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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Holy Fear and the Shadow of the Cross

Today, the Church takes us under the shadow of Calvary to behold our salvation and to approach this sacred place requires a reverence and awe that are not of this world. The Man of Sorrows gives Himself for our salvation, lays down His life that we might live. We come here today because of the burden of guilt that we have carried for far too long, the reality of death that we cannot avoid, and the desire to be understood and loved, to be connected to Someone who can relieve the sense of alienation that we suffer, to the only One who can fulfill at last the desires of our hearts. We dare to call out to Him "remember me" because of the heart-piercing gifts by which the Holy Spirit moves our hearts. Saint Hildegard von Bingen describes this supernatural grace that she discovered when she entered into this shadow of God's immensity. Fascinated and astounded, she has discovered awe in the presence of a reality greater and more real than is she. Tested, challenged, and tried, this gift from above makes her dare to approach nonetheless, and to stand humble, attentive, and ready to act. The tedium that can sometimes overcome a soul in prayer has no power over her now. Completely alert, this profound reverence prevents her from losing her focus, gives her the courage to stand firm, to behold, to listen, to adore. She personifies this astonishing super human gift, describing a mysterious figure covered with eyes, a creature who never loses sight of the immensity of Divine Justice, a being of merciful contemplation whom she identifies as “the Fear of the Lord.” We, frail though we are, are all called to stand before the immensity of God’s justice and truth just like Saint Hildegard. The gift of fear of the Lord remains meaningless if we do not ponder the great mystery of human weakness and divine power, the abyss between actual human achievement and the demands of divine justice, and this for even the most pious and holy among us. What is this mountain, this immensity of Divine Justice, but the very mountain on which the Father glorified His Son, the mountain on which stands that Cross around which the whole world, each one’s life and all of history turns? Up against the price that He paid for us and the greatness of the salvation He won for us, no one who is unwilling to bend the knee and bow the head should ever dare approach this King of Glory. Christ crucified knows our presumption and pride, our capacity for self-delusion, our hypocrisy, all the ways we overestimate ourselves, and even more, the ways we hate and torment ourselves. These spiritual diseases are not acceptable to Him but for love of us, each one, He accepted their consequences unto death on the Cross. So He offered His last wordless cry, the prayer that still echoes between heaven and earth, a cry that death could not silence, that hell could not contain, this prayer from a heart that our cowardice and lust for power rent open. This cry of love is the last word concerning all things human, the fullness of everything the Father has yearned for us to know, the voice that is heard the immensity of Divine glory. We dare not listen without the reverence this supreme act is owed. If we are to stand before the mystery of the Suffering Servant who, raised on the Cross, revealed the unity of divine justice and mercy at the price of His own blood, then we need the Holy Spirit to protect us from our own cowardice and mediocrity. If we ask with humility, He gives us the same hope-filled fear that He breathed into the good thief and that He sent to stand with Saint Hildegard. If we will persevere in Calvary’s shadow, the Holy Spirit will move us with humble awe and wonder to renounce all the evil and mistaken judgements we have made about God, ourselves and neighbors. When we tremble before the love, justice and mercy revealed on the Cross, holy fear makes us know that our Crucified God does not intend his admonishments to crush us but to prepare us, to make us humble and vulnerable enough to carry out His work in the world. Holy fear will prevent us from losing heart. Today, Saint Hildegard’s vision of Divine Justice and Holy Fear gives us the courage to stand before the righteousness of God, to beg "remember me", to confess his sovereignty, to bow our heads and to kiss his feet.

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