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The Fear of the Lord

The Fear of the Lord

When we list the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we usually place Wisdom first and Fear of the Lord last.  Augustine said[1] that Wisdom is the highest gift among those given by the Holy Spirit, while Fear of the Lord is the most basic.  However, since ‘to fear the Lord is the first stage of Wisdom’ (psalm 110:10), in order that we nurture that gift of Wisdom, we need to ensure that Fear of the Lord is a very strong virtue within us.

As we have already seen, it is not enough to have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation; for a gift of the Holy Spirit to be strong within us we need to nurture it, to practise it… and to do that, we need to be clear about what it is!

This ‘fear’  is not similar to, say, fear of pain or death, nor is it timidity, nor is it fear of punishment or of separation from God (the ultimate punishment!)[2].  Fear of the Lord is a holy sensitivity that – out of love – desires not to ‘let God down’ but rather to live so as to please Him… but what does that mean in practice?

The Psalmist – having concluded psalm 110 with fear of the Lord, continues the theme throughout psalm 111, where he spells out for us what that virtue might mean in our daily lives:

 ‘Happy the man who fears the Lord,
Who takes delight in all his commands. 
His sons will be powerful on earth;
the children of the upright are blessed.
Riches and wealth are in his house;
His justice stands firm for ever.
He is a light in the darkness of the upright:
He is generous, merciful and just.
The good man takes pity and lends,
He conducts his affairs with honour.
The just man will never waver:
He will be remembered for ever.
He has no fear of evil news;
With a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.
With a steadfast heart he will not fear;
He will see the downfall of his foes.
Open-handed, he gives to the poor;
His justice stands firm for ever.
His head will be raised I glory.
The wicked man sees and is angry,
Grinds his teeth and fades away;
the desire of the wicked leads to doom.’

Put like that, it seems incredibly simple: all we need do is love the Lord and His Law whilst being generous, merciful, just, honest, steadfast and faithful.  When that suits us, it’s all very well, but our challenge is to fear the Lord when the going gets tough, when other ‘fears’ (in the common sense) threaten to paralyse or overcome us.   Let us practise our fear of the Lord now, then, in the sunny weather, so that when life’s storms come, we are ready to weather them with a firm and steadfast heart.

To that end, here’s Cardinal Manning’s prayer to the Holy Spirit: –

O Holy Spirit of God, take us as your disciples.
Guide us, enlighten us, sanctify us.
Bind our hands that theymay do no evil.
Cover our eyes that they may see it no more.
Sanctify our heats that evil may not dwell within us.
be our God and our Guide.
Wherever you lead us, we will go.
Whatever you forbid us we will renounce.
And whateer you command us, in your strength, we will do.
Lead us, then, into the fulness of your truth.
Cardinal Manning

[1] Augustine, De Sermone Domini in Monte i, 4

[2] Iif you fancy, you can read what St Thomas Acquinas writes about the gift of fear in his Summa Theologica


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