At the beginning of religious life, aspirants to any given community serve a period of time called the novitiate. The time frame can be usually one or two years, depending on the rule and constitutions of any particular community. For us Franciscans, it is a one-year period spent in prayer, study and contemplation in anticipation of the profession of the Gospel counsels (vows) of poverty, chastity and obedience. Our province is named after the great seraphic doctor, St. Bonaventure, who is typically honored as the second founder, after St. Francis, of the Franciscan Order. In the sacristy of our novitiate, there was a beautifully carved statue of St. Bonaventure, dressed in his Franciscan habit, wearing a cardinal’s red hat and holding a book with the words: “Timor Domini, initium sapientiae” (“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”). (Prv 9:10)
The more I thought of this proverb during the year, the more of an impression it made on me; and it seems to have resonated in my heart, mind and soul ever since. Fear of the Lord is, of course, one of the seven gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit as we receive the sacrament of confirmation. It opens for us two of the many great mysteries of God and calls us to prayer and contemplation in our consideration of them. The first is the transcendence of God. This means that God’s greatness surpasses our human understanding to comprehend Him totally—He is without limit! The second mystery we contemplate is God’s immanence, namely: God’s presence and activity everywhere and at all time. He sustains all creation. God’s ability to do this is one of the awe-inspiring aspects of God.
Both of these great mysteries inspire within us an awareness of the true awesomeness of God. We hear the word “awesome” used so superficially that it almost takes on a shallow and frivolous kind of connotation. Hardly a way to consider God! The quote from Proverbs about the Fear of the Lord, though, brings us deeply into the authentic mystery of God—awesome! When we contemplate God, it is certainly His “otherness” that causes wonder and awe.
In the beginning of his conversion and call to Jesus, St. Peter encountered a miracle by which Jesus told Peter to “put out into the deep” and he would catch many fish. Peter told Jesus he had been hard at it all night, but if Jesus issued the word, Peter would accept the challenge. Peter and his fellow fishermen (future apostles) caught an incredible amount of fish. Peter was astonished—and humbled! He said to Jesus: “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus used Peter’s genuine humility to make him into a first-rate apostle—a genuine man of Faith.
The Spirit’s Gift of the Fear of the Lord is given so we may be humble in the face of God who calls us to “put out into the deep” and trust in the awesome nature of God, who wills only good for us!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.
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Blessed Advent to you.