Unfortunately, the word “fear” has a lot in common with the word “love”—both are used in many different senses and for many different purposes. (I’ve written before about bravery; now we’ll consider its unlikely companion, fear.) As Christians, we can’t afford to be wrong about fear or love, so let’s turn to the Church’s wisdom for clarity and a plan of action.
Saint Augustine said that fear is born of love, because man fears to lose what he loves. The root question is: Are my loves rightly ordered? Do I love money more than my family or the truth? Do I love anyone/anything more than I love God? Am I willing/unwilling to surrender a greater good to retain a lesser good?
Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of “servile fear” and “filial” (also known as “chaste”) fear. Servile fear is a dread of punishment. Servile fear has its uses in the moral and spiritual life. In the moral life, fear of getting caught and punished hinders the thief, and although it doesn’t help him grow in virtue, at least the bank hasn’t been robbed.
In the spiritual life, the Act of Contrition speaks of dreading “the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell,” and sometimes that fear alone keeps us from committing a mortal sin, even though we have set our heart upon what is evil rather than upon God. Sometimes, then, servile fear is the last defense against vice and sin.
Read more at Aleteia.