In a previous article, we introduced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are first imparted at baptism and then fully given at confirmation. We must not underestimate these gifts. Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. … They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” (catechism, No.1830-31).
We will now proceed to each gift. The basic definitions that follow are quoted from Dominican Father Jordan Aumann’s classic work, Spiritual Theology. Another good reference is Adolphe Tanquerey’s The Spiritual Life. Pope St. Gregory the Great, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of these gifts, posited the following order: “Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).
So, we begin with the gift of fear of the Lord. This gift enables a person “to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.” Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the supreme being. Here, a person realizes his “creatureliness” and dependency upon God, has a true “poverty of spirit,” and never would want to be separated from God, who is love. As such, this gift arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.
This gift of fear of the Lord is sometimes misunderstood because of the word “fear.” “Fear of the Lord” is not a servile fear whereby a person serves God simply because he fears punishment, whether some sort of temporal punishment in this life or the eternal punishment of hell. A genuine relationship with God is based on love, not fear. Therefore, this “fear of the Lord” is a filial or reverential fear that moves a person to do God’s will and avoid sin because of love for God, who is all good and deserving of all of our love. In a similar way, a child should not be motivated to obey a parent simply because of fear of punishment, but because of love and respect; a person who loves someone does not want to disappoint or to break the other person’s heart. One should fear hurting a loved one and violating that person’s trust more than one should fear punishment. Nevertheless, one should have a healthy sense of fear for the punishment due to sin, including the fires of hell, even though this should not be the motivating factor for
Therefore, this gift motivates the person in three ways: first, to have a vivid sense of God’s infinite greatness; second, to have a real sorrow for sin, even venial sins, and to do penance to atone for sins committed; and third, to be vigilant to avoid the near occasions of sin, to struggle against personal weakness and fight temptation.
The gift of fear brings to perfection the virtue of hope. A person respects God as God, trusts in His will, and anchors his life in Him. He approaches the Lord with humility, docility and obedience. He believes in His promises of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven. Also, this gift is the launchpad for the other gifts. As sacred Scripture attests, “Happy the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commands” (Ps 112:1), and “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord” (Sir 1:12).
This gift also perfects the virtue of temperance, which seeks to use all things wisely and in moderation, neither in excess nor in defect, especially those sensible pleasures. With reason enlightened by faith, temperance controls the passions. Temperance is related to the gift of fear because one’s respect for God, and one’s awareness of being made in His image and likeness, and being redeemed by Christ motivate a person to give glory to God by being temperate in actions and desires, not using, doing, or indulging in anything to excess or defect. For example, chastity is a virtue of temperance, which respects the goodness of one’s own sexuality, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of marital love. A person moved by the gift of fear strives to live a chaste life because God is the creator of these goods, and a chaste life gives glory and praise to Him.
This gift also prevents us from being too familiar with God. We are the victims of original sin and suffer from concupiscence; therefore, each of us struggles with a rebellious heart. A person could easily take God’s love for granted and presume forgiveness without real contrition; or forget God’s majesty by taking His holy name in vain; or make demands of God and then be angry when He does not meet them; or forget that every gift is from God and be selfish; or neglect prayer and worship because there is not enough time for Him; or disregard God’s commandments and the teachings of His church. And without fear of the Lord, such a person might say, “God loves me just the way I am, and I am going to heaven.” One has to ask, “Does such a person really love God?” While the Lord will never spurn a humble and contrite heart, He will humble the haughty.
A good way to cultivate this gift is through daily prayer and worship at Mass. Regular and careful examinations of conscience also are important, as well as the regular use of the sacrament of penance. Also, meditating on the infinite majesty of God, like gazing upon the icon of Christ Pantocrator. For myself, looking at the beautiful mosaic of Christ in Majesty at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington reminds me not only that I am simply a lowly creature who needs God’s mercy, but also I am a child who is loved by the Lord.
At his audience on June 11, Pope Francis reflected on fear of the Lord: “This is the fear of God: abandonment into the goodness of Our Father who loves us so. … This is what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts: He makes us feel like children in the arms of our Daddy … with the wonder and joy of a child who sees himself served and loved by his Father.” Therefore, this great gift of fear of the Lord allows us to have an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity.