Why Fear of the Lord is an essential gift Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday -- our Second Sunday of Advent -- we continued to read from the Prophet Isaiah as he foretold Jesus's coming. We heard of the coming Messiah and how "the Spirit of the Lord will come upon him (Is 11:2)" in the First Reading. The Spirit of the Lord brings the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, of Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.

Those of us who are older surely remember those as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit -- which all of us received at our Confirmation, too. But, those of us who are older surely had to memorize them from the Baltimore Catechism. We memorized them because they were (and are) terribly essential gifts for us: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.

Fear of the Lord is needed today

I’d like to focus just briefly on the last of those seven gifts -- Fear of the Lord. Now, in our current Confirmation Liturgy the term "Fear of the Lord" has gone away, and instead we say "wonder and awe in your presence." That's very nice, but that's just a tiny little bit of what "Fear of the Lord" means. And why did we lose the expression "Fear of the Lord?" Because we don't want the kids to be afraid of God.

Yet, Scripture says, "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10)." Why would it say that?

If we want an example of the Fear of the Lord lived out, it is St. John the Baptist -- about whom we also heard a great deal this past Sunday. In the Gospel we heard St. John say, "One is coming who is mightier than I. I'm not worthy to carry his sandals (Mt 3:11)." That's fear of the Lord. It's also humility. It's also obedience. It's also love and deep reverence. All of those things are included in Fear of the Lord.

Fear of the Lord means an awareness, lived-out, that God is God and I am not. That’s the beginning of wisdom, to really know that you're not God.

When I celebrate Confirmations, I want the kids who are getting confirmed to know about Fear of the Lord, and especially, I want them to know that God is God and they are not, and that is a good thing!

Our culture is trying to teach young people that if they're not God, they're at least close . . . and after they make their first couple million dollars, they will be God. Never was a sense of Fear of the Lord more needed.

And John the Baptist is the perfect example of Fear of the Lord. "God will not be mocked," he says, in so many ways. "He will save the just but the unjust will burn in unquenchable fire (Mt 3:12)."

That's Fear of the Lord. If we forget about the unquenchable fire, if we forget about Hell, then we’re deceiving ourselves. Fear of the Lord includes fear of Hell. We shouldn't deceive ourselves about that, or allow others to deceive themselves about it. What a sad and pointless way of life it would be to think that there is nothing greater than ourselves; that nothing we do has consequence, and that we’re not called to something greater than ourselves.

The beginning of wisdom and repentance

Fear of the Lord is one of the most beautiful and rich notions in all of the Scriptures. Why would we want to narrow it down or interpret it in such a way that just makes us feel good all over for a passing moment? Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom -- God is God, and I am not.

And that’s the basis of John the Baptist's message: "Repent! Repent!" Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of repentance. Without Fear of the Lord there can be no repentance, and without repentance there can be no conversion, and without conversion there can be no attainment of the tremendous good that God desires for us.

So, let us reflect back upon the Second Sunday of Advent as "Fear of the Lord Sunday." And let us consider that as a good thing, and a thing very much in keeping with our preparations for Christmas. Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit; it is a gift given to us with the coming of Christ -- a gift which, in accord with the unfathomable plan of God, was manifest when the King of the Universe became a tiny baby.

It is important to realize that God humbles Himself to take our human form, but it is also important that we receive that gift, by the greatest humility that we muster -- and where does wisdom begin?

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are not God, and for those times we act as though we are, we must repent. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of repentance.

St. John the Baptist died for family and marriage

In these troubled times in our culture, we cannot forget St. John the Baptist either -- the great forerunner of Jesus. And we recall that, in the end, he laid down his life for the truth about marriage. He laid down his life for the marriage bond.

We are in that season when there will be present to us, especially at Christmas, the Holy Family. John the Baptist laid down his life for the sake of reverence and love, in honor of the Holy Family. John the Baptist died for family and for the marriage bond.

And why did he die? Because he looked Herod right in the eye and told him the truth about marriage. He told him the hard truth. As I have said before, John the Baptist is the patron of the politically incorrect. Nothing could have been more politically incorrect than to tell Herod the truth about marriage. And nothing is more politically incorrect right now than for you and me to tell our culture and to tell the government the truth about marriage.

So, in this Second Week of Advent, let us remember St. John the Baptist, patron of the politically incorrect! And let us remember the great gift of the Holy Spirit -- Fear of the Lord. And let those beautiful gifts, at the intercession of John the Baptist -- Fear of the Lord and the grace to defend marriage, so as really to venerate and pray to and respect and reverence the Holy Family -- let all of those be major ingredients every day as we work toward the Christmas celebration.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! God bless all of you during this time of Advent! Praised be Jesus Christ!