Monday, July 15, 2013

How not to fear when the horizon seems ominous

A rather amusing story goes thus: 

A ship is sailing across the oceans and before it lies a wide expanse of cobalt blue waters.  Suddenly, a pirate ship appears on the horizon, and the captain calls out “Men, bring me my red shirt!”  Hearing this, the first mate dutifully fetches the shirt and the captain successfully leads a courageous attack which sinks the pirate ship. 

One of the sailors then asks the captain “Why did you have the first mate fetch you the red shirt in battle?”  The captain said “because if I am wounded, you will not see blood and will continue fighting as if nothing had happened.”  This answer astounded the crew on the shrewdness of their captain. 

A few days later, a convoy of thirty pirate ships appeared on the horizon.  The men looked to their esteemed captain and waited with bated breath for the captain to ask for the shirt which gave them such confidence in the prior battle.  The captain looked at the horizon and then said, “Men, bring me my brown pants!” 

I still chuckle to myself whenever I think of this story, even though some may think of it as ‘off-colour’ humour.  But it has its teaching points.

In the past couple of weeks after I was discharged from my last chemotherapy session in the hospital, I have had the opportunity to meet up with friends and parishioners who inevitably assured me of their prayers for my upcoming stem cell transplant.  In almost the same breath, they would also tell me ‘not to be afraid’.  While I am very grateful for their prayers and well wishes, I also wonder why it is that these same wonderful people also want to advise me to not fear.  I am sure that I have not given any indication of any fear in my encounters with these people of faith, so I am also left wondering why it is that they seem to have the need to tell me not to fear.  Indeed, many of them even remarked how calm and cheerful I am despite my prognosis.  As far as I know, I have not feared anything related to my illness and medical treatment since it was diagnosed, and now that I am only days away from my transplant procedure, things have not changed as far as fear is concerned. 

In sacred Scripture, we are told that there is only one fear that is worth cultivating in our lives, and that is a fear of the Lord.  A misunderstanding of what this means has resulted in a lot of people treating God as some sort of troll-like ogre.  But in truth, a holy fear stems from a proper understanding of love at its purest.  When the basis and foundation of fear is love, one becomes extremely sensitive and attentive to the ways in which this love can be disrespected, transgressed and disappointed.  A holy fear ensures that we do not betray what has been given to us out of love, and we become more and more aware of this when we are aware that this love is nothing that we have deserved or earned on our own merits.  This is what holy fear really is, and to have this, is, as scripture tells us, the beginning of wisdom. 

When we understand this sufficiently, we will also see and appreciate how little there is a need to fear outside of this “good” fear.  All other fears will become secondary and even unnecessary.  When we have a healthy fear of God, and know that our biggest disappointment and failure in life is to end up not being with him for the rest of eternity, the other discomforts, pains, inconveniences, hardships, long sufferings and turmoils in life will have less and less hold on our lives.  It is not that these will suddenly disappear either.  We may well still have them, and even have them in abundance, but they will not hold us with any long-staying power. 

We only have to read what St Paul underwent in 2 Corinthians 11 about his experiences and encounters with sufferings to get a sense of what also must have empowered him to live on courageously in his missionary endeavours.  We are told that he was beaten three times with rods, stoned, shipwrecked a few times, faced numerous dangers, and faced daily pressure due to his anxiety for the churches.  Yet, we are never told that he was fearful.  We can only surmise that his encounter with a loving and merciful God was so real, so assuring, making him so secure, that there was no need to fear anything else in life. 

It is not that I do not have concerns at all when facing the horizon of my impending transplant.  A very useful book compiled by the hospital’s Haemotology department specially for transplant patients outlines in no small detail what we transplant patients will most likely be experiencing in terms of the drugs taken, the side effects to be expected and how serious the adverse effects of some Graft Versus Host Diseases (GVHD) can have on us.  In foresight, these may be good to know, it may even fill some patients with a fear of what is to come.  But when we have tried to cultivate a true and healthy fear of the Lord in our lives, we will realise that some irrational fears can make us crippled, preventing us to appreciate the ways that God often draws straight with crooked lines.

