Fighting fear with Fear – A Meditation on the Healing Gift of the Fear of the Lord

091014In the first reading from yesterday’s (Sunday) liturgy from the Acts of the Apostles (Full text here) we encounter Apostles and see that they are changed men. Prior to Pentecost, these had been frightened man, men who fled at the sight of trouble, en who could not be (except for John) found anywhere near the foot of the Cross. Even after the resurrection, these were men who gathered only behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.”

But in this reading, which took place at yesterday’s liturgy, we see men who are no longer afraid. The Holy Spirit has quickened their faith and courage. In this passage, having been arrested for speaking of Jesus, then miraculously released by the angel of the Lord, we find them right back in the public square announcing Jesus. The  temple leaders having apprehended them yet again, say to them, We gave you strict orders [did we not?] to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching (Acts 5:28). In response to the is second arrest, the Apostles once again display courage, also known as  “Foritude,” one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which they had received it Pentecost. But, in effect, they root their courage in another of the seven gifts, the gift of the “Fear the Lord.”  They say, We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)

Note therefore how their confidence, their courage, is paradoxically rooted in Fear. It is not a cringing fear, but rather, a holy Fear, the Fear of the Lord. In effect, the Apostles fight fear with fear. More specifically, they conquer unholy fear with Holy Fear.

What is the fear the Lord? It is, as we have already noted, not a cringing fear, a fear merely rooted in servile anxiety about consequences or punishments. Rather, the Fear the Lord is the gift to hold God in awe. It is a gift, rooted in love of Him. Because I love God, love him with all my heart, I want to please him, obey him. I hold him in loving awe and respect, and I fear offending him who has  loved me so, and done so much for me. We do not have time to fully set forth here the biblical basis for this definition of the Fear the Lord. But I have written elsewhere on this and have analyzed quite extensively a biblical understanding of what is meant by the fear of the Lord. You can read it here: Understanding the Fear of the Lord and here: Studying the Fear of the Lord in the Psalms

Our context in this post, is that to Fear the Lord, as is counseled and commanded of us in Scripture, is not some mere egocentric demand of of a demanding God.  Rather, it is his loving way of both simplifying our life, (making it about one thing), and also, by this Holy Fear,  of helping us to cancel and diminish all other fears.

For if I truly fear the Lord, and to the degree that this becomes a reality not just a slogan in my life, but I really Fear him, I do not need to fear anyone else, and  my life also becomes simpler because I do not have to please ten thousand people, but only my loving Father in heaven.

But as it is, many of us struggle to experience this  magnificent gift of the Holy Spirit, called the fear the Lord, because we either have resisted it or have not laid hold of it. And on this account, our fears are many, our lives are disordered and focused on many things, rather than one thing. Because we have not received the gift and the desire to please and Fear God, we end up trying to please everyone, and our fears  multiply because there are many contradictory and contrary demands by the ten thousand voices we seek to please and pacify.

Jesus speaks to this grave condition by sayingNo one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Mat 6:24). To be frank, our condition is far worse than simply trying to serve two masters. Most of us have many more masters, and our lives are too easy dominated by many anxieties and fears, rooted in many contradictory, complex and conflicting priorities, given by the many different people, groups, and ideologies we seek to please, placate and serve.

The book of James says, The double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Would that we were simply double-minded, but in today’s complex situations we are often divided fifty-fold, even a hundredfold:  so many things to do, so many people to please. Frankly, too many of us are afraid of everyone and everything. What if person A is displeased with me?! But what if pleasing person A displeases person B,  and how will I explain things to person C?!! And thus our lives are divided, anxious, full of fears.

The Lord’s plan is to fight fear with Fear. His plan is to fight unholy fear with Holy Fear. God’s loving plan is, in effect, Fear me, reverence, respect and seek to please me out of love, and you will be less obsessed with what others think. “Yes,” says the Lord,  come to know me, not as some stranger, some abstract Deity running the universe, come to know me as your Father, someone who loves you, someone whom you deeply reverence and want to please. And to the degree that this happens in your life, that you receive this anointing of the Holy Spirit, this gift of the Holy Spirit called the Fear the Lord, you will be set free from ten thousand other fears and anxieties.

And this leads us back to the Apostles in Sunday’s reading. A mere few weeks ago they were frightened, even terrified men,  behind locked doors. Now they boldly go about preaching Christ and him crucified. What happened to them? The Holy Spirit has happened, and in particular, His gifts of courage (fortitude), and the Fear the Lord. And thus the apostles are boldly able to speak to those who demand their loyalty, demand obedience, and they say We must obey God rather than men.

They say this with serenity because they’ve come to know the Father, have come to know Jesus and the power the Holy Spirit. Fearing God, they no longer fear any weapon waged against them, they no longer fear any man. And this is how fear is fought with Fear. One Fear eclipses all others fears. It is Holy Fear, loving Fear, yes, even a joyful Fear. When I fear God I need fear no one else. When I kneel before God, I can stand before any man.

Here then is the gift of the fear the Lord. Seek it, lay hold of it, allow it to have its effects. If we can do this, so many other fears go away, so many other conflicts are resolved. When we need to please only One, we no longer need to please many. When we Fear one, the fear the others goes away.

