Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit, born out of reverence for God and a desire to not offend him. It’s different from servile fear, which is based in fear of punishment. While it’s important to understand that our choices can lead us to be permanently separated from God, if guilt and fear motivate our entire spiritual life, something’s gone wrong.
Maureen in Wisconsin called The Patrick Madrid ShowTM to explain how she was raised to practice her Catholic Faith out of fear for punishment and ending up in hell. She said that this eventually resulted in anger and resentment toward God and the Church. Now that she has found her way back home, she asked for help moving forward when guilt and fear threatens to hold her back. “I want to go to Mass because I want to go because I love God … I don’t want to go to Mass because I’m so afraid of going to Hell,” she said.
You’ve heard the jokes about “Catholic guilt”. Guilt often gets a bad reputation, but according to Patrick, it’s necessary in our lives.
“If you feel guilt, just remember that means that your conscience is functioning properly. Now it could be maybe it’s excessive because of scrupulosity—that happens for some people. Some people don’t pay enough attention to their conscience but their conscience still bothers them, it hurts them. That’s what it’s intended to do; it’s like the nerves in your body that alert you to pain … that’s what guilt is there for and it’s part of the operation of the conscience.”
How can Maureen—or any of us—overcome a paralyzing fear of God’s punishment for sin?
“The way to let God dig you out of this pit of fear that you find yourself in is to concentrate on his love for you and your love for him,” suggested Madrid. “And make acts of love, make acts of reparation for past sin and acts of love for the Lord. ‘I love you with all of my heart. Lord, I am grateful for all of the things that you’ve given me.’ … You could go on for hours just thanking God for just the day-to-day realities.”
It’s about combatting the vice in our life by pursuing virtue. “It’s like spraying Round-up on the weed of that sin in your life. You’re just destroying it by cultivating the opposing virtue. … Gradually, it’s going to go away because it’s going to be replaced by this flourishing virtue that you have worked so hard at,” said Madrid.
When we do this, we are freed from fear and we turn to the love of God. “The deep and abiding charity, the love for God and recognizing his love for you, it pushes out all the places where the fear can live.”
“Perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 18
Listen to Patrick’s advice:
Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays at 9am-noon ET / 6-9am PT only on Relevant Radio®.