It’s rife right now — fear of our fellow man; fear of suffering; fear of death; fear of a loss of our freedoms. I could go on, but I’m sick of fear and I bet you are too.
As Christians this Lent, perhaps it’s time to redirect our fear — to fear man less and the Lord more.
But what does it even mean to “fear the Lord?”
In the Catholic Encyclopedia, Jaques Forget wrote that the fear of the Lord is a gift (one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit) that “fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread above all things to offend him.”
The saints had a proper fear of the Lord.
The kind of fear that led St. Perpetua to guide the sword of her inexperienced and nervous executioner to her throat so he could end her life.
The kind of fear that led St. Joan of Arc into battle as a teenage girl.
And the kind of fear that compelled St. Francis to give up a life of wealth and comfortable living that made him the laughingstock of townspeople.
The saints had varied temperaments, backgrounds and circumstances. But what they all had in common was a proper fear of the Lord.
And we are called to live saintly lives too. We are called to be guided by convictions rather than societal pressures, and to live a life seeking the eternal kingdom of God. This mortal life will pass, and so the health of our bodies pales in importance to the health of our souls.
Sometimes we may get discouraged by our lack of faith but we should take heart knowing that the saints struggled with fear too. Jesus chose Peter for a special position in the church even though he denied the Lord three times out of fear of man. So we know that God is with us; he understands our broken humanity.
Still, we need to be aware of this struggle or we will be defeated by it.
In Proverbs 29:25 we are warned about the dangers that lie in fearing man: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
It isn’t hard to see that we have become an ensnared people, lashing out at one another, pointing fingers and placing our hope and trust in people rather than in God.
We are not unlike the Israelites who despite being freed from slavery doubted the providence of God and looked for their own solutions.
Moses addressed the Israelites saying, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Dt 10:12-13)
These words, spoken so long ago, still provide sound guidance to free us from being ensnared by the fear of man. We are halfway through Lent. Now is a great time to take stock of our thoughts, heart and mind, and ask ourselves honestly, who do we fear?
If it’s the Lord then we do not have to fear suffering, death, or our fellow man because Jesus has redeemed them all.
Kim Griffin is a member of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Philadelphia.
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