June 12, 2022
The Holy Trinity calls us to share Their life. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit help us do this. Today we consider the Gift of Fear of the Lord. What is it? Can fear be good and holy?
This is the second in a series of nine homilies on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The following are the links to all the homilies in this series:
1st – The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
2nd – The Gift of Fear of the Lord
3rd – The Gift of Piety
4th – The Gift of Fortitude
5th – The Gift of Understanding
6th – The Gift of Counsel
7th – The Gift of Knowledge
8th – The Gift of Wisdom
9th – Searching for Wisdom
- Sometimes we are given a gift and we later forget about it. That is often the way we have been with the baptismal gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- A worldly fear is a fear in which we put love of the world above all else and that keeps us away from the Lord.
- Thomas calls servile fear a fear of punishment which is imperfect because it looks on God as the punisher and for the good that we want to receive. (self-love)
- Filial fear is a fear that sees God as a loving Father. Because of our love for God, we turn away from sin, not for fear of punishment, but because our true love for God.
- Jesus Himself in His humanity had filial love. He wanted to love His Father and did not want to do anything which would offend His Father.
- Thomas says this gift of fear helps us sense the greatness, transcendence and majesty of God. It makes us willing to suffer anything to stay united to God.
In this difficult world in which we live, we have already been adopted by God, and He gives us a chance to begin to share His own Divine life, the life of the Trinity, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at Baptism.
One of those gifts is called the “Fear of the Lord.” It’s not a fear of punishment, but it’s a fear of losing God. It’s what St. Thomas calls, filial fear, that is the fear of a son, who loves his father, and does not want to offend his father, does not want to damage his relationship. So, it’s a fear that sees God, not as the punisher, but as the loving Father.
We turn away from sin, not primarily because of fear of punishment, but because of love for God, not wanting to do anything that would offend Him.
“The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” St. Paul is talking on this Feast of the Trinity, of something that has already happened, that has already been poured into your heart, the love of the Father and the Son, by the gift of the Holy Spirit which you first received at Baptism. We live in a very difficult world, a world, which is a battlefield, under constant attack. And yet we have already been adopted by God, and He’s leading us on this path home, but already gives us a chance to begin to share. though we’re still here on earth, begin to share His own Divine life, the life of the Trinity. And that’s why you have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Not you will be given, you have been given in Baptism, you have those gifts. But sometimes we’re given a gift and we don’t know what it’s for. So, we just kind of forget about it. And maybe that’s oftentimes the way we’ve been with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And so, we wanted to take the time to go through and look at each one of these different gifts. Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to a wind. And remember, at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came, He came like a great wind. And I was reminding you last week of how, if you think like a sailboat, if the sailboat didn’t have any sails, it wouldn’t be a very good sailboat. But the sails are like the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But each one of us is free to be like the ones in charge, the captain of the of that boat, and we’re the ones who made the decision whether we put up the sails, so that we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or we ignore them and just continue our human life. And a good sailor is very attentive to the wind, to how and where the wind is blowing. And so, we can become, especially in the world today, which is again, under so much attack from the spirits of evil, it’s more important than ever, that we be attentive to what the Holy Spirit of God is doing, and how you can put up your sail, to be guided by the Holy Spirit. And so today, we’re going to begin with the first gift on the Feast of Trinity, the gift which it’s easy to misunderstand, because it’s the gift of fear of the Lord. And how could God give us a gift of fear, right? How many times in the Gospel does Jesus say do not fear? So, it doesn’t make sense, right? How can we be saying, a gift of the fear of the Lord? How could fear be good or desirable? In fact, St. John, in his first letter says, “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. So how can there be a gift of fear? So, what type of fear are we talking about? St. Thomas Aquinas says, “fear means a turning away from something that we consider an evil, a threat to our well-being.” But what St. Thomas does, as he does so often, is he distinguishes different types of fear. And so, when you’re reading, St. Thomas is always distinguishing, he’s always saying, well, there’s this and there’s this and there’s this. And that’s important, because a lot of confusions can because we’re putting together things which are different. And so here he’s distinguishing, he’s clarifying this confusion by distinguishing and he speaks of at least four different types of fears. And one is just a natural fear, like the fear of a grizzly bear. And so that’s not morally good or evil, it’s just a natural fear. So, we’re not going to look at that right now, because what he’s concerned about here, our fears in relation to our concern, our relationship with God. And so, the second type of fear he looks at is what he calls a worldly fear. That is a fear in which we put love of the world above all else. An example he gives is the fear of St. Peter, when he denies Jesus at the passion. So, this is a bad fear, a worldly fear, a fear that keeps us away from the Lord. And that’s the fear that Jesus is talking about when He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body as well.” So, you see what Jesus said, He says, don’t fear those who can only kill the body. But then Jesus goes on to say, fear him rather. So, Jesus is telling us who we should fear. So that leads us to the third fear. This is a fear that does turn us to God. It’s what St. Thomas calls servile fear, the fear of the servant or the slave. It’s a fear of punishment. So, in fear of God, that is a fear of God’s punishment, turning away from sin, because of a fear of God’s punishment. And he says, “There is a part of that which is very good, because it turns us away from sin and it turns us to