A couple of weeks ago we were shocked by the news of another mass killing in Ohio. Eight individuals including a baby and children were murdered in cold blood. Whenever I read such crime stories many questions arise in my heart. How is anyone capable of perpetrating such horrible crimes? Do those criminals have a conscience? Do they believe in a God before Whom they will have to stand in judgment some day? Do they have any fear of God at all?
We hear about these inhuman acts of violence almost every day and we can become almost immune to them. They do not shock us anymore. I do believe that if only people had even a small dose of fear of the Lord, they would think twice before committing such crimes. The more godless our society becomes, the less hesitant criminals seem to be to carry out more horrendous deeds.
As a young seminarian I studied Moral Philosophy and my professor strongly asserted that one can be a morally good person even if one does not believe in God. I do not disagree with my professor. However, if I am realistic, I wonder whether humans tend to compromise their values easier if there is no deterrent. I am aware of how we drive. On an average day all the motorists are rushing on the highway several miles above the speed limit. But once a squad car pulls up behind them, everyone slows down. Now they are doing a few miles below the speed limit. The presence of a cop makes people adhere to the law. In the same way, if people had a little more fear of God, they may think twice before hurting others.
In recent years educators and parents have felt that we should get rid of fear in our children and young people. We have gone to great lengths to make them feel safe. We have almost given the impression that fear is in some way bad. We seem to suggest that children should fear nothing or no one. We forget that God put fear into us for our own protection. If we had no fear we would put ourselves in mortal danger. Fear incites us to flee from situations that can cause us serious harm.
Besides, in our Catholic faith we have been emphasizing God’s love and mercy to such an extent that we have lost sight of God’s justice. God is certainly merciful and our Holy Father keeps insisting on this message. However, we need to remember that at the end of our lives we will have to stand before the judgment seat of God. The fear of God’s justice will help us to stay on the straight and narrow.
I am not proposing that we should be afraid of God. Rather, I am inviting all of us to have a healthy dose of respect for God. God is not my buddy. He is the Sovereign One, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Rudolf Otto, a German theologian, calls God “the tremendous and fascinating mystery” before Whom the only viable response is silent submission. In our present culture we have become so casual that nothing is serious or important anymore. God is the Ultimate Other Who deserves our utmost respect.
Even in marriage spouses will do well to have a little bit of fear. Certainly they should not be afraid of each other. However, they should be afraid of hurting the other. In the same way, since we love God, we are afraid of offending Him by our actions. We do not want to hurt the one we love. The teenage saint, Dominic Savio, went so far as to resolve on the day of his First Holy Communion, “Death rather than sin.”
The Word of God says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When we live with the right amount of fear of God, we will live wisely. Wisdom is the ability to know what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is not. Nothing is more important than our eternal salvation. Whatever helps us attain that salvation is good. Whatever hinders is bad. The fear of the Lord certainly enables us to work towards our ultimate goal. That is why St Paul claims that we should “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.”
We know that the fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have received the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in our baptism and in our confirmation. Let us allow that gift to be active within us. Pope Francis calls this gift an “alarm” that wakes up a person who is on the path of evil. “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father who always loves and forgives us,” Pope Francis observed during a general audience last year. It “is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace” he continued, adding that “when the Holy Spirit lives in our heart, he instills consolation and peace in us.”
May the Holy Spirit fill us with reverence before the majesty of God! Happy feast of Pentecost!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...