|CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX||A||B||C||D||E||F||G||H||I||J||K||L||M||N||O||P||Q||R||S||T||U||V||W||X||Y||Z|
Reverend Alban Goodier, S.J.
1933 by Longmans, Green and co., New York, US.
work is published for the greater Glory of Jesus Christ through His
The justification for the writing of this book, if justification is needed, must be that the author has been asked to write it. He has been asked by friends, who are not themselves Catholic, to describe to them, as far as he is able, the inner spirit, what the French admirably call the vie interieure of the Catholic Church. Its history, more or less, especially from one angle, they know; they know besides much of the active life of the Catholic Church which is to be seen every day, and almost everywhere, about them.
They are acquainted with much of her teaching, some of which is also their own; some, as they understand it, is not, and is even repugnant to them. But they feel, and indeed are sure, that there is also something else contained in the idea of the Catholic Church, something which lies beneath both the history and the teaching, which has produced the one in the past and gives life to the other in the present, and which, therefore, must be more important than either for a right understanding of the Catholic Church. If they could discover this hidden thing, if they could realize its working as a Catholic realizes it, perhaps that alone would throw light on many differences of judgment. What is seen on the surface can only be an outward manifestation of that which is within. That these exterior signs of Catholic life may exist at all, there must be an interior spirit, a soul permeating Catholicism, which gives the unity, the consistency, the solidarity it certainly possesses; which is displayed, not without enthusiasm, in the lives of all true “practicing” Catholics; and which produces the fruit that has everywhere, and in every generation, been produced by the Catholic Church.
Therefore, the author presumes, one has been asked to describe that inner life who himself shares it, who himself lives in it, and who, he sincerely hopes, lives by it. Surely this can be the only way by which even a glimmering of the truth can be gained. No one goes to a Russian Soviet to learn the truth about the soul of England; in like manner no one who sincerely wishes to know the Catholic Church as she is, seeks his knowledge from one whose pen is dipped in gall, whose mouth spits venom, and whose mind, on this point at least, is only a confusion. Such a writer can never tell the truth, no matter what may be his subject. For right understanding demands sympathy, hatred must ever be blinding; and even if hatred, in its most evil sense, is not there, still its half-sister, prejudice, can twist and turn this truth to its own purpose, till the picture that is finally painted can never be more than a caricature. This is particularly true in dealing with matters of religion. “He grasps both what is patent and what is latent in religious matters,” says St. Augustine, “who keeps charity in his heart. Love leads him to inquire, love guides him in his search, love bids him knock at the door; when at last he has found what he has sought, love enables him to keep it.”1
It is as an answer, then, to a request of this kind that the writer has made the attempt contained in this volume; and in the spirit in which it has been written he asked that it may be read. Though what is called Theology must inevitably at times come into its pages, still he offers here no work of either theology or apologetic; he holds no brief, and he accepts none, either to defend his Church or to prove the truth of what she teaches. He has been asked simply to state her case, almost to expose his own soul, at least to explain his inmost belief in regard to the things of God and man, for those who wish to hear it. He trusts, therefore, and he thinks he will not be disappointed, that his readers will, at the very least, give him the credit of sincere faith in what he writes; and, next, will accept what he has to say, not only as his own private conclusion and view, but as the belief which he shares with his fellow Catholics, either explicitly in form or implicitly in practice, and which is founded on evidence such as, to him at least, is according to reason and convincing. If the account here given were not this, if it were merely an exposition of the writer’s beliefs and no more, it could not be a reliable expression of the Catholic mind. He sincerely believes in and loves his Church, to which he is no convert, but which has come down to him from the days when every soul in England was Catholic. He thanks God every day for the gift of the faith which came to him as an infant; and he regrets nothing more than that so many of his fellow countrymen have lost this inheritance which once belonged to their forefathers. He knows that many, perhaps most, of his readers do not share that faith and love, do not regret that the inheritance has passed from them. Still, not on that account does he condemn them, or even feel altogether estranged. He has lived long enough, under many varied circumstances, to learn that fundamental differences of thought, especially in matters of religion, are due to many causes, very few of which are under the control of man himself. “The Spirit breatheth where he listeth”; “the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven,” whose action is secret. The method of Jesus Christ our Lord was never one of compulsion; but when one came to inquire He “looked on him and loved him,” and to another who merely showed appreciation of His-words He said: “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
In the same way, and he hopes in the same spirit, the writer has had and still has many friends, Protestant and pagan, Mohammedan, Hindu and Parsee, and he has seen for himself the wonderful working of the grace of God among them all. Many a time he has reminded himself, with the evidence of facts before him, that Jesus Christ our Lord came into this world “not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him”; and that He died, shedding the last drop of His blood, not for Catholics only, not even for Christians only, but for all men whoever and whatever they might be. As St. Augustine has well said, in times not too much unlike our own, with his vision, as usual, including the whole world: ‘The Redeemer came and paid the price; He poured out His blood and with it bought the world. Do you ask me what He bought? See the price He gave and you will discover what He bought. The price is the blood of Christ Himself. What is adequate to a price like that? What, but the whole world? What, but all the nations of the world? Indeed they make little of the price that has been paid, or else they must be very proud, who say either that it is so little as only to have bought the men of Africa, or that they themselves are so important that such a price was paid for them alone. Let not such people think too much of themselves, let them beware of their pride. He Who gave so much gave it for all.”2
On this account the author writes at variance with no one, but only with the hope that what he writes may bring men closer together: “that we may know them, and may be known by them”—ut cognoscamus et cognoscamur—as the present Holy Father said to him not long ago. Not-a word therefore, that he puts down is intended to be controversial, or to reflect in any way on the convictions, that is, the genuine convictions, of another; if a phrase of this kind creeps in, it will be intended to be no more than an illustration by way of contrast. He writes only the positive truth as he knows it, for friends who have asked him to write it, and he asks that his words may be read and interpreted as a friend would read and interpret the writing of a friend.
