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

Reflections on Silence and Solitude

  1. Compiled by Susan King, OCDS
    from works by:
    Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD; Pere Jacques, OCD; George Maloney; Thomas Merton;
    Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

From Listen to the Silence (A Retreat with Pere Jacques, OCD)

  1. We cannot hear the voice of God, who speaks without words, except in silence.
  2. Elijah sought solitude with God in his beloved cave at Carmel to replenish spirit through silent intimacy with God.
  3. St. Therese of Lisieux longed for the day when the spirit, the Rule, and the silence of Carmel would be fully restored.
  4. The author of Imitation of Christ tells us that there is no sense in going off in solitude or retreat if we don’t leave the self behind.
  5. Let us seek the love of truth and light, and make that light shine within us. Let us seek Christ in loving silence.
  6. In silence and solitude, let us seek to discover the limitless love of God revealed in Christ. “In the evening of this life, we will be judged by love.” (John of the Cross)
  7. “Immerse yourself in total silence during this retreat. Gaze upon Christ; as did the Virgin Mary. Thus, you will come to see Him with the eyes of your soul.”
  8. Christ sought solitude in order to be absorbed in prayer.
  9. Prayer should be our steady, supernatural method of breathing, day and night in the silence of our souls.
  10. “The Living Flame of Love” — That flame burns with infinite intensity in Christ and with brilliant brightness in the Virgin Mary in the silence of the Blessed Trinity.
  11. Every aspect of Christ’s life bears the imprint of His dignified serenity marked by discreet silence.
  12. Jesus breaks His silence and speaks only to utter words charged with this brilliant light of eternity.
  13. “The eternal silence of the infinite spaces fills me with dread.” (Pascal)
  14. God is eternal silence; dwells in silence and because He is the One, He says all and possesses all.
  15. Contemplate the Incarnation: it was accomplished in the silence of the Virgin Mary’s chamber, when she was in prolonged silence (prayer). Our Lord’s birth came during the night while all things were enveloped in silence.
  16. The Virgin Mary “kept all these things in her heart,” (Luke 2:19) meditating on them in silence.
  17. St. Bernard: “Silence is a great master. It speaks to the human heart. Silence is not an empty void; God dwells within.”
  18. Whoever embraces silence, welcomes God, and whoever relishes silence, hears God speak.
  19. During the solitary confinement of St. John of the Cross, he accepted his isolation, embraced silence and learned the true value of suffering.
  20. We entered the Carmelite Rule precisely to find silence.
  21. Silence of words in order to listen.
  22. Silence of action: moving slowly and serenely, with discretion and dignity, promoting a prayerful environment around us.
  23. Silence teaches us humility, allows us to grown in holiness.
  24. The Holy Spirit speaks only to souls absorbed in silence, in a language devoid of words, but full of love, in the secret recesses if our hearts.
  25. For a life of prayer to have its intensity and fullness, it must be wrapped in silence.
  26. A loyal silence in God’s presence, in the depths of one’s heart, about one’s self, on one’s lips, everywhere is Carmel, the Monastery of Grand Silence.
  27. Silence allows us to hear the delicate breath of the Holy Spirit who discloses to us the mystery of Christ. Continue reading Reflections on Silence and Solitude

Wisdom

The first and greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is “Wisdom,” a light which we receive from on high; it is a special sharing in that mysterious and highest knowledge which is that of God himself. This higher wisdom is the root of a new awareness, a knowledge permeated by charity, by means of which the soul becomes familiar, so to say, with divine things, and tastes them. St. Thomas speaks precisely of ‘a certain taste of God’ (Summa Theol. II-II, q. 45, a. 2 ad 1) through which the truly wise person is not simply the one who knows the things of God but rather the one who experiences and lives them.

This sapiential awareness further gives us a special ability to judge human things according to God’s standard, in God’s light. Enlightened by this gift, the Christian is able to see into the reality of the world; no one is better able to appreciate the authentic values of creation, beholding them with the very eyes of God.

Through this gift the entire life of the individual Christian, with all its events, hopes, plans, and achievements, is caught up in the breath of the Spirit, who permeates it with Light from on high’

– from Regina Coelia by John Paul II on Sunday April 9, 1989

In applying this gift to our Carmelite community, it seems that first of all, everything we think, say, or do should be done with the utmost charity, so that we live as God would have us do. In the light of this gift of “wisdom” given by the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, we can rely on the help from God we all need in the ordinary and the difficult and trying circumstances of our personal and communal lives to evaluate these events with the eyes and mind of God. Furthermore, when we are unable to find immediate “answers” to difficulties, we must remember that God, in His wisdom, is in charge.

The words of St. Teresa of Avila particularly come to mind in reflecting on this gift of the Holy Spirit:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you:
whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

Betty Keller, OCDS