world, loss of where we aspire to stand in the world. The fear of these ‘perceived losses’ directs our behaviour to such an extent that we become limited and defensive. We also end up putting aside the courage to stand up to what we know is not true, not right and not just. We are not prepared to stand-out and defend the unpopular, so we slink back into the shadows and live a half-life and that becomes our real and true loss. Call that the ‘death of the Spirit’ if you will. — BB.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    What I love more than the fear of death… is love, compassion, mercy and the isness of this living essence and presence itself… which continues to unfold, evolve and emerge… in the midst of converging with fear, selfishness, greed and the injustices of these afflictions. Both the light of that which births life AND the dark of that which brings death; involves suffering, sorrow and sacrifice. “Every rose has its thorns”… this is the image that metaphorically symbolizes what my words are attempting to convey.

  3. Avatar

    What I Love more than the fear of death is my Faith in in the Loving, Wisdom, Living, Oneness Spirit of God’s Presence within, through, among us in All of God’s ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution, especially our compassionate relationships with one another, beautiful Mother Earth and all of her living, graceful abundance, and our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos and beings within Our Creator’s Loving Eternal Diverse Oneness….

  4. Avatar

    What I fear more than death is , what is left of this earth for my great grandchildren. I have great sorrow with that. I thank you so much, dear Matthew for sharing your memories with me. It is a great blessing.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      There are times, I join you in that fear. Yes, there are probably many who do.
      The very young people for whom we are concerned are stepping up. They encourage me.
      There is new strength and boldness in their awareness of what is at stake.
      Just a few examples: Greta Thunberg, ecology activist – taking on the UN climate conference in New York. Sir David Attenborough told her she has achieved things many others have failed to do, adding: “You have aroused the world. I’m very grateful to you.”
      Maxwell Frost-1st Gen Z member of Congress in Florida.
      Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, Tennessee Congressmen who were expelled for calling for gun reform. After being reinstated, a triumphant Pearson said, ” You cannot expel hope….You can’t expel our voice and you can’t expel our fight. We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate.” (CNN)
      These are some who are the two edged sword, making us uncomfortable, while offering hope.

      A thought: one way to face our fears, is to support young people.

  5. Avatar

    This great meditation asks of me what does liberation theology look like for me here in America? I believe it means challenging the imperialism that is inherent corporate capitalist imperialism in both parties where they seek win-lose arrangements in other countries so that our corporations have opportunities to exploit the political systems and natural resources of said country. Liberation theology means fighting for multi-polar world of win-win arrangements at home and abroad.

  6. Avatar

    I fear injustice more than death and wish I had the courage of Bishop Romero and so many others who spoke the truth to power and died for it. Injustice to our environment has caused climate change and always results in injustice to people, most usually the ones Jesus called the least of these. Only love and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own way of life overcomes the fear of death.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Sue, you have certainly pointed to a poignant matter. So many want to fight injustice, until it touches them, us, me, – personally. It is much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.
      In this week’s meditations, Matthew is lifting up and Matthew’s life, as well. They are the admirable, and we wonder how they muster the courage, hold tight to joy. I find the messages that each of them shares to be similar: It isn’t about them. It doesn’t matter if their life is given in the struggle, They love justice for all, more than the fear of death. It is all about the movement toward justice and equality. If they are martyred, their message and the life they lived becomes stronger and a louder broadcast. What they lived for and what they died for is their ultimate truth and the message lives on in the community they served. This has come through profoundly this week!
      Do you wonder what folks will say about you and your life when you are gone from this physical plane? I do. I wonder. Maybe that is the “how” needed, the focus necessary, in creating each of our life’s purpose. What do you think?

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