There may be some who would claim that the account here given of the soul of the Catholic Church does not belong to the Catholic Church alone; that much of it belongs to all Christianity, and is shared by the particular Church to which they belong. To these the writer can only reply: Thank God! Then after all we are not so fundamentally separated as we supposed. Would that everything that is here written could be said of us all, as it could once have been said of our forefathers! Then the reunion of Christendom would not be long delayed. If the discovery of a large common ground is the only fruit of this book, it will not have been written in vain.
Note.—The quotations from the Scriptures throughout this study will ordinarily be taken from the Douai Version, as being more familiar to the writer himself and to Catholics in general.
As we read again what we have written in the chapters that follow, we are conscious of the dividing line that separates men into two camps today, camps which become more and more defined. On the one side are those, of whatever creed, who accept the supernatural as a reality, on the other are those who do not. To the latter there is no beyond, or if there is it does not concern them. God may or may not be; in either case He does not come into their reckoning. Therefore for them every definition of every fundamental principle of life must be framed without Him. Life itself and its object; duty and its obligations; freedom and its consequent responsibilities; love and its return; sacrifice and its reward; evil, its significance, its guilt, its punishment, its cure; good, its value, its nobility, its recompense, its fruit; man’s relations with himself, with his fellow men, with his country, with friends and enemies, with the whole human race; possession, power, pleasure; right and justice; truth and honesty; virtue and vice; all these things, for him to whom the supernatural means nothing, must be given definitions utterly different from those accepted by believers in God. Indeed there can be no definitions; where man is himself his own ideal, his own standard, his own judge, his own goal, all these things, however the fact may be disguised, must in the end be subject to his own service, must become means to satisfy, to complete himself.
For such this book can have no meaning whatsoever. It will only irritate him, it may stir his contempt. He will call it a mass of self-delusion, unscientific—a word that does not belong to this generation only—antiquated, a dream wanting in common sense, not confirmed by experience, perhaps even a bondage, invented by priests and religious to trap and enthrall free man. To one who may see only this in the book, we would ask him to lay it down; it is not meant for him. We would only say to him that the life and ideals it has attempted to describe, are those of fifteen hundred years; that though they are old yet are they also new, fresh as the infants and children who, in millions annually, continue to imbibe them and build their lives upon them. Nay more, apart from the three hundred and fifty millions of believing Christians, there are hundreds of millions more, whom sometimes we call pagans, to whom the supernatural is a great reality, and for whom the ideal here described has a full and acceptable meaning.
Modern unbelief is a very isolated thing; it looms large, but in comparison with the race of man, and even with the Christendom in which it raises its head, it is very small, confined, in a groove all its own. It is called the new paganism; in justice to the true pagan we should give it another name, for the true pagan condemns it even more than do Christian men.
But on the other side there are those to whom God and the supernatural are a great reality, who know in whom they have believed, and are certain that they have not been mistaken. They believe, not as an opinion only, that they belong to God, and that God has a care of His own. They believe that God has spoken, has told us things we could never have discovered of ourselves, has, in His love and care, given us laws and commandments for the ordering of our lives. Therefore, for them, because He has spoken, life and duty, love and sacrifice, evil and good, right and justice, have meanings and definitions far-more clear and certain than man could ever devise of himself; they have sanctions which make them and the civilization built upon them, far more stable than anything man of himself can build. It is for these in the first place that this book is written, whether they agree with all it contains or not; at least their judgment will rest upon first principles concerning which reader and writer are agreed.
Without that initial agreement progress in mutual understanding is impossible.
I am asked to describe the Catholic mind; where am I to begin? Or what aspect of it, for there are many, shall I try to analyze? At all events, wherever my course may ultimately lead, I can begin with the fact of God. I know there is God, one and true, objectively real, containing in Himself all that I mean by the word personality and more. I know that He is beyond, and independent of, creation, that creation and all that is in it depends and must depend on Him; yet that He is near to it, and in every creature in it, that He is near to me, as near as I am to myself. I know that He is almighty, and that nothing is impossible to Him, that He is what the theologians call immense, intimately permeating all things so that nothing at all is hidden from Him, not even man’s most secret thoughts, not the past, nor the future, nor any cause, nor any effect. I know my God is infinite in wisdom, and can never do other than that which is best in His own designs; that He is perfect in justice, even while His boundless mercy is above all His works; that He has a providential care of all the things that He has made, and, above all, of men, that they may be saved unto Himself.
