Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fear of the Lord

As we continue meditating on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we turn our attention to a gift that is often misunderstood — Fear of the Lord. When we think of the word “fear” we often think of it as something negative. But in the context of the Holy Spirit’s gifts, we can replace the word “fear” with “awe” or “wonder.”

Fear of the Lord is the feeling of amazement before God, who is all-present, and whose friendship we do not want to lose. There are two kinds of fear: the fear of a servant and the fear of a child. Of the two, childlike fear of God is the more noble and beautiful. It urges the soul to avoid even the least sin in order not to displease God, our loving and caring Father. Fear of the Lord is that childlike fear which causes us to dread no misfortune so much as that of a displeasing God, making us flee from sin as the greatest evil. The Saints were animated by childlike fear and love for the Heavenly Father and were ready to die rather than break His holy law by willful sin.

https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/the-gifts-of-the-holy-spirit-and-how-to-use-them.aspx
Jesus said we all must be like children. Maybe He meant we must keep a sense of childlike wonder and awe.

A Motivation to Evangelize

Fear of the Lord inspires us to hunger for souls the same way Jesus does. We see how many people aren’t aware of the preciousness of our relationship with God. That makes us sad, and it motivates us to help them see the great gift. We are motivated to evangelize.

https://www.fromtheabbey.com/keys-chapel-christian-prayer/gifts-of-the-holy-spirit-empower-our-adventure-gift-of-fear-of-the-lord/

This is a great manifestation of this gift. However, while many of us want to help others, often we don’t know how. But this is where another gift from the Holy Spirit comes in, the gift of knowledge which we discussed previously. It’s that gift that tells us how to help others to appreciate God’s greatness. Understanding helps us show, either through words or example, why prayer and celebrating Mass is so important. We want others to fear NOT having that close relationship with God as much as they would fear not having their spouse or loved one.

It is easy in this time of pandemic to cast aside our need for God and lose that sense of childlike awe. After months of illness, restrictions, and lack of community, many of us might want to say, “forget it, I’m just going to party with reckless abandon since I’m doomed anyway.” But this is the time when we need this gift of awe the most. We need to fear that our current situation might allow Satan to pull us away from God. It’s not that we explicitly tell God to go away. It’s that in our fear and depression, we just lose that sense of awe, stop seeing God’s importance, and then stop fostering our relationship with Him. We need this gift, this motivation, to fear the Lord and fear His absence in our lives now more than ever.

Fearing the Lord in the Rosary

Think about the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary — The Transfiguration. Imagine the awe Saint Peter, James, and John must have felt when they saw Jesus transfigure into pure holiness before their eyes. This must have solidified their understanding that as apostles they were in God’s company when they were with Jesus. And yet, that sense of awe still faded, at least temporarily, during Jesus’ Passion when they abandoned Him. It shows why this sense of awe is a gift as it’s something we as humans can have a hard time maintaining on our own.

Now think about the Fifth Luminous MysteryThe Institution of the Eucharist. I wonder how many of the apostles truly understood the incredible miracle that was occurring before them at the Last Supper. Or did many of them eat and drink the Eucharist without a true sense of awe of what Jesus offered them? How many times have you received the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass with a sense of awe over the miracle taking place? Or are you more on autopilot because Jesus isn’t bodily present getting your attention like the Transfiguration?

We really have two awe-inspiring events between the Transfiguration and the Last Supper. It’s easy to stand in awe at a miraculous event like the Transfiguration but harder to see the awe in the Eucharist. For many of us, the Eucharist is something we experience every week so that fear of the Lord’s awesomeness is lost. When you pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, remind yourself of the great gift God gives us through the Eucharist. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your fear in God so that you can see God in all the big and small He manifests Himself in your life.

The Transfiguration and Selective Listening

Last Sunday, my parish priest gave a great homily on the Transfiguration. We pray and meditate on this event in the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary. He focused on what God told the apostles, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” I’m going to focus on that last part about listening to Jesus. Or rather, all the ways we often don’t listen to Him. My priest classified people’s attention to Jesus’ message into three groups — those who are half deaf, half listening, and fully deaf.

Half Deaf

The first group are those who are “half deaf” or spiritually hearing impaired. These people hear God’s message but only process the “easy” parts. They hear that God loves them and will forgive them. But they don’t hear how they must take up their cross and follow Jesus. They don’t hear that they need to lead a life of conversion and can’t just live according to their own conscience if it’s not well formed. The half deaf sort of hear Jesus’ teachings but not all of it. They hear that Jesus loves them and think that’s enough to live however they want.

