The Gift of Fear

The recently republished The Seven Steps to Sanctification, How to Awaken the Gifts of the Holy Spirit within You outlines the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the “Divine Will in Christ’s priestly prayer: “Sanctify them in truth” (John 17:17).” Written by two priests, Walter Farrell, O.P., and Dominic Hughes, O.P. the chapters take readers through seven steps that Catholics—and all humans—need to spend eternity in heaven. And each chapter concludes with a summary of each saintly step by St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

The Seven Steps, or graces, include the following:  The Gift of Understanding; The Gift of Knowledge; The Gift of Wisdom; The Gift of Counsel, The Gift of Piety; The Gift of Fear; and The Gift of Fortitude. The priests delve deeply into the connection between each grace as a way to live a Godly life, to treat others well, to be a fervent Catholic, and to heal and cleanse one’s soul.

As the first chapter, “Grace and the Gifts,” notes: “In Christian life on earth, there are two correlative elements: a preservation from evil and a perfection in good. For both of these Christ prayed. ‘Holy Father, keep them in the name who thou has given me’ (John 17:11) is the realistic request of one who knows what is in man. He prayed ‘not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that though shouldst keep them from evil’ (John 17:15), since He knew that the engrafted evil of Original Sin left its mark upon all in their inclination to evil in proud self-assertiveness and sensual satisfaction.”

People can probably relate to each step in some way or another. But most people, regardless of their faith, have experienced fear in their lifetime. Everyone fears something, and sometimes this fear can be considered a grace. Father Farrell digs deeply into the sense of fear: “If we could sit down with this truth for a quiet evening, tired and familiar as it is from its long travels, much could be learned. It might, for example, be asked: What makes men poor; what are men afraid of?”

Father Farrell separates fear into two distinct categories: fear of material poverty and fear of spiritual poverty. Of the former, Father writes, “Material poverty, then, is relatively simple in the complex human world. It is a bitter desolation, an annoying burden, or an exultantly chosen release” from worldly goods such as clothes, new cars, and all the trinkets one can afford. Poverty of spirit, on the other hand, “will range from a spiritual pauperism of degradation to the spiritual wealth of the Beatitudes…this fear is a Gift of the Holy Spirit which goes by the name of Fear of the Lord; a habit infused into the soul by God along with sanctifying grace and the theological and the moral virtues.”

Father added a further justification of this sanctifying fear: “In common with the other Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fear of the Lord operates not in the human manner but in the angelic, or rather in the divine, manner.”

St. Thomas Aquinas addressed fear by separating it into three stages: “Three fears are concerned with punishment, but in different ways. Worldly, or human, fear is concerned with punishment that turns men away from God…servile and initial fear, on the other hand, are concerned with a punishment by which men are drawn to God, and which is inflicted or threatened by God…The fear of God which is numbered among the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is filial, or chaste, fear. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are habitual perfections of the powers of the soul, by which these are made amenable to the movement of the Holy Spirit, just as by the moral virtues the appetitive powers are made amenable to the motion of reason…”

The final chapter, “The Gifts of Glory,” summarizes all that the reader should learn about the graces God has bestowed upon mankind. For those who ignore these graces and pursue worldly pleasures, their future without Christ and faith may be dark and unclear. The Fathers define the importance of living by and with the graces: “Growing up in the grace and imitation of Christ by suffering rather than attacking, by being wise in the ways of God and not in those of the world, by preserving purity of mind in the presence of error and malice, by helping others when they themselves are all but helpless, by desiring justice as their brothers’ keepers, by weeping over a world so self-enthralled it does not know the hour of its perfection, by being strong enough to turn a second cheek to save a soul, by being rich enough in God to be carefree in their careful stewardship — by all of these, Christians triumph over human nature and conquer the world. They practice the truth in love, because in them, by the presence of the Holy Spirit and His Gifts, has been fulfilled Christ’s priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in truth” (John 17:17).”

The Seven Steps to Sanctification, How to Awaken the Gifts of the Holy Spirit within You is available now from Sophia Institute Press.

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A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world — from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith. Her latest work is Cooking with the Saints.

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