In Psalm 23 we recite, “I will fear no evil.” The risen Christ twice told his disciples, “Be not afraid.”
No matter how steadfast our faith, how strong our prayer life, there are occasions when fear will rise in us. We can’t stop ourselves from feeling fear, any more than we can stop ourselves from experiencing any other feelings. Feelings rise and vanish without our control. Thus, the line in Psalms 23 about not fearing evil can not mean one literally that one will never have any fear, nor is Christ’s instruction to his disciples intended to suggest that they will have failed in his command if they ever experience any fear.
Fear will arise. What matters is how we respond when it does. What St. Ignatius calls the evil spirit loves when fear arises because fear can be used to stop us from acting and to stop us from making progress. When fear takes over, we are hesitant, we pull back, we fail to act.
I think what Jesus was really telling his disciples is: don’t let your feeling of fear stop you. Know that I am with you and can help you through despite your feeling of fear. Don’t let your fear keep you from following me.
In a book I’m currently reading, the author uses the expression “Do it afraid,” which she defines as “feel[ing] the fear and do[ing] what you believe you should do anyway.” It is a great expression of what Jesus asks of us. And so when we pray, “I will fear no evil,” what we want to be saying is, “Let fear not stop me. Help me do it afraid.”