In his first epistle, St. John tells us that “perfect love casts out fear [because]…fear has to do with punishment. Whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). Makes sense, for what is love? Wanting what is Good and True and Beautiful for another, regardless of what that means for us; it is a completely selfless self-gift. And to some extent, all of us are afraid of that. We’re afraid to get hurt, afraid that we won’t be noticed, afraid to sacrifice – and all of these things may happen when we love. All these things are in some sense a punishment. St. John is describing all of us who have not allowed God, who is Love, to fully envelop us.
I know people who are afraid, and I mean REALLY afraid. Not just afraid of God, but of facing problems, of being in a car, or of going to the doctor. They’re afraid of tackling the unknown, because that would mean leaving the familiar. And I think that’s one of the reasons that some people are afraid of the Church – it’s because they are afraid of what God can do in their lives; of what new things He could show them.
God wants to show us who we can become if we let Him work in us. And that’s scary. God wants to perfect us, and that would entail us being selfless. It would mean (among many other more prominent things) not watching certain movies, thinking in certain ways, doing certain things. And for some, that’s already too much for them to take, so they become afraid and cling to what they already are. But if what St. John tells us is true, then with perfect love, not only would we eradicate fear, but our faith would be perfected as well. It would allow us to face problems and be selfless, without constantly thinking of pain or death.
This all goes back to my first point, that fear is better than nothing. If apathy is someone getting pushed out of a plane, who then says “whatever” on his way down, then fear is someone getting pushed out of a plane and then bursting into tears while frantically grasping for anything in the air to slow his fall. People who are truly afraid will probably end up coming back to their faith on their deathbed.
A person, who is fully afraid of God and all that trust in Him would entail, would grasp at Him while they are dying. On their deathbed, this fear of Becoming More would throw caution to the wind and – ironically, out of fear – call out to the God they once knew in a last-ditch attempt for him to take them back. This person would be so afraid of missing out on even the possibility that there is something Good after this life, they’d take the chance. And as long as this sorrow and yearning is genuine, God would receive them into His open arms without a moment’s hesitation.
Let’s be clear though. Living a life of fear only to come back to love at life’s end is not the ideal. If loving God and others is a way to reach perfection, which even after a lifetime of selflessness may still need purification, then living in fear is definitely further down on the scale. You’ve heard of Imperfect Contrition: going to confession, being sorry for your sins, and calling out to God because you are afraid that you might damn yourself to hell, or that you’d incur God’s wrath. Well then, grasping at God on the deathbed must be “Imperfect Imperfect Contrition”: being sorry for your sins and calling out to God because you are afraid that there might not even be a heaven or hell. And from the way I understand it, coming back to God this way would need a very long “time” of purification in Purgatory…and truth be told, that purification would be a tad painful.
Sometimes I feel a bit downtrodden thinking about all those who have left the Church because they are afraid. With Christ, there is nothing to be afraid of! All we need to do is “open wide the doors to Christ” (Blessed Pope John Paul II), and He will take us in. It is comforting for me to know that even for people who live and hide in fear, if they grasp at Him like a child (what else are we?), God is always willing to receive again what was already His.