Fear and Perfect Love

During different times of the year, we hear in the Mass especially from different authors of the Bible. In Advent, for example, we hear particularly from the prophet Isaiah foretelling the person of the Messiah. In this time after Christmas, we read from the writings of the apostle John.

Perfect Love

John has gone down in history as the great apostle of love. He seems to refer to himself in his gospel as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved.’ Love is paramount throughout his three epistles. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, when the poet is approaching the pinnacle of heaven, it is SS. Peter, James and John who explain about the virtues of faith, hope and love. Of course John comes last, teaching of love.

Today we hear the famous words that ‘perfect love casts out all fear.’ From this some Christians say that a Christian should have no fear. I have heard some say that, if we have perfect love, we should not fear to walk through a bad neighborhood at night.


On the other hand, Isaiah lists the ‘fear of the Lord’ as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Proverbs proclaims that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

SS. John Damascene and Thomas Aquinas are two saints who wrote about fear. There are various fears we have in this life. When it comes to our relationship with God, writes Thomas, our fear can be worldly, initial, servile or filial.

Worldly fear is bad. It was worldly fear that prompted Peter to deny Jesus three times. This is a fear of some sort of suffering or inconvenience we might have to endure. Many people in the early Church succumbed to this fear when they worshiped the Roman gods rather than stand up for their faith in Christ. We admire the courage of the early martyrs who suffered even death instead of renouncing Christ.

Initial fear is the kind Saul experienced when, on his way to Damascus to persecute the Church, a bright light and the voice of the Lord flung him to the ground and struck him blind. This fear, of course, was transformed into the filial fear of St. Paul who would later write to the Philippians: “My one hope and trust is that I shall never have to admit defeat, but that now as always I shall have the courage for Christ to be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death.”

Filial Fear

Both servile and filial fear can exist in the person living a life of grace. The servile fear of a disciple of Christ who fears punishment above all is indeed cast out by perfect love. Aquinas says that servile fear decreases as charity in a person increases. But as a person grows in charity, he also grows in filial fear. “For the more one loves a man, the more one fears to offend him and be separated from him.” We can have certainty that God will keep His promises, but, alas, not that we will keep ours.

A person with filial fear will avoid dangerous places because he recognizes it would be an evil to suffer physical harm for no reason. This is why tempting the Lord—doing something dangerous in the conviction that either God will save us from harm or that the harm does not matter—is a sin.

Servile fear fears the punishment or the pain. Filial fear fears separation from God and wants good to happen, not evil. As we enter 2022, we strive to be people who love God above all things. May we not be paralyzed from doing good out of fear of disease or anything else.

[Readings: 1 Jn 4:11-18; Mk 6:45-52]

Fr. Mike Moore

Fr. Michael Moore converted to the Catholic faith, being baptized as a freshman in college. He was ordained in the country of Slovakia, spent time in Russia, and now is pastor of St. Peter's Church in Lemoore, California.


  1. Steven Wee on January 5, 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you Father Mike. Your teaching always inspires.

  2. Jerry DEMELO Jr on January 5, 2022 at 1:06 am

    Wonderfully done. Thank You

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