Day Eight - Parish Novena of the Holy Spirit -

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Parish Novena to the Holy Spirit
Day Eight: Saturday 30th May 2020

The Gift of Fear of the Lord
Language is so important. It allows us to communicate with others and make ourselves understood. Every word and phrase conveys meaning and purpose. Context is essential in the dynamics of language because it is in context that words reveal their true definition. Think of ‘Hair’ and ‘Hare’. Both words are spelt differently and refer to two separate things yet when pronounced aloud both words sound the same in the English language. The context in which these two words are spoken is key to distinguishing which ‘Hare’ fights in the moonlight and which ‘Hair’ has turned grey in worry. The word ‘office’ is another word that needs context to help define what it is referring to. There is the office of authority, role and position that an individual holds or there is the physical structure like a building which a person works in. ‘Love’ in English is another problematic word that needs context to fully appreciate its meaning and to understand what it’s trying to express. ‘I love chocolate’ and ‘I love my children’ both convey two different values while using the same word ‘love’. The love of a sweet is very different and superficial compared to a parent’s love of their own flesh and blood.

Where is all this talk of words leading? Well, the Holy Spirit’s gift of Fear of the Lord can appear a daunting present from God, one that anyone would be reluctant to receive. It has the word Fear in after all. However, once we understand its true meaning then we see that it’s a wonderful gift to have. Fear of the Lord is not about being scared and living in terror of God but about holding Him in deep reverence which in turn affects our behaviour towards Him and the world. Another translation for this gift of the Spirit is, ‘The Gift of Awe and Respect of the Lord.’ This translation takes away the negativity of the old Fear which has been corrupted in modern usage and gives us a clearer understanding of this last gift of the Holy Spirit.   

In 1893, Edvard Munch painted his infamous masterpiece known as ‘The Scream’.

The bright rich and vivid colours Munch used do not hide the stark sense of hopelessness in the painting. The screaming figure, with gaping mouth and hands held against its skeletal deathly pained face emphasises a doom and fated existence. There are various theories about the inspiration behind the painting. Some say Munch reflecting on his sister’s recent committal to a mental health hospital and others that his subconscious was thinking about the violent eruption of a volcano. The fear portrayed in ‘The Scream’ is paralysing. There is a sense of being stuck in an eternal moment with no future, no hope in sight. The build up of worry and angst bursts out in the never ending scream that turns the skies blood red. The painters inner fears are expressed on canvas.

The Fear of the Lord conveys the complete opposite to the message conveyed by Edvard Munch. The Spirit’s gift of Fear of the Lord empowers an individual to move towards God, to walk in the direction of life and in so doing destroys the paralysis of Fear which roots us to the ground. We have all heard of the phrase ‘Scared Stiff’, an encounter of such terror that it takes our life away and rigor mortis, the pallor of death settles in. The Fear of the Lord counters this by enlivening us into action, godly and holy action.  

The Bible is full of examples of people facing imminent danger and life threatening challenges and yet because of the Holy Spirit’s gift of Fear they move from danger and threat to peace, the peace of God. Take the heroic midwives found in the Book of Exodus.

‘The king of Egypt then spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah. ‘When you midwives attend the Hebrew women,’ he said ‘watch carefully. If it is a boy, kill him; if a girl let her live.’ But the midwives were God-fearing: they disobeyed the command of the king of Egypt and let the boys live...God was kind to the midwives...Since the midwives reverenced God he granted them descendants.’ (Ex 1:15-16, 20a -21)                    

Shiphrah and Puah are ordered by their Pharaoh, their ruler to kill all boys who pose a threat to him. They disobey not for any political motivation but solely because they ‘were God-fearing’. This gift of Fear of the Lord reveals the strength these women were given to love and to put their love into action. They would have been aware of the consequences of defying Pharaoh but love conquers all fear. This courageous love, this hardy and persevering love is part of the Spirit’s gift of Fear of the Lord. The blessing of God for these two midwives, because of their love and God-fearing behaviour, was that they were blessed with their own children.         

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917) is another example of the gift of Fear of the Lord working through someone and producing the fruits of love and holiness for the greater good of the world.

The story goes that she fell into a lake when she was seven years old and nearly drowned. The incident was traumatic and left her with a lifelong fear of water. So later on in life when she approached the Pope to ask his approval for a new religious order of missionaries to China, she had hoped to travel over land. Instead, the Holy Father sent her to America which meant travel by boat on the Atlantic Ocean - a very large mass of water indeed! Saint Frances Cabrini was unwilling to let her fears stand in the way of the salvation of souls, so she climbed aboard a ship because the love of God was more powerful and more life giving than the fear of water and her past trauma. She would make over two dozen transatlantic trips that would take en route to becoming the first American saint.
The Fear of the Lord is not a gift where we live in shaking terror of God, but a gift that draws out our love and devotion to Him that expresses itself in action and unselfish living!

Veni Creator Spiritus
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator come,
From your bright heavenly throne!
Come, take possession of our souls,
And make them all your own.

You who are called the Paraclete,
Best gift of God above,
The living spring, the living fire,
Sweet unction, and true love!

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
Finger of God's right hand,
His promise, teaching little ones
To speak and understand!

O guide our minds with your blessed light,
With love our hearts inflame,
And with your strength which never decays
Confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our hellish foe
True peace unto us bring,
And through all perils guide us safe
Beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know,
Through you the eternal Son
And you the Spirit of them both
Thrice-blessed three in one.

All glory to the Father be,
And to the risen Son;
The same to you, O Paraclete,
While endless ages run.

In our silent prayer today let us reflect on these words of Saint Paul writing to the early Christian community at Corinth:

‘...Dear brothers, let us wash off all that can soil either body or spirit, to reach perfection of holiness in the fear of God.’ (2 Cor 7:1)

What do we need to wash off ourselves that keeps us from being true disciples and worshippers of God? Do we live in terror, constant anxiety and worry? How can we wash off these elements that stunt our spiritual growth and true living? How can we correct those sins that reveal our lack of awe and reverence for the Lord? What are those anxieties that we need to overcome in order to live for God and love for God?

Let us remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit’s gift of Fear of the Lord aids us in our living for Him and our loving for Him. It’s not about cowering in terror but walking tall in God’s Presence that allows us to overcome all worry and danger.

‘I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For perfect love casts out fear.’
St. Antony of Egypt      
Come, Holy Spirit
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
R. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray:
O God, who taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the gift of the same Spirit we may be always truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday, the final day of our parish Novena to the Holy Spirit and it is also the end of the Easter Season.
God Bless and keep praying
Fr. O’Brien

St Mary's RC Parish
Catlow Hall Street
Parish Priest : Fr S D O'Brien
All rights reserved © St Mary’s Oswaldtwistle April 2020
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