ASK FATHER: Learning Fear of the Lord

From a reader…


I have been exploring Fear of the Lord, beginning with Sirach and the OT. I think I understand Pope Francis’ point about it not being a servile fear but one born of awe and oriented to love. The Jewish resources are illuminating and fascinating.

My question is, Father, “how does one learn to fear the Lord?” Is it a mystical experience that is sought in prayer or a practical conclusion of recognizing that we need to fear, as Jesus reminds us, the One who can do more than destroy the body?

Fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me that one doesn’t so much learn how to do it, but rather one prays that one be given it and that it be increased.

When we fear, what we fear is an evil.  The object of fear is an evil.  But God is good, not evil.  How do we rightly fear God?

We rightly fear separation from God and punishment for sin.  And so we turn to God in fear and in hope.   Turning to God in fear of punishment is a lesser motive than turning to God in fear of sin.  Children fear punishment from their father.  However, it is better to fear that which offends the father.   Consider the difference between attrition (sorrow for sins because we dread punishment) and the more pleasing contrition (sorrow for sin because of God’s love).  Our service of God is more pleasing and better when we serve in love, fearing to offend, rather than lesser, servile fear of sin’s consequences for ourselves.

Like any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one can dispose oneself to receive it by practicing the natural aspects of it.  A few pointers might be…

Submit with docility to authority.

Exercise reverence and humility.

Do not act in a manner too familiar or casual with sacred things, places or persons.

Place oneself in an appropriate stance before the Lord who is the creator of the universe.

Kneel a lot.

One of the things we can all do to increase Fear of the Lord in the whole Church and, therefore, the world is to pray and work together to eliminate Communion in the hand.

We can also pray and work to increase reverent sacred worship especially through the use of the traditional Roman Rite.

Save The Liturgy – Save The World.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: Fear of the Lord… an explanation of what that means – Turning Leaf Studio

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    The older term for the type of fear one has for offending someone they love is called, filial fear, whereas servile fear is fear of the punishment from said person. You can fear to say a bad word to your father because you know it will make him sad (filial fear) or you can fear to say a bad word to your father because he will smack your behind (servile fear). Servile fear is the fear of a slave towards his master, whereas filial fear is the fear of a lover for offending the beloved.

    You do not grow, properly speaking, in filial fear – you grow in love of the Lord and filial fear is a concomitant that grows as your love grows.

    This leads to the interesting passage in 1John 4:16 – 19 [RSV]:

    “So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
    In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.
    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.
    We love, because he first loved us.”

    The word for fear used in the Greek is, phobos, which can mean servile fear, but also the reverence a wife should have for her husband, in love. So, the passage starts out by discussing the love God (the husband) has for us and points out that he who abides in love abides in God. Now, God loves himself, perfectly, as the endpoint of all things and when our love is perfected – the Greek word, teleios, means brought to its end, finished – our end will be in God, alone, who is love and we will share in His love, in which there is no fear, since God does not fear himself or anything in His creation (so, why should we?). Until we are completely united in love with God, however, there will be room for servile fear.

    While one can learn the servile fear of the Lord by contemplating eternal punishment, as one learns more and more of the goodness of the Lord and, by this, grows in the knowledge of the Lord, and the more one wills what God wills (once that is known), simply for love of Him, the more one will grow into the love of the Lord and that perfection of love will cast out all fear except the fear of displeasing your highest Good, which you love above all.

    The Chicken

  3. Ann Malley says:

    One of the reasons why children naturally come to love and fear offending their parents is because of the particular care that parents show their children. As adults, we tend to forget that intimate, sensory connection of our needs continually being met and the trust and bond it creates. It is that foundation of utter dependency and utter confidence in a parent’s supplying that fosters love and regard. It is observing their care, their sometimes martyr-like sacrifice in providing and sometimes defending to their own detriment that brings us to filial fear.

    We watch them. We come to understand the little things they do. We come to respect and awe over what we previously believed foolish or heartless in our own puny little mind – because we couldn’t see the bigger picture or recognize what ‘love’ really looks like. (…but God is patient.)

    Thinking in this fashion, for God is our Father, and wants to be loved as such, has led me to believe that contemplating Christ’s ultimate humility in even taking flesh, enduring 9mos confinement, bitter cold, etc, etc is what grows fear of the Lord. Realizing that one’s very existence depended upon God choosing to create one and in precisely a specific time leads to fear of the Lord. Looking to God’s own example in humbling Himself for love of us, to give us example drives toward fear of the Lord.

    Knowing to what depths God desires our love in return, how much He is ready to forgive for love of us, moves one to fear of the Lord. Contemplating the reality that everything – seemingly good and/or bad – is allowed by God so that we, His little ones, will learn is what leads to fear of the Lord. Even if the lesson is that He allows Himself to be mocked and derided so that we will pluck up the love and courage to comfort Him like true children.

    Combine that with the exercise of the Presence of God, knowing that this most tender and all powerful Lord is with us at every moment, begging the question, “Do you love me?” That will aid one in coming to fear of the Lord. For who would ever want to offend their most intimate and dearest friend, their Lord, their Life?

  4. Dspauldi says:

    That is quite an helpful answer, Father. Thank you.

  5. rcg says:

    I learned to fear Our Heavenly Lord when I learned to fear failing to meet the standards of my biological father. Being upright, on time, paying my bills, faithful to my wife, stand on my own two feet, treat everyone with respect. I called on him when I needed advice and it was always good. Now that he is gone I can still call on the standard he set and find that it was in the image of God the Father. My prayers are focused and I can sit quietly in His presence. This is how I came to love my FSSP parish so much. They are respectful before our Father.

  6. Means of acquiring the fear of God:
    The knowledge of our own weakness and of our inconstancy in virtue; the consideration of the presence of God; serious meditation on our last end.

  7. gloriamary says:

    A Privilege of the Ordained by Michael Davies. A wonderful pamphlet presenting the truth about Communion in the hand. I thought about buying one for each of the EMHC at the parish, but thought better of it.

  8. jameeka says:

    And please listen to Father Z’s Adventcazt 22, 2015, dear reader.

  9. Phil_NL says:

    What we usually fear is, strictly speaking, our own shortcomings. We often fall short in our duties to the Lord, and what we fear are the (possible) consequences of that. (both in terms of disappointment in a way a child can disappoint a parent, and it terms of potential punishment).

    One the one hand I find that point of view much easier to grasp and communicate than “fear of God”, as that phrase quickly evokes pictures of the fire-and-brimstone-protestant kind (or, worse, the islamic view). On the other hand, it does risk turning the conversation in a direction that is more focussed on the self rather than the Lord. Then again, a saint has nothing to fear – then only awe remains – so the fact that there is fear is tied to one’s own imperfections.

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