Reclaim the gift of Fear of the Lord Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 -- 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,

Last week I joined with a group of faithful men for their monthly time of prayer and spiritual reflection. With them I focused upon the seventh gift of the Holy Spirit, and I’d like to do the same with you here.

Hopefully you recall the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So many of us older folks have them memorized while unfortunately, some of the middle-aged and younger don’t even know that they have access to such gifts.

The gifts are: wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and Fear of the Lord. All of these gifts belong to the Christian first by way of their Baptism, and especially by the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation.

If we use them and count upon them, these gifts help to perfect virtues in us and aid us in living the moral life and in obeying divine inspiration in our life.

Fear of the Lord

While it’s likely that all of us could use a refresher on every one of these tremendous gifts, I want to focus on that seventh gift at the moment: Fear of the Lord. Perhaps the timing will seem odd, because we’re getting ready to commemorate the coming of God into the world as a tiny baby, but Fear of the Lord properly understood, dovetails perfectly with God’s plan for our salvation, and I hope to help you understand why.


Now, for the last 40 years, in the Confirmation prayer we’ve been translating “timoris Domini” as “wonder and awe in God’s presence.” Even I have to admit that “wonder and awe in God’s presence,” initially makes me feel more warm and fuzzy than does “Fear of the Lord.” But this difference in translation leaves out some of the key elements of this gift. And the phrase “Fear of the Lord” is a Biblical concept -- both Old Testament and New Testament -- which deserves our full reflection.

In order for us to be really grateful for the gift of Fear of the Lord, we need to have an appreciation for what it really is. And changing the name of the gift doesn’t give us the full context for understanding what it is. (This is why -- I would note -- the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted this summer to restore the proper translation in the Confirmation prayer to “Fear of the Lord.”)

For better or for worse . . .

For those of you who are married, I’d ask you to think back to your wedding day if you’re able. At some point on that day, maybe when you were in the sacristy, or waiting for the door of the church to open for the procession, or looking in the mirror at yourself in your full wedding attire, at some point a sudden, certain fear of the unknown likely ripped at your heart. There was likely a moment of feeling, “this is it; anything could happen; and there’s no turning back anymore.” That sense hit that, “I really am placing my life on the line for as long as I live.”

The same feeling hits the young men who are ordained priests. All of a sudden, I belong to another. It’s irreversible. And there’s no place for me to hide anymore. I am just out there, “for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . .”

I can speak to my own experience here. When I said, “yes” and laid down my life as a priest, I had no idea what the last 40 years would hold. I had entered seminary before Vatican II was closed and had no idea of the rollercoaster we were in for. I would never have guessed. But, I have never had the right to say, “I don’t like this! I want out!” My commitment meant, “for better, or for worse . . . just like marriage.” And that is why that moment of fear hit me when it was actually time to commit myself to my vocation.

Trusting in God’s plan

That complete commitment of self is probably the most concrete experience any of us can have of Fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is very close to fear of the unknown, coupled with the deep awareness that He is the Lord! It is the sense that I am completely in His plan and I am not completely sure what His plan is. And that’s true if you’re married and that’s true if you’re a priest -- I’m completely in God’s plan and I’m not sure what that is.

That Fear of the Lord -- and this is the beauty of the gift and why we shouldn’t change that expression to something else -- means that I am going to trust God with everything that I have and everything that I am. It’s a tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit. Fear of the unknown leads me to trust God and to place at His disposal everything I have and everything I am.

Now, perhaps even more than other gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Fear of the Lord is almost forgotten. We’ve been calling it wonder and awe for more than 40 years because, I suppose, someone along the way thought “Fear of the Lord” felt negative. We don’t use the expression. And what gets lost is the full sense of absolute trust that comes with the gift, the sense of: “oh my God! You are God . . . and I am not!” It’s a sudden, shocking sensation; but for the believer, it is followed quickly by the peace of being in the care of a loving Father. God is God, and He is Lord of my life.

Fear of the Lord leads to trust in God, trust that His plan will not only bring about what is for my good, but that it will bring about what is for my best (in all things). Fear of the Lord builds and strengthens the virtues of faith and of hope in us.

Young people missing out

Fear of the Lord is so basic and necessary. And it’s missing. Look at our young people; there is so much depression, so much despair. Why? In large part because, they aren’t able to trust anyone or anything. From the earliest days now, our young people are imbued with moral relativism; they’re taught, “You take over your own life and make of it whatever you want. You are the one who determines good and evil for you! (Just like Adam and Eve in the garden . . .) You are ‘God’ for yourself.”

Our young people don’t have Fear of the Lord, and they don’t know that they have a good God who has a plan for them, and that leads them not only to unhappiness, but even to despair, for without God on whom to rely, there is nothing and no one left which does not fail us at some point.

What has become of marriage

Every human being -- especially young people -- want to trust someone absolutely, because trust and love go together. And, the obstacle to trust is the absence of the Fear of the Lord. For so many, trust in God’s plan has been lost and so too has our trust in one another. Perhaps nowhere is this more devastatingly apparent than in what has become of marriage.

The Church has always taught that marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime, with openness to children. And yet, how many have approached marriage in this way over the last 40 to 50 years? The commitment to marriage for a lifetime is now quite easily tossed aside, culminating in “no fault” divorce.

And the commitment to a life lived with openness to children (which most certainly requires trust in God’s plan) has obviously been ignored by many couples for some time. (As such, is it any wonder that now no one feels comfortable defending marriage as being between one man and one woman, even despite the realities made apparent by biology!)

In all of this, what has been thrown away is the notion that God has a plan for me. Many do not approach the notion of getting married with this in mind, and others forget this reality when other agendas beset the human heart. Instead, when things get too difficult, they say, “my absolute trust in God’s plan for me is difficult to feel . . . and so maybe my ‘conscience’ will give me an out.” This cannot be; it is an attempt to “trust” in God’s plan partially, without Fear of the Lord, without remembering that He is God always and everywhere.

So, we’ve opened a complex topic, but it’s a timely one, and one that needs to be addressed. We must reclaim the gift of Fear of the Lord -- which leads to utter trust in the Lord, just as it did for Mary as she bore her Son in her womb, “with love beyond all telling.” It was her holy Fear of the Lord that brought her to absolute trust in her moment of yes -- a yes without which God’s redemptive plan could not have been complete.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!