Half listening

This group picks and chooses the teachings they like or agree with. These people are similar to the spiritually hearing impaired. They hear Jesus’ teachings and may even be passionate about a few of them. They will even put in the hard work and bear their crosses if they need to. But they may completely disregard certain Church teachings they don’t like. You usually see this in so-called “social justice” Catholics who work hard helping the poor or persecuted but then support pro-abortion politicians and policies. And just to be fair, many pro-life Catholics will march every January to end abortion but then close their wallets to support social programs to help those in need.

Fully deaf

This group doesn’t hear Jesus’ message at all because the world drowns it out. Instead, they are completely tuned into the world as presented by popular media, late night talk shows, TV, movies, and politicians. They hear about Jesus’ message through various mediums that filter and distort His teachings. They don’t hear the authentic message of the Catholic Church but a fictional, stereotypical account of it.

Are you listening to Jesus or are you too busy capturing Pokémon?

Where do you fit in? Most of us fall into these categories at different points in our life. I know I probably lived days where I fell into all three of these groups. Lent is a great time to think about how well we are listening to God. Are we making an effort to truly hear Jesus’ message or filtering and distorting it? Now is a good time to read the Bible, encyclicals, and the Catechism and listen to how Jesus truly wants us to live. Approach Jesus’ teachings with an open mind and heart so that the Holy Spirit may work wonders in you. Finally, pray for everyone who experiences some sort of spiritual hearing impairment.

Don’t Lose Your Moral Bearings in the Darkness

Imagine you’re a pilot flying alone on a completely dark night with no instrumentation.  Envision how hard it would be to know your altitude, your level, and whether or not you’re about to crash into something.  In total darkness, with no visibility and landmarks for reference, there is a good chance the airplane will crash and burn.

Keep that airplane analogy in mind as you read this article about the Glamor of Evil by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  We all know about how we should avoid committing sin. That’s Catholicism 101; easy stuff. But you can also be seduced by sin without actively participating in it.  He writes:

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it. If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else. Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Like the pilot alone in the dark, when we fixate on all the evil, darkness, and problems in this world we lose our moral bearings.  We can become disoriented in the darkness and start to lose hope, joy, and our faith.  We can no longer see the differences between good and evil because we’ve lost our spirital point of reference.  Our actions no longer seem to matter because we don’t see any goal or point to them.  Does it really matter what I do if everything is falling apart around me?

Being lost and aimless doesn’t usually end well.

Dr. Popcak tells us that we can’t let negative thinking completely envelop us.  Our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should act like a shining beacon, even in our darkest hours.  The beauty and goodness of our faith can provide all the guidance we need to find strength, peace, and maybe even happiness, even when our world looks nonredeemable.

When Good Things Turn Us Bad

I’m going to go one step further. It’s not just evil that can completely block us from whatever is good and godly. Neutral activities can also do the same. Consider social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. On their own, there’s nothing sinful about them.  They allow us to stay updated on recent events and connect with each other. But for many of us, these seemingly harmless pastimes can consume 100% of our attention leaving room for nothing else. And when your world is completely consumed by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, and MSNBC, you can stop seeing the genuine good in the world. You will either see a carefully curated goodness that isn’t real or you will just see everything as bad and hopeless and fall into despair.

As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas, it’s important to not allow ouselves to fixate on what is ultimately unimportant. I know we want to buy presents, decorate our homes, and participate in all the other traditions associated with Christmas. But we can’t let the commercial side of Christmas blind us to the true meaning behind it. Because when you obsess over what to buy and what you want to receive, you leave yourself open to the sins of greed, envy, and even wrath. Want an example?  Look no further than the annual chaos around Black Friday and how people lose their moral bearings fighting over TVs and toasters.

The Rosary Connection

Look at the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  I’m talking about darkness and the light in this article.  Well, in this mystery you see Jesus’ clothes literally become dazzling white (Mark 9:3).  And that, of course, got the apostles’ attention.  When you meditate on this Rosary mystery, ask yourself, is Jesus a dazzling beacon of love, hope, and goodness in your life?  Does He shine brighter through the darkness keeping you morally oriented toward His teachings?  If not, maybe you need to turn around or take off your blindfold.  Jesus is always present in our lives.  If you don’t see that “light” in the darkness, ask Mary for guidance when you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, Her Assumption.  She wants nothing more than to guide you through the darkness to Her son.

Also, when you pray the Third Joyful Mystery, think of the wise men traveling through the desert to pay homage to Jesus.  They would have been wondering around aimlessly and hopelessly if it weren’t for a star to guide them.  Again, you have a point of light, a referrence point, which guided the three wise men to Jesus. Are you following the signs in your life which lead you to Jesus?

