A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Fear: The Root of Many Faults
July 17, 2018
Many of our faults and failings are more complex than we at first realize. Our patterns of behavior are rarely random, and surface sins are often merely symptomatic of deeper, more subtle wounds in our souls.
Fear is a prominent example of a deeper wound, for fear, perhaps second only to pride, is the cause of many of our faults and failings.
Laziness or sloth can be a hidden fear of discomfort or of failure.
Narcissism may be but a manifestation of a hidden fear of being unloved and unwanted.
Greed can be nothing more than a fear of scarcity—that there isn’t enough to go around.
Lust and its associated behaviors can reveal a hidden fear of intimacy or of commitment.
Materialism can drown a fear of ultimate meaninglessness or despair.
Even anger can be a defensive mechanism to mask a fear of weakness and vulnerability.
That is not to say every fault is caused by fear by any means. But it is a significant factor that we should consider as we consider our faults and why we are prone to the sins we are.
Why Are We So Afraid?
If fear is as powerful as it is, the question arises, why are we so afraid? I believe the answer lies in our deep awareness of our creatureliness and our broken communion with God.
By definition, we are finite creatures, and finitude implies vulnerability. Despite our occasional delusions of grandeur, we control far less of the world than we think. Many forces are beyond our ability to foresee or manipulate, and these forces often wound us.
We are deeply aware of our fragility and of this very real ability to be hurt, and so we are afraid. Like spiky-skinned lizards in the desert, we form defensive mechanisms to shield ourselves emotionally from others. These defensive mechanisms can, if unchecked, become habits of being that define us.
Now, in our primordial state, we were no less finite and vulnerable. The difference was, we had an intimate and constant communion with God. We perceived God’s goodness in everything, and we knew that every moment of being was a gift. Like a child confident in his father’s arms, we returned thanks for the gift of life with perfect trust that our Father willed the good for us.
Since the Fall, however, our communion with God has been broken. We no longer perceive his goodness. We no longer trust him with complete confidence. And so we are afraid.
The Psalmist David was no stranger to fear. He constantly speaks of enemies relentlessly pursuing his life, threats to his kingdom, and even of the warfare within his own soul. This is why the Psalms are so enduring—they reveal the depths of the human heart in all its fragility.
Even our Lord, in his frail humanity, was not impervious to fear. In the garden before his passion, his anxiety was so great that his blood vessels burst and great drops of blood streamed down his face.
Despite the storms that raged and threatened, our Lord Jesus, and all the suffering saints of the ages who followed him, had hearts perfectly at peace. And this because they were perfectly surrendered to the will of God. No matter how great the external threats they faced, they could say like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
Such peace is possible for all of us. Yet, moving from fear to perfect trust is no easy thing. It is a process that takes a time and experience. We must “taste and see that the Lord is good” in the concrete circumstances of our lives.
That does not mean that we will never face trials. Suffering, in one form or another, is inevitable. But if we surrender ourselves with perfect confidence to the will of God, we will find peace regardless of what may come. Paradoxically, the more we resist his will, the more we fight and flee from suffering, the more we suffer. The more surrendered to him we are, the less power suffering has over us.
From Fear to Freedom
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” While he was hardly speaking of the spiritual life, I believe he was correct. Fear can bind us, paralyze us, asphyxiate us. It is the root of many faults and failings.
If we are ever to progress on the road of virtue, if we are ever to find true freedom, we must recognize our fears and overcome them with patience. We must trust perfectly in our Lord’s goodness, knowing that in all the chances and trials of life he works for our eternal good, and we will find peace.
Let us then say with St. Paul,
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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