Today I want to talk to you about fear and worry.
Fear is an emotion by which we shrink and flee from some evil. And worry is a state wherein our fear is prolonged over a period of time, our fear about the past or fear about the future.
I want to go over five types of fear. Three of these types of fear are good and two types are bad. And what we want to do is we want to fight the bad fear in us, and we want to foster the good fear. Fear is an emotion. Emotions of themselves are not bad or good. They can be one or the other.
And in this case, you’ve got five types of the emotion of fear, three of them good and two of them bad. So, it’s extremely, extremely important for the salvation of your soul that you learn to fight the bad fear and encourage the good fear.
First: Understanding the Two Types of Bad Fear
Let’s look firstly at the bad fears.
Dealing with Worldly Fear
The first type of fear is what’s called worldly fear. This is the fear we have of not getting our way. In other words, the evil that we fear is the denial of our own. We’re attached to our will, and we see that we’re going to be deprived of getting our own will, and this makes us afraid.
For instance, I may love the impression that I make on others in public, and so I fear being embarrassed. I don’t want people to think I’m incompetent. For instance, if I’m giving a sermon and I think, “What if I give a bad sermon and I’m stumbling in my words, I’m making long pauses. I don’t know what to say, and there’s just this gap and I’m searching for words or I forget what I’m saying, then I will look like a fool and I don’t want to look like a fool.”
I want. I want people to think I’m great and so I fear the evil of not looking good. This is a worldly fear. It’s not a good fear. It’s a selfish fear. It’s a fear that has no reference to God. It’s a purely horizontal fear, so it’s important that when we experience this kind of fear, a fear that only concerns myself and only concerns this life, that we strive to quiet and even destroy this kind of fear. We should try to ignore it. We should try to distract our minds. We should try to convince ourselves with reasoning that this fear is a useless fear. It’s a dangerous fear and perhaps it’s even a sinful fear.
The same holds true for all the fears that are selfish and that are completely rooted in this life. Do I fear about my looks? Do I fear whether I’m going to get invited to the party or not? Do I fear that I might lose my job? Do I fear that all these plans that I’ve laid out for my life with my future are just not going to work out?
The Dangers of Worldly Fear
All of these fears are purely worldly. There’s no reference to God in these fears, and so we need to fight them as such, insofar as these fears are purely earthly. We have to try to eliminate them. We have to try to fight anxiety and worry and we have to try to restore our peace of soul.
You can’t be a virtuous without having peace of soul, and so when you’re anxious and you’re worried and you’re fearful, you’re much more likely to start committing sins and offending God, because you’re not thinking about God.
You’re just thinking about your obsession. It’s a very important skill in your spiritual life to be able to pull yourself up, to recognize that you’re in this state of anxiety and fear and say to yourself, soul, why are you afraid? Why do you have this fear?
Where is this fear coming from? Is this a good fear or is this a bad fear? Is this a fear that’s pleasing to God that leads me to God? Or is it a fear of this purely rooted in self? And if the answer is I’m afraid because I might lose something I like or I’m afraid because I might not get something I desire, and this is a state of worldly fear, we’ve got to try to stop the fear.
Understanding the Fear of Punishment
The second type of bad fear is the fear of punishment for doing something wrong. You’ve been caught and you’re going to be punished and you fear the punishment, not because you know that you deserve the punishment, but you fear it because you do not like pain and suffering. Your fears are wholly rooted in the question of pain.
For example, you’re afraid that you’ll have to spend two years in jail. You don’t want that. Maybe you’ve offended somebody in there. They’re going to beat you up and you’re going to have to go to the hospital and you don’t want to go to the hospital, you don’t want to feel the pain of being beaten up again.
This fear is a purely selfish fear. The person who has this fear is not afraid because of any consciousness that they deserve punishment. They’re getting what they deserve for their offense of sin or crime, what have you, and they’re only afraid because something’s going to happen to them that they do not like: they’re going to be in pain.