The Transfiguration and the Awe of Catholicism

Monday, August 6th, is the Feast of Jesus’ Transfiguration which we meditate on in the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  One question I’ve always had about the Transfiguration is why Jesus felt it was necessary.  After all, He had traveled throughout the region preaching God’s Word and healing people.  The apostles, for the most part, already believed He was the Messiah.  Why this extra revelation?  And what meaning does it have for the Catholic faithful today?

The Transfiguration was necessary, in part, because Jesus’ ministry had become routine to the apostles.  I bet they must have lost some of their sense of wonder and awe while ministering with Jesus.  They traveled from village to village listening to Jesus tell the same (or similar) parables, heal the sick, and occasionally admonish them for not understanding Him.  While Jesus’ miracles probably amazed them initially, they probably lost some of the awe over time.

Wait, what?  How could being witness to Jesus’ miracles lose their awe?  Well, let’s look at how many of us treat the amazing miracle of Mass.  How often do you fall into the Go to Mass, receive communion, repeat cycle?  At Mass, we are in the presence of Jesus, the same Jesus the apostles served with, and yet we’re probably already thinking about what donut we’ll get afterward or how we’ll spend the rest of the day.  The miracle that occurs during the consecration comes and goes for us without much thought similar to maybe how the apostles started seeing Jesus’ healings.

“Haven’t we, like, seen this show a hundred times already?”

And it’s not just Mass either.  Even if you have a more regular prayer life, it can also descend into a routine and lose its awe.  While I try to pray the Rosary every day, I admit that some days are better than others.  I can often pray an entire decade of the Rosary only to realize that I didn’t even consciously know what mystery I was praying.  I’m having a conversation with God and I’m thinking more about what I’ll have for dinner!

When Peter, James, and John witnessed the Transfiguration, it must have been a real wakeup call for them.  Maybe it snapped them out of any complacency they were feeling about their calling.  It took a great event to give them a needed kick and boost of energy

We don’t have Jesus physically transfiguring before us today.  Most of us will never have a direct apparition of Jesus, Mary, or the saints telling us what to do.  So how do we re-energize our spiritual zeal?  First, we need to admit when the miraculous blessings of our faith have become routine and resolve to re-ignite our passion.  Taking a cue from the Transfiguration, maybe we have to do something out of the ordinary.  Some ideas include:

  • Going to Mass on a weekday
  • Attending Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Joining a parish prayer group or organization
  • Finding new prayers to say
  • Reading a book or article either on a saint or written by a saint

It would be nice if Jesus personally invited us to something as wonderful as the Transfiguration.  And in a way, He does through prayer.  He offers Himself to us all the time but we have to be listening to Him in the silence of prayer and meditation (ehem… the Rosary!).  When we do listen, amazing things can happen whether it be a physical miracle or just a renewed zeal for living our faith.

What the Rosary Teaches Us about Spiritual Complacency

Last Sunday’s Gospel was the Transfiguration of Christ which is also the theme of the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  This mystery has always been one of the more difficult ones for me to meditate on.  I think I have a hard time relating to it because I have a tendency to reduce it to just another one of Jesus’ miracles.

The impact of the Transfiguration is softened partly because it sits in the shadow of the even more miraculous events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as nearly 2000 years of Church teaching.  In a way, modern day Christians are like people watching a movie they’ve already seen a dozen times and already know the ending.  We read about Jesus in the Bible and his disciples and we know who will betray him, who will deny him, who will convert, who will become saints, etc.  Because we already start from the understanding that Jesus is God made man, all the events of the Bible come across almost normal or at least expected.

“Ugh, another rerun of that ‘Jesus Show.'”

When we meditate on the Transfiguration in the Fourth Luminous Mystery, we have to put ourselves into the role of St. Peter as he witnessed these events for the first time.  It is then that we truly start to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the Transfiguration.  I think we have to assume that the apostles still didn’t fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ truly divine nature as they traveled with Him.  Sure, they said they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but as their actions during Jesus’ death showed, they didn’t truly internalize it.

The Old Testament prophets did many miraculous deeds.  In a way, Jesus’ actions seemed to fall in line with earlier prophets.  In fact, many people believed that Jesus was one of the older prophets reborn.  The Transfiguration showed that Jesus was no mere prophet of human origin but was God’s own son.  Imagine the shock Peter, John, and James must have felt realizing that they had been in God’s presence the entire time they were with Jesus.

