From the Pastor – November 19, 2023

Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored. (Psalm 128:1-2)

What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?  Fear seems to be something negative.  We associate it with threats and negative consequences.   So what does the Psalmist mean today when he says that those who “fear the Lord” are blessed?

Perhaps surprisingly, “fear of the Lord” is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, along with Wisdom Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge and Piety. Fear of the Lord is more closely related to “awe,” and allows us to be aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by St. Thomas Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a “filial fear,” like a child’s fear of offending his father, rather than a “servile fear,” that is, a fear of punishment. 

Fear of the Lord is rooted in our desire for unity with God. Love seeks union. Sin disrupts the unity of love. We thus come to fear sinning and creating distance between God and us. This type of fear is sometimes called “holy fear.” Since we desire union with God, the gift of holy fear helps us to be afraid of cutting off our relationship with the source of all love.

In an even deeper way, holy fear is our appreciation for God’s Holiness. We don’t walk into God’s presence in the spiritual equivalent of a t-shirt and shorts.  It inspires us to be clothed in a pure, white baptismal garment, made clean through repentance, confession and penance. And that’s the meaning the Psalmist intends today.  We are blessed and fear the Lord when we “walk in His ways,” meaning obeying His commandments.

Finally, we recall Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This verse gives us additional insight:  there is a sharp contrast between the wise life and the foolish life. A wise person obeys the Lord, and a fool despises God’s instruction and cannot be told what to do. The wise person is wise because he has started at our origin, the Creator.  The fool has no foundation on which to build wisdom.

Without “holy fear,” we might make important decisions based on faulty human understanding, because something is popular or “fashionable.” When we incorporate the fear of the Lord into every moment of our lives, we make decisions based upon His approval, which is always trustworthy. Holy fear guides us to Heaven. 

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty