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Homily Series on Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Week 1: “Fear of the Lord”)
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Fear of the Lord
Instead of focusing on all of the bad things going on in our country and world, I wanted to focus on how God can equip us to deal with these realities. I’m starting a a seven week series today on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, with the first being “Fear of the Lord” I’ve asked parishioner Bailey Yazel to write a corresponding article for each week- I’ll post her insights followed by my own thoughts- Fr. Mike
One powerful phrase uttered that captures the beauty of having Fear of the Lord comes from the Gospel reading from this Second Sunday of Easter, when the apostle Thomas after seeing Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, says “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)
Fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to each Catholic at the time of their Confirmation. The other six are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, fortitude, and counsel. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are meant to help us lead virtuous lives, and we are called to pray and ask the Lord to increase these gifts in us. Over the course of this Easter season, we are going to look at each gift and see how we can incorporate it better into our lives, starting with Fear of the Lord.
Sometimes when people think of what it means to Fear the Lord, they might have the idea of someone who hides themselves out of fear. Maybe like a child hiding in a corner from their parent after doing something wrong because they are afraid. However, that is not what the gift of Fear of the Lord is at all.
Fear of the Lord is all about having the right level or respect, reverence, and sense of awe in our relationship with God. It helps us to see our lives, and everything in them, as a total gift from God and helps us to remember our dependence on Him. Instead of hiding out of fear, we are called to approach God with the level of respect due to Him, and the desire to give Him our best self in all that we do.
Recalling the phrase Thomas uttered upon seeing Jesus again in the upper room – we can see that He was struck in that moment with an awe and wonder towards Jesus our Lord – “My Lord and my God”.
The statement made by Thomas rightly names Jesus for who He is and what that means for our relationship with Him. In this moment, he didn’t call Him a friend or a teacher – he rightly names Him as the Lord of his life and God of all.
Is that the relationship we have with God? When we think of Him and contemplate all that He has done for us, what do we call Him? When a friend or co-worker asks us about Jesus, what is our response? Do we give God the best of our time, or only what is left over? How do we dress when we attend Mass and approach the alter to receive Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist?
Jesus is more than just a friend. While it is good to know that He is with us and can be a friend especially during times of prayer, it is important to remember that He holds the title of Lord for a reason. He laid down His life, took on my sins and yours, all so that we could have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him in paradise. He deserves the best of us in all that we do. Daily we should seek opportunities to give Him the reverence and level of respect He deserves.
One simple way I like to remind myself about how important the gift of Fear of the Lord is occurs at Mass. As a child, I was taught that when the priest elevates the host and the chalice during the prayer of consecration, to utter in my heart those words that Thomas spoke – My Lord and My God – and to pray them with the same sense of awe and wonder that he must have had upon seeing Jesus again. It reminds me of who Jesus is in that moment and the gift of the sacrifice I am about to receive in the Eucharist. If you don’t pray these words already during that time, I would encourage you to do so. See how it might change your heart during that moment.
Prayer for an increase in Fear of the Lord:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, before ascending into heaven, did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, dare to grant the same Holy Spirit to me, that He may perfect in my soul the work of Your grace and Your love. Grant me the spirit of Fear of the Lord, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God, and may dread in any way to displease Him. Amen.
Hello, my name is Bailey Yazel. I used to be an LSSU student, but now live in the Sault with my husband, Ian, and work for the County Prosecutor. Know of my prayers for you this Easter Season
Fear of the Lord
Fr. Mike’s take
Today I want to talk about the Gift of the Holy Spirit called “Fear of the Lord”In the Gospel today- we see a turning point for the apostles. Except for the apostle Thomas , they are all there. They’re huddled in fear of being killed by the same people who had killed Jesus- and then Jesus Himself, risen from the dead- appears inside the locked room with them. To calm their fears He greets them: “Peace be with you”
A week later they’re in the same situation, but this time Thomas is with them- and when Jesus again comes into the locked room- Thomas falls to the ground in worship and says “My Lord and my God”
This is a turning point, because up until this point- you don’t really get the impression that the apostles knew fully who Jesus was. Maybe Peter and James and John had figured it out? Thomas at least did not understand until this point that Jesus is God.