God.” And many of us have experienced that there are certain things we don’t do because of fear of punishment. But he says, but it’s very imperfect, because what is motivating it is still self-love. It looks on God as the punisher and for the good that we want to receive. And this is the one that St. John is talking about when he says, for fear has to do with punishment. And the fear is not perfected in love. It’s this servile fear that refers to the fear of punishment. So, it’s not altogether bad. It’s good to be afraid of God’s punishment, but it’s imperfect. And that leads us then to the fourth fear, this is the fear of a gift of fear. So, it’s not a fear of punishment, but it’s a fear of losing God. It’s what St. Thomas calls, filial fear, that is the fear of a son, who loves his father, and does not want to offend his father does not want to damage his relationship. So, it’s a fear that sees God, not as the punisher, but as the loving Father. And St. Thomas even says, also even God as the Divine Spouse, who we love above all, and so that we want to revere Him and love Him completely. And so, because of love for God, we don’t want to resist Him. And so, we turn away from sin, not primarily because of fear of punishment, but because of love for God, not wanting to do anything that would offend Him. And so, this is a very different type of fear. There’s no anxiety or terror atmosphere, it’s very eager, it’s calm and resolved. So, it’s a fear that comes from true love, true love for God. And so, when you think about it, we’re afraid, the fear comes from losing what we love. So, like a parent is afraid of something happening to their children because they love their children and they don’t want something to happen to them physically, or especially spiritually, because of the love. If they didn’t care about their children, if you don’t care about somebody, you don’t sense any fear. So, this is a fear which comes from true love for God. And St. Thomas very realistically says it’s possible to have both those fears at the same time. Because we often start out with a fear of punishment. And gradually, if our love for the Lord grows, then gradually the fear of punishment diminishes and this gift, the fear of love, for God grows. And so, this gift of fear, how is it related to the other gifts of the Holy Spirit? There’s that passage from Proverbs, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And so, St. Thomas says, before people can do good, they first of all have to withdraw from evil. If a person is in evil, they first of all have to leave that evil, and then to turn to good. And so, he sees this gift of fear as like the foundation. It’s not the greatest of the gifts, but it’s rather like the first one that paves the way for the others. And so, this is the type of fear that even Jesus Himself in His humanity had, that Jesus above all wanted to love His Father, and did not want to do anything which would offend His Father. And so, He was willing to accept, He was not afraid of even dying, with the torchers on the cross, if that was what was necessary to be faithful to His Father. So, this fear in Him was greater than all other worldly fears. And then St. Thomas says, “so the gifts of the Holy Spirit come to help us live the virtues.” And so, St. Thomas is looking at the virtues which are especially related to this gift of fear. And that he speaks of how much it strengthens our humility. And quoting from scripture, “when I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,” I think this was in Psalms today,” the moon and the stars which you set in place, what is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him?” This gift of fear helps us sense the greatness, the transcendence, the majesty of God. And so, it makes us willing to suffer anything, to stay united to God. And so, it helps free us from seeking human glory, human, worldly glory. So, he sees this gift of fear as a remedy for pride and arrogance, it helps us live humility and frees us from pride and arrogance, because it helps us see God for what He is. And so, he says, this is a paradoxical fear, because it’s a fear which strengthens our hope. St. Paul was saying today, we boast in hope of the glory of God, and this hope does not disappoint. So, the more we turn away from sin, the more we’re attached to God, the greater our hope, and our confidence grows. So, it’s a fear, which actually makes us more confident, this Divine fear. And he also sees this fear as helping us be more temperant. Temperance is a virtue which keeps us free and reasonable about things that are pleasurable to the body, so that we don’t become slaves of those pleasures. And this reverence for God which comes from the fear of the Lord restrains us from excessive pursuit of sensual pleasure. And Father Cameron, as he comments on this, sees our Blessed Mother at the Annunciation, as an example of this gift of fear. The angel tells her “Do not fear.” And she, above all wants to be united to God, and so is willing to abandon herself to God, for sacrificing her own will, to put God above all. And I think today we’re going to be praying today, especially in prayer intentions that the archbishops have asked us to pray especially for those, who just a week ago, we were here celebrating Pentecost Mass, they were celebrating Pentecost Mass in Nigeria. And I think it was Owo, I think it was called, that the village or the town, and they were massacred. At the end of Mass and number of the Christians were massacred. And it’s just the most recent in so many, many in Nigeria, in recent years, Christians being massacred for their faith. And the Christians know there how dangerous it is to be Christians in that situation, to be professing and living their faith and yet they continue to do so. And so, they’re good examples of those who want to be faithful to God above all, and by that fear of the Lord, they conquer human fears, too, because they want to hold on to their faith. Jesus said in the Gospel, and so I’ll conclude with this, “when the Holy Spirit comes,” the Spirit of Truth, “He will guide you to all truth.” And so, as we begin with, it’s by those gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Holy Trinity helps us live the virtues. The virtues are very challenging for us, but it gives us the help of the Holy Spirit to live them, so that we can be sharing the life of the Holy Trinity. And in this the gift of fear, helping us to turn away from all that is damaging to our soul, to realize and turn away from it, and to turn to God with reverence. And hope does not disappoint. Because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given us. And so, this week on this Feast of the Trinity, let us be attentive to raising our sails, the sail of the gift of the fear of the Lord, so the Holy Spirit can let it help free us from evil and carry us to the Lord. Amen.