Today’s Gospel: Matthew 10:24-33
The heading just before today’s Gospel reading is “Coming Persecutions,” and the heading directly after today’s reading is, “Taking Up One’s Cross.” With those ideas as bookends, Jesus tells us “Whom to Fear” in today’s reading.
Jesus knows that there is persecution coming for his disciples (and Himself!), and he is about to instruct them to take up their crosses. Before doing that, Jesus tells his disciples exactly who is worthy of fear when their persecution begins.
“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.”
Jesus distinguishes between the body and soul. His disciples do not need to fear their persecutors who can only kill their bodies. Instead, they should fear Satan who can lead them to death in both body and soul. While their persecutors may destroy their bodies, only Satan can destroy both their bodies and souls. Satan is to be feared because he can lead them to eternal death and separation from God.
In his first inaugural address, FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Following in this maverick spirit as Americans, we have a tendency to embrace courage as a virtue and fear as some kind of a weakness. Fear is not a bad thing–so long as we are fearing the right thing. In fact, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “fear of the Lord” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1831). “Fear of the Lord” is a healthy respect for the perfect justice that Almighty God will administer upon all of us when we die. A healthy fear of the Lord is rooted in our love for Love Himself and our desire to choose Him above all else.
Consider the Act of Contrition:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen. (Emphasis mine.)
It’s good to fear Satan, but that’s not what we call perfect contrition. We’re not completely sorry if our actions are solely motivated from fear of punishment. Instead, we should choose God because we love Him. If we love Him, eternal separation from Him would be far worse than the death of our bodies.
So, fear Satan. Satan is real, and he’s on the job 24/7 to separate us from Love Himself. But we can’t make fearing Satan our sole focus. Instead, we need to keep our focus on God, asking Him for the graces we need to keep fighting the good fight. Fear of the Lord confirms the virtue of hope. Have hope that He’ll see us through. All we need to do is follow Him.
Do I believe that Satan is real? Do I fear him? Do I think of “fear of the Lord” as a fear of fire and brimstone, or is that fear based in separation from Him?
God, thank You for sending Your Son to crush the serpent’s head and free us from eternal punishment for our sins. Please help me to find hope in the cross when I feel defeated or persecuted. Please give me the gift of childlike trust that You will take care of all of my needs when I choose You. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Catherine Boucher