If Jesus had begun with the announcement that He was God- and people believed Him- they would have simply fallen flat on their faces and never got back up. To people with an awareness of the majesty of God, the truth that Jesus was God had to be broken very gradually or it would have broken them.
His method was not to tell them who He was, but to bring them to a point where they would tell Him. They saw Him saying and doing things that only God could do and had a right to do. Forgiving sins, identifying Himself with God, performing miracles.
But they also knew Him as a carpenter, and had sat around the campfire with Him and eaten with Him countless times. They knew Jesus before they knew He was God. He was their mentor and teacher- but when they were travelling around they didn’t worship Him or call Him, “my Lord and my God”
Had they known who Jesus was from the beginning, they probably would have ONLY fearedHim, and fear would have made a bar to any progress in intimacy. But by the time they knew beyond the possibility of a doubt that He was God, it was too late to have only fear. By the time they knew He was God, they had already come to know that He was love. If they had known that Jesus was God first, then they would have applied their idea of God to Jesus. As it was, they were able to apply their knowledge of Jesus to God.
(from Frank Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity”)
The best example of Fear of the Lord that I can think of is Thomas, who had experienced Jesus’ friendship, now falling to his knees in awe and worship, calling Jesus “My Lord and my God”- because Thomas’ fear is couched in the experience of Christ’s love for Him.
What IS Fear of the Lord?
In this scene, locked away in fear of being killed by the mob- the apostles didn’t fear Jesus in the same way that they feared being killed by the angry mob.Fear of the Lord is different than this earthly fear of danger and death. It’s not being scared.
This fear of the Lord that the apostles experienced was more of a realization that Jesus was not their equal but infinitely greater than them. Fear of the Lord is knowing that God is owed our worship and allegiance and love. Part of it is knowing that He will judge us, and has a right to. (That’s rough on our soft modern ears!) There is an aspect of judgment at play here- these were the people who ditched Jesus to die alone, when the going got rough they got going. Now their suddenly not-dead friend [who they had left to die alone] shows up in a locked room with them?! That would be all kinds of terrifying and awkward. Thankfully, the judgement was a merciful one, and He greets them “Peace be with you”. Water on the bridge.
Fear of the Lord is a sort of elevated awareness of God’s greatness – this sense of the numinous, and dizzying hierarchy that we respond to with reverence.It’s expressed in the prayer we pray together before receiving communion: “O Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit. God had to act in order for Thomas to receive that gift.
We Lack this Gift
Fear of the Lord. We don’t have a lot of that nowadays!
We are very casual toward God-
We see it when people take the name of the Lord in vain, when they are not reverent toward the Eucharist. When we call the Almighty Eternal Triune God nicknames like “the Big Guy in the Sky” (maybe we can call Him that but it’s kind of casual? We’re not equals), or when we watch or tolerate blasphemy in TV shows or movies. When we rush through prayers.
Sometimes in the way we relate to God. I’ve heard PREACHERS say that it’s okay to yell at God, because He’s big and can take it. Yyyeah I’d be careful of that- God is owed our respect. We can bring our problems and frustrations to Him, but should do so knowing our place. In the UP we don’t live in a very formal culture, but maybe we also see a lack of Fear of the Lord when we dress the same for Church as we do for anything else, because ‘God can take us as we are’- that’s true, but- it’s missing something. At least every now and then, men and women get dressed up before they go on a date, or if they are going to meet someone important.
If we had Fear of the Lord, we wouldn’t dream of treating God in these ways. It would never enter our minds.
