Father Kevin Michael LaugheryDiocese of Springfield in Illinois, USA, Roman Catholic Church
Last update and upload: Sunday, July 5, 2020


We commonly give a number of meanings, some of them contradictory, to this little word. Generally -- especially in a religious context -- we say that fear is bad. "Be not afraid." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." We think of fear as something which disempowers us. Even so, our religious language is filled with references to "fear of the Lord" as a positive attribute, even a gift of the Holy Spirit. So how do we sort out this confusion?

We start by affirming that the feeling of fear is a positive energy. Fear is the feeling that tells us that we must be careful to make good decisions. Sometimes our feelings of fear call us to speed up in order to make a good decision; very often, for instance while driving a car, we have to make split-second decisions for safety's sake. At other times, fear tells us to slow down in order to make a good decision: to take time to weigh a variety of alternatives and not be swayed by immediate exigencies. In neither case does fear disempower us; rather, it moves us to call upon our powers of good judgment. Our feelings of fear, united with the powers of our intellect, free us to be decisive people and to be happy with our decisions.

Ultimately, all such fear is rooted in the "fear of the Lord": the reverence we owe to God simply because he is our God and we are his creatures. When we hold someone in reverence, we fear doing anything which would impair the relationship. Our experience of the feeling of fear is our ongoing habit of reminding ourselves to take care: to be attentive to the decisions we make in light of our ultimate identity as children of God.

A fearful attitude toward life is, in fact, a contradiction of our living in the fear of the Lord. The attitude of fearfulness -- a habit of cowering before the challenges of life -- goes against the sense of confidence which believers must always exercise. We pray, in the words of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation: there is nothing I need to be afraid of!" This psalm continues by describing situations in which we will, naturally, feel afraid but will not succumb to the disempowering, cowering attitude of fear.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" -- that's right! We must allow the feeling of fear to connect us with the power of God, and not lead us into a tailspin in which we interpret life in terms of dread. Fear will always cause us to feel vulnerable. And we are vulnerable! But as we acknowledge our weakness and limitations, we affirm our bond with God, all-powerful and victorious over all evil.

Father Kevin Laughery

Father Kevin Michael LaugheryDiocese of Springfield in Illinois, USA, Roman Catholic Church