Last Word: The Fear of God

A Gift of the Holy Spirit?

The only physical experience I’ve ever had of the “supernatural” occurred during Dorothy Day’s funeral Mass. When the gospel reading began, I saw sparks coming from Dorothy’s coffin. My first thought was that there was a short circuit somewhere, but no one seemed concerned. Once the gospel reading was over, the sparks stopped. I dared not mention it to anyone at the time, and no one commented on it. It took me years to muster up the courage to ask my friend Patrick Jordan if he had noticed anything unusual at the funeral. He hadn’t. When I told him of my experience, he said quite simply, “That was for you.” There it was: a gift, a reassuring vision, and my only reaction had been fear and shame.

Maybe my fear was something like that of the myrrh-bearing women on the day of the Resurrection. Initially they dared not tell anyone that they had seen an angel proclaiming that Jesus had been raised. Later, when the Risen Christ first appeared to his apostles, they were afraid and confused and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Maybe they were afflicted with a type of fear that haunts us all to one degree or another: the fear that the Christian narrative is simply too good to be true.

The fear of the Lord is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament. It is called the beginning of wisdom and defines the just man. Yet the risen Christ tells his...

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About the Author

Jerry Ryan joined the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1959. He lived and worked with them for more than two decades in Europe and South America. He and his family now live in Massachusetts.