Monday, 4 March 2013

Motivated by fear

“Father … is it wrong to go to Confession for the wrong reasons?” asked Leonard one day whilst helping Father Ignatius in the Sacristy.

“And what do you consider the wrong reasons?” asked the priest gently.

“Well Father … I think a lot of Christians are hypocrites … they only go to church and go to Confession because they’re afraid of going to hell!”

“I would have thought these are the right reasons,” replied the priest with a smile, “but I see what you mean …”

“The thing is …” interrupted Leonard, “if there was no hell, or fear of hell, I wonder how many people would bother to go to church?”

Father Ignatius laughed.

“Many have said that the church invented hell to keep the faithful under control.” said Father Ignatius, “but then … Jesus did warn us many times about hell … so it must exist.

“When God loved us He also invited us to love Him back in return. He did not wish to force our hand in any way … It’s a choice we have to make freely. To love Him back or not.

“God’s love for us is so much that He wishes us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That’s His invitation to all of humanity.

“The alternative to going to Heaven is going to hell. To be separated from God and from His love for ever. It’s a bit like the many parables that Jesus told about someone having a party, or a feast, and inviting everyone yet people choose not to attend.”

The priest paused a little, as he usually did when he wanted to press home a point.

“God loves us … and He invites us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven,” repeated Father Ignatius slowly.

“Or we may choose to turn down His invitation and spend eternity in hell.

“Now is that forceful on His part do you think? It seems a pretty clear choice to me … go to the party or the feast to which you are invited … or turn Him down and go freely your own way …

“I can see how some people might think this unfair … and that we really have no choice because the consequences are so horrendous that any sane person would choose to accept God’s invitation. Yet … having said so, there are many who do turn down the invitation, and choose not to believe in God’s very existence, never mind accepting His love.”

Father Ignatius stopped once again. He thought that maybe this was getting a bit too heavy for poor Leonard to grasp. He tried another approach.

“Ideally Leonard … we should go to church because we want to … because we want to thank God for what He has done for us … and because we wish to receive Him in our hearts through the Holy Sacrament of Communion. It’s like visiting a friend whom we like very much, and we like being with them and in their company.

“Ideally … we should go to Confession because we are truly sorry that we have hurt God … because we feel remorse for what we have done … and because we promise we will genuinely try to do better with our lives. It’s like making up again when we’ve fallen out with a friend over an argument …

“This is all ideally … as I say.

“Yet … as you say … some people do these things out of fear. They attend church out of fear, take Communion out of fear and go to Confession for the same reason. They see God as a vengeful master who will punish them unless they do these things.

“It shouldn’t be so Leonard … and I suspect God is hurt when He sees us doing things out of fear. This is the very God who sacrificed His Son who died horribly on the Cross for us. He did it out of love … not as a means to command fear from us …”

“Yes Father …” mumbled Leonard.

“OK …” continued Father Ignatius, “let us consider how that fear you speak of … the fear of hell … gets into this whole matter and muddles our thinking.

“Who introduced fear into the equation do you think?

“It is the devil … is it not?

“He whispers into our ears … you really don’t want to be here in church do you? Especially on a lovely sunny day like today. You’re only here because you’re afraid of God. In fact everything you do is because you fear Him … take courage … stand up to Him.

“Sounds familiar does it not? Almost the same words whispered to Adam and Eve when He told them to stand up to God.”

“Gosh … I never saw it this way …” said Leonard.

“So to answer your original question Leonard …” said Father Ignatius, “it is wrong to go to Confession, or to church for the wrong reasons …

“But the wrong reasons are not the fear of ending up in hell, these are genuine reasons all right … the wrong reasons are listening to the devil and putting credence to his tricks …

“Do you see and understand the subtle difference?”


  1. There's lots here to think about, Victor.

    I'm thinking, if a lot of Catholics are going to church out of fear of hell - especially, those with a fragile faith - then, why are so many priests afraid to preach about hell out of fear of frightening them away? Does that sound odd to you, too?

    Also, I've read that fear of hell is often the first step in the Christian path so I guess it's not the wrong reason for those people, who are trying to make progress, to go to church and confession out of fear. But, what about those who don't hope to progress? Maybe, the difference is that their fear is based on a deep-rooted suspicion while the fear of a sincere seeker is based upon a new awareness of their own lowliness, do you think? I wonder if it takes maturity to understand our motives to that degree. Perhaps, the yardstick would be the type of life we lead - do we try to improve and please God or do we do the bare minimum to avoid hell?

