GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH, AN EVER-PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE – PS.46:1
Our scripture for this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a call to preach Christ through our words and lives without fear, but with a Holy fear of the Lord. Terrorism, disease, natural disasters, war, violence and crime; we live in a world where we see and hear about horrors every day. People are dying every day, in our cities, in our villages, in our country, in the world violence and evil, hatred and malice on every side. I am afraid; it’s hard not to be afraid. What are you afraid of? What are you deepest fears? Fear of tomorrow; fear of the unknown; fear of assailants, evil people; fear of losing our jobs; fear of losing a loved one; and ultimately, fear of personal death! We may want to ask ourselves, why are we really afraid?
Beloved, fear brings about anxiety. Our time has been called "the age of anxiety" (W.H. Auden). Anxiety, which is closely related to being afraid, has become the sickness of the century and it is, they say, one of the principal causes of the large number of heart attacks. This spread of anxiety seems connected with the fact that compared with the past, we have many more forms of economic insurance, life insurance, many more means of preventing illness and delaying death. The cause of this anxiety is the diminishing - if not the complete disappearance -- in our society of the holy fear of God. "No one fears God anymore!" We say this sometimes jokingly but it contains a tragic truth. The more that the fear of God diminishes the more we become afraid of our fellow men! There is sadly in our world today, a calculated attempt to dismiss God from the affairs of men! It is easy to understand why this is the case. Forgetting God, we place all our confidence in the things of this world, that is, in the things that Christ says "thieves can steal and moths consume" - uncertain things that can disappear from one moment to the next. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
Most fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God's love. All of our fears find a common root in the fear of death which can lead to the living slavery spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrew, "Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life" - Heb 2:14-15
In our first reading, Jeremiah was called by God to become His mouthpiece among the people of the kingdom of Judah, which at the time was at the last years of its existence, all of the people were not following the way of the Lord and living in wickedness. Thus, Jeremiah spoke up against the sins of the people and called them to repentance and to be forgiven for their sins through genuine turning away from their old ways of sin. Yet, the people resisted and refused to listen to him. They ridiculed him and even plotted against him and threatened his life. Jeremiah had to hide and run away from his enemies on many occasions. "Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you." Deuteronomy 3:22. The prophet Jeremiah trusted in the power of God while he faced opposition for his prophetic ministry. Jeremiah was confident that God would not let his enemies overcome him. He declared, "But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph." And the psalmist says "The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1
In the second reading Paul assures the Christians in Rome that they need not be afraid of opposition because they share in the death of Jesus and his resurrection or they are united with Christ the new Adam in his resurrection. With words of encouragement Paul explains why, in spite of the bitter experience of opposition, their work will succeed. Since Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has conquered sin, Jesus' followers will ultimately succeed in carrying out his work despite the opposition they encounter. We need not be afraid of those who oppose us, for we are united with Christ in his resurrection. In the end, those who oppose Christ will be dishonored, and those who have remained faithful will be redeemed and blessed with eternal life.
The "Good News" (that is what the word "Gospel" means) is that fear is useless! It has no value. Fear need no longer have any power over us if we choose to really trust in the Lord. All human fears can be overcome. They can be dispelled in the light of a vibrant and growing faith. The fear over ill health does little to change it. We are called to live as stewards of the wonderful gift entrusted to us in our whole person, body, soul and spirit. However, the reality is that sickness and age will affect every one of us. The difference is how we choose to respond.
Jesus asks His disciples not to be afraid for three reasons in the gospel narrative – A) The first reason is that opponents will not be able to prevent Jesus' followers from succeeding in their mission. B) The opponents have very limited power, since they can only succeed in killing the body and not the soul. C) God’s love is superabundant; for He says we are worth more than sparrows. God knows everything about us, no matter how insignificant we think we are. We can replace this false fear that breeds anxiety, with the Holy fear of the Lord. What then is the fear of the Lord?
The gift of the fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and its effects are obvious. The gift of fear of the Lord enables a person “to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.” Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the Supreme Being. Here, a person realizes his “creatureliness” and dependency upon God, has a true “poverty of spirit,” and never would want to be separated from God, who is love. As such, this gift arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.
This gift of fear of the Lord is sometimes misunderstood because of the word “fear.” “Fear of the Lord” is not a servile fear whereby a person serves God simply because he fears punishment, whether some sort of temporal punishment in this life or the eternal punishment of hell. A genuine relationship with God is based on love, not fear. Therefore, this “fear of the Lord” is a filial or reverential fear that moves a person to do God’s will and avoid sin because of love for God, who is all good and deserving of all of our love. In a similar way, a child should not be motivated to obey a parent simply because of fear of punishment, but because of love and respect; a person who loves someone does not want to disappoint or to break the other person’s heart. One should fear hurting a loved one and violating that person’s trust more than one should fear punishment. Nevertheless, one should have a healthy sense of fear for the punishment due to sin, including the fires of hell, even though this should not be the motivating factor for loving God.
Therefore, this gift motivates the person in three ways: first, to have a vivid sense of God’s infinite greatness; second, to have a real sorrow for sin, even venial sins, and to do penance to atone for sins committed; and third, to be vigilant to avoid the near occasions of sin, to struggle against personal weakness and fight temptation.
The gift of fear brings to perfection the virtue of hope. A person respects God as God, trusts in His will, and anchors his life in Him. As sacred Scripture attests, “Happy the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commands” (Ps 112:1), and “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord” (Sir 1:12).
This gift also perfects the virtue of temperance, which seeks to use all things wisely and in moderation, neither in excess nor in defect, especially those sensible pleasures. For example, chastity is a virtue of temperance, which respects the goodness of one’s own sexuality, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of marital love. A person moved by the gift of fear strives to live a chaste life because God is the creator of these goods, and a chaste life gives glory and praise to Him. St Paul tells us, that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, power and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
This gift also prevents us from being too familiar with God. We are the victims of original sin and suffer from concupiscence; therefore, each of us struggles with a rebellious heart. A person could easily take God’s love for granted and presume forgiveness without real contrition; or forget God’s majesty by taking His holy name in vain; or make demands of God and then be angry when He does not meet them; or forget that every gift is from God and be selfish; or neglect prayer and worship because there is not enough time for Him; or disregard God’s commandments and the teachings of His church. And without fear of the Lord, such a person might say, “God loves me just the way I am, and I am going to heaven.”
Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
A good way to cultivate this gift is through daily prayer and worship at Mass. Regular and careful examinations of conscience also are important, as well as the regular use of the sacrament of penance. In one of her meditations on the Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, Teresa talks about how we must not be deceived by the appearance that evil triumphs over good. She wrote, "God uses the Devil as a sharpening-stone for Christians." Teresa not only taught this lesson, she lived by it, she never gave up on God.
Prayer – We trust in your mercy and love oh Lord. We place all our hope in You. We cast all our fears and worries unto you because we believe You will sustain us; for You will never allow the righteous stumble and fall (Psalm 55:22). Amen!!!