"We must believe that God is always with us."
Rule of St. Benedict 7.23
I have written before on the "fear of the Lord", long before COVID-19 and the present pandemic. Then, I reflected on this spiritual gift as a kind of "mindfulness" of God's presence and how the fear of God is the first of "twelve steps of humility," rungs of a spiritual "ladder" ascending to God and perfect love.
In a rather long passage on just the first rung of the ladder of humility (RB 7:10-30), the Rule instructs that the fear of God entails cultivating awareness of God by remembering that God is always with us (v.23).
Today I want to reflect on the “fear of the Lord” as the gift of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) that enables us to receive all we need from God to face reality. Remembering that God is with us can be a source of spiritual strength and resilience in the midst of tribulation and the anxiety that flows from incertitude about, for example, the economy and our financial security, social unrest, the political landscape, and the health and well-being of ourselves and loved ones.
Being mindful that God is always with us provides a spiritual foundation for a life meant to instill in us “perfect charity,” the power that St. John says “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). While it seems strange that “fear of God” leads to what casts out fear of everything else, the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s gift of “fear” is rooted in God’s Spirit, whom we believe dwells in us by virtue of holy baptism. This kind of “fear” consists of a deep reverence and respect for the Divine Presence – a spiritual gift that redounds to the honor of the Giver even as it keeps us attentive to the Giver’s presence within.
Along with fear of the Lord, the Spirit gives us understanding, knowledge, wisdom and counsel, gifts that help us to better grasp, accept and respond to the realities we face. The gifts of strength and piety (which Isaiah calls “delight in the fear of God”) aid us in relying on God’s presence, always with us, for all we need to face trial and tribulation. Everything we need in the moment is given, but we must receive what is being offered, and God helps us to do even that!
This indwelling “mighty stronghold and rock of refuge” (Ps 31:3) is our surest peace when moving through tumultuous times – Fear the Lord, God’s holy ones, they lack nothing those who fear God (Ps 34:10); It is you O Lord who will keep us safe and protect us forever (Ps 12:8); I say to the Lord you are my God, my happiness lies in you alone … you yourself who secure my future (Ps 16:2,5); In God I trust, I shall not fear, what can mortals do to me? (Ps 56:5).
With God always at our side, we shall do bravely knowing that nothing life can throw at us will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).