I know my God is not only real, more real than I am myself, not only just, not only merciful, not only infinitely true, and faithful and secure; He is also a God of love. Infinitely loving, infinitely worthy of all love, is this God of mine, so loving, so lovable, that He is love itself; from Him all love comes, to Him all love returns. I cannot think of God, but my thought, if it be true, must be tempered by love; I cannot judge of His acts unless they are seen with the eyes of love; if I would discover anything at all about Him it must be sought entirely through love. I know that in this one God of mine there are three Persons, whom we little creatures call the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We call them by these names because by love they have been so revealed to us, by love we have been shown their relations one with another; and when we grasp anything at all of the meaning of the Blessed Trinity, we find that it is no more nor less than the infinitely perfect expression of infinitely perfect love. The Father and the Son, the Father giving to the Son all He has, all He is, Himself; the Son and the Father, the Son giving back to the Father all He is, all He has; the Holy Spirit—how feebly we express Him!—the mutual love of the-Father and the Son, infinite and therefore one; such is my God, seen from this darkness after a dark manner, whom one day I trust I shall see face to face.
And if there is no other key to the knowledge of my God in Himself but that of love, neither is there any other key to the knowledge of His dealings with His creatures. He knows me, this God of mine, far better than I know myself, far better than anyone else can know me; and in spite of that He loves me. He knows my nothingness, my weakness, my sinfulness, yet for all that He looks on me with pity and with love. From all eternity—I can speak in human language only—He had me in His mind and loved me; and because of that love in time He made me, because He wanted me. That same love drove Him not only to make me a human being, but to make Himself man, for me and like me; having given me myself, love impelled Him to give me Himself as well.
He became man for me, but that was not enough. He must still go on giving; He must give me all He had. He must give me His life. He must die for me. For love of me, He lived for me; for love of me, He died for me; for love of me He rose again; having risen, having “passed out of this life to the Father,” yet He loved me still. For love of me He ascended into heaven, as He said, to prepare a place for me; that where He was I might also be, when time shall be no more, for all eternity.
But even this was not enough for this tremendous lover. When He had gone from this earth He would not leave us orphans; He would still come to us. It was expedient that He should go, but He would return. So long as I remain in the valley of this death, He would abide as well. As for the means of His abiding, He would find it; and He found it in a little bread and a little wine. Love made Him pour Himself out once more; He gave Himself to me wholly and entirely in the Blessed Sacrament. And even this was not enough for this God of love. Had He willed merely to abide with me upon this earth as my companion He might have come to me in some other way. He might well have stood by my side as Man, transfigured perhaps, and in all His present glory; and I would have known Him and would have adored, lovingly adored, like the beggar born blind whom He healed in the lower city of Jerusalem. But He willed much more; love clamored for more, and it would not be denied. For love of me He united Himself to me. Through that same Blessed Sacrament He came into me; with His own life He fed my life:” He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.”
Yet more, for love is never satisfied upon this earth; it must always be giving, it must always crave for a return. Therefore would He be still further one with me; as He had found the means by which He could come into me, so would He have me be drawn into Him. He would live on this earth in yet another way; His spirit, His life should dwell among men even as the life of the vine dwells in its branches, more than the heat of the fire dwells in the red-hot iron, as the very soul of man dwells in his body. He would dwell in a new body, a mystical body indeed but none the less real, which He would call His Church. He would have me a member of that body, a part of Himself, grafted in Him as the branch is grafted in the vine, and drawing my very substance from Him. He would have me live, no, not me, but He Himself would live in me, by means of His own living organism which is the Church. Thus, from beginning to end is the story of this God of love’s dealing with me perfectly consistent; it is all just like God.
Granted love, granted the all-devouring and all-giving love of this infinitely loving God, who can do all things, to whom nothing is impossible or difficult, I see how His gifts to me follow one another, drawing Him down to me, and drawing me up to Him, till all else fades away and I am lost, if only I will have it so, in His fond embrace.
God loved me before I was, Therefore He made me.
God loved me after I was made, Therefore He became man for me.
God loved me after He had become man for me, Therefore He died for me.
God loved me after He had died for me, Therefore He rose again for me.
God loved me after He had risen for me, Therefore He ascended into heaven for me.
God loved me after His ascension, Therefore He came back to me.
God loved me after He had come back to me, Therefore He entered into me.
God loved me after He had entered into me, Therefore He made me one with Himself
A member of His own body “Which is the Church.”
