Last week, I wrote about how we are all negatively affected by hidden fears that influence our decisions, judgment, and behavior. This often occurs without us being aware that fear frequently plays a significant part in our decisions, judgment, and behavior.
The fears that I wrote about last week included the fear of criticism, the fear of failure, the fear of change, the fear of conflict, the fear of being despised, the fear of being disliked, the fear of being slandered, the fear of being talked about, the fear of being humiliated, the fear of being forgotten, the fear of being wronged, the fear of being suspected, the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of being left out, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of being excluded, the fear of being reprimanded, the fear of being exposed, and the fear of being taken advantage of.
All these fears are harmful, avoidable, and unnecessary. There are other fears, however, that are legitimate and necessary, such as the fear of eternal punishment for the commission of certain sins and the fear of harm from an immediate and deadly threat.
On the other side of the fear coin is the emotion of desire. Like many of our fears, our desires are also often hidden from us and can also have a negative impact on our decisions, judgment, and behavior. The desires I’m referring to include the desire for pleasure, the desire for comfort, the desire to be approved, the desire to be praised, the desire to be honored, the desire to be consulted, the desire to be preferred to others, the desire to be admired, the desire to be adored, the desire to be appreciated, and the desire to be respected.
All these desires are avoidable and unnecessary. There are other desires, however, that are legitimate and necessary, such as the desire to please God, the desire to love, and the desire to show respect toward others.
When fear and desire are combined, they often end up being a double-edged sword that compels us to act in ways that are contrary to our beliefs and our moral code of conduct.
Consider this passage from the New Testament of the Bible:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Matthew 2:16.
The murder of the young boys in Bethlehem that occurred because of Herod’s order is commonly referred to as “The Massacre of the Innocents,” and is recognized on December 28th of each year by the Catholic Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. What was it that compelled Herod, the King of Judea, to order the killing of innocent young boys? It was his fear that the Messiah had been born and that the Messiah would someday replace him as King.
He also feared the loss of the power that he had over Judea, the privileges that were bestowed upon him as King, the pleasures and comforts he derived from being King, and the humiliation he would suffer if he was replaced by someone else. His order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem was also the result of his desire to continue to be exalted, praised, respected, admired, and honored by his peers and subjects.
What was it that compelled Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea, to give into the demands of the men who wanted to condemn Jesus to death? It was the same fears and desires that compelled King Herod to act in the way that he acted. The same can be said for the Scribes and Pharisees who plotted to undermine and destroy the Son of God. The politicians and leaders of today are no different than the men who were in charge when Jesus walked the Earth.
Can you guess what fears and desires compelled Judas to betray Jesus? What fears and desires influenced Peter to deny our Lord three times?
What causes a mother to abuse her child when he acts up in a grocery store, in front of other people? Could it be her fear of being criticized, her fear of being humiliated in public, her fear of being talked about, and/or her fear of being disliked? Could it also be her desire to be thought of as a responsible mother, her desire to be admired, her desire to be approved by others, and/or her desire to be respected by others?
What causes a husband who is annoyed with his wife to become indignant, impatient, explosive, or vindictive? Could it be his fear of being criticized, his fear of being wronged, his fear of being suspected, and/or his fear of being ridiculed? Could it also be his desire to be respected, his desire to be approved, his desire to be honored, and/or his desire to be admired?
What can we do to develop an awareness and understanding of our hidden fears and desires, and what can we do to overcome them after we are fully aware of them?
There are only two ways that I know of to develop an awareness of our hidden fears and desires. The first is through prayer, deep reflection, and critical thinking. The second is through the help of someone who knows and loves us and who has the desire, courage, and ability to teach us what our hidden fears and desires are and then helps us to overcome them.
I did not become fully aware of what my hidden fears and desires were until after I memorized a prayer that was recommended to me by Fr. John Hardon, at a silent men’s retreat that I attended during the 1990s. In addition to being a holy Jesuit priest and theologian, Fr. Hardon was an intellectual giant who wrote 40 books that expounded upon the richness of the Catholic faith. His saintly soul passed into eternity in December 2000. He was 84 when he died.
The prayer that Fr. Hardon recommended and that I later memorized was the Litany of Humility. It took years of praying the Litany of Humility every day before I was able to develop a clear understanding of the powerful emotions of fear and desire, and the impact they had on my decisions, judgment, and behavior.
But it wasn’t just the daily recitation of the Litany of Humility that helped me develop an awareness and understanding of my hidden fears and desires. It was also the daily recitation of the Rosary.
Why the Litany of Humility and the Rosary?
The harmful and unnecessary fears and desires that frequently control our decisions, judgment, and behavior are nurtured and hidden by our pride. It was an appeal to pride that persuaded Eve to defy her Creator: “…you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:6.
We know from Catholic tradition that it was the pride of Lucifer that led him to defy God and declare, “I will not serve!”
That’s why full awareness of our harmful fears and desires must always start with the virtue of humility. If you fail or refuse to pray for humility every day, you will never be able to discover and overcome all your hidden fears and desires.
One of the gifts that God blessed me with is the ability to solve problems by using critical thinking and reflection to come up with viable options and solutions. Despite having this gift, I was never able to discover and deal with my hidden fears and desires until I had the assistance of a person who has known and loved me since I was conceived.
The person I’m referring to is the mother of Jesus Christ. She is the only human being who has perfect knowledge of who we are and what makes us tick. She also has a perfect, unconditional love for each of us, and her primary desire is to bring each of us closer to her Son.
But she will not work with us on a daily basis to teach us what our hidden fears and desires are and what we need to do to overcome them unless we have an ongoing, daily relationship with her.
What’s the best way to establish an ongoing, daily relationship with the Mother of God? By praying her Rosary every day while doing our best to meditate on its mysteries.
It can take several years before the two-step strategy that I just described — a daily Litany of Humility combined with a daily Rosary — will come to full fruition. Why does it take so long? Because there are multiple layers of pride that must be peeled away before we can develop the capacity to understand and embrace what our spiritual mother is trying to teach us.
The best time to get started on this new strategy is now.