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We Need Greater Love, I'm Afraid
By Chris Sparks (Feb 8, 2016)
There's something to be said for fear.
It's a great motivator. When you know that angry dog is running straight at you, you may start to run faster than you ever believed possible before. Or when kids know that they've misbehaved to the point where their parents lose it, they may suddenly start to shape up or ship out — start to behave or get out of here!
Fear of failing a test; of the police, the courts, and jail; of the consequences of an addiction; of a heart attack and an early death; fear of any and all of these things can kick start us to change habits, reform our lives, and follow a higher path.
Yes, there's something to be said for fear, and the Scriptures acknowledge that, saying:
Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline — Prov 1:7.
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding — Prov 9:10.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who practice it. His praise endures forever — Ps 111:10.
All throughout the Old Testament, wisdom is connected with the Law of the Lord, learning His ways and training ourselves to keep them. And of course that makes sense, right? He is the Lord of all creation, the Maker of all things. If you want the world to make sense, if you want a comfortable life, then it makes sense to listen to and learn from the Maker. If you want your car to run well and reliably, then you pay attention to the manufacturer's specifications. What oil does it need? What air pressure should the tires maintain? Which fluid goes into which tank? Do unto the car as its nature demands, and the car will run well for you.
It can be like that with religion, as well. People in ancient Israel made their sacrifices at the proper times and in the proper quantities in order to avoid a break in their relationship with God. They didn't want to be like Cain, whose sacrifice was rejected by God because it was badly offered and made without love (see Gen 4:3-6). They also didn't want to be like the Israelites who worshiped the Golden Calf and were slain as a result for their idolatry, for offering worship to the creature and not to the Creator (see Ex 32). Many religious people throughout human history have performed their religious duties out of fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.
But it is not the end of wisdom.
Let's go back to car maintenance for a moment. Fear may be your motivator for car maintenance — fear of a flat tire, of an engine that won't start, of sudden malfunctions on the highway. Fear may be your only motivator. Maybe you really just expect it to run and are willing to pay your mechanic to make it so.
Fear is the beginning of wisdom. But it's not the end.
There's a lot to be said for the classic quote from the character Yoda, the wise old Jedi master in the Star Wars movies:
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Fear on its own simply isn't enough. The demons in hell fear the Lord, but that fear certainly has not made them wise. Fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of anyone or anything isn't nearly enough to lead to the fullness of goodness, to the fullness of generosity, to the fullness of love and peace and joy.
Fear has its place, but that place is far more limited than many of us today in our hard-charging, ruthlessly competitive world will often admit.
So what else is there?
Back to car maintenance for a moment. Let me confess right now — fear is my motive for car maintenance. I know enough to get the oil changed, pay attention to the lights on the dashboard, and listen to those around me who know more than I do about what needs to be done.
I have the beginning of wisdom. My cousin David, however, has rather more than that.
He loves his car, maintains it, pulls things apart and puts them back together, invests in more powerful or unique parts for his car, and overall, pours himself into it. It's his hobby and his delight.
His love for cars leads to a much fuller and deeper wisdom about auto maintenance than I may ever begin to possess. And there is the answer.
Fear is the beginning of wisdom. Love leads us to the fullness of wisdom.
So too in religion. Fear of the Lord sets our feet on the right path; love of the Lord impels us all the way home to Heaven.
Fear leads to imperfect contrition; love leads to perfect contrition.
Fear leads to a certain amount of obedience. Love leads to generosity.
Fear leads to initial conversion. Love leads to trust and our cooperation with God's grace in the deep transformation to which we are called.
Fear leads to decency. Love leads to holiness.
So fear of the Lord has its place in the spiritual life, reminding us that we cannot sin against God, our neighbors, or ourselves without consequences or making reparations. God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful, a Just Judge, a true Father.
Love of the Lord leads us to feel true sorrow for our sins, for the harm they have caused to the whole family of God, to Him and all those whom He loves. Love of the Lord leads us to seek to console His Heart and to want to love whoever He loves, as He loves, with that same Holy Spirit in our hearts. Fear sets us on the road, repentant prodigals all, heading back to the estate of the Father. Love brings us all the way home.
It is love that allows us to penetrate the deepest secrets in the Heart of God, as St. Faustina did. Through her, we hear from Jesus:
I have opened My Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust (Diary, 1520). On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls — no one have I excluded! (1182). The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive (1578). I never reject a contrite heart (1485). Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul (1777).
Fear leads us to recognize that God is God, and we are not, that we are sinners and He is all-holy. Saint Faustina's love of the Lord and life-long obedience to Him open up before our eyes this promise of the Divine Mercy, of love and compassion, in the Heart of the All-Holy One.
So in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us ask St. Faustina to pray for us that we may receive the gift of the fear of the Lord to help us begin to set our lives in order, and the love of the Lord to make us generous to God, trusting in His mercy, and leading us to love our neighbors as He has loved us.