This and more is my God to me, even here and now in this life; what He will be to me when we shall meet face to face, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.” Or at least this and more He would be to me if I would allow Him. For here is another manifestation of His love. He has left it to me to accept that love, or to reject it. For perfect love, as we know, has three functions; it longs to possess its beloved, it longs to give to its beloved, it longs for its beloved to return this love. And that this may be done, that it may be perfect, love must be voluntary, the beloved must be free. God loves all the creatures He has made, and in return they tell unceasingly His glory. Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei, et opera manuum suarum annuntiat firmamentum. But they cannot do otherwise, their love is not their own, any more than the reflection in the mirror belongs to the mirror that reflects it.
The other creatures of earth are the mirror of God; they are beautiful because they reflect Him, lovable because, and in so far as, they reflect His love; but in themselves they are only His creatures, the work of His hands, with no will or choice of their own by which they may give Him that voluntary love which makes of love a perfect consummation.
To man alone on this earth has this power to choose freely, and to give freely, been given. That He may have that consummation, that He may have the glory of love freely returned to Him, by His own creature, for His own sake, my God of love if I may use the word with reverence, has run the risk. He has made a creature that should be under no compulsion; He has given to me, His beloved, the power to say whether I will love Him or not. He has shown me much of His beauty. He has made the heavens tell me His glory, He has told me the secret of Himself, in a thousand ways He has bribed me and allured me. Plainly He has asked me for my love; He has even demanded it as a commandment, as His one and only -commandment, leaving me to eat of the fruit of all the other trees in His garden. But still He has left me free. In spite of all the attractions, in spite of the cords with which He has bound me about and drawn me, I have the power within me to refuse Him, to deny Him, to say I will not love Him, but will love some other thing, even myself, in His place.
And free man has failed Him. I have failed Him. He has tested me, He has put me on my trial that I might prove my love, for love is not content with words; and I have failed. I have said to Him: “Lord, Lord,” but I have not entered into the kingdom. I have preferred myself to Him, I have put some glittering trifle, some passing satisfaction, before His infinite golden love. The very power of loving, which was His unique gift to me, in which I was most like Him, of which He alone was wholly worthy, I have taken away and given to other things, and have wasted it on them. This is what I mean by sin. I have cut myself off from the love of God as far as I have been able; I have told Him to His face that I do not want Him but prefer another. I have offered Him the injury and insult not only of putting Him in the second place, but of giving Him no place at all, behind me and out of my sight. I have turned my back upon Him, I have despised Him, and I have said that I would be willing to abide by the consequences.
This I have done, deliberately done. Whatever excuse I may make for myself, my abysmal ignorance, my blindness, my weakness, my fascination at the moment the pressure of circumstances against me, there have been times when I have known full well what I was choosing. I have felt His loving eyes upon me, and His hands outstretched to help me, yet I have preferred to go my own way, and to leave Him for my own desire. And having left Him, having deliberately made my choice, obviously now it was impossible for me to undo it of myself. What I have so deliberately surrendered I cannot of myself take back. From the beginning I had no claim to it, it was His own free gift to me; much less therefore now, when I have rejected it. I could not even ask for it again; I had sinned against heaven and against my Father. At most I could only plead, because I know that Father’s abiding love, that I should be taken as one of His hired servants.
But my God was still the God of love, and He loved me still with an everlasting love. Though I had turned away and had gone into a far country to escape Him, yet He pursued me with pity; He could not change. I had robbed Him of His rights, not only of those due from one beloved for whom He had done so much, but also of those due to Him from His creature; still He would not strike. Had another done to me what I had done to Him, I might justly have cast him off. He would not so treat me. Even if repentance had been possible, I had nothing with which to repay Him; I had offended the Infinite, I had committed an infinite offense, and that no finite creature could put right. I had thrown away my own powers of loving, and had no right to any other lot but that of my own choice. Yet He found a solution, to Himself as well as to me; infinite in mercy and goodness, infinite and constant in love, He devised a way by which this debt should be paid. Full justice should be done to Himself, at the same time love should be given back to me if I would have it. If I would, I should be forgiven; I should be restored to the rank I had lost; out of the ruin of myself I should be remade; I should be given a new and clean heart, nay, one with a greater power of loving than ever my heart had before.
How was this to be done? Again I must speak in human language, for I know no other. I must express the truth in the only way in which I see it, “as in a glass after a dark manner,” nevertheless I know that the shadow which I see is real, though but the shadow of a reality still greater. One day this too I shall know even as I am known. God the Father looked down on His beloved creature, wayward as he was; He still looked on him and loved him. God the Son, the Mind, the Word of the Father looked down on His creature likewise; for “through Him all things were that were made, and without Him was made nothing.” He saw the injury done by man to the Father, which man himself could never set right. God the Holy Ghost, the love of the Father and the Son, saw the injustice; and injustice must be atoned. It could not be that for all eternity this discord should remain; though a divine atonement were needed, yet would a loving and almighty God find the means. In spite of himself man should be saved, if he would but accept the salvation offered to him. God Himself would save him, though He would need to become man to pay the price, though it would cost Him the last drop of His blood to convince man of His sincerity.
