Fear of the Lord

“Sacred Scripture affirms that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 110 [111]:10; Prov. 1:7). However, what kind of fear does it mean? It certainly is not that ‘fear of God’ which causes people to flee from every thought and memory of him, as something or someone who disturbs and upsets. This was the state of mind which, according to the Bible, made our first parents, after their sin, hide ‘themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden’ (Gen. 3:8) This was also the sentiment of that unfaithful and wicked servant of the gospel parable who hid in the earth the talent that he received (cf. Mt. 25:28, 26).

However, this type of fear is not the true concept of the fear which is the gift of the Spirit. Here it is a matter of something much more noble and lofty; it is a sincere and reverential feeling that a person experiences before the tremendous majesty of God, especially when he reflects upon his own infidelity and the danger of being ‘found wanting’ (Dan 5:27) at the eternal judgement which no one can escape. The believer gods and places himself before God with a ‘contrite spirit and a humbled heart (cf. Ps. 50 [51]:19), knowing full well that he must await his own salvation ‘with fear and trembling’ (Ph. 12:12). Nonetheless, that does not mean an irrational fear, but sense of responsibility and fidelity to the law.

All this is what the Holy Spirit takes up and elevates with the gift of the Fear of the Lord. It certainly does not exclude the trepidation that arises from an awareness of the faults committed and the prospect of divine chastisement, but mitigates it with faith in the divine mercy and with the certitude of the fatherly concern of God who wills the eternal salvation of each one. With this gift, however, the Holy Spirit instills in the soul most of all a filial love which is a sentiment rooted in love of God. The soul is now concerned not to displease God, whom he loves as a Father, not to offend him in anything, to ‘abide in him’ and grow in charity (cf. Jn. 15:4-7).

The practice of the Christian virtues and especially of humility, temperance, chastity and mortification of the senses, depends on this holy and just fear, united in the soul with love for God. Let us recall the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to his Christians: ‘Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.’
(2 Cor. 7:11).

It is a warning for all of us who sometimes, so easily, transgress God’s law, ignoring or defying his chastisements. Let us invoke the Holy Spirit, that he may generously pour out the gift of the holy fear of the Lord on the people of our day. Let us invoke him through the intercession of her who, at the message from the heavenly messenger, ‘was greatly troubled’ (Lk 1:29) and, although perturbed by the unimagined responsibility that was being entrusted to her, was able to pronounce the ‘fiat’ of faith, obedience and love.

– from Angelus by John Paul II on Sunday June 11, 1989

In applying this to our vocation as Carmelites of the Secular Order, the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, comes to mind.

To live this life reverently, we must practice all of the virtues daily, even momentarily; but especially we should practice poverty, chastity, obedience, and live the beatitudes.

In finding oneself falling short of this perfect ideal, we must always know that God loves us with the utmost tenderness, and put ourselves in his merciful love. The Holy Spirit’s gift of ‘Fear of the Lord’ enables us to live our lives to the best of our ability in living the virtues and the beatitudes, and there should be no trepidation or morbid fear associated with falling short of this perfect ideal. Rather, we should, in our love for God, live each moment to the best of our ability, and then ask God’s pardon for our failures, depending on the infinite love and mercy of God.

Betty Keller, OCDS

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