Dealing with the Fear of Punishment
This fear also has to be fought. If there is a punishment calming to me that I deserve, or even a pain coming to me that I do not deserve, then of course we’re going to be afraid. It’s natural for us to be afraid. But what we must make sure of is that we’re not afraid because of the pain itself.
We have to raise those fears to a higher level. We fight them by sublimating them and focusing our fear on something higher than these selfish or purely motives. So what I’m saying is you have to be very careful about the reason for which you are afraid.
I’m not expecting you to become some sort of stoic where you never ever experienced fear. That’s not the point. But the point is whether your fears are rooted in God or whether they’re rooted in yourself.
You need to raise your fear to higher motives. And this brings us to the three types of good fear. As I said, the two types of bad fear are purely natural and rooted in this world and in ourselves.
The Three Good Types of Fear in the Spiritual Life
The three types of good fear are supernatural. They are fears on the supernatural level. They are fears and worries that help you save your soul.
The Fear of Punishment, Revisited
The first type of good fear is the fear of punishment. You’re saying yourself, but father, you just told me that the second type of fear was the fear of punishment. Why is the third type of fear also the fear of punishment? I did tell you the second type of fear was the fear of punishment, but I told you it was a fear of punishment only because of the pain that comes from the punishment.
But this third type of fear of punishment is the fear of punishment because we know we deserve it. I’m going to get what I deserve and I don’t want to deserve that thing. If I commit this crime, I’m going to deserve this punishment and I don’t want to deserve to be punished in that way. I don’t want to have the burden of having that punishment justly inflicted upon me. That is the third type of fear.
It’s a fear of punishment as a just retribution for our sins, not a fear of punishment as being painful. For instance, I’m thinking about watching a movie and I looked at the DVD color cover and I see that the movie has scenes of sexuality. It has scenes of grave indecency, and I realize that if I watched this movie, I could very well commit a mortal sin and if I commit a mortal sin, I’m going to deserve to go to hell justly for all eternity and I don’t want that. I don’t want to go to hell for all eternity.
And so, I am afraid, there’s fear in my heart, but it’s a good fear. It’s a fear that might keep me from committing a mortal sin and losing my soul. And this is the sort of fear we should act upon and we should nourish this third type of fear in us. This first type of good fear is the absolute minimum that God requires of you for a valid confession.
If the only reason you have for being sorry for your sentence is that they send you to hell, then God will accept your attrition and give you Heaven, even for that motive alone. God will give you Heaven. He accepts. Your confession is valid, your sins are absolved and you can save your soul.
Distinguishing a Good Fear from a Scrupulous Fear
This fear is the most basic motivation for you to take steps to save your soul. Now when I say this fear is good, I’m not talking about a scrupulous fear. I’m not talking about a fear that is grounded in an illusion. I’m only talking about a reasonable fear, not an unreasonable fear.
For instance, if someone says to me, father, I’m really afraid of driving on the highway and seeing an indecent billboard because I then I might commit a mortal sin. I would say, no, that’s not the case. That’s an illusion. You’re not going to commit a mortal sin from looking at a billboard because the occasion of sin is not strong enough. That’s not going to be a sufficiently powerful to induce you to commit a mortal sin. Your fear is unreasonable.
Or if someone says, father, I looked at an indecent DVD color cover and I think I might’ve committed a mortal sin by doing so. I would say, no, unless the cover had explicit images on it and you continue to stare at those images and to derive pleasure from them. No, it was not a mortal sin for you to look to the cover. That fear is unreasonable.
So scrupulous fears are always unreasonable fears. They’re not based on reality, but they are based on false perceptions. The fears that I’m talking about, I’m assuming that they are based on reality, that there is something objective for you to fear.
The Second Good Fear: Filial Fear
The second type of supernatural and good fear is called filial fear.
