As a kid some of my favorite books were C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia. If you’re familiar with the stories you know that the greatest of the characters in the novels is, of course, Aslan the Lion. The philosopher Peter Kreeft has said that Lewis accomplished something remarkable when he created a literary character who makes the reader feel like it must have felt to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus. When the child heroes of the stories first hear about Aslan in The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe from the talking beavers who have given them shelter, one of the children nervously asks: “Is he safe?” To this, Mr. Beaver responds: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”
The last of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit for us to examine in this time leading up to Pentecost is the Gift of Fear of the Lord. Perhaps it’s strange to think of Fear as a gift. That’s because we know that not every kind of fear is good. Christ Jesus Himself often tells the disciples not to be afraid. The fear that Christ dispels in the hearts of His followers is a certain kind of fear – worldly fear. Worldly fear is that which makes us dread physical evil above all else. Worldly fear can lead us to abandon Christian discipleship when it becomes difficult or inconvenient. Worldly fear can make us seek out human respect, even if it means betraying the faith. This is not the kind of fear that we receive as a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Gift of Fear is the sense of awe we feel in the presence of the power and greatness of God. We see it in the gospel account of Jesus in the boat with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. As they are crossing the sea, a violent storm suddenly overwhelms them and the boat is in danger of capsizing. The disciples call out to Christ, who is asleep in the stern, telling Him: “We are perishing!” Our Lord rebukes the storm and all becomes still. And the gospel says: “they were filled with awe and were amazed and said to one another, ‘Who is this who commands even the winds and the sea, and they obey Him?’” (Luke 8:22-25). The terror they felt at the overwhelming power of nature is supplanted by their awe of Him who demonstrates even greater power than the wind and the sea.
The Gift of Fear helps to keep us from domesticating the Lord. It gives us a sense of God’s greatness and fills us with sorrow for our sins and the desire to avoid evil. Because of the effects of Original Sin, we can treat God very casually, as though He were a divine vending machine or a kind of genie that we keep bottled up, summoning Him only when we feel like we need Him. We domesticate Him by calling into question the authenticity of gospel passages that mention judgment, or where Our Lord seems to treat someone in a way that confuses us (ex: the Syrophoenician woman in Mt 15:21-28). Like Aslan, the Lord Jesus is not “safe” in the sense that He is not “tame” – but He is good, and He loves us. Knowing this, we should be filled with awe when we enter a church where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed, and when we process to the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion. We should be filled with genuine contrition for our sins when we enter the confessional. And we should fear eternal separation from the love of God more than we fear the powers of the world. The Lord God is infinitely greater than we are, but we acknowledge that reality along with the truth that we are precious in His eyes. In this way, the Gift of Holy Fear and the Gift of Piety work together. Fear of the Lord allows us to love Him properly, with awe and eternal amazement at His goodness.
Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set Thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; and shun off things that can offend Thee, so that I may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of Thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens, where Thou livest and reignest in the unity of the Ever-blessed Trinity, God, world without end. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.