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The Happy Fear of the Lord by Fr. George W. Rutler



May 29, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler


The one thing God cannot do is contradict himself. This is proof of his omnipotence, for as Truth, to lie would be to cancel himself out. Consequently, when there seem to be contradictions in his inspired Scriptures, the task for humans is to figure out why apparent contradictions are really hidden consistencies.

For instance, God told Abraham: “Do not be afraid . . .” (Genesis 26:24) and when, as Christ, he rose from death, he told the women at the tomb the same thing (Matthew 28:10). How is it, then, that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom . . .” (Proverbs 9:10)? And why does God say, “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. . .” (Malachi 2:5)? And why is the Fear of the Lord, one of the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit?

The apparent contradiction is reconciled by God himself: “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). That love is born of holy fear, or what we would call “awe,” and it is an awe as transportingly joyful as the dark fear—which “perfect love casts out” (1 John 4:18)—is frightful.

Dread, or “servile” fear, in Hebrew is “pachad.” Synonymous with that is “yir’ah” but that can also mean holy wonder, or awe. Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of the love that uttered all creation into existence, casts out the terror of pachad and infuses the soul with the bliss of yir’ah.

In the Eucharist, the Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, is penitential in tone but only because it is inspired by awe at God’s majesty. It is an acclamation and not a gasp of horror, as when St. Thomas joyfully cried out “My Lord and my God!” at the sight of Christ’s wounds.

Like breathing, which we take for granted even though we would die without it, there never is a moment when the Holy Mass is not being prayed somewhere in the world, but to take it for granted would be to forsake awe at knowing that Christ grants it. This Sunday, one of our parishioners, John Wilson, will offer his First Mass, having been ordained to the priesthood the day before. But if we are faithful to the Holy Spirit’s gift of Holy Fear, each Mass should be as our First Mass, our Last Mass, and our Only Mass.

Without Holy Fear, there would be only dread. Perhaps that explains why our culture is so burdened with “phobias” and so unacquainted with awe at our Eucharistic Lord. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

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