“If a man turn to God and adhere to Him, through fear of punishment, it will be servile fear, but if it be on account of fear of committing a fault, it will be filial fear, for it becomes a child to fear offending its father.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 83. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
Oh, to have this filial fear always in our hearts! It should always be through love for and desire of the reward that we are motivated the most. What good does it do us to go about cowering for fear of being cast into hell? We certainly cannot think much of God’s beauty and goodness if we live our lives this way–no, our minds are on the pains of hell and what we shall suffer should we ‘step out of line.’ Is this the image of a life and heart surrendered to God?
No, when we live and think this way, we are still practicing self-love over love of God. Believe it or not, we are. While we should certainly fear hell and avoid those things which could lead us there, we should fear offending God much more. But, you say, sin is the very thing which offends God and will lead us into hell should we not repent of it. It is one and the same thing, with the same consequences.
Yes, but which of those fears–of offending God, and of being cast into hell–is motivated by self-love? Which is motivated by love of God? Surely we cannot say it is the latter. We fear, for our own sake, the pains and sufferings of hell. We do not fear them for God’s sake–He will never feel their pains. They are His instruments of justice and wrath. Thus, the fear of the pains of hell is driven by self-love.
But to fear offending God…this is a different story. No longer are we concerned with our own suffering which is caused by sin, but we are instead crushed under the dread of wounding Our Lord’s most gracious charity towards us. We fear offending God because we love Him and do not want to cause Him grief because of our sins and offenses, after he has loved us and forgiven us so tenderly. In this way, we have a truly filial fear of God, for as our Saint says, “it becomes a child to fear offending its father.”
Let us pray, throughout this Holy Season of Lent, to gain this filial fear and hold it always in our hearts, letting it go before us as a guard against all attachment to sin, for God is our greatest Good, and a most gracious and loving Father; to offend Him is to spurn His love and lose His graces by which we are made more like Him day by day. Let us be worthy children of such a Father and dread offending His love first and foremost before we fear the pains of hell.