The Pure of Heart & The Holy Spirit
Worldly fear is born of inordinate self-love and arises ultimately from sin. This fear is like a net. The more we struggle when caught within it, the tighter it becomes. We can allow it to become a way of life so it affects our education, politics, work, and recreation. It is the law of the jungle. Our efforts are laden with "jockeying for position, striving to get ourselves into a more influential and powerful place" so that we may competitively impress others. We want to have the last word, to interrupt others, and portray ourselves in the best light. God's mercy is far from our minds when we are under the sway of worldly fear.
Fear is one of the seven steps of sin, and as such forms the central pivot of every evil. It counters and negates the gift at the center of our identity. Worldly fear is love for the world and trust in the world's tactics and schemes. The Holy Spirit passes into this pivot point and seeks to reverse the motion by restoring the gift.
As the Holy Spirit begins to move within us as we are caught in worldly fear, the nature of the fear begins to shift. Still drawn to the worldly pursuit of status and achievement, we quietly feel a new sense emerging in our consciousness. We begin to experience small movements of Aquinas' second type of fear, servile fear: we fear punishment from God. This second level of fear is actually charity beginning to shift the way we live according to worldly fear. Self-love begins to diminish. Instead of worldly fear guiding our daily decisions, the fear of punishment begins to move us in a different way. This transition is rooted in the fear of evil and the knowledge that sin is punished because it is a disorder. The world does not bring what it promises. The gap between promise and experience leads us to consider God from the standpoint of his power rather than of his goodness. Still caught in selfish concerns stemming from worldly fear, we can at first see God's action only under the aspect of punishment. The fear of loss predominates in servile fear. We fear the loss of goods, health, objects, friends, and also heaven. Still, this level of fear is more mature and advanced than worldly fear. Servile fear admits there is more than the world.
Servile fear remains caught in the world's residue and thus retains
self-interest. But the self-interest has begun to look beyond the self. Another-the Holy Spirit-has intervened and shown that the world is not enough. The ways of the world are being revealed as limited. As the Holy Spirit begins to prove the world false, we experience the way of the world as flawed. Servile fear motivates us to avoid sin and is enough to make us ready for heaven. The danger is when servile fear is understood as the goal rather than a stage. If unduly cultivated, this fear can become a fixation and an encumbrance by which we seek to get others to heaven by scaring them. Something more is needed.
The Holy Spirit seeks to move us beyond servile fear to Aquinas'
third level, initial fear. We now experience a mixture of fear of punishment and the fear of committing a fault against God. While we continue to seek to avoid sin because of fear of punishment, we slowly begin to realize that besides fearing the punishment of God, we may also love God. We may vacillate between avoiding sin because we fear punishment and avoiding sin because we love God. This balancing act is common to initial fear. Charity has moved us to the beginning of filial fear. The Holy Spirit has helped us mature beyond the fear of punishment to sense that
God's power is more than retribution. It is always a profound gift of love. As we realize this, we still sense the fear of hell, but the fear is due more to separation from love, and we move beyond our preoccupation with avoiding punishment.
The Holy Spirit then gradually introduces us to an awareness of a relationship with God pervaded more and more by love. We do not want to separate from God by sin because we fear punishment, but because we are growing in the love of God. Far from being a mere mental construct, this love becomes evident in our actions through charity. We begin to see sin as banal and unattractive. The old ways of worldly fear are seen as a futile maze that leads to a dead end. We wonder how we could 'have navigated the paths of worldly fear for so long.
But even this awareness quickly vanishes as we experience God more and more as a loving Father. The fourth level of fear, filial fear, is the love of a child before the father, but it is not a trembling worry of being overrun or overpowered. It is, rather, the fear of hurting the father because we love him. Filial fear realizes that we are the son or daughter, and so we move forward with a constancy that does not depend on the world.
One of my earliest memories captures the image of filial fear. When I was very young, before I could even walk steadily, I used to sit at my father's feet. I have a picture of myself doing just this, wearing blue overalls and sucking on a pacifier. With one hand on my father's shoe, I was looking up at the camera, wondering what that mysterious flash was. My father was six feet, four inches tall. He routinely wore good black leather shoes with thin shoelaces. He also wore good businesslike pants with a perfect crease. One of my first, repeated memories of my father is sitting at his feet playing with those thin laces, wrapping them, tugging ~t them, and twisting them. After about five minutes of this I would get distracted, or my father would stand up because it was time for us to leave for home or to move to the yard. Because I was only starting to walk, it was easier for him to carry me. When he stood up and I looked up at him, my gaze would travel up the pant leg, along that perfect crease stretched along the better part of a six-foot, four-inch expanse. The same thought would always come into my mind, and I can feel it in my ribs to this day, one of my original thoughts: "He goes on forever." That is filial fear. My father goes on forever. It is "that healthy fear which prevents us from living for ourselves alone and compels us to pass on the hope we hold to 'others." It is only from this vantage point that we can have the hope necessary to say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
The Holy Spirit wishes to accomplish something in our lives by changing our daily fears into a strong feature of the inner life of virtue. He does this as his gift of fear of the Lord infiltrates the tendency to fear and helps the believer to understand the nature of God's merciful power that fortifies our innermost places.
from The Human Person According to John Paul II by J. Brian Bransfield pp. 214-217