The Angelus – June 2012 – Fr. Tom Sieg’s Article
I have been told that there are 365 passages in Holy Scripture that tell us not to be afraid (that is one for every day of the year). I have never tried to verify that number but I do know that the admonition: “Do not be afraid” is one of the most common in the Bible.
I am also aware, however, that fear is not entirely a bad thing. Fear can prevent us from acting foolishly or doing something that would harm ourselves or others. We need to have a healthy fear of things like fire or tornadoes and their possible dangers; we need a healthy fear of ignoring the laws of the society in which we live. Even a fear of death is not entirely bad. It can prevent us from putting ourselves in needless danger or it might keep us from doing what we know is wrong because we realize that it will ultimately bring punishment.
What sort of attitude is appropriate for a Christian who is facing a situation that causes fear? Does the presence of fear in our lives indicate a weakness of faith? Did Jesus ever promise that he would remove all fear for those who believe in him? How are we to understand the words of Jesus in Luke 12:5 “I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one”? What does the Book of Proverbs mean when it declares: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10)?
As Christians, we need to recognize that there are two kinds of fear.One is a wonderful gift from God, which can preserve us from the foolishness of sin.One is a perversion of that gift that would keep us from the risks and challenges that true love demands.We also need to remember that being afraid is not a sign of weak faith. Rather, it is the way we respond to our fears that reveals our faith, or lack of it.
Fear will be a part of every human being’s life. When we experience fear, we first need to ask ourselves: is this fear keeping me from acting in a way that could deepen my experience of God; is it trying to keep me from fulfilling God’s will; is it holding me back from a generous response to those in need? If we are experiencing a fear that is holding back our faith, hope & love, then we need to seek God’s assistance to overcome the power of that fear, even if the fear itself never disappears. At the agony in the garden Jesus experienced a healthy and normal fear of a violent death. In prayer he found the strength and courage he needed from the Father to embrace that death in love.
On the other hand, a fear that prevents us from doing harm to ourselves or others is clearly guiding us toward wisdom and away from foolishness.
Jesus does not want us to live in fear if that fear prevents us from taking risks or seeking to find new experiences of love.On the other hand, fear can be a valuable gift from God if it holds us back from needless danger and allows us to live a long and loving life.