Sacramental prep and priests alike have attempted to explain, soften, and even wield what is perhaps the most misunderstood gift of The Holy Spirit given at Confirmation. More love than horror story, no less than a supernatural gift, the bible and the saints uncover the fear of The Lord.
1. Is it, you know, that kind of fear?
In The Old Testament, believers and non-believers constantly evoke God’s wrath. God’s wrath isn’t aimed towards unbridled anger, but it is oriented towards justice: the desire to set things right that are askew. Remember, God doesn’t change – we do. When we sin, we open ourselves to the emptiness of a life without God. We close Him out. And it can be said that we bring His Wrath upon ourselves by acting (and failing to act) in ways that reflect The One in whose image we are made.
It can be tempting to think of Fear of the Lord as being related to a kind of sycophantic desire to “kiss up to the boss” so we don’t get zapped by a bolt of lightning. But that’s not what this gift of the Spirit is all about. God sees us not as slaves, but as His own children and as friends. He tells us so:
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.¹
The Fear of the Lord is filial, meaning that it arises out of a desire to stay in good relationship with one whom we love, one whom we admire, and one whom it would pain us to offend —like a beloved child who loves his or her parents. We don’t offend our friends or parents by turning our backs on them because we love them, we desire a right relationship with them, and we know that alienating ourselves from them means loneliness and even a kind of death.
2. Is this a fear that I’m supposed to have?
Yes! Fear of being struck by lighting because we’ve offended God doesn’t actually bring us into relationship with Him. It may keep us in line, but it doesn’t go deeper than that. We know that Our Father looks into the heart². Jesus reminds us that he wants us to look into His heart as well.
3. How do I get this fear of The Lord?
Citing Psalm 34:12, St. Hillary of Poitiers, a fourth century bishop, puts it well :
It does not lie in terror, but in something that can be taught. It does not arise from the fearfulness of our nature; it has to be acquired by obedience to the commandments, by holiness of life and by knowledge of the truth.
The Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Spirit given at Confirmation that gives us a supernatural strength to abide by the commandments, to achieve holy lives, and to seek and find the truth. In coming to the Lord, in asking Him to unfold this gift of His own Holy Spirit, we come to see the Fear of the Lord as a desirable trait.
To receive this gift is to seek to please God as Father and God as friend. In finding the friendship of God, we seek deeper communion with Him, His Son, and The Spirit. This deeper communion increases our longing for heaven, and can change the way we live our lives so that we will avoid God’s wrath by desiring His justice.
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