Piety and Fear of the Lord

Dear beloved in Christ,

In the Easter message over the last few weeks, from both the lips of Christ and later by his apostles, there is a clear emphasis on repentance. While repentance is necessary for any initial conversion to God, our experience shows us that it needs to be a part of our continual growth as disciples of Jesus. Since we are seeking to learn more about the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit of God works in our life, I want to talk about two of the seven gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us that are related to repentance: the Gift of Piety and the Gift of Fear of the Lord.

As the Holy Spirit is the very love exchanged between the Father and Son in the Blessed Trinity, when St. John says “God so loved the world,” this “love,” and any expression of God’s love to us, will always imply the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Any gifts, then, that the Holy Spirit brings to us, will be in some way related to love and only rightly understood in the light of love.

When we are reborn in baptism, through water and Spirit, a new relationship is formed with God. While still remaining creatures in relation to our Creator, baptism allows us to relate to God in a filial way, as beloved children of Jesus’ Father, and this is through the Gift of Piety.

With each experience of the Father’s paternal love, the Holy Spirit stirs our heart to respond with love in return. This is what St. Paul explains to the Christians in Galatia, when he writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6). We have only to read the Gospels to see how deeply the Gift of Piety is at work in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Whenever he speaks of the Father or to the Father, it is always with the greatest filial affection. The prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel is probably the best example of the depth of love and devotion that the Gift of Piety can produce in the heart. When Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray and gives them the “Our Father,” he is helping to awaken this same gift within them, inviting them to relate to the Father as he does.

The Gift of Piety works together with the Gift of Fear. While the experience of fear in our fallen human experience adds much to our unhappiness, the Gift of Fear is something quite different, leading to a life of blessedness. The fear that the Holy Spirit brings to our hearts is not an anxious, neurotic fear, like the fear of punishment. While such fear can scare one into a change of life or to greater obedience, it’s not very successful in creating a filial bond with God. The Gift of Fear that comes from the Holy Spirit, who is love, stirs up a fear that is born of love—a fear of hurting our Beloved Father, by resisting the Father’s love for us, or by failing to respond to His love with love. A perfect example of this gift in the life of Jesus is when he says: “He that sent me is with me; He has not left me alone; for I always do the things that please him” (Jn 8:29).

Now we can see how these two gifts, the Gift of Piety and the Gift of Fear of the Lord, are related to repentance. As the Holy Spirit helps to foster and deepen this intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, a relationship that becomes the greatest treasure of our hearts, the fear of losing such a gift increases, such that, when we do sin, the Gifts of Piety and Fear help to stir our heart to repentance, to run quickly back into the Father’s merciful embrace.

All this is helpful to know so that we can recognize how the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts through these gifts. When we experience movements that lead us to be unfaithful to prayer and unfaithful to the Father’s will, we know they are not of the Holy Spirit. The same would be true of the various movements of pride to rationalize or down-play our sin—or to doubt or despair of God’s mercy—the Holy Spirit never produces such thoughts or feelings. However, when we are faithful to prayer, even when difficult, when we find ourselves trusting God during the storms of life or whenever we repent after a fall, we are letting the Gifts of Piety and Fear have sway over our hearts.

Come Holy Spirit, Holy Breath of God, breathe a renewed love into our relationships with Jesus and his Father, that we may taste, even now, the peace and joy of the blessed in heaven.

God love you,

Fr. Steven


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