WHY did you decide to become Catholic, I asked a Chinese couple? “Because we are a superstitious people, full of fears, they answered. Having become Christian, we have no more fears!”.
Fears are common. Rational fear for such things as fire, knives or arms, protects us from harm and danger. Irrational, imaginary fears bring worries, anxiety, panic to the point of causing serious harm, even mental disorder. One may call them diabolic, because they take away the peace and happiness God intends for us.
Irrational fears such as unworthiness, scrupulosity, the unforgiveable sin etc. are not uncommon among Catholics. It is these fears that are my concern here, for without good teaching the Chinese couple could easily fall prey to them.
St John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:10). Note, he links fear and punishment.
Now, one can only talk about punishment if there is sin or transgression. There is a nice example in Genesis. After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, God searched for them. Adam replied, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). See, sin brought a new element, fear and distrust, into their relationship with God and ever since Adam, Eve and their descendants have to deal with fear. Thus, John in this letter says, “Perfect love casts out fear!”.
Perfect love is revealed in Jesus, who came to show us that God “loved us first” (1 John 4:19). Jesus died to atone and take away sins and its punishment, reconciling us with God. His resurrection begins a new creation, in which we share the loving embrace of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, source and goal of our happiness.
Faith in Jesus pours God’s love into our hearts, and casts out fear – fear of sin, judgment, punishment, condemnation. Faith in him gives us hope to be partakers of the glory of God. The story of the prodigal son is really the reconciliation of Adam and his descendants shown in the Father’s merciful embrace of him.
This perspective is important for catechesis. Too long sin, avoidance of sin, improving our old life have been its focus, while little attention was given to the new creation that finds its fulfilment in God’s merciful embrace. God, the goal and source of our happiness, was hardly ever made the object of our desire, but became the one we fear most.
Let me explain. During vacations I like to mountaineer and hike up steep mountains enjoying the scenic panorama. Some years ago, I suffered fear of heights. A dreadful affliction! Every time I came within even five meters of a cliff, I felt sucked into its depth. I felt unable to resist its pull. Thank God, I no longer suffer from it, but the experience taught me something about fear of sin.
In kindergarten nuns prepared us to make confession before First Communion. They taught us to keep our souls “white”, and to go immediately to confession if ever our souls got a dirty spot because of sin. Fear of sin and how to avoid sin thus became dominant in my life. Later in life I experienced that the more I tried not to sin, the more I was unable to resist it. Many I know have the same experience.
In order not to fall into this trap, I propose the following points towards creating a healthy spiritual life.
- Profess our faith in Jesus as the unique saviour who restores our relationship with God. Today, with many gurus and religions, we doubt and often “silently” deny Jesus’ uniqueness. Only, he is the way to the Father. In Mark (2:1-12) the pharisees challenge Jesus’ authority. But to prove that he is God and can forgive sins, he heals the paralytic saying, “take up your bed and walk”.
- Examination of conscience and confession of sins. Its objective is not to make us feel bad and guilty – that’s why today many want to trivialize sin. True knowledge of self and our sinfulness increases our love for God and what he has done for us when Jesus gave his life. If you never sinned, you could not know Gods love. Therefore, Jesus says to the sinful woman “he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47).
- Believe “the night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12) The old creation has died with Christ. God started a new creation by pouring his love into your heart. Why waste your energy? Invest yourself in this what God has sowed in hope, for with proper cultivation it will bear abundant fruits of happiness (Galatians 5:22).
I pray that this short reflection will exorcize the negative fears from your heart. Train your heart, therefore, to reject these fears and, in all you do, cultivate a longing for “the Father’s embrace”. When that day comes, he gives you salvation and fulfilment of happiness.