This, in substance, is what the Christian means by the doctrine of the Atonement and the Redemption. Looked at from the human side alone, and with only human vision to fathom it, it seems incredible, perhaps even fanciful, a poetic dream and no more; St. Paul himself at times seems staggered by the wonderful thing that has been done. But looked at from the side of God, with the vision and love of God to guide us, we recognize in that outpouring of Himself the completest expression of His nature. We say it is just like God to do such a thing, in such a magnificent way. He is essential love, and if ever there was done an act of love the Redemption was such an act. It was an act beyond the dream of man; yet was it worthy of, in complete keeping with the infinite love of an infinitely loving God, bestowing Himself in an infinitely loving manner.
Man could never have conceived it; hearing of it, measuring it with his natural concepts alone, he doubts whether such an extremity of love is possible. Accepting it, because God Himself has said it is so, on the authority and assurance of Him who has done it, man is driven to declare that only a God of love could have conceived it, only a God of love would have done it. It is a deed worthy of God.
“God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son” (John iii, 16).
“Christ loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. ii, 20).
“In this we have known the charity of God because he hath laid down his life for us” (I John iii, 16).
“By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by him. In this is charity; not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins (I John iv, 9, 10).
And yet love has not yielded one whit of the debt of honor due to God Himself. For it has to be remembered that besides being infinitely loving and merciful God is also infinitely just, just to all His creatures, just to Himself, and the work of the Son of God made man, besides being an act of infinite love is also an act of infinite justice. The offense of sin committed against an infinite God is, because of Him who has been offended, an offense infinite in its consequences; yet by the satisfaction of the Man God the reparation is complete, infinite for infinite. Nay more, when we consider the Person who has made the reparation, it is superabundant; the homage of the infinite Man God gives to the Father far greater glory than the sin of finite man has tarnished.
“Where sin abounded grace did more abound, that as sin hath reigned to death, so also grace might reign by justice unto life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. v, 20, 21).
Thus at once the infinite mercy of God has been given the fullest scope, even while infinite justice has been fully satisfied.
“Mercy and truth hath met each other; justice and peace have kissed. Truth is sprung out of the earth; and justice hath looked down from heaven” (Ps. lxxxiv, 11, 12).
The Word of God made flesh, truly God and truly Man, the one Person, the Person of the Word, the Eternal Son of God, the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, Man and God: on that essential truth Christianity is founded, to secure it she fought for centuries and her children died in thousands, by it and upon it she built our civilization, without it she is not. Modify it, and at once the essence of Christianity is modified. Explain away the Godhead, and Christianity loses all that vision, and hope and love, and driving power, all that glory in suffering and energy to die, all that straining after an ideal which, since the days of Jesus Christ, has given a new meaning to life, and has been the character stamped upon its growth. Without this foundation Christianity, and the civilization which still bears its name, differs in nothing from any other civilization or creed. It can claim no priority, it can give no explanation of its own effect on the history of mankind; when the infidel says in contempt that it excels in battleships and guns and nought else, it has nothing to reply. But once the belief is accepted, and becomes a basis of life, all is at once made clear. For this we need not go beyond our natural experience; even here on earth the effects are seen easily enough. The first, as is obvious, is the ennobling of human nature itself. Because God the Son became Man, man himself has received a nobler status. That the Word of God, the true Son of God, out of love for mankind, should have so wedded Himself to it, and should have given His life for it, at once raises human nature to a rank akin to His own. Out of love the Incarnate Word has given to human nature His own personality, He has raised it unto Himself; and if that is the measure of the love of God for man, how much more must the love of man for his fellow man be raised above anything it had been before!
“My dearest, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. . . . If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfected in us. . . . Let us therefore love God, because he hath first loved us. If any man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for how can he hate his brother, whom he seeth, and love God whom he seeth not?” (I John iv, 11–20).
In these words St. John sums up the practical result of the Incarnation and Redemption on the life of man in this world. In doing so he gives us the key to the history of Christendom. But, secondly, not only is human nature as a whole, in the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord, so ennobled and praised; we, too, every human being who is a partaker of that human nature, is also ennobled in himself. For this Jesus Christ, who is God, is also our Brother in the flesh; in some sense, however remote, every man is related to Him. Not only that, as we hope to see at greater length in another chapter, He has left on earth His mystical body. Into that body He has incorporated those who believe in and love Him. He has made them partakers of His own divine nobility.
Through Him and in Him we become the adopted sons of God, we share in the life divine. Even as the Word of God has given Himself to, and lives in, the human Jesus Christ, even so, as we shall see, though in a lower order, has Jesus Christ our Lord given Himself to us, and made us one with Him. St. Paul never tires of repeating it. We are members of that living, mystical body; as such we have been given the right to claim His satisfaction for our own, His merits for our own, His very prayer for our own, that as our own we may offer them to God, in expiation for our misdeeds and to win from Him His mercy and favors restored. Thus do our feeble, human petitions, the paltry acts of reparation we are able to make, the little sacrifices we may offer, become of value in and “through Jesus Christ our Lord”; for the Father will not ignore prayers and sacrifices, however small, that are steeped in the blood and instinct with the life of His own well-beloved Son.
