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The Fear of the Lord
Gospel Reflection for June 25, 2023 - Matthew 10:26-33
Therefore fear them not. For nothing is covered that shall not be revealed: nor hid, that shall not be known.
That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops.
And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.
Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven.
But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33 DRA)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov 1:7) How many Christians today follow this teaching? For many, fear is inappropriate in the Christian life; did not St. Paul write, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety”? (2 Tim 2:7) Why would God, who is love, (1 Jn 4:8) want anyone to live in fear, especially those who believe in and serve Him? As Catholics, we know that the ultimate goal of Christian virtue is not what is called imperfect contrition (contrition of fear), or repentance based in fear of God and His punishment, but perfect contrition (contrition of charity) inspired by the love of God above all things. (CCC 1452-1453) So what place can fear have in the Christian life?
In truth, fear is an essential component both of conversion and of growth in holiness. Although perfect contrition is the ultimate goal of humble penance, until we attain the Beatific Vision in Heaven our bodies will always remain disobedient, our flesh and the disordered passions of concupiscence working against the dictates of reason, while reason itself will often be confused by the errors of the world and the lies of Satan, valuing a lower good above a higher or perceiving an evil as a suitable means to a perceived good. Thus, due to our darkened intellects and rebellious bodies, fear is a persistent reminder that the holiness of God, the reverence due to Him and the dictates of His Law are not merely some options among others, as though we could live in willing ignorance of Him and flagrant violation of His purposes without consequence. All things are good insofar as they reflect the idea for their nature and end as designed in the mind of God; when sin corrupts this reflection, goodness is darkened and blind destruction is the result. For rational creatures, who are given the intellect and free will to know God and obey the meaning for which He has designed us, but who are also led astray by original sin and the influences of the world, the tendency for sin and the misery to which it leads are ever-present dangers. The seductions and errors prevalent in the world today make this struggle even more arduous.
For these reasons, fear is essential for Christian holiness – but not just any fear. As Our Lord teaches in this Gospel reading, the fears which occupy the minds of most people, the fear of bodily disease or injury, social rejection or insult, poverty or debt, etc., cannot distract the hearts of true Christians. In the end, all of us will die, and when we do, none of these cares will matter anymore: “For we brought nothing into this world: and certainly we can carry nothing out.” (1 Tim 6:7) But our immortal souls will live on and the choices we have made in this life will determine their ultimate condition and fate. When we are all resurrected in the Last Judgement, God will judge what kind of resurrection we will have: one to eternal life with Him, or one to death in eternal separation from Him. (2 Mac 7:9, 14)
How many Christians today remember this truth? It is rarely preached from the pulpits, and for the wider culture it is just a superstitious relic of a pre-scientific age beholden to the powers of nature which science has now tamed. But, nevertheless, the fact remains: death and judgement will come for all. When Catholics dispute the Real Presence, practice contraception, accept abortion and gay marriage, abuse children or celebrate blasphemous “Pride Masses” in cathedrals, where is their fear of the Lord? “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom 3:18) The grave errors of universalism and indifferentism have led countless Catholics to the brink of destruction; for them, salvation is a right they are owed from God, rather than a free and gratuitous gift merited by the Cross of Christ and for which only His sanctifying grace can make us worthy. Yes, perfect contrition is the goal; but it must begin with fear of the Lord. For us sinful humans, true conversion requires this holy fear, both as an initial step and as a reminder of our utter dependence on God throughout our lives. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)
It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced. (CCC 1432)
On the other hand, however, the words of St. Paul quoted before are indeed true and pertain to the words of Our Lord in this reading: fear of the world has no place for Christians. This courage, founded on total trust in the infinite love and Providence of God who even minds the sparrows that fall to the earth and counts the hairs on our heads, has inspired the legacy of heroism in the history of the Church. The boldness of the apostles to preach against the sin and unbelief of the Romans, and their willingness to suffer martyrdom and persecution for Christ have formed the pattern of the saints ever since, from the Church Fathers who endured every torture and worked tirelessly for the salvation of their neighbors until the Roman Empire was transformed into Christendom, to the brave crusaders of the Age of Faith who, with word and sword, sacrificed their lives in penance for the defense of the Faith against the incursions of heretics, to those who worked against the errors of the Protestant Revolution, the so-called “Enlightenment” and its children the atheistic regimes of the 20th century, undergoing every kind of insult, abuse and murder in service to Christ and His Church.
Today, as Christians are martyred by Islamic and Communist agents, those in the former lands of Christendom ignore these persecutions while mocking, ridiculing, cancelling and tempting Christians away from the Faith every way possible. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, both in former times and today, is Christians themselves acting as stumblingstones to those inside the Church and in the world alike, scandalizing through their promotion of evil, their arrogance and self-righteousness, their schisms, disobedience and lack of charity, all justified in the name of Christ.
In the end, all of us will be judged by the kind of fear which inspired our lives: the fear of God unto love, or the fear of the world unto despair. Which will you choose?