"If I have found favour in thy sight, 0 king, and if it please thee, give me my life for which I ask, and my people, for which I request." (Esth. vii, 3.)
TIE HOLY GHOST teaches us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. cx, 10.) This fear is not that servile movement which has for its object the chastisement due to sin; it is a sentiment of filial piety, grounded on the one hand on the greatness and majesty of God, and on the other on the deformity of sin.
Servile fear may be found even among those who do not love God, whom the dread of punishment alone keeps back from offending their Lord and Master. Speaking of this fear St. John says that perfect charity casts it out. (1 John, iv, 18.)
On the other hand, filial fear belongs to God's children. These recognize the Most High for their Sovereign Lord, and love Him as their tender Father; hence they have for Him a profound esteem and veneration. Knowing that they are exposed in this life to a thousand occasions of offending Him, by reason of the temptations they must undergo through the frailty of the flesh, the malice of the demon, and the allurements of the world, they fear sin above every other evil.
Lord, give me, I beseech Thee, an ample share of this salutary fear, according as Thou hast said: "I will give my fear in their heart." (Jer. xxxii, 40.)
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Mary, at the moment of her Immaculate Conception, received, together with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, that of the fear of God. This fear in her was in no sort servile. Filled as she was with divine grace, altogether pure and holy, what chastisement could she apprehend?
Neither was there in Mary, properly speaking, that fear which theologians call "chaste fear," which has for its object the possible danger of falling away from God by sin; for she well knew that by an especial assistance of the Holy Ghost, she would never lose divine grace.
The fear of God was, therefore, in Mary a reverential fear, caused by a keen and lively sense of the awful majesty of the Most High and His limitless power. It was this very sentiment which impelled this glorious Virgin to believe with all her heart the truths revealed by God: to consecrate to the Lord all the affections of her soul: to shelter herself and rest, like a white dove, under the fatherly wings of Divine Providence: "I sat down under His shadow, whom I desired." (Cant, ii, 3.)
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The chief effect of the gift of fear in Mary was to inspire her, in her adorations and supplications, with so great a sense of respect and veneration for the Divine Majesty, that all her petitions merited to be heard: even as we read of Jesus, that He "was heard for His reverence." (Heb. v, 7.) Mary might, therefore, like another Esther, present herself without fear before the throne of the King of kings, and lay her request at His feet, with a certain confidence of being fully heard, whatever the object of her petition might be.
Oh, that we would imitate Mary in the acquisition and exercise of this precious gift of the fear of God! That our prayers might be animated with this reverential and wholesome fear, which is the pledge of divine favours, for it is written that God "will do the will of them that fear Him: and He will hear their prayer." (Ps. cxliv, 19.) Would that we dreaded above all things to commit sin, the greatest of evils, and that we might courageously shun all the occasions of offending our Heavenly Father and losing His grace!
Happy the soul that possesses this salutary fear, the beneficial effect of which is felt especially at the moment of death. For such a soul does not dread the passage from life to eternity: on the contrary, it looks upon that moment as the beginning of all real blessings. "With him that feareth the Lord, it shall go well in the latter end, and in the day of his death he shall be blessed." (Ecclus. i, 18.)
Example - St. Ildephonsus
One of the most strenuous champions of the perpetual virginity of the most holy Mother of God was St. Ildephonsus, Archbishop of Toledo, in Spain. His birth, which took place in the year 606, was the effect of a special grace of Mary. He came to this world on the eighth of December, which is the day that was afterward consecrated to the Immaculate Conception of our blessed Lady. When but ten years old, he was placed under the direction of St. Isidore of Seville, that he might learn, besides human science, the virtues necessary in a minister of the Lord.
After ten years he returned to his country, where, following the impulse of the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding the opposition of his parents, he withdrew into solitude, entering the monastery of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. A short time after, the splendor of his religious virtues moved his brethren to elect him Superior. Later, he was raised to the dignity of Archbishop, succeeding Eugenius in the See of Toledo.
Spain at that time was infested by a crowd of Arian heretics, who taught that Jesus Christ was not equal to His Father but only an adopted Son, and that therefore Mary was not the Mother of God but an ordinary woman. These men, following the false teaching of Elvidius, strove to deprive the Queen of Heaven of the halo of perpetual virginity. Ildephonsus directed all his pastoral care against this nefarious doctrine, and proved both by writing and preaching that Jesus Christ is truly God, equal to the Father, and that Mary is the most holy Mother of God, and yet always a Virgin.
Such zeal, if it excited the wrath of Ildephonsus' enemies, was however not unrewarded by God. One day as Ildephonsus was praying at the tomb of St. Leocadia in the presence of a large multitude of the faithful, among whom was the King Recesvintus, the stone which covered the sacred remains of this virgin, was suddenly lifted and the Saint coming forth from the tomb addressed the holy Bishop, exclaiming: "O Ildephonsus, through thee is my Mistress living." By that, St. Leocadia wished to show how efficacious was the preaching of Ildephonsus for preserving faith and devotion to Mary in the hearts of the people, despite the calumny of the heretics. As witness of this wonderful apparition and to confirm the truth which Ildephonsus had defended, St. Leocadia invited him to detach, a small piece of the white veil which covered her head, and this is preserved to the present day as a precious relic in the cathedral of Toledo. St. Ildephonsus died on the twenty-third of January, 667.
O Mary, it was by a special grace of the Holy Ghost that thou wast made sinless during thy mortal life, and that thou wert animated with such a veneration for the Divine Majesty, that thou didst merit to be heard in all thy prayers. Present, I beseech thee, special petitions to the Most High, that I may ever keep alive in me this gift of salutary fear, in order that I may avoid sin, and come to eternal blessedness. Amen.