Monday, June 15, 2020

We should only have one fear in life, and that is the fear of God. All other fears are, as they say, commentary.

There is a certain necessity that is built into our humanity that causes us to feel fear in life.  As much as we may hope, no one is really impervious to fear.  Children at a very young age fear all sorts of things, from monsters hiding under the bed, to just the darkness of night itself.  Later on in life, irrational fears turn into phobias.  Despite the fears that we have, we know that somehow, we will be better versions of ourselves once we deal with and confront the fears that plague our lives.  There is a certain sense of great achievement whenever someone is able to have conquered his or her phobia, oftentimes through some form of therapy.  It’s as if a weight that they had been carrying all the while had finally been lifted off from them.  

But there are some fears that are healthy fears.  Healthy fear is when something that has the potential to be dangerous to one’s life is treated with respect and care.  For example, one should have a respect for the natural currents that are in the ocean and beaches, and not to cast off all fears when swimming in open waters.  One needs wisdom to know when it is not a good time to swim and encounter strong undertows.  Unhealthy fear is when one’s life is controlled and limited, causing one to live with a sense of foreboding and anxiety.  

The issue of fear is often dealt with in the spiritual life as well.  It certainly doesn’t mean that when one has attained some level of spiritual maturity that one doesn’t have any fear in life, because there is one very necessary fear that the spiritual needs to help one to maintain and to a certain extent, cherish.  This fear is the fear of God.

I am sure that I have written about this before in my over ten years of blog writing, but like an old friend, it is always good to revisit it and appreciate anew.  

We see that the writers of the books of the bible intuited fear in the human person, because every time there is an encounter between God and man, whether it is an angel of the Lord, or some personal locution, the first words that are uttered are “be not afraid”, or variants of it.  These tell us, among other things, that it is as if we humans have a certain knee-jerk reaction to God stepping into our lives.  What we also know is that when God created Adam, there was no fear, because God walked with Adam in the Garden freely.  It was when sin entered into the life that God made for Adam that he first felt fear.  It wasn’t so much fear of God, but fear of Adam and Eve’s nakedness.  Prior to the fall, there was no shame, and there was no fear. Concupiscence, the Fathers of the Church tell us, is the root cause of all fears.

Our fears are also often sin-based. Sin has caused sickness and disease to enter into an otherwise flawless world had our first parents not fallen for the tempter’s lies.  As such, the way out of sin, and our fears, is through the person of Jesus Christ.  

Don’t be surprised to find that when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of God, his opening words to Mary were not “be not afraid” but “O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” or variants thereof.  There seems to be no hint of fear in Mary, and this is because she has no sin.  It was only after she wondered what this greeting from the angel could mean that the angel put her at ease by following up with “do not be afraid”.  It was not a phobia or a dread that Mary was feeling, but more that she was in a state of awe, and as scripture says, she was “trying to discern what sort of greeting this might me”.  She was expressing puzzlement and not consternation or trepidation.   

Mary’s role, amongst many other roles, is to bring into the world the one who would ultimately confront humanity’s greatest fears and be the means through which sinful humankind can face all of its fears, with the last bastion of fear being the fear of death.

Realizing this will give us deep insight into two things – the first being just how insidious sin is in our lives. It is the root cause of so many of our anxieties and our apparent inability to be at our best selves on so many different fronts of our lives.  Sin’s effects have dulled our wanting to be the best human beings, the best spouses in marriages, the best workers in our jobs, the best citizens of the countries that we live in, the best parents to our children and the best children to our parents.  We have been robbed of our reach toward our highest flourishing.  

The second but more important thing this reflection ought to result in is a new appreciation of the power that Jesus gives us if we live in total union and devotion to him, handing our lives over to him, as it were, and being as pliable and usable for his purposes as Mary was.  Her fearlessness becomes something that we can aspire toward, and we won’t find ourselves fearing about being too generous and too forgiving in life.  If we think about it, what holds us back from being our best giving selves is often how we will face some sort of deficit or lack after we become generous, either with time, material resources or our love.  

In having said all this, even if we are able to strip all our fears away, one fear needs to be still held firmly in place in our hearts.  It is the healthy fear of God.  This fear is not so much one that finds us cowering and quaking in our boots before God. You certainly don’t find that in any paintings or statues depicting our blessed mother.  Yet, even Mary has a fear of God.  This fear is founded on love.  

When we love anyone deeply, we fear betraying this love, and we also fear that we can show a disregard or disrespect toward this love in any casual way.  We will be mindful of our words, gestures and actions especially when we are in the presence of our beloved, and when speaking of our beloved.  This is not neurosis but an ever consciousness of being loved and wanting to return this love.  

At the end of this written reflection, I guess I have an additional fear.  I fear that what I have explored in this piece will not be understood and that you, my reader, will still continue to live with so many unnecessary fears in life.  

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