When we have this as our guiding light in life, it won’t matter much that the pants supplied by the hospital are not in any shade of brown. 


  1. Hullo frLuke, though the dengue i had compared to your leukemia is small matter, i think the same degree of fear was shared by friends and family around. Suppose anything that might lead to death instill fear in almost everybody.

    Thanks to the prayer card received from you years ago, and it has since become my daily prayer, it sort of warded off all fear during my last ailment. It is the Act of Love of the Holy Parish Priest of Ars and is reproduced below:-

    I love You, oh my God, and my only desire is to love You until my last breath. (and into eternity)
    I love You, oh infinitely lovable God, and I prefer to die loving You than to live a single moment without loving You.
    I love You, oh my God, and I long for heaven only in order to know the bliss of loving You perfectly.
    I love You, oh my God, and I only fear going to hell because there I will never experience the sweet consolation of loving You.
    Oh my God, if my tongue is not able to say at every opportunity that I love You, I want at least my heart to repeat it to You as many times as I take a breath.
    My God, give me the grace of suffering out of love for You, of loving You while I suffer. Give me the grace of one day breathing my last out of love for You and at the same time feeling how much i love You.
    The closer I come to my final end the more I beseech You to intensify and perfect my love for You. Amen

    Thanks again father :)


  2. Dear Father Luke,

    Thank you for providing us with such insight about the attitude that we should be cultivating regarding "the fear of the Lord." It is very reassuring and comforting to know that we have such a loving God!

    As you make the journey into this transplant exercise, please know that you have a community of people who are praying for you. Take care, Father.

    Best wishes,

  3. Dear Fr. Luke,

    For the past few weeks these words 'the fear of the Lord' was constantly in my thoughts. Your article surely filled in some gaps for me. The fear of God Almighty, being a verb, sure does require some corresponding action in one's life.

    Thinking of you and keeping you in our prayers! Armed with God's divine power, we are able to face anything.

    Ray has finally retired!

    God Bless
    Patricia & Ray xx

  4. Dear father ,

    Your love for our lord and your zeal to serve has been wonderful and beautiful always. And I thank the lord for the graces he has bestowed upon you.
    Numbers 6:24
    24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
    25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
    26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

  5. “..... the fear of the Lord truth, a holy fear stems from a proper understanding of love at its purest.......”
    This line is very beautiful for me - for it evokes memories...........

    At my introduction to Christian Meditation more than a decade ago, I was captivated by the way the Spiritual Director used Scriptures as a “set induction” to his first session on how meditation is actually being embraced in the “look of Jesus – the gaze of love”, and how knowing this we should be trembling in “holy fear” because we have done nothing to deserve it ( just like you said.) He read the following to us –

    But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered...........and he went outside and wept bitterly. (LK 22:59-62)

    Fr C.Antoni then shared that as a priest, he related well with the Lord.........always thanking Him, requesting for His help and generally conversing with Him as a friend. But he always had the uneasy feeling that Jesus wanted him to look at Him – and he would not, or could not - because he was afraid that he would find an accusation in Jesus’ eyes....... perhaps, of some un-repented sin, or perhaps the Lord may demand something from him that he would not be able to fulfil........... So he would always look away whenever he sensed that Jesus was looking at him.

    However, he did finally gather up courage and looked fully into His eyes!
    There was no demand or accusation.......the eyes just said, “I love you.”
    Like Peter, he said...................he went outside and wept!

    That, to me, is “love at its purest.”

    God bless you, Fr


  6. keep soldiering on in jesus, father luke. his love is enough for us all. alleluia.

  7. Fr Luke we the catechists of St Bernadette's Church are keeping you in our prayers, all will go well with God's grace, take care.