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Some fear is salutary

June 22, 2017
Father John Catoir

A woman wrote to me recently: “Father I was wondering if you could offer me some suggestions? I am trying to trust in our Lord, but I tend to be anxious, sometimes to the point of having anxiety attacks. I want to trust God, but I get so frightened.”

I answered her right away, “St. Thomas More once wrote, ‘Do not be anxious because you’re anxious.’” He was saying that some fear is normal. Coping with severe fear may be another matter, where you need professional help. But even Jesus suffered the agony in the garden.

Jesus trusted his father, but he was human enough to experience fear. It wasn’t death itself he feared, but he did fear the way he was going to die. We all must accept the fact that to fear is human.

Sometime our fears are salutary. John Newton, the man who wrote, “Amazing Grace” was a slave trader who converted to Christ out of fear for his salvation. Here is how he expressed it, “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Some fear is designed to help you to regain your senses.

Sometimes the lack of fear can be a problem. Those who manage financial markets are worried that the lack of fear in today’s investors can lead to serious problems. At this writing, the bull market is raging; investors seem to have lost sight of the big picture.

James Macintosh wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “The fearlessness of today’s investors can be compared to picking up pennies in front of a steamroller.” For instance, in caring for your soul, it’s not wise to ignore the odds. The world is full of danger and temptation.

There are 570,000 drug-related deaths every year. Dabbling with pot has led many users to try more serious drugs. The unlucky ones have ended up insane or dead.

We need more prudence and wisdom in caring for our souls. A spirit of laxity has invaded the souls of many. People are more willing to move toward the slippery slope, where so many have fallen to their doom.

Church leaders are beginning to worry about Sunday Mass attendance. The Archdiocese of New York has reported a drop of nearly 20 percent in the past few years. This is a nationwide trend.

The fear of committing a mortal sin once motivated many Catholics to make the sacrifices needed to remain faithful to the worship of God. Today a lack of any fear seems to be having the exact opposite effect.

A prolonged drifting away from the discipline of practicing one’s faith often leads to a loss of the spirit of reverence, and in some cases, ends in a complete falling away from the church.

Purging ourselves of an excess of religious scruples can be a good thing.                 Jesus said, “Be not anxious.” He wanted his people to be motivated by love rather than fear.

But there is a more salutary fear that should always remain with us; namely, the fear of displeasing God. The spirit of reverence should never be abandoned.

May the Lord be your strength and your joy.

Catoir_Fr. John - web 100x125Father Catoir is a canon lawyer and a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey.

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