What Do Saints Fear?

blog.12.27The average person may worry about any number of things: finances; security; strife in the family, community, nation, or world; health; the status of a relationship; how he is perceived by others. These tend to be the sorts of things that cause concern.

What do saints worry about? To provide an answer, let’s consider the words of one of our canonized saints. First, here is the context within which the saint spoke.

Napoleon III had surrendered to the Prussians, bringing on the disaster. The Mother General put the sisters at the disposition of the Ministry of War. A field hospital was installed [at the convent for the retreating and battered troops] … Military uniforms mingled with the black and white silhouettes in the courtyard and corridors of the Motherhouse … the sick and the wounded were [all about] the convent. Twenty-five novices were sent to communities in the south and the postulants were sent home to their families. The Prussians were coming and all the area was on alert … Cannons were installed on the inner terrace of the motherhouse and in the novitiate gardens … On the night of October 24, 1870 … a strange phenomenon appeared in the sky. The horizon was all ablaze … you might have thought it was a sea of blood … [but it was] an aurora borealis … a very impressive display … The Prussians were at the borders.

[And here is the question posed to our saint, who was considered by many to be a visionary]:

“The Prussians are at our gates. Don’t they inspire you with terror?”


“So there is nothing to fear then?”

“I fear only bad Catholics.”

“Do you fear nothing else?”

“No, nothing.”

[Bernadette Speaks. A Life of St. Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words, by Fr. Rene Larentin, Pauline Books, pp. 415-416].

Yes, these are the words of St. Bernadette, the visionary of Lourdes. In the midst of great travail, she could only identify the fear of bad Catholics.

Really? You don’t fear the enemy troops at the door? The loss of life, limb, or livelihood? The loss of land or political power? All the innumerable sufferings that are sure to come? You only fear bad Catholics?

Such is the likely response to St. Bernadette’s terse, succinct reply that she fears only bad Catholics. To the worldly minded, the fear of losing life, limb, or livelihood would far outrank some fear as to whether or not Catholics were attending Mass, saying prayers, or “fumbling beads.” To them, a reply like this sounds almost insensitive.

But to the spiritually minded, bad Catholics are something to fear, indeed something more to fear than even suffering and death. Bad Catholics are at extreme risk of losing their eternal salvation. Further, due to their poor example, others are also put at serious risk.

There is nothing more important than our eternal salvation—nothing. Life, limb, livelihood, and keeping body and soul together are nice; but they are temporary things and we are not to love them more than our eternal life. Indeed, we should gladly cast them aside if necessary and leave this vale of tears, this exile, and go home to live with God.

Bad Catholics risk both their own salvation and that of others. Bad Catholics prefer the world and its values to that of Christ and His Kingdom. They will not endure suffering, inconvenience or any difficulty for the Kingdom of God. They will not accept corrections to their worldview, politics, or mindset based on the Faith. They are misled and they mislead others. The truth of the Gospel is not their light or compass; it does not provide their marching orders. They will do whatever is expedient to achieve their worldly goals. The cross is not for them. Rather, pleasure, popularity, and possessions are their focus. As St. Paul says, For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things (Phil 3:18-19).

To some degree, we all suffer the tendency to be bad Catholics. We all sin, fall short, and have some bad priorities. But today there are increasing numbers of bad Catholics who are stubbornly unrepentant about this, instead insisting that the Church and Scriptures should be changed. This is a lamentable and fearful situation both for them and for those they influence.

St. Bernadette was not naïve as she looked to the horizon and saw the looming threat. There is indeed a strong, direct connection between bad faith and war. At the time of St. Bernadette, Catholics and Christians in Europe had been killing each other for centuries. War is but the cumulative effect of sin, the collective rejection of God’s commandments and of the call to love God, our neighbor, and our enemy. At times, wars of defense have been and are sadly necessary. But wars among Christians are an especially poignant reminder of the failure to live the faith on innumerable levels.

Whatever the outcome of wars; regardless of who wins conflicts between passing, earthly kingdoms; the battle for eternal salvation through repentance and faith is far more important. It is the true priority of the saints.

What do the saints fear? Bad Catholics. Really? Nothing else? No, nothing.

17 Replies to “What Do Saints Fear?”

  1. I would go so far as to say one should fear not being a good Catholic. Like Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?”

    1. Like Christ said:

      “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Luke 12:57

    2. John 7: 24 *Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment. We have to make rational and moral judgments otherwise the truck may kill us when we fail to look left or right crossing the street. Otherwise we would fail to obey the Word of God Who tells us we are to call good and evil by their proper names. Pope Francis did not merely say “Who am I to judge?” Pope Francis is reported to have said; “IF a man is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Those are two radically different statements.

      In other words if he’s seeking God and has good will he will have an authentic love for his brothers and sisters (1 Peter 1:22) rather than hatred for his brothers and sisters (Titus 3:3). He will be resisting temptations, going to confession when he sins, and striving to be what God has called all of us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

      We human beings cannot make biblical judgements which means we cannot condemn anybody – that is God’s business, that is not our business. We must love the person. If we love the person we’ll tell that person the truth. We have to study our Faith to know the truth. The Catechism teaches us “2357…homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Saint Pope John Paul II said in his APOSTOLIC LETTER LAETAMUR MAGNOPERE the Catechism is a sure norm for teaching the Faith.

    3. Those who worship at the alter of self & do not follow the gospel as Christ means it to be are worshiping a figment of their imagination. They are trying to fill up with the finite of which only the Infinite can do. Like Fr. Thomas Dubay famously stated, “If we are not in hot pursuit of the One, we are frantically chasing the many.”