It’s not surprising then that Peter wants to erect tents to honor Jesus.  Like a star-struck fan, Peter probably couldn’t think of anything else to say or do.   I would imagine he might even have felt embarrassed knowing all the times he had acted foolishly in front of God’s son.

“Just be cool, don’t think about that dopey pun you made about ’12 Monkeys.'”

Now, Peter and the apostles could plead ignorance for not truly understanding Jesus’ true nature.  But what’s our excuse?  We’ve read and have been told the history of Jesus’ teachings dozens of times.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of theologians and the Magisterium interpreting and explaining Jesus to us in utmost detail.  And yet, we all so often casually ignore Jesus and take His teachings for granted.  Much like the disciples thousands of years ago, we sometimes think of Jesus more as a philosopher with some good advice and not as God.  Lent is our time to change that lackadaisical attitude.

When you meditate on the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary this Lent, try to capture that sense of awe the three apostles must have felt at the Transfiguration.  Try to look at your faith with fresh eyes, ears, and heart to truly take in the majesty and power of God’s grace.  Ask God to renew your conviction in following God’s command to listen to His son.  In other words, try to throw out any complacency you may have developed with your faith.  This will make the miracle and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter grander and more meaningful.

5 Ways the Rosary Helps us be Thankful Every Day

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...
English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a time to give thanks for all that God has given us. And yet for many, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of be thankful about. Family, financial, spiritual, work, and global worries are in abundant supply. But for one day out of the year, we manage to push those aside and focus on our good graces. But that’s one day. What about the other 364? Here’s five ways the rosary can help you be thankful every day.

The Third Joyful Mystery

For thousands of years and hundreds of generations, people’s notion of God was one of a supreme being that was very distant and often very angry. The God as the Israelites knew him was a god of rules, laws, and punishments. But we have the grace to have what millions of people never had — God made man through the being of Jesus Christ. When we pray this mystery, give thanks that we have the opportunity to know God as someone who walked with us, laughed with us, cried with us, and died for us. Unlike millions of people who lived before Jesus’ birth, we have a face to put on God. And while we may be removed from Jesus by nearly 2000 years, we should rejoice that we have the benefit of coming 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, not before.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

Following a similar theme from the birth of Jesus Christ, how lucky are we that God humbled himself and took on a human form so that we can come to know him more intimately?  As we see with Jesus’ clothes turning dazzling white and God’s voice telling the apostles to listen to his son, we get an idea of the majesty in Christ.  Jesus could have come into this world floating down from Heaven in dazzling glory as witnessed in the Transfiguration.  But he didn’t.  And we should be ever thankful about that.  Jesus, the human, wasn’t “God Lite” who wasn’t any less approachable or mysterious as God himself.  No, he was a human like all of us who we could relate with and listen to his teachings in plain, not intimidating speech.  Of all the ways God chose to manifest himself, we should give thanks that he chose the person of Jesus Christ.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery

I always associate the Finding of Jesus in the Temple with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Mary and Joseph’s searching for Jesus and then finding him in his father’s house is a nice analogy to how we rediscover God’s grace, which we lose through sin, through Confession.  But where does thanksgiving come into this mystery?  I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that every day is a day to live in God’s grace but also another opportunity to rediscover that grace through Confession if I’ve lost it (either in part through venial sin or whole through mortal sin).  Once you die, you no longer have that ability to seek forgiveness.  Be thankful that no matter how deep in sin or despair you are, as long as you can draw breath you have an opportunity to rediscover God’s grace and achieve the same glory in Heaven as the saints.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

How can we not be eternally thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake?  Through his crucifixion, Jesus redeemed all of mankind for the disobedience of Adam and Eve — the original sin.  We are thankful that through his sacrifice, Jesus made Heaven a possibility for all humanity, something that wasn’t open to us before.  Humans failed God through Adam and Eve and we continue to fail through sin.  And we would live in despair if there was no way to set things right.  And that is exactly what Jesus’ crucifixion was — setting things right that were once broken.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery

How fortunate we are that God set aside Mary to serve a special role, not just in her earthly life, but in her heavenly one too.  She was assumed into Heaven and acts as our mediatrix to her son, Jesus.  But what do we mean by mediatrix?  That’s just a special way of saying that Mary is our spiritual lawyer (but with a heart).  Like how a legal lawyer helps us navigate the often confusing laws and regulations, Mary helps us navigate the often difficult spiritual waters.  She helps us understand what is not understandable — God.  We should be thankful that God, knowing that we need some help understanding his truth, set aside Mary to act as our guide.

The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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