I believe the most powerful tool the devil has at his disposal is fear.
When I say “fear,” I do not mean “fear of the Lord,” which is a spiritual gift that helps us to respect God.
No, I mean the fear which tells us that God does not want what is good for us. I mean the fear that ultimately leads to rebellion. For if I do not trust a person in authority because I do not believe that they are interested in my good, I will rebel against them. It is human nature to rebel against that kind of abusive authority.
Indeed, the devil himself is driven by fear. He feared our creation as somehow diminishing his own. He didn’t trust God and His will. His fear led to rebellion and hate; not just of God, but of us as well. His main tool is what drives him.
In the garden, his temptation is based in fear, a fear the devil himself is motivated by: “God does not want what is good for you. Don’t trust Him.” It is why the first emotion Adam and Eve feel after the fall is fear (they notice they are naked) and that fear leads them to try and hide from God.
Fear is the biggest reason why Catholics do not evangelize. We are afraid of rejection, of having our lack of knowledge of the faith exposed, of persecution, of having to step out from society. Indeed, to evangelize is to say what the world offers is insufficient. That might well expose us to ridicule, persecution , or rejection. It might well expose our own lack of knowledge.
Fear is what destroys vocations. A young man or woman will fear rejection, accusation, loss of independence, and various other things. They will be shown the absolute worst examples: unfaithful priests, unhappy married people, bitter religious..criminal behavior. They will be told this is the norm and who they will become should they follow such a road. Fear will be cultivated until even the thought of seeking God’s will is yanked up by its roots.
Fear is what destroys our liturgies. Fear? Absolutely! Fear that I won’t get anything out of it, fear that people will leave, fear that I will be seen as irrelevant, fear that I will be seen as dated, etc.
Fear causes us to put the focus on ourselves. It insulates us. If my modus operendi is self-protection/self-pleasure/self-satisfaction, they all scream to God, “I do not trust you! I have to look out for my own good!” Because proper worship is focused away from ourselves and towards God, if I do not trust God then Mass either becomes placating a unfair God, or a completely disposable event…why worship something that is not looking out for our good?
We are told 365 times in the Bible to not be afraid. God knows what fear does to us. Since He actually does love us and wants what is good for us, he tells us to trust Him – to have courage and strength. He knows fear will stall us and eventually and eternally destroy us.
Not to sound like Yoda, but fear leads to anger. It leads us to darkness. Fear leads us to rebellion and despair. It leads us to an emptiness and dissatisfaction with life. It leads us to strike out against those not bound by fear.
The devil knows this. He is the penultimate example of “misery loves company.”
Fear is overcome with faith one decision at a time. Fortitude, a cardinal virtue, when driven by the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love spurs us to reject fear. It gives us the courage to endure with joy whatever those still in fear will throw at us.
Live in fortitude infused with faith, hope, and love and evangelization and vocation will not only be something no longer run from, they will be something desired. Live in fortitude infused with faith, hope , and love then the worship of God, and not the entertainment of man, will become the focus of our liturgies again. Prayer will not be seen as a burden to appease God, but as a longing for growth in our relationship with God and the Body of Christ.
The virtues, though, are disciplines by which we consciously decide what we want to be. We must decide to trust God choice by choice, surrendering our will to His providence. The coldness of fear gets replaced with the fire of love.
It is your choice. God has one plan for you. The devil also has a plan for you.
Which plan you follow will be taken step by step by whether you give into or rise above fear.
Fr. Bill Peckman is a priest in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. He is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence, Sacred Heart Parish in Bevier.
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