On Fear of the Lord and Our Prayer Life

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

“For behold, the day comes,” says God through the prophet Malachi, “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn the up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” This revelation through Malachi makes clear what is at stake in our service to God. The Lord will come like fire, and the wrongdoers among the people of God will be burnt to ashes. Those who fear the Lord, however, will experience the fire as a healing sun. The stakes, in other words, are high. The historic and traditional Christian faith is not about “playing church.”

In all things and in all expressions and in all circumstances, the root of real faith is fear of the Lord. And here again, we must bear in mind that “fear of the Lord” means not fright, but awe before the majesty of the Lord the maker of all things visible and invisible. Fear of the Lord, then, is an attitude. It is a disposition that we do not have like we have a mood—moods come and go; we have a mood of lightness one moment, a mood of heaviness another, a mood of optimism, then a mood of pessimism. The fear of the Lord is nothing like that. The fear of the Lord must be as everyday to us as is the recognition that the sky is blue, that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that dark follows day and day follows after night. So the fear of the Lord—awe at the majesty of God and His marvelous things, awe at His mercy and faithfulness, awe at His love for His creation, awe at the offering of Jesus for the world, awe at His suffering of death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone and thereby remove the sting of death for ever—the fear of the Lord is something so central to being a Christian that if it is something we do not thing that we have, we must ask God for His grace to give us this fear!

Brothers and sisters, let me emphasize that the primary means for asking for this grace to give us the fear of the Lord necessary for our salvation is the Liturgy—the daily prayer with the Offices or devotions in the Prayer Book in concert with the Mass are a system that was a revealed publicly on the Day of Pentecost with the Coming of the Holy Ghost. And the purpose of this system is entirely spiritual: to draw us into awe of God. Why is the Mass ordered the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. Why is daily prayer ordered in the Prayer Book the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. If these services, seen not as a collection of pious things to do but as a system or “regula” to work out our salvation, were not central to the Faith the Prayer Book would not have them at the front of the Book and Saint Luke would not have noted the revelation of them by God to the young Church on Pentecost.

Being faithful and mature Christians in our tradition means embracing the daily prayer and the Mass not as an obligation as much as an opportunity to again surrender ourselves to God, presenting to Our Lord our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Him—an opportunity for Him to take us into Him, and make us one Body with Him, that He—the maker of all things visible and invisible—may be one Body with us. And this is the seed that grows into true fear of the Lord. This is the seed that grows into a deeper ability to rest in God: for only in Him can our restlessness truly find rest. Our participation in the Liturgy is the seed that grows into the reliance upon God in all things: particularly reliance upon Him when the world tests us. We need to rely upon God in those moments, knowing that, as Our Lord Jesus taught His disciples, He will give us a mouth and wisdom. He will speak through our mouth.

The promises of Christ are high, indeed. They are high because the stakes are high. Without the fear of God implanted in our hearts, at His coming we will not be able to withstand the heat. But with it—the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing—that is, mercy—in its wings.