Letters of St. Paul of the Cross: Overcoming Fear

Above all, I rejoice that you are completely hidden. Continue to abandon yourself more to God with a great detachment from all created things and a deep annihilation of self, which will bring about great results, and I hope that we will be inflamed with love. Oh, my daughter in Jesus Christ! When, when will we be dead to all in order to live only for our God? Ah, when, when? Oh, precious death, more desirable than life death that makes us divine because all is transformed in God by love! Courage. Let us long for this death to all that is created. But in order to die, my daughter, it is necessary to suffer many pains. Who could ever express the pains they suffer who die a bodily death? It is enough to say they are so great that they separate the soul from the body. Thus, too, in a way of speaking, it happens to the servants of God who die to all consolations. Oh, what desolations are endured, what agonies within and without, what internal and external strife! What dryness and sadness! What obscurity of mind! What fears of being deceived! These things occur because it seems to the soul that it is abandoned by God! All these, my daughter, are the dispositions and means of dying to all creatures and living to God alone and for God alone. But there is more that I know not how to tell you or explain. Continue then to be despoiled of everything and to drive away imaginations and other things which I have mentioned before. Pray in pure faith with a loving repose in God. Oh! How much is said to God in this sacred silence of love! Oh! How much the soul is enriched, for it comes from a loving abandonment that the soul has in the divine bosom of the Sovereign Good. While you are to be detached from your life, you are required to preserve it. We are not the owners, God is.  — St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 138

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it.“ – Matthew 7:13-14

 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.” -Matthew 10: 28-31

St. Paul of the Cross speaks of divine union with God: “Oh, precious death, more desirable than life death that makes us divine because all is transformed in God by love! Courage. Let us long for this death to all that is created”; and yet we are unable to desire this deified life because we fear the process of death to self that is required. Most of us read the above words from a great saint, and we decide that this is too much. Perhaps we even make plans, like the prophet Jonah, to go in the opposite direction of His will. What we do not realize is that He is out to “get us”; His love is insatiable; He will have His way. His Word is true over our lives in that, “He who began a good work, will be faithful to complete it.”[2]Yes, we do have our free will to oppose Him; however, His pursuit is relentless.

Instead of fearing the death of ourselves unto holiness, we can abandon ourselves to it. Fear does not need to rule over us. Sometimes in our great fear, the Lord allows our worst fears to come upon us, only to show us that it wasn’t that bad after all. A story is told of a pastor so afraid to speak to a stranger about Christ for fear he would be called a “freak” that he would not share until the Lord compelled him and pressed upon him so much that he obeyed. He approached the stranger and began to share Christ with him. The stranger turned to him and looked at him like he was a total idiot and yelled at him, “You are a freak!” His worse fear had come upon him, and he realized that it wasn’t bad at all. Now he was free to share with anyone and everyone. God took care of his soul, even while he was verbally abused. What could harm him? Nothing!  The scripture is true “…fear only the One who can cast body and soul into hell.”[3] And also, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[4]

Apart from the paralyzing fear, we do not understand this “divine life” that can be apprehended in Christ. St. Paul of the Cross describes this: “Oh, precious death, more desirable than life death that makes us divine because all is transformed in God by love! Courage. Let us long for this death to all that is created.” If we only understood His tenderness toward us, that we are so highly valued that He crushed His Beloved Son to have us as His children as well. He knows the intimate details of our lives—the hairs on our head are all counted. He knows our struggles, yet does not treat our immaturity as rebellion. He nurtures us and leads us as a tender Shepherd who will relentlessly go after each sheep to keep each one safe in the fold.  If we only knew His infinite love and mercy toward us, we would not hesitate to abandon all to have this deified life that He speaks of in John 10:10: “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”


Oh, Jesus, inflame our hearts with Your love so much that we may be wounded eternally with lovesickness. Let this be a wound that doesn’t heal, but causes us to lose our lives that we might know You more. Let Perfect Love cast out all fear[5] and let us press on, that we may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of us.[6]

For Meditation:

How can you embrace and long for this mystical death that St. Paul of the Cross speaks of? What are you so attached to that you are afraid God will take it away? Can you give that to Him now?

[2] Philippians 1:6

[3] Matthew 10:28

[4] Romans 8:35-37

[5] 1 John 4:18

[6] Philippians 3:12


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