Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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To be a success in life one has to be motivated, either by self or by someone else. It is not surprising then that in our success-oriented culture there are a lot of motivational speakers not only in sports but also in business and politics. These motivational speakers have the ability to move their audiences because a motive is not a motive until it moves.

Jesus was the greatest motivational speaker ever to walk the face of the earth. He knew how to use both the carrot and the stick, the ultimate carrot and stick, the greatest reward and the greatest punishment, Heaven and Hell. These two dogmas are telling us that free will is not only our greatest dignity, but also our most awesome responsibility. Today all of the emphasis is on the dignity of free will and very little on its responsibility.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding that love and fear are mutually exclusive. The truth is that, at least in this life, they are mutually inclusive. But is it not true that “Perfect love casts out fear?” Yes, but this perfect love is not to be found in this life. It is only found in the next life where there is no possibility of losing the beloved.

In this life “fearless love” is a contradiction in terms. We fear because we love. We fear losing the beloved. And we fear in proportion as we love. Our fear is a barometer of our love. And today that barometer indicates that in spite of all of the glib talk, and loud protestations of love, the love we have for God is at a low level.

There seems to be a pathological contempt for fear today: a fear of fear. We are loath to do anything out of fear. Admittedly fear is not the best motive, love is. But it is reasonable to act on the motive of fear when the object is worthy of fear. And there are some things worthy of fear. There is something worse than death. We can lose the ONE by Whom we were made, for Whom we were made and without Whom we can never be perfectly happy. The great irony is that the present day contempt of fear has produced the most fearful generation of Americans. Since we do not fear God, we fear everything else. We have become the “fearful-fearless generation.” We even fear to fear.

Many of our common, daily actions are motivated by fear. Why do we put our money in banks and put locks on our doors? The universal fear of death is a built-in protection for preserving life. Fear is the emergency passion that starts the adrenalin flowing and prepares us for an extraordinary and sometimes life-saving effort. Without fear we would not be prepared to meet the great emergencies of life.

Scripture tells us that the “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:11) The fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Isaiah 11:2) Our Lord who experienced great fear in the Garden of Gethsemane teaches us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, fear him rather who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matt. 10:28) St. Paul tells us, “work for your salvation in fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:13)

St. Ignatius writes in his Spiritual Exercises, “Though the zealous service of God, our Lord, out of pure love should be esteemed above all, we ought also to praise highly the fear of the Divine Majesty. For not only FILIAL FEAR but also SERVILE FEAR is pious and very holy. When nothing higher or more useful is attained, it is very helpful for rising from mortal sin, and once this is accomplished, one may easily advance to FILIAL FEAR which is wholly pleasing and agreeable to God, our Lord, since IT IS INSEPARABLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE LOVE OF HIM.”

The law of the pendulum is evident in our love and fear relationship. In the past the emphasis was predominantly on “loveless fear” and today the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and is predominantly on “fearless love.” Both are caricatures of the reality. We should not be afraid to be afraid. We should not try to pretend that we are self-sufficient and have no fears. We will never overcome our fears once for all. Each new day presents new fears. The world with its ceaseless competitive spirit breeds endless fears. Past failures and the unknown future are also constantly creating fears. Jesus knows that we are fearful and tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) “It was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” (Amazing Grace)

Every fear reminds us of how weak we are and how much we need Jesus. Every fear is a new opportunity to trust in Jesus. Our hope and our trust is not in ourselves but in Jesus who is all powerful and can help us, who is all merciful and wants to help us, who is faithful and has promised to help us. There is no security in this world except the security that comes from our faith in Jesus. We do not know what tomorrow holds but we know Who holds tomorrow. Without God we can do nothing. But with God we can do anything He wants us to do.

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