The Ancient Fear that Conquers Today’s Terrors

(For the audio version of this blog, please visit:

Our modern world is filled with fear it defines as terrible. It’s caused by the belief that someone or something will inflict pain. But there is an archaic fear that counters such dread with reverence, as in “the love and fear of God.”

A psychologist could have a field day with those distinctions, and one did recently, using the Holy Family as her reference. How did THEY deal with fear of this scary world? She contemplated this as she dreaded an upcoming Christmas concert she and the small choir with whom she sings were to perform.

“I didn’t feel we knew the music, and the concert clashed with another event in the same small village,” she wrote in a blog post“It was all going to be awful. Then I joined a contemplation session online. The theme was Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, and we were invited to imagine how Mary might have felt—heavily pregnant, incredibly uncomfortable, wondering whether she would find somewhere safe to give birth.  I found my perspective changing—how my feelings about the choir were driven by fear, and I suddenly had the sense of a choice. A choice to view and experience the world through a ‘fear lens’, or through a ‘love lens’ characterized by trust and compassion. It was as if my fear had been swept away. And I was surprised that such a well-worn story could have such an impact on me.”

The Holy Family’s combined sense of mission encapsulated in reverence for the One whose mission they shared saw them through. This psychologist, as part of a choir, became part of a holy family, with no doctoral titles separating them. Their group was united in mission, as the Holy Family was.

In this Sunday’s first reading, Peter meets a Centurion who learns the same lessons about fear (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48). This Centurion is described as a God-fearing man who gave alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly. As this “Cornelius” meets Peter, we can see his fear makes him feel both intimidation and devotion, as he falls at Peter’s feet. Peter comforts him by introducing the fear that unites them as much as their shared humanity does:

“Get up. I myself am also a human being. In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

Acting uprightly is an act of love that comes out of reverence for the love God represents in each of us. In our second reading, John counsels us to love one another, because love is of God—and fear of God conquers fear of this world.

“No one has ever seen God,” he writes. “Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. … Perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:7-12)

Perfect, fearless love of God is available through outreach to each other. It removes the fear of isolation caused by the dividers this world places between us. Sunday’s gospel reading goes to John’s source for this lesson: Jesus.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” the Master teaches. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. … This I command you: love one another.” (Jn 15:9-17)

The singing psychologist referenced earlier learned to abandon our modern world’s definition of fear and embrace the archaic fear of God that leads to fearless love. Live long enough in this world, and we also find the wisdom that puts that kind of perfect love into words.

“As we get older, shedding fears of failure and imperfections, we can find safety, and greater tolerance of our own failings and those of others,” she concludes. “[Walking] alongside our fears, we reduce the impact they have on us.”

And we’re renewed in our beautifully archaic fear of God.

–Tom Andel


  1. Love is the essential element of our lives. The readings this week especially zero in on this undeniable reality.

    Love can be a feeling, but in its truest sense, it is an action. It is doing what you don’t want to do when it is the right thing. It is charity in action. Being helpful and considerate.

    The best example is the love of a mother. Selfless, dedicated, sacrificial. Comes right from the heart.

    That is love!

    • A Mother’s AND a Father’s love can be tough, too, when it has to be. Teaching self-discipline can be the hardest lesson (for teacher AND student) because giving in to our desires is so easy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *