Father Peter Clarke

From the Diocese of Bridgetown

The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit, Part 7: THE FEAR OF THE LORD By Father Peter, Clarke O.P.

The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit, Part 7:  THE FEAR OF THE LORD By Father Peter, Clarke O.P.

Greetings readers, 

This is the latest and last of the reflections on the GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

A friend told me that as a little girl she had a picture of a large eye hung on her bedroom wall. That was to remind her that God was always watching to see and punish her every fault. So behave! And so she did. She obeyed Him, because she was terrified of Him. Such an ogre could inspire submission, but never love. Her whole relationship with God had been warped by that terrifying impression. 

But that certainly is not the image Jesus wants us to have of God. He wants us to respond to Him as a loving, caring, merciful Father -like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He's full of love mercy and compassion. He wants only what is best for us. He watches us because He loves us 

and wants to protect us. The God who is love would not have provided us with a special gift to terrorise us into submission. Instead, St. John's 1st Letter tells us, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love," (1 John 4.18).So, how are we to understand the Holy Spirit's Gift of Fear? It's certainly not meant to terrify us. 

So let's take an image different from the watchful eye, eager to catch us out, condemn and punish us. Let's think of a couple who are so close they feel secure in each other's love. They certainly are not terrified of each other. They are filled with hope that their present happiness together will last and increase. Their only fear is that they will do something that would weaken or, worse still, destroy their love for each. It's not fear of each other that makes them spontaneously do what they know will please the one they love. Rather it's fear of themselves and their doing anything, which would undermine their loving relationship. They don't want do anything that would offend the one they love. They do recognise that sometimes they will fail, but confidence in their love for each other, they trust they will be forgiven.

Pope Francis makes the point that loving fear of offending God provides an instinctive protection against sinning. It's inspired by love, rather than terror of punishment.The gift of fear protects our love for God and enables us to rest secure in His love. That transcends fear of punishment. This gift provides stability to our love for God and is a great source of hope. Terror of His punishment would drive us to despair, and has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit's gift of fear.

Isidore Clarke, O.P.

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