Your fear is the fear a son or a daughter has of offending their parents, and in this case is the fear that we have of offending the good God. We recognize that God is so good that he’s given us absolutely everything, that he did not spare his life in order to save us. He laid down his very life to save us that he gives himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
And then we start thinking about committing a sin against our Lord Jesus Christ. And we say to ourselves, how wretched, how utterly wretched I would be if I offended my good God. How could I disrespect and hurt the very source of all goodness, the only one who’s only giving me good things, who will never let me down? My only true friend? How can I exchange the love and friendship of my God for a few moments of sense, pleasure, and we have this fear of offending someone so good. I really don’t want to offend someone that good.
The more we teach a soul about the grandeur and the perfection of God, the more that soul acquires a longing to love and to serve God. And the more it is touched by fear, it realizes more and more that to go against the will of God is something terrible.
And it’s a very wonderful thing for you to foster this kind of fear in your soul, for you to think about how good God is to you and for you to think about what you do when you offend God. When you commit a sin against God, what does that mean? What are you actually doing? When you do that with deliberation, offend the good God who has given you everything. And when you reflect upon that seriously and you start to fear, and whenever there’s this occasion perhaps that is an occasion of sin, reflect that if I do this, I will offend the good God. It’s a very good fear that the rises up in the soul.
The Last Kind of Fear: Fear of the Lord
The third type of supernatural fear and the last of the five types of fear over all is the fear of God himself is not the fear of the punishment of God. It’s not the fear of offending God. It is the fear of God. What happens is we understand the power and the majesty and the utter omnipotence of God, of the Authority who is ruling our reality. And because he is so transcendent, because he is so extremely perfect because he is so powerful, we are moved to awe at the thought of God. We come to church, we bend our knee before God. We adore God. We acknowledge that he is our creator, that he has an infinite power. That is the fifth type of fear and is so different from the other types of fear. Does it really deserve a different name? And the proper name of this fear is not really fear but reverence.
We call this fear reverence. It’s a fear that is more the action of honoring someone who is worthy of honor, who is superior. And we acknowledge the fact that this other person is superior and we submit, we sort of humble ourselves before the majesty of that greater being. And in the case of God, of course he is the most worthy of honor. And so we give him a supreme worship. And when we do this with the disposition of reverence, we have that fifth type of fear.
The angels have this fear. The preface of the mass says that the angels tremble before the presence of God. They don’t fear punishment because they don’t deserve punishment. There’s no punishment owed to them. They don’t have fear of offending God because they’re fixed in the beatific vision. They can’t commit any sins. There’s no way they’re going to offend God, so they don’t have that fear, but they still have the fear of reverence. They do fear God. They reverence God and they adore God. Even our Lord himself in his human nature had this fear. The Gospel tells us how frequently our Lord went off alone to pray, and it says that when he agonized in the garden, he prostrated himself. He fell flat on his face in the garden of olives. Our Lord in his human nature was bowing down before the Infinite Majesty of God.
How to Deal with and Understand Your Fears
When you fear something, you need to ask yourself, why am I worried? Where is God in this sphere? Then you have to elevate your fear. You have to raise it above the natural level. You might say to yourself, I’m not afraid for the right reason.
You turn to the Lord, and say, “I offer this difficulty to you. I leave it in your hands. The only thing I want is what you want. Only keep me from offending you. You alone know what is best for me. If you want me to suffer, I want to suffer. Only give me the strength because I’m weak. Help me fear only what you fear.”
And of course, we must not fail to have recourse to our Blessed Mother who was so strong in her fears and her sorrows that she stood at the foot of the cross. She was not hysterical and collapsing at the cross, but she stood foot of the cross because she bore her fear with the supernatural spirit.
We must fly to her when we feel fear rising up in our hearts, saying to her, “Remember, O Most Gracious Mother, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided, help me forget about my natural fears and anxieties. Take them away from me. I entrust all of my fears to you. Teach me how to fear your son and a fear nothing else so that I can be with you in him forever in heaven, in the name of the father and thee son of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Fr. Robinson has written the Realist Guide to Religion and Science, showing how religion and science become irrational when they abandon realism and intellectually fruitful when they embrace it. You can follow him on Youtube here!