Monthly Archives: January 2019

‘Fear the Lord’: Does God Want Me to Fear Him?

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Even nonreligious people have heard the phrases “Fear God” or “Fear of the Lord,” which have found their way into popular culture, especially here in the southern region of the United States. But are we really supposed to fear God? What does ‘Fear of God’ mean, and how is it helpful for a faithful person’s everyday life?

Where It Comes From

If we look at the first book in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, we see the first mention of this phrase in the story of Sarah and Abraham (20:11). If you look in the footnotes of your Bible, you may see this explanation:

The original Hebrew used for “fear of God” is yir’at YHWH, literally, “revering Yahweh.” The phrase refers neither to the emotion of fear nor to religious reverence of a general kind. Rather it refers to adherence to a single deity (in a polytheistic culture), honoring that deity with prayers, rituals, and obedience. – cf. New American Bible Revised Edition

I first discovered this distinction as a teacher for high school religious education. The discovery reminded me how important it is for us to put things into their proper context when we read the Bible. The translation of Scriptures from their original languages is a very difficult process that involves not only definitions, but also cultural inferences.

So, when we see the command, “fear your God” throughout the Scriptures, we can be assured of its meaning; as Jesus later told a scholar:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40)

The Other Kind of Fear

But perhaps you do have some fear related to God or religion. Today, we commonly use the word “fear” to refer to an emotion that causes dread, horror, and even trauma. What does our faith tradition teach us about this type of fear?

Back again in the Book of Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve, after committing the original sin, hide themselves from God. When God asks Adam why he hid, Adam responds, “Because I was afraid” (cf. Genesis 3:10). This type of fear stands in contrast to Adam and Eve’s previous, harmonious relationship with God and one another (cf. Genesis 2:8-25).

When angels appear in the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, one of their first messages each time is, “Do not be afraid!”

Throughout the gospels, Jesus often exhorts people not to give in to this kind of fear. There are too many instances to cite(!), but one of my favorites is:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

An Expert Opinion

One of the greatest spiritual directors in history was Saint Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church. Even as a bishop, he wrote thousands of letters in correspondence with common people about everyday spirituality.

Regarding fear of God vs. fearing God, he said the following:

We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear.
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We are not drawn to God by iron chains, but by sweet attractions and holy inspirations.

If, upon examining yourself and what motivates your faith involvement or choices, you find worry, uneasiness, woe, nervousness, and other unhealthy motivations, then please know that God wants you to be free from that kind of fear!

If—for any reason whatsoever—you find yourself suffering from worry, uneasiness, etc., be assured that God wants your happiness and freedom! Holy fearlessness is what our Christian life is meant to look like. The same Jesus who assured us that we would experience trials in daily life, also said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Saint Paul wrote that God’s hope has always been “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (cf. Romans 8:19-21).

At Pilgrim Center of Hope this month, we are celebrating fearlessness as God’s desire for your life. Come learn more from the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales at our Social with the Saints on Thursday, January 17. Bring someone who needs a message of hope!

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Becoming an Authentic Witness to Hope

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A pilgrim prays at the Jordan River

On a recent trip to visit family in Dallas, my husband and I stop in Waco for lunch. I ask, “Is that Magnolia store around here that is owned by Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper?”  To my delight, we learn it is only 3 blocks away.

We drive up to the corner and see a line of people that snakes from the entrance of the store, back around the parking lot, and down several blocks. I look out my window and see groups of people quickly walking our way from every street in the very brisk 43-degree weather to join them. I look at my husband, and give him the answer he wants to hear: “Never mind, let’s move on.”

If you have ever watched the TV show Fixer Upper, you see homebuilders Chip and Joanna Gaines, and witness what truly appears to be a loving marriage, a happy family, an enthusiastic Christian faith, and a commitment to the good of each other and their community.

Pondering that long line of people waiting to shop, I came to believe that, in this culture of ours that puts a great emphasis on ease and convenience, these people enduring the wait and cold for what had to be hours, are looking for something beyond that home, garden, or wall décor product they can simply purchase online. I believe they are attracted to that which the Gaineses witness: Love, Family, Belonging, Faith, Purpose, and Mission.

What I saw told me that people are starving for what is authentic and genuinely good, and will flock to wherever they witness a hope of it.

It brings to mind the words of Saint Pope Paul VI:

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. (Evangelii Nuntiandi – On Evangelization in the Modern World, 1975)

In Scripture, one does not have to look for a better example of authentic witness than Saint John the Baptist.

No one can deny this prophet’s zeal for preaching repentance & the coming of the kingdom of God, and in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide him from the womb (Luke 1:44) to the desert so that, “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5). But what I so appreciate about St. John the Baptist was his own seeking for the authentic, as when we read: “When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to (Jesus) with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3).

His fearlessness to stand against Herod, and his courage to remain faithful to his death, came from the answer he received: “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them'” (Matthew 11:4-5).


How, as Catholics, can we measure whether we are witnessing to our faith?

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provides, through the Profession of Faith, a way to measure our Catholic witness. Ask yourself…

1. Do I believe and profess the Nicene Creed?

2. Do I believe in God revealed through Scripture, Tradition and Church Teaching (Magisterium) as listed below, and do I act accordingly?