We are in a covenant relationship with Him. If you compare it to the covenant relationship of marriage, it’s obvious that it would not be okay to treat your spouse in many of those ways- to speak ill of them or to allow others to do so, to call them nicknames beneath their dignity- to shout at them or treat them disrespectfully.
I’ve been attracted to studying the Traditional Latin Mass- (for a few years now actually)
I’m driven to it and am fascinated by it because I sense that we are too casual with these great mysteries. In the Latin Mass, every single action of the priest is dictated- how I move and where my eyes look, and especially how I carefully handle the Eucharist. There’s something challenging about that to me and frankly repellant (it seems so rigid at first), I’ve got mixed feelings about it. Almost despite myself it resonates with some part of me-
In the way Mass was celebrated before Vatican II, these is a heightened sense of worship- of lowering oneself before God- kneeling, this reverence and otherworldliness which is clearly not centered us the worshippers, but the one being worshipped. There’s something beautiful about that.
Everyone receives Communion on the tongue while kneeling. There are all these outward expressions of worship that indicate: we are not equal to God.
There’s something we lost, and I’m trying to find it.
Again, it meets some need in our heart- we were MADE to worship God- and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Why would we DESIRE to have this Gift, of Fear of the Lord?
Maybe we’re more comfortable in a sort of fairy tale religion in which the way God exists is dependent upon our thoughts of Him. Modern people treat God as an imaginary creature, as if what we think of Him changes the way He is. Not so- He is who He is. (Or as He told Moses, “I AM who I AM”)
Scripture tells us that Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom- it the starting point for seeing God as He truly is, and the world as God sees it.
Fear of the Lord understands the peril of our position here on earth. In truly seeing God as He is, we understand ourselves better, that we are sinners and need saving. A person who fears the Lord realizes,
“I deserve hell, but God has other plans for me”
My whole being depends on Him, I am powerless without Him.
I remember my grandpa teaching me to swim when I was in kindergarten, I was afraid of the river my grandpa was holding me in, but also I was a bit afraid of my grandpa -who I was totally dependent on in that moment. What if he let go of me? Of course, he wouldn’t before I was ready. But I knew I was totally dependent on him or I’d drown.
That’s something like the Fear of the Lord- realizing the reality of our situation- it’s God or nothing. He is big and we are small, and totally dependent on Him. Everything depends on Him and we must cling to Him.
I think most people think they’re pretty good people and deserve heaven, and don’t really need saving. They think they can swim on their own.
It’s a modern day heresy- that we get to heaven not because of something Jesus has done for us (which is actually the case)
-The modern day heresy is that we get to heaven not even because of something really good that we have done.
-but that we get to heaven simply because of something we haven’t done- namely be super evil. Simply by not being Hitler or Stalin or a serial killer. Our bar for ourselves is pretty low- we imagine heaven to be the default- and we don’t understand God’s mercy because we don’t have the self-knowledge of our own sinfulness or our need to depend on God.
(Learn more in “Divine Renovation” by Fr. James Mallon)
If we have Fear of the Lord, we don’t fall prey to this illusion- or this lie that so many tell themselves. This is a horrible trap because we won’t seek God’s mercy if we don’t think we need it.
And if we don’t seek God’s mercy or think that we need it, we won’t be able to receive it.
Same thing, other words: The only sin not forgiven is the one not repented of, and we won’t repent of sins we don’t believe ourselves to have.
That’s why we should desire to have this Gift of Fear of the Lord.If you feel like you’re drowning, realize your smallness and swim back to the Lord-
How to obtain Fear of the Lord
-ask for it, fervently
It is a GIFT of the Holy Spirit, meaning- we’re not just asking for help- but for the actual thing.
He has it, we do not-
St. Thomas asked for, demanded- this experience of God. He wanted to see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, put his finger in the nail-marks, his hand into his side.Then, he showed up to receive the gift. He didn’t make the request and walk away. I think we give up too easily.
Let’s ask today for the gift of Fear of the Lord