When we love God, we have nothing to fear
Probably the most misunderstood gift of the Holy Spirit is fear of the Lord. The story of two priests and how they handled incidents 50 years apart helped me to understand the gift better.
Both of my brothers were altar servers as adolescents and teens. At one service, one of them dropped an incense burner which sounded louder than the church's bells as it clattered to the altar's uncarpeted floor.
Probably, the priest was having a bad day because he muttered under his breath, "I would have been better off doing it myself." As a result, my brother had a fear that he might make a similar accidental mistake.
Flashing forward to the recent past, I was doing duty as an altar server one Saturday morning. I was running late and got to the church only a few minutes before the service. The priest was waiting and he could have commented on me cutting it so closely.
Instead, he welcomed me with words and a smile, and waved aside my apology as unnecessary. That left me more determined to get to church with time to spare. I wasn't afraid of repeating my mistake; I wanted to avoid it to live up to the confidence my pastor expressed in me.
The Holy Spirit's gift of fear of the Lord is a present born of respect and gratitude; not a sense of dread of being punished or criticized.
It is very similar to the kind of "fear" we have for good parents. We are more concerned with disappointing our parents by our actions than we are afraid of what they will do to us as punishment.
As usual, St. Francis de Sales summed it up very nicely, "All that we do must be motivated by love and not force. We must love to obey rather than fear to disobey."
When we love God, we have nothing to fear.