What are you Afraid of?
What do you love? Typical responses are my spouse, my children, my family. But let’s probe this further by asking another question: What are you afraid of losing? Responses range from: my job, financial security, defaulting on my mortgage and losing my house, my health, my life, friendships, status and honor among peers, followings and fans, reputation, being liked, chocolate, drugs, alcohol… and yes, spouse, children and family.
You can know what a man loves by what he fears losing the most.
Nearly every fear is rooted in the potential for loss, or the actual loss of something. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that every sin involves an inordinate love, an inordinate desire, an inordinate vice, and an inordinate fear. In other words, if you love something or desire something in the wrong way, or make it more important than God, you will become fearful of losing it, and this fear will drive you to act in a way that is unreasonable and sinful.
We have seen the consequences of fear on full display during the recent COVID pandemic, protests, rioting, and looting. Many people are acting unreasonably if not sinfully.
St. Thomas also tells us that fear is a sin. Now, there are four types of fear: instinctual (an instant reaction to something that alarms you) servile (fear of punishment) filial (fear of displeasing someone you love) and worldly fear. Worldly fear is evil and is a sin. Despair proceeds from fear just as fortitude proceeds from hope. Timidity (an inordinate fear of any evil) is opposed to fortitude (the ability to be courageous and persevere). St. Paul exhorted Timothy that the Holy Spirit within him is no timid, or cowardly spirit (see 2 Tim 1:7). We are called to resist evil, overcome the world by means of courageous divine love. Fear of evil destroys our hope, courage, and love for God.
The consequences of caving to worldly fear is discouragement and despair, which attacks fortitude and hope; miserliness, which attacks generosity; shame, which attacks the human person’s dignity; disobedience which undermines trust in God; paralyzation of progress, which stunts a willingness to risk and be daring for Christ; and ultimately it snuffs charity, making love grow cold.
As fathers, we are designated by God to be strong, courageous, faithful spiritual leaders of our families–especially during times of crisis. Rather than fear overcoming us, we are to set the example in overcoming fear in the hope of achieving a greater good.
F.E.A.R. is Feelings/Emotions Attacking Reason. Reason tells us that we are to love God first, our soul second, (and our neighbor’s soul) our body third, and possessions are last. When we fear losing our possessions, our body – including our physical health – or compromise our soul rather than loving God, we are bowing down to fear. We are no longer living by faith in God the Father. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Reason tells us that God the Father loves us and wants us to be eternally happy with Him. Therefore, we ought to trust Him even in the face of evil.
St. Thomas says, “It belongs to a brave man to expose himself to danger or death for the sake of the good. But to die to escape poverty, lust, or that which is disagreeable is cowardice.” He continues, “It is natural for a man to shrink from detriment to his own body and loss of worldly goods, but to forsake justice on that account is contrary to natural reason.”
To sin is far worse than to suffer.
Justice is to give one his due. We owe God worship. Are we doing justice to God by keeping our Church’s shut? Or are we bound by fear? Do we love our bodies, and our human life more than eternal life? “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ… with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:18, 19).
Are we so concerned with our human existence (“earthly things”) that we reject the cross of Christ and the salvation He has won for us by not offering the Mass publicly? Is condoning or justifying the position of those who riot, loot, do violence, and murder in the name of anti-racism living for a greater more noble good, or simply an angered response born of fear?
Test yourself. What are you afraid of losing? That is what you love. Fear can drive people to lock up churches, and themselves from helping others. Fear can drive people to theft, violence, and murder.
When this happens, such people are loving the wrong things, and loving things wrongly.
Holy fear, on the other hand, is from God and a gift of the Holy Spirit. Holy fear is when a son of God fears displeasing Him. Rather than teaching our families to fear corrupt governments or loss of rights and freedoms, loss of financial security or personal status and honor, acceptance among peers or even health itself, it is our noble task to lead them to fear displeasing God.
St. Ignatius of Antioch’s words are very appropriate: “Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.” Are you afraid of the world, evil, and what it will cost you to follow Christ? Be a fearless father, an image of God the Father. Do not fear the world’s hatred, but only fear displeasing your Father in heaven. “He who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn 4:18).