The Eternal Son of God had become incarnate on earth in the Person of the Man Christ Jesus, that He might give us His all, that He might be one with us, and that, being made one with man, He might lift up mankind once more to the plane from which it had fallen, might restore to it the veritable sonship of God. This much we have seen to be at the root of the Christian faith; without it our faith differs in nothing from any other creed, founded on intellect and nature only. Jesus Christ, the God Man, truly God and truly Man, not merely a man endowed with special divine union, has lived upon this earth the life of man, has given, as man, to His Father, God in heaven, the perfect service of a perfect Man. He has taken on Himself the headship of the human race; He has shouldered its sorrows, even its sins and its wickednesses; He has carried those sins to the Father, and, humbled before Him, has acknowledged their guilt. Since man of himself could make no just atonement, He has offered to atone, as Man, in man’s stead.
His offer has been accepted, and He has gone through with it, to the last bitter drop of the cup. Thus is Jesus Christ to us our Benefactor, our one Beloved; what we owe to Him is beyond reckoning, for all eternity we shall sing the praises of Him who has done so much for man.
The Catholic rejoices in dwelling on all that he owes to Jesus Christ, all that Jesus Christ has done for him and still does for him: “Ever living to make intercession for us.” He sees in Him, not only the figure of history, but the ever living Mediator between the offended Father and himself: “yesterday, today and the same for ever.” And He is the Mediator not by concession only but by right; for since He united in Himself the nature of God and the nature of man, He was born, as it were, for that office. His name signifies it, given to Him before He was born: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins.” As the Head of the human race, “the first born of every creature,” He has the right, and the prerogative, to act as its spokesman with the Father. But He would not be that and no more; He would not be merely a superman condescending to those beneath Him. He would be “made in all things like to man, without sin”; He would “bear our sorrows and carry our grief”; He would take our burdened upon His own shoulders that so He might speak to the Father as one of us.
Infinite sympathy and pity for mankind, love which was an everlasting love, intensified, if in our human effort to express the truth the word may be used, by experience of life in the flesh, all should be brought to bear upon Him, to urge Him to plead in our behalf.
Such is the meaning of that “emptying of Himself” of which St. Paul makes so much. On the other hand, as God, He is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and has free access to both. As a “ well-beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased,” He can come before that Father; He can speak to Him, as with right of His own, and He can claim to be heard. Therefore, both from the side of man and from the side of God, He stands the one worthy and sufficient Mediator between them both. And this, to the Catholic, is the first significance of His life on earth. He has taken upon Himself the terrible load of man’s temptations: “We have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin” (Heb. iv, 15). He has offered Himself as a victim for man’s yielding to them. He has fulfilled that oblation, utterly, completely, by the sacrifice of Himself on Calvary, by obedience unto death, by love unto death, than which there is no love greater, atoning in kind for man’s disobedience, for his lack of love.
And the atoning value of this sacrifice has been rendered infinite; first, because of the infinite value of that Victim who, of His own free choice, has been offered; and secondly, because of the extreme to which He has gone in His surrender. For in truth He need not have gone so far. To satisfy all justice one single act of homage of Jesus Christ our Lord would have been atonement enough; had He perished as a child with the victims of Herod at Bethlehem, had He breathed but a breath and died as an infant in His mother’s arms, in the sight of the Father this Son of His love would have done enough to redeem the world. But it would not have been enough to satisfy the craving of love divine, burning in the heart of Jesus Christ Himself. “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.” He would not merely make satisfaction; He would give till nothing else remained; He would “empty Himself,” He would pour Himself out, flowing over.
To satisfy Himself He must give to the limit, “that where sin abounded grace might more abound . . . Through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. v, 20), and if “greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friend,” then must He prove His love to be equal to that test, whether strict justice demanded it or not.
By this means has our Mediator, Jesus Christ, won for man, not forgiveness only and therefore redemption only; He has won for him all those other graces and powers by means of which he may be drawn to the closest union with God. In this light does St. Paul repeatedly sum up the life’s work of his Lord and Savior:
“Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight, in charity: who hath predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the promise of his will; with the praise and glory of his grace in which he hath graced us in his beloved Son. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. i, 3–7)
All this, in the first place, Jesus Christ our Lord has done, has won for mankind, in His capacity as Mediator, by His life and death. But He has done much more. To encourage weak man in his effort to rise to higher things, to give him confidence and strength, over and above that which he can have of himself, He has instituted and left for the use of men, what we know as the whole sacramental system. He has given His Father, as from man, His own life and blood: He has given to man, as from His Father, those free gifts of supernatural strength, those seven outward signs which themselves confer the graces they signify. That man may be able the better to meet every vital moment of life, that he may the more surely fulfill, in Jesus Christ, the duties belonging to each state, that, so far as may be, he may live on earth the very life of Jesus Christ Himself, He has given to him those channels of grace which shall be readily opened to him if and when-he wills it. The blood of Jesus Christ has been given to the Father; by the Father it is given back to man through the Sacraments.
