Notice that I use the word “diminish” rather than eliminate. We will probably always have some fears, and maybe we can even admit that some fears are good to have. Having a good survival instinct (thus fear of losing my life) makes me more careful when I walk across the street, rather than being reckless and refuse to look both ways when I do walk across the street. Likewise, it is good to maintain a fear of fire. I’ll be careful around fire as a result of such fear. See my point?
However, why would I want to maintain a fear of God or maintain a fear of people for the only reason that they are different from me? Does life have to be this way? I don’t think so, and I know that the Church doesn’t think so either. Scripture would have us love God first and foremost, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if you read the last sentence again carefully you will see that God gives us the answer as to how to eliminate our fears of both God and neighbor. The secret, given in broad daylight by the way, is to love our neighbor “as ourselves.”
You see, I know me. It doesn’t matter if spiritual and psychological writers challenge me to know myself better, presuming as they do that I do not know myself well enough. Allowing for the fact that such a challenge is indeed wonderful, it doesn’t change the fact that I still know myself better than I know you. But I admit that I can learn more about myself. I can enter into a process of self-education where I can get e better grasp of why I do things the way I do, and in this way improve the way I behave toward others so that more peace and joy is now able to enter into my life. And what again makes this improvement possible? The answer is education. I used the word “self education,” however, the answer is still education.
Isn’t it at least possible that God is inviting us to use the same process toward Himself and our neighbors? Consider for a moment that the best way to overcome my fear of people who might be different from me is to educate myself as to eho they are. People of a different religion frighten me? Buy a book about that religion, preferably from someone currently in that religion, and educate myself about what they believe. Maybe my fear is a lot simpler than that. Perhaps I am fearful of the person across the street who even shares my religion? Find a way to learn about that person. Compassion is a wonderful time-proven way of educating me about others; compassion derived from “walking a mile in their moccasins,” as the old Native American saying goes, is nothing short of timeless wisdom. The Bible would have us not judge others, or at least judge myself more than I judge others. This too, is timeless wisdom that comes from our very own spiritual heritage.
And the same process holds true of God. Was I brought up in a way that leaves me with images of a judging God, causing me to turn to be afraid of Him? If so, the answer here, too, is found in education. Read as much as you can about God from the Catholic tradition. If you go deeper into an understanding of God in this way, you will find enough wisdom and balanced, measured viewpoints, that eventually you will find your fears simply melting away. I am convinced that ongoing education is the only path to walk.
Peace, Fr. Walt