Fear is a fundamental gift because it roots us in the truth about God and divine things. These things are terrible: the ways of God, the justice of God, the mercy of God, the silence of God, the holiness of God. They are beyond us, above us. A child has no fear amid terrifying and unknown forces. He does not realize that if he touches a live wire or climbs over a high fence it will mean death. A man knows these things and fears. And so, in the face of the supreme manifestations of God’s omnipotence – hell, the cross, heaven, the call to souls, absolution, the Eucharist – those whom the Holy Spirit places under his influence, those whom he penetrates and inspires, fear.
And they fear when they turn and look within themselves. Here again the truth is terrible. There is the sight of our sins. (Are any of us innocent of sins of egoism, vanity, self-love, sins against charity, sincerity, sins of sensuality, sins of omission?) And there is our frailty. (Without special help from God, what would we have done on a certain day, at a certain hour? What choice would we have made? Without his continuing help, what would we do tomorrow?)
When we stand before these two abysses – the abyss of the infinite purity of God, the only good, inaccessible to the sinner, and the abyss of our own wretchedness and weakness – we are seized with an impulse to retreat, to dread. This is not a matter of distrust, nor of discouragement or despair. It is a piercing, poignant, and purifying view of what we are in very truth before the eyes of God. As log as we have not been purified by this sentiment, we cannot say that we have tasted the Lord. It is fear that first makes us know and experience what God is and what we are. It brings the Infinity of God our of the domain of concepts, words, and naked faith, into the realm of truths that are felt and perceived. Whence the importance of the gift of fear, and the fact that every authentic contact with the divine increases, broadens, deepens, and purifies this gift in us, and makes our faculties for knowing and loving receptive to God’s grace.
Fr. Leonce de Grandmaison, S.J.