The Sacraments are the veins of Christ’s mystical body, dispensing that blood, and life with it, to all the members. Furthermore, if also man wills it, He has given to everyone the power, which of course of himself he has not, to make to the Father satisfaction of his own and to win, to deserve, merit for himself. Of himself, as we have seen, natural man can do nothing of worth in the order of the supernatural; but he “can do all things in him who strengthens him.” Incorporated in Jesus Christ, in the real sense we shall later consider, man partakes of the life of Jesus, his own deeds are made one with those of his Master and Lord even as the deeds of my hand are mine. As the branch of the vine is impregnated with the life of the vine itself, as on that account it bears fruit which of itself it could never bear, even so are the deeds of the man who is grafted in Christ Jesus impregnated through and through with that divine charity of which Jesus Christ is the principle and source. With Him, and in Him, and through Him, they become in themselves deeds of the kind called satisfactory, that is pleasing to God in the order not of nature but of Christ, worthy of merit, fruitful in prayer and petition.
In the third place, Jesus Christ our Lord is our Mediator in the matter of religious obligation; that is of the duty which is owed by man to God. It is the duty, the function of the creature to give glory to its creator, even as the work of art gives glory to the artist whose mind has conceived it and whose hand has executed it. “The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of his hands” (Ps. xviii, I). It is, further, the duty of the creature endowed with higher faculties, for instance, with understanding and free will, to give to God yet further glory, corresponding to the trust that his Creator has placed in him; even as the King’s representative, his viceroy, entrusted with the King’s insignia and powers, honors his King most by being most worthy of him wherever he may be. And as the painted picture, by giving glory to its maker, finds therein its own chief glory; as the written book is of value because of the author revealed in it, for its wisdom is no more than the reflection of the mind which has conceived it; as the King’s vicegerent is then most honored when he is most worthy of his King; so does the creature find its own noblest glory in reflecting the glory of God its Creator, its truest use of reason in reflecting His mind, its worthiest use of life in His service.
Still, even taken at its best, how poor and dull a thing is the glory which the creature of itself can give to its Creator! How much more is that power of giving lessened when we consider the fallen state of man! But Jesus Christ comes to his rescue. Now, at last, united with Him, the creature can praise and honor its God, can render Him homage and service, with a tongue and a hand, a mind and a will, and love and a proof of that love, worthy of God Himself. In union with the heart of Jesus Christ the creature can utter its own heart; and God the Father finds its utterings worthy even that He should hear. Nay more, for Christ our Lord lives in His creature, communicates to it His own power of giving praise and reverence, and glory. When then it speaks its own words, it is no longer itself that speaks, but Christ its Lord that speaks in it.
Jesus Christ is not only our sovereign and sufficient Mediator, making all things new; He is also our great High Priest, the High Priest of the New Law. It must strike every reader of the Old Testament how the religion there expressed centered in the priest, and the priest’s sacrifice. It must strike him no less how the prophecy of Him that was to come was that which spoke of Him as “a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” When He had come and gone, there is no more emphatic analysis of the work He did than the Epistle to the Hebrews; and that Epistle is entirely concerned with the Priesthood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Or rather it goes further. Not only is He a Priest, He is the one and only Priest, in the fullest sense, of the New Dispensation, and His sacrifice stands alone. Whereas before His coming all sacrifices had been symbolic only, His sacrifice was more than a symbol; it was real, and it was no more nor less than the sacrifice of Himself. And since He could die only once, therefore the sacrifice He offered could be only one; one nevertheless which amply compensated for all that was required. In this light not only in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in many other places the work and significance of Jesus upon earth are summed up. “Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness” (Eph. v, 2). “For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times” (I Tim. ii, 5, 6).
“Christ, having come an high priest of-the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation; neither by the blood of goats and of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And therefore he is the mediator of the New Testament: that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. ix, 11–15). In other words, Jesus Christ our Lord, our Sovereign High Priest, made expiation for the sins of the world by the sacrifice of His own self, the shedding of His own blood.
He has established a new covenant between God and man; through Him who has sacrificed Himself man and God are brought together. Such is the meaning and significance of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ to the Catholic mind; this is the reason why the Catholic makes so much of the sign of the cross and the crucifix. The Passion to him is much more than a mere superhuman act of moral courage; it is more even than a superhuman act of love; it is far more than the greatest of human tragedies.
It was a solemn sacrifice in the truest sense, of a Victim made by Himself, in a free oblation. “He was offered because he willed it”—“by a merciful and faithful high priest”—“that he might be a propitiation for the sins of many” (Heb. viii, 17). The outpouring of the blood of that Victim has purified the world; it has washed out the handwriting that was against fallen man. On Calvary the work of the Atonement, the Redemption, was completed: “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world.” On Calvary by a voluntary act of perfect obedience, and of perfect love, in a perfect Victim and by a perfect Priest, a perfect and complete sacrifice was accomplished. Justice was perfectly fulfilled, love was perfectly satisfied; for the first time on earth God was given perfect glory, and man was saved and redeemed.
