This past Saturday I was thrilled to Confirm nearly 30 of the youth of our parish. The beauty and vitality of our St. Dominic’s parish came alive in sacramental graces of the Holy Spirit. As part of the Confirmation preparation, I asked each of the Confirmandi, which one of the Holy Spirit’s seven gifts they were eager to receive. Their responses were delightfully edifying. For example, a number of them said that they wanted the Fear of the Lord. Although this might seem strange, I had explained that Fear of the Lord is not fear of God’s anger or punishment. God is love and so fear of divine retribution is not spiritual healthy. Rather, Fear of the Lord is the recognition that we are lost without God. Just as a child is anxious when they are separated from their parents, so too we ought to be distressed when we are disconnected from God. The desire to be connected to God, the instinct to know that without God we are cut off from the source of blessing and happiness, this is Fear of the Lord. As one student put it: “I want Fear of the Lord because I never want to be separated from God or my family.” Especially, in these times of quarantine and social distance, there is deep desire for personal face to face connection. Fear of the Lord is that gift of Holy Spirit by which we are drawn closer into a personal relationship with God.
As we enter into the season of Lent, we do well to ask for the Fear of the Lord in our lives. In the Gospel, Satan tempts Jesus in order to divert Him from His saving mission. Facing these temptations with Fear of the Lord enables Jesus to connect with His Father and emerge from the desert to launch into His public ministry. Lent gives us the spiritual tools of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as potent resources with which to overcome temptation and to grow this appropriate fear. Let’s consider how each of these spiritual exercises draws us closer to God.
Prayer is the foundation of our spiritual life. Without prayer, no spiritual growth is possible. In the Gospel we see that prayer is what shatters the illusion that happiness comes from power. Instead, happiness comes from knowing and doing God’s will, which is discovered through prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God and then quieting ourselves to listen for His response. Though it may seem easy to do in theory, there are few things more difficult than to take time each day for quiet communion with our creator. From the time we wake up until the moment of evening retirement, our days are bursting with the noise of activity and bustle. Yet through it all, God is trying to speak to us. But we cannot hear his voice without taking regular time each day to sit down, quiet our mind, and embrace the silence. Lent calls us in a practical way to carve out moments for prayer, to join the community in worship and to enter into the silence where God speaks to our heart.
Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to develop spiritual discipline. In fact, fasting is so ingrained in the Catholic psyche that Lent has almost become synonymous with it. One main meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Meatless Friday’s, no sweets or chocolates: such are traditional fasting practices. But fasting is more than just kind of spiritual exercise, for by it we overcome the illusion that pleasure can truly bring us lasting happiness. Pleasure is fleeting and, by denying ourselves those comforts that we often mistake for necessities, our heart expands to receive the graces which go beyond our surface selfish desires. Fasting goes beyond just food and drink. Consider the time and energy we commit each day to TV, internet, social media. For example, instead of playing “words with friends,” we might take time to pray with “words from Scripture.”
Almsgiving is the culmination of the Lenten disciples, for through it we open ourselves up to God’s grace. Just as fasting is about “giving up,” almsgiving is about “giving to.” Whereas fasting is about saying no to ourselves, almsgiving is about saying yes to others. Through almsgiving, we conquer the temptation to seek real happiness in our possessions. Almsgiving most directly applies to giving financial and other material support to those in need, but it can also apply to those spiritual sorts of need. Imagine you travel 40 days into the future. Imagine this is Easter Sunday. How do you want to have grown in virtue in the past 40 days? Perhaps you desire to be more patient, more kind, or less judgmental. Maybe you want to have reached out to forgive someone close to you or to ask for forgiveness. However you want to grow in love, spend these next six weeks looking for the opportunity to give alms and to give of yourself so that you can grow in virtue.
In the Gospels, Jesus often says: “Be not afraid.” God doesn’t not want our lives to be filled with the frenzy of fretfulness. As the turbulence of this past year has taught us, all too often such worry can paralyze and isolate us. As we emerge slowly from these pandemic days of hibernation, there is another type of fear which is healthy and holy: Fear of Lord. These 40 days of Lenten journey will be filled with the anxious temptation, yet do not be afraid. Rather allow this worry to wane through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Open yourself to that holy fear which draws us closer to the source of life and love. Anticipate the face to face encounter of God’s blessing in your lives!
~ Fr. Michael