    I'm really rambling here - even more than usual! Just random thoughts, again.

    Thanks for another interesting post, Victor.

    God bless:-)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Vicky,

      I always reply in Words and then copy/paste here. As I did so, guess what? I badly copy/pasted what I wanted to say. So I deleted the whole thing and started again. So here's my second attempt:

      You make some very good points Vicky.

      Yes ... I suspect a lot of Catholics go to Mass and Confession and Communion out of fear. This may be due to fragile Faith, as you say; or it may be due to their up-bringing. In the old days priests used to preach about hell and its real meaning, and older people believed in hell and the devil more than modern society does. So, I guess some people go to Mass because of fear ... nothing wrong with that.

      This leads to your second good point. Why are so many priests afraid to preach about hell and the devil. I believe because they lack conviction. They really believe that it would lose them parishioners; they've become too politically correct and some things are best left un-spoken.

      These priests do the Church and their parishioners a dis-service. They have let God down by not warning people away from hell. There's nothing wrong with that kind of fear either. It's like the shepherd's dog who runs and barks, perhaps nipping the odd sheep. He does so to lead the whole flock to safety. A priest should never be afraid to nip his parishioners.

      Hence, there is nothing wrong with fear as a motive. As long as it is the right motive. Do we go to Mass etc ... for fear of God's punishment; or is it for fear of hurting Him?

      I guess it's a little similar to a spouse who remains faithful. Does he do it for fear of being found out and the repercussions that follow? Or does he do it because he loves his wife, respects her, and does not wish to cause her any hurt?

      Our fear should be a positive fear (if there is such a thing). We should not fear God as we fear a monster, a tiger or other wild animal. We should fear Him just like a child who obeys his parents for fear of losing their love and respect.

      This is getting rather heavy I think ... I'd better stop and take a deep breath.

      Thank you for your welcome contribution, Vicky. God bless you.

  2. The problem with doing things out of fear of punishment is that it makes people resentful. Yet, many of us start out in this sort of relationship with God. With prayer this usually changes over time as our hearts open to God's love. In some ways Hell is a kindness for the simple reason that a soul who completely and totally refuses God's mercy would suffer much, much more in Heaven. God won't go against a person's free will but their suffering is mitigated to a degree by their distance from Him. I think it was St. Catherine of Genoa who wrote about this but I'm not absolutely sure. It made sense though. A pure soul in the direct presence of God experiences great joy but the soul of a hardened sinner experiences immense agony - their pain is actually LESS in hell than it would be in God's presence. This explains Purgatory too. As the soul is purified what once caused it pain now brings it joy.

    1. It's true Mary. If we do something out of fear we resent doing it, and the person who makes us do it.

      By shutting ourselves from God we send ourselves to hell - which is a place without God.

      God bless.

  3. Oh my Victor, your post gave me chills. A lot to think about because I certainly do not want to fall prey to his tricks but I know I do!!! Especially when it comes to confession. I go a few times a year but I think I should do it a bit more often. Thank you for the encouragement! God bless!

    1. The devil does indeed trick us into believing that we only obey God out of fear. This is to make us resentful and to distance us away from God.

      May God bless you Noreen.

  4. He's a wise and deep man, s Father Ignatius; eh Victor? Excellent stuff. God bless always x

    1. I have a lot to learn from Fr Ignatius!

      Thank you for your encouragement and support Gigi.

      God bless.

  5. I liked how Mary put things. Motivation from fear is certainly a starting place, but doing something consistently out of fear eventually causes rebellion. The more we understand who God is and who we are, that huge chasm between creature and creator, we begin to understand that we really need God. When we get to that point and start moving in the direction of seeing all the good God has done for us in our weaknesses - to the point of dying a horribly painful death on the cross so that we can be happy forever - following God's laws is no longer a burden but a joy. I like how you had Father Ignatius explain everything. For sure, the devil wants to take our focus off our relationship with God and put it on our own pleasure.

    1. Very well put Barbara. Thank you. It's a question of understanding what God did for us, and then obeying Him becomes a pleasure rather than a duty.

      God bless you.



God bless you.

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