Reflection on growth in Virtue from “Soul Institute” Fear of the Lord/ Virtue Hope and temperance/ Beatitude Blessed are Poor in Spirit

St Thomas shows how each of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit are linked to a particular virtue or virtues, and how this leads to one of the Beatitudes. St Thomas is showing us how to grow in virtue.

The first gift is Fear of the Lord. The virtues that help us are Hope and Temperance. This lead to the Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” When we first come to Christ we fear punishment for our sins. We look at God more as a master than a father. As we grow in this gift of the Holy Spirit our fear is more on losing our relationship with God. We are moved more by love of God than fear of punishment. Father Brian Bransfield in his book, ‘The Human Person’ writes, ” The Holy Spirit then gradually introduces us to an awareness of a relationship with God pervaded more and more by love. We do not want to separate from God by sin because we fear punishment, but because we are growing in our love of God…We begin to see sin as banal and unattractive. The old ways of worldly fear are seen a futile maze that leads to a dead end.”

The Fear of the Lord is purified by the virtue of Hope. Father Bransfield writes, ” The mature fear of a son or daughter is not preoccupied with the timing of an effect. Filial fear realizes that to reach for a true good is to reach in some way for the true good, Good himself. To reach for and rely upon God is to already be united to God. The moment we hope, in the virtuous sense, we have entered the presence of God himself, no matter what the gauges if our life may read…In hoping for a particular future from God we learn that our future completely resides in God alone. Saint Thomas says, ‘…A distinguishing mark of Christians is that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they knew in general that their lives will not end in emptiness.’…By hoping for something, then, we are caught up and transformed by the same hope to hope in Someone. Benedict XVI writes that Christians are not just rewarded by hope, but hope transform them: ‘We see decisively the self-understanding of the early Christians was shaped by their having received the gift of a trustworthy hope, when we compare the Christian life with life prior to faith,or with situations of the followers of other religions.’ From this transformation afforded by such hope, inspired as it is by the gift of the fear of the Lord.”

We also need the virtue of Temperance. The author writes, “Fear of the Lord inspires hope in such a way that hope begins to transform our inner selves, including our appetites, drives, needs, instincts, emotions, and tendencies. The appetites are born from the basic needs associated with physical life. We experience a strong inclination to pleasure. Temperance inclines us to engage the appetites with reason. ‘Temperance, by moderating the instinctive impulses if eager desires, which tend to devour everything immediately, makes room for listening and hearing the word. ‘Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word.’ (Deut 8:3) The pleasures that food and sex bring to the sense of taste and touch strongly attract us. We are inclined to turn repeatedly to what assures us of continuance of the species, closeness of the other, and sustenance of our life. We are willing to fight to assure these needs are satisfied. These appetites require integration based on a proper understanding of how to reasonably satisfy them. Relying on God for who he is, not just for what he can do, brings to birth, through fear of the Lord, a truth about the human person and his actions.”

According to St Thomas, fear of the lord ultimately brings us to the first Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.’ The Author writes, “Fear of the Lord inspires temperance, which transforms actions so the believer begins to see life and actions in terms of the first beatitude: ‘Bless are the poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of heaven is their.’ (Mt 5:3) The beatitude is not merely a command, but a seed we see emerging in life, like a new shoot emerging from the soil in spring. The newness of life is a sign of how our lives progressively conform to Christ. We are drawn to self-emptying love, and with this poverty of spirit we take the first step of a life of charity.” The first step in coming to Christ is admitting that we are poor. There is an old saying, ‘Even God can’t fill a glass that is already full.’ To take the first step we have to admit our total spiritual and moral poverty before God.

The Next list St Thomas gives us is gift of Piety/ connected to virtues of Justice and Temperance/ which leads to the beatitude ‘Blessed are the meek.

All this is to help you grow in virtue. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as the beatitudes are rungs on a ladder that take us to God.

This first week in Lent may we pray for the gift of Fear of the Lord. May we practice the virtues of Hope and Temperance. May we live the first beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit.’

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