“Happy are those who fear the Lord”. These words are the refrain of today’s Responsorial Psalm. The verses come from Psalm 128. Psalm 128 deals with the theme of the happy home of the faithful. The key message of the Psalm is that the person who fears the Lord will experience many blessings and will be happy in this life.
What does the expression “fear of the Lord” mean? There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about this phrase. First, let us be clear about what it does not mean. “Fear of the Lord” does not mean that we are to be afraid of God. Nor does it mean to cower before God because we fear his divine judgement and the anger and punishment that it will bring.
“Fear of the Lord” in the biblical sense is not something negative and burdensome. It is something positive, healthy and good. To “fear the Lord” means that we are focused on pleasing God in our thoughts, words and actions. Offending God is the last thing we want to do. We want to avoid displeasing God at all costs. As indicated in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass, pleasing God is the priority of our daily lives. Matthew Kelly, in his book, I heard God Laugh, wrote: “set aside everything in your life that makes you less available to God, and then surrender yourself to his loving plan and care.”
In this sense, “fear of the Lord” means that we do everything in our power to ensure that God plays the central role in our lives. He becomes more important than any other person, place, thing, event or circumstance.This is the secret to a happy life and to a happy home.
Fr. Steve Grunow, who is the CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, puts it this way: “God’s love for us demands our total attention and is meant to order all that we are and all that we do. If we do not respect this rapport, we displace God and give what properly belongs to him to something else”.
To have “fear of the Lord” is not to focus on God’s response. God can only think, say and do love. He can’t be anything but love. Consequently, he treats us with mercy, compassion and forgiveness that are without limit, without conditions, and without end. In short, God’s love for us is perfect. How can we possibly be frightened by any of God’s ways?
To have “fear of the Lord” is to focus on our response. To live in “fear of the Lord” is to be afraid of displacing God, to be afraid of not giving God our total attention, to be afraid of living a life that is not centered totally on God.
Mary provides us with an example that we can imitate of a life that is anchored in “fear of the Lord”. As Pope Francis states, Mary does not lack for problems. However, as she proclaims in her Magnificat, her soul magnifies the Lord. She is not overwhelmed by difficulties and absorbed by fears because she puts God as the 1st greatness in her life. This is the source of her joy.
How is it possible for me to get the same level of “fear of the Lord” in my life that Mary had?The short answer is: each of us it already. “Fear of the Lord” is 1 of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received at our Confirmation. The reason Confirmation is only administered once in a person’s lifetime is that the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit – including fear of the Lord – are permanent. Those graces are available on a daily basis just for the asking.
The same Holy Spirit that Mary had has been given to us. We have not received a 2nd hand version or a watered-down version or an inferior version of the Holy Spirit. The challenge of Confirmation is for us to get in the habit of asking the Holy Spirit for his help every day in developing and nourishing within us the gift of fear of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit will inspire our attitudes, our choices, and our actions if we give him permission to do so. He is the one who will give us the gift of making ourselves more available to God. He will ensure that all we are and all that we do are centered in God. The Holy Spirit will teach us not to displace God, but rather to follow God’s will and plan in every circumstance.
“Happy are those who fear the Lord”. We have just prayed these words 3 times. As our Eucharist continues, let us ask the Holy Spirit to deepen within us this great gift, this great treasure – fear of the Lord. The happiness of our individual lives and our homes depends upon it.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
August 26, 2020