  2. Like the triumphant Saints, I too fear Bad Catholics the most. The Church is in the Salvation business because that is Jesus’ business. Business is bad right now because too many believe in their own narcissistic concept of some heaven they’ve created. Anyone who tries to lead a faithful, Catholic life knows that it is difficult and challenging. It is truly a Narrow Path wrought with obstacles and temptations. Many “good people” fail to find it. When I try to communicate this to family and friends, all Church-going Catholics mind you, they scoff and argue with me about being nice. They tell me that they are good, kind people and that they follow Christ’s Golden Rule, unlike me. I try to explain that as Aquinas said: the greatest act of charity is to lead someone to the Truth. More scoffing and arguing. How did we get here? This has been declared the year of Mercy but is there really a lack of Mercy in our Church? If anything, there is too much new-age mercy that bares no fruit. It is a politically correct, hyper-mercy that precludes anyone from telling the Truth about Salvation because it will hurt feelings. We need a Year of Salvation or a Year of Truth. At this point, I would settle for a Day of either one. Thank you for this Post Msgr. I will Share.

    1. +1. I absolutely agree, I was going to write something, but you’ve said all that I wanted to, Servium.

    2. Servium, thank you for this input. I would offer to you this question: “What are you doing about it?”

      It is not difficult to complain and point out what is not to one’s liking. It is quite another to lead others to God without causing them to turn away through too much rigor. Has the rigorous approach ever been lauded in Church history? Did Jesus Christ condemn people for their sins, or did He show mercy even to the point of dying on the Cross?

      Encourage and teach. That’s the approach. Encourage and teach.

      1. Hi Taylor,
        Servium is trying to ‘encourage and teach’ his family and friends… it is right there in his post.

        How is telling people that we need to tell others the truths of the Faith ‘too much rigor’?… explain please.

        Jesus did condemn people for their sins. The Scribes and Pharisees numerous times, Judas… ‘it were better if he had not been born’, and to Peter… ‘get behind me satan’ for trying to get Him to forego the cross, the towns the disciples go to that do not receive them, Our Lord says it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. And for Capharnaum, ‘thou shalt be exalted to heaven? Thou shalt be thrust down to hell., the moneychangers in the Temple… He not only condemned, but made a whip and scourged them with it.

        Our Lord showed us by His example, that we are to be compassionate, merciful and also stern at times… yet in all things, truthful and truthseekers because this is the reason He gave for being born and coming into the world, ‘to bear witness to the Truth!’
        He told us to not judge according to appearances, but to judge just judgement. By doing so, we will know which manner we are to adopt in the particular circumstance, yet always bearing witness to the Truth, as Our Savior did. (SS. Peter and Paul exemplified this as seen in the Book of Acts and the Epistles).
        – This is where Servium is noting a problem… that practicing Catholics are stifling the Truth with the cloak of mercy…claiming to be merciful but never telling people the truth they need to hear, while disparaging those who insist on following the example Our Lord and the Apostles gave us. This is not Christ like… this is antichrist.
        Note: Some people you cannot encourage and teach because they are of bad will. These are the ‘swine’ Jesus told us not to throw our pearls to.
        There is no reason we cannot proclaim the Truth’s of God and the offer of His great mercy… the are not mutually exclusive, but ARE the Gospel!
        Please show me mercy as to grammer and spelling. I was not rigorous enough on these points. 😀

    3. Yes, I agree!
      Sometimes I’m a grouchy mom & wife, and am not so nice in that regard. So, I am always thankful for St. Jerome. It’s said he was a grouchy old guy, a real bear to deal with. But that didn’t prevent him from getting to heaven, and even being declared a saint. Niceness didn’t get him to heaven, holiness did.
      And, yes, if I am correct in my thinking, divine mercy can’t be bestowed without a turning or opening of the heart, since if the heart is filled with one’s self, there is no room for mercy. I have thought that the real term should be year of divine mercy, not just mercy. Earthly mercy would be like pardon from the IRS, or a judge, and the recipient wouldn’t necessarily need to have repentance. Spiritual mercy is a different thing.

  3. How interesting. It fits well with what Pope Pius V said, “all the evils in this world are due to lukewarm Catholics.” When I first read this quote, I thought, really? The more I pondered it, I realize how true it is. We compromise and make deals with the devil when we’re lukewarm. Le sigh. Lord, have mercy on us all.

    Merry Christmas, Father, and thank you for all the work you do.

  4. I don’t fear bad Catholics, for I am one.

    I fear bad Catholics who are politically and ecclesiastically active.

  5. This is interesting in light of Pope Francis’ recent off-the-cuff comments about atheists being able to go to heaven. His comments may encourage Catholics, especially marginal Catholics who rarely attend Mass or receive the sacraments, to say, “Well if the Pope says atheists can go to heaven and I believe in God and I’m “Catholic,” therefore, I don’t have to go to Mass every Sunday…I’m good to go.”

  6. Personally, I only fear displeasing Jesus. If everything I do pleases Him, I will be content.

  7. How about a timely teaching of our Lord related to judging:

    Matt[16:1] The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. [2] He said to them in reply, “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; [3] and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times. [4] An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

    There are approximately 383 references to judging, judgment in the Holy Word of God (and many, many more examples of judging), but the only one recalled with any regularity is Mt 7:1 and out of context at that. Scripture must be understood in context and in its entirety.

    Pax Christi

    (Thank you, Msgr. Pope: Time on Target. Again…)

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