With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

3. Would someone know I’m Catholic by the way I speak and act? (i.e. participating at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation; voting as per the teachings of the Catholic faith)

4. Am I living in a way that reveals Jesus Christ? Such as, am I:

  • Forgiving?
  • Acting in the Beatitudes?
  • Virtuous?
  • Enthusiastic about life?
  • Willing to sacrifice for the good of others?
  • Full of zeal for my faith?
  • Fearless in defense of others who are most vulnerable such as the poor, the unborn, the abandoned and forsaken?  

If your answer is no to any of the above, then:

1. Take heart! As we like to say at Pilgrim Center of Hope, “You do not have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ!” Though raised Catholic, I left my faith in my young adulthood and did not return to the practice of it until well into my 40s. It does not matter when you begin to seek a relationship with Jesus and practice your faith—just so long as you begin.

2. Take action! Take advantage of the new year to begin your journey to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ so as to grow in discipleship to him and as an authentic witness of the hope and joy that is our Catholic faith.

Pilgrim Center of Hope is providing a variety of opportunities in 2019 to help you grow in faith and share it with others:




 

What Can Our Family Learn from the Holy Family?

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We just recently celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. What can our families today really learn from them?

A Family Trial

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:41-52) focused on an episode in their family life. Mary and Joseph made a pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the feast of Passover, as was required by the Law of Moses. We see in this story that, even though Mary and Joseph were chosen by God to be the parents of Jesus, they did not live a privileged life, free of trials and difficulties. They lived a humble life without any luxuries, and they were obedient to the just laws of God and man. Their humility and obedience was necessary for their intimacy with God; it was the source of their hope and happiness.

When Jesus reached the age of twelve it also became a requirement for him to celebrate Passover and to observe the law. Now that Jesus had become of age, he had his first opportunity to ask questions of the religious teachers in the Temple, who were amazed at his understanding and questions. For this reason, he remained behind. Mary and Joseph had left in a caravan, in which the men and women traveled separately. So, they each thought that Jesus was with the other. When they finally realized that Jesus was not with them, they returned—to find him in the Temple.

Mary and Joseph were troubled by Jesus’ behavior. However, he asked them why they were looking for him. He said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Even though they knew that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus, they lived as if he was. Now that Jesus is of age, his reference to his heavenly Father is a reminder that the purpose for which he came into the world is not far away. As the Scriptures tell us, he then returned with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Lesson Learned

So, what can we learn from the Holy Family? Even for Mary and Joseph, life was filled with mystery, and they confronted that mystery with humility and obedience. Jesus—who is God himself—was obedient; first of all to Mary and Joseph, and then to his Father in heaven. For Jesus, his whole mission was about obedience.

The most important things we can learn from the Holy Family are humility and obedience to what God has revealed to us. The greatest commandment is that we Love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self—because it is only in relationship with God that we can experience true and lasting happiness.

Following Their Example

This isn’t complicated, but it is difficult because we naturally want to put our self first. We can only live the greatest commandment with the help of God’s grace, which he makes available to us through his Church and her sacraments.

  • Prayer – It begins with prayer. One way to measure our faith is how we pray; if prayer is not a priority, neither is our faith. If you haven’t been able to develop a discipline of daily prayer, ask God for the grace. You have to have the desire to make changes. Try thanking God when you get up each morning. Pray before meals. Pray with your spouse and children before leaving the house.
  • Spiritual Tools – As Catholics, we have so many resources to help us pray: the Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a treasury of prayers written by saints, and silent prayer in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Have holy water in your home to bless yourself and your family every day.
  • Holy Reminders – It should be obvious that we are Catholic to anyone who would enter our home. A crucifix and other religious images are constant reminders that our home is a “domestic church” where Our Lord is welcome and blesses us with his peace.

Parents should be examples to their children of how to live in relationship with God and one another, because children learn from what they see. When they see the love that their parents have for each other, for God, and for them, they are provided with great security that is important for their development. Praying together as family helps to overcome some of the challenges that are part of life’s experiences. When children see their parents praying together, they will want to learn how to pray also. Jesus promised us that he would be with us whenever we join together in prayer (cf. Matthew 18:20).

Is It Your Family?

Someone asked a priest what inspired his vocation. He answered that as a child, from the time he would see his mother approach a statue of St. Joseph every day, place a piece of paper under his feet, and say a prayer. Her son discovered that these were prayer intentions for him and for the rest of the family. Vocations to the religious life come primarily from faithful families. Our Church is in a desperate need of vocations. Have you encouraged your children or grandchildren to pray about serving God in his Church? When we pray for vocations, maybe it is your family we are praying for! There is nothing more important in this life; we all must serve God, even if it is not through a religious vocation.

When families pray together every day, we will see more peace in homes, less divorces, and more vocations for the Church. Jesus, Mary and Joseph; help us to be humble and obedient to God, so that we may live in happiness together.

Do you need help praying with your family? Pilgrim Center of Hope offers guidance and ideas in our weekly Living Catholicism series. We invite you to click the link and explore!