One of the easier gifts of the Holy Spirit to understand, I think, is the last listed, the gift of fear.
Fear of God is one of the gifts that pertain to a person’s will. With our human will, assisted by God’s grace, we have the freedom to choose good actions that lead to our fulfillment and salvation. Conversely, with our free will and in opposition to grace, we can choose seemingly good actions which are not good and which lead to our enslavement to sin and to final ruin.
Fr. John Hardon, S.J. tells us, the gift of fear is the “Infused gift of the Holy Spirit that confirms the virtue of hope and inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of his help.”
The theological virtue of hope is confidence that God will keep his promises to lead us to salvation. Fear of God helps us in not wanting to do anything on our part contrary to God’s will.
Hardon goes on, “The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial,” that is, it is the profound respect that a son has to a very good father, rather than the dread a servant or slave would have toward punishment by his master. “It is based on the selfless love of God, whom [the person] shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God.”
One way to understand this distinction is in the words of the Act of Contrition. I am heartily sorry for my sins “because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” (that is servile fear of punishment), “but most of all because Thou art all good and deserving of all my love” (that is filial fear).
Finally, Hardon says, “The gift of fear comprises three principal elements: a vivid sense of God’s greatness, a lively sorrow for the least faults committed, and a vigilant care in avoiding occasions of sin. It is expressed in prayer of the Psalmist, ‘My whole being trembles before you, your ruling fills me with fear’ (Psalm 119:120). One of its salutary effects is to induce a spirit of deep humility in dealing with others, especially with inferiors, since it makes a person aware that he or she stands constantly before the judgment of God.”
For a full Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year A, click here.