COURAGEOUS FEAR: A HOMILY ON WEDNESDAY, 31ST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR II, IBADAN
Courage is not the absense of fear. A complete absense of fear is a mental illness. Courage, therefore is the ability to do that which we are afraid to do. That is why we speak of a courageous fear. We need fear as much as we need courage. Courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit and so is the Fear of the Lord.
In the first reading, we are told to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But who wants to live in fear? The fear of the Lord may include the fear of his punishment, e.g. the fear of hell. Even when we begin with this kind of fear, we should not end with it. A better kind of fear is a loving kind of fear. When a child does something good, the child looks at his/her parent to see their reaction. He/she wants approval. The whole idea is that of pleasing the one we love. When the child does something wrong, his/her fear could be that of punishment, but in a more matured way, it could be the fear of disappointing the people who love him/her. So, our fear of God is a loving fear, which makes us always want to please our lover. The beloved is always happy to see the lover pleased.
When we examine our motive sometimes, we will discover that we do a lot of things in order to win the admiration of the people around us. We do a lot of things because we are afraid of disapproval from others. There is nothing wrong with this. But the problem is that we are more afraid of what other people will say at the expense of what God will say. So we would rather please others and displease God than please God to displease others.
When we were children, we were told that God is everywhere and that He is watching us, even when we are hiding in a dark room. That way, we are afraid of doing something bad, even in secret. But when we grow up, we forget that God is always watching. So, we become more afraid of being seen by others than being seen by God. At this point, we have lost the fear of God, but are full of the fear of others. In the gospel, Jesus tells us to hate our fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, sisters and even our own lives, in order to become His true disciples. What this means is that we should not be so concerned with what our loved ones think, but should rather be more concerned about what God think of us.
Jesus goes ahead to tell us that if you want to build a house, you should be sure you can finish it. Otherwise people will laugh at you. He also said if you are going to war with someone, you should be sure you have enough men to fight the war. In other words, do not start what you cannot finish. If we ignore God completely and we dont care what He thinks of us, are we really able to finish what we are starting. Each one of us must sit down and calculate what is more costly for us, between pleasing others and pleasing God; between being afraid of what others think and being afraid of what God think.
Jesus ended by inviting us to give up all our possessions. Fr. Garry George CSsR, our Redemptorist of South African origin, but now working with the Marionite rite in the USA, during the missions I preached with him and Fr. Larry Kaufman CSsR, in Ballito, said it is very easy to give up material things, to give up relationships, to give up certain activities, but the most difficult thing to give up is our mindset. One mindset that we all need to give up is the mindset of being afraid of what people would say, yet not really caring what God would say. We seem to be investing our fear in the wrong business. It seems we dont mind loosing God, but we care very much about loosing our friends and families. This is the height of foolishness. That is why it is said that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is a courageous fear, because it is the fear that sometimes require the courage to displease others.