10 Replies to “Fighting fear with Fear – A Meditation on the Healing Gift of the Fear of the Lord”

  1. Reminded me of dialogue I heard in a movie, something to this effect:

    MAN: “Half of the men in prison are there because of a woman.”
    WOMAN: “Yes, and all of the women in prison are there because of a man.”

    1. That is very true, Richard. All (or almost all) of the women in prison are there because of a man. Women tend to think in terms of “us” and romance, but men tend to have other things on their minds.

  2. “…my life also becomes simpler because I do not have to please ten thousand people, but only my loving Father in heaven.”

    I loved this comment. It seems similar to the freedom and simplicity that comes from following the magisterium: I do not need to consider ten thousand contemporary opinions to figure out what I’m supposed to believe on any given topic. I can meditate on one, internally consistent truth. How serene and how wonderful.

  3. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Proverbs 1:7

    “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.” Matthew 10:28

    So don’t be afraid of a man like President Obama with his HHS mandate, but fear God and believe in His Church – the Catholic Church.

  4. Dear Msgr Pope,
    We love your highly spiritual and down to earth posts and never lose a chance to share them with the engaged couples going through We post them whenever we have a chance. We keep you in our prayers. Christian

  5. Msgr. Pope,

    This “fear of the Lord” has been on my mind for some time now and I can’t help but to conclude that mankind, in general, has moved beyond this fear, and this is the reason for the rapid greed and sexual immorality, along with all other prevalent sins. The Church leadership surely shares the culpability in this since Vatican II till now has moved away from causing people to feel guilty of sin or fearful of God by rewriting 2000 years of Church teachings in a more positive way, moving away from the language of old that stirs and exhorts people to turn away from sin. Just like a child knows nothing about love but seems to do as the parents say out of a healthy fear, a fear that eventually grows into an authentic love, we, because of Original Sin, almost always begin with fear and move to love. I can say from personal experience that my parents disciplined me and expected certain standards from me, and it was not until later that I looked back and realized they truly loved me. And I love them more for not being so indifferent and permissive. Bypassing fear never brings us to knowledge of God for fear of the Lord is the handmaid of wisdom. Once we know God, we can then love him. It does not work the other way around. If we think of God as all mercy and no justice, then we fail to know God as he is. If we think of God as all justice and no mercy, then we fail to know God as he is. Just as one rarely (if ever) moves from nothing to perfect contrition without first having imperfect contrition, one will rarely move from nothing to true love without first having fear. This should cause everyone great concern for those that go to their death bed with no explicit faith in Christ.

    Also, think of the spiritual stages. The purgative way is always first due to our fallen nature. No one, minus obvious exceptions, skips this phase in the spiritual journey. No one seeks to purge something from their life if they see that thing as good or not as an impediment to life eternal. The church has moved from being a sign of contradiction to the world, to being a sign of mediocrity that looks no different than another. Noah’s Ark is now just another rubber raft among many and the fallen-away Catholics going to non-denominational services prove there has been a great failure. The Catholic Church has almost managed to market itself out of business, at least as it is perceived.

    We need to get back to talking about specific sin and it’s consequences. You have done a superb job doing this and I commend you for your obvious love for you spiritual children and your desire to have them share in the same glory you hope to obtain in Christ.

    I know there are more of you out there but they are surely in the minority, for now.

    God bless!

    1. Beautiful Michael! The truth shall set us free. “Bypassing fear never brings us to knowledge of God for fear of the Lord is the handmaid of wisdom. Once we know God, we can then love him. It does not work the other way around. ” Through my personal journey to Christ, i found this to be solid truth. i used to “fear” Him as a direct result of Original Sin. Now, the only fear i have is of letting Him down. Of wounding Him because of my failures to heed Him. I live to please Him in every way and when i fail, i weep because i love Him so much.

      Sadly, it was an evangelical church which led me to these truths. Through their own deep faith and living witness, i saw the severe shortcomings in our Catholic education. Funny thing is, they don’t criticize Catholicism or other faiths. They are too busy leading the lives Christ wants US to live. Thank You God for that experience, because it led me home again. A much different soul than i was before.

  6. Msgr. Pope

    Awesome post.

    But – it has always bothered me that when the gifts of the spirit are listed-
    Especially during a Confirmation – that the gift of Fear of the Lord is changed
    To Wonder and Awe. The way you explained it the meanings may be similar,
    But you are still changing the words of Scripture.
    Wonder and Awe may be close but it is not exactly the same.
    This could be a remnant of the “Spirit of Vatican II ” crowd which told us that fear of God
    Was no longer in vogue.

  7. Msgr. Pope,
    Amen I say to you my brother, I fear the Lord so much and with all of my heart that I also fear sin worst than death, for I fear If I do not I will lose the LOVE of my king Jesus Christ.

    I would say many Reverts like myself, who have felt the pain of OUR distance from his Love, by our deeds and sins, forgot that our king is a LOVING KING a King that forgives those that seek forgiveness and once we Awoke from our slumber, we became more fearful of his LOVE, as we have learned to fear sin worst than death.

    If you are one to pray with music, albeit contemporary as I do not know a Gregorian Chant that would go with this subject, and the hand waver in me falls to my knees bowing in servitude to our Savior and King Jesus Christ.

    Msgr. Pope as long as you spread his truth I shall be at your side, may you walk with God.

Comments are closed.