What this means in practice to the Catholic, St. Bernard has expressed very beautifully. Thus he speaks in one of his sermons: “Jesus weeps, but not as others weep, at least not for the same reason. In others it is feeling that prevails, in Him it is love. They weep because of what they suffer, He weeps out of compassion, because of what others suffer or will suffer. They lament the heavy yoke that weighs upon the sons of Adam; He bewails the yoke which those same sons of Adam have imposed upon themselves, the evil they have done. Nay more; for the evil they have done He now sheds tears, soon He will shed His very blood. Oh, the hardness of my heart! Would that, O Lord, even as the Word was made flesh, so my heart might become a thing of flesh no less, instead of the stone that it is! This is what Thou hast promised by the prophet who has said: I will take away from you the heart of stone, and will give you a heart of flesh (Ezech. xi, 19).
“Brethren, the tears of Christ fill me with shame and grief. I was reveling without in the courtyard while in the secret of the King’s chamber the sentence of death was being passed upon me. The King’s only Son heard what was being said; He laid aside His crown, He clothed Himself in sackcloth, He sprinkled ashes upon His head, He laid bare His feet, He came forth weeping and lamenting that this poor little slave had been condemned to death. I look at Him as on a sudden He comes out; I am struck dumb with the strangeness of the sight; I ask the reason and I hear. What shall I do? Shall I go on with my sport, and so make sport of His tears? Surely I must be foolish and mad, since I will not follow Him, since along with Him I will not weep.
“This is the reason for my shame; but what of my grief and fear? . . . I know nothing of this awful truth; I thought myself safe and secure; and behold the Son of a Virgin is sent, the Son of God most high, and the order is given that He must be put to death, just that by the balsam of His precious blood my wounds may be healed! “The Son of God is all compassionate and weeps: shall man witness the Passion and laugh?”
It remained and it remains for each individual man that comes into the world, only that man should accept, should apply to himself the fruits of that sacrifice, the charity, the satisfaction, the merits of his divine Redeemer. That he may be able to do this to the fullest; that man may continue through all succeeding ages and in every place, to glorify God in a manner worthy of Him, and may have the fruits of this redemption applied to himself in a very torrent, Jesus Christ our Lord, the night before He suffered, instituted a sacrifice of memorial. In that sacrifice, under the species or appearance of bread and wine, the “priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech” continues to offer Himself as a victim for us all, and will continue so to offer Himself to the end of time.
So has Jesus Christ reconciled man with God. But He has also looked manward. It is impossible to suppose that He would come into the world and do all this, and then leave the world still to grope in its utter blackness. He is the light that is to come into the world, to enlighten every man that will believe in Him. Repeatedly He claimed this title for Himself; He was the light, and the light was the life of man. We may look back and see for ourselves how He has fulfilled His mission; since the coming of Christ to earth, wheresoever His influence has spread, life in the world has become a new thing.
We may look about us today, and see how that enlightenment still goes on. In His own time the pagan culture, with all its help from human reason, was played out; its philosophers no longer believed in it, its people had outlived it, superstition followed superstition; and men no longer knew, or very much cared, what they believed. The forms were kept, the exterior clothes of religion, for without them it seemed that civilization itself must collapse. But the forms no longer had a meaning, or if they had, it was often the opposite to that which they had at first contained. Even among the Jews there had been a falling away, a perversion of ideals, substitution of convention for truth. The one true God still remained their belief; but He was the God of Abraham only. The law had divorced itself from religion, had become an end in itself, and no longer a means, and there had followed a bondage which had become intolerable.
Jesus Christ came into the midst of all this. He rose above legalism; He spoke “as one having authority and not as the scribes”; and the authority He claimed was that of the direct Messenger of God Himself. He gave back to man that religion of the spirit for which human nature craved. The human race was of itself purblind, wandering “like sheep without a shepherd” as, left to itself, it had always wandered and it always will.
He gave to it a means of safe guidance, no less than His own infallibility; and this He established for all time in His mystical body, the living Church. Given that Christ is God, given that He is “yesterday, today and the same for ever,” infallibility surely must follow as an easy consequence. It is not a mere question of history or development, for history and development are themselves fallible. As it is itself something more than human, so must it rest on a superhuman basis. It rests, not on history, but on Jesus Christ Himself, who cannot deceive or be deceived, who has promised to be with His own “all days, even to the consummation of the world,” who lived, and died, and rose again “to give witness to the truth.” Had He done less, then would He have done no more than groping man before Him; having done it, we recognize in His lasting infallibility the only becoming seal of the Word of God.
Veritas Domini manet in aeternum: “The truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.” And what He taught answered in all respects to the eager question of the human soul. What was that human soul? What was life? Whence had it come, and why? What was its goal, its purpose? He told it, as one having authority, in the name of God Himself, that it had come from God and to God it must return; from God who would be to it a Father, who had created it for His very own, who had sanctified and blessed it beyond all believing, who, by His Providence, cared for it at every moment of its being. It had come from God who loved it with an everlasting love, who had adopted it and clothed it as a son of His own, who had breathed His own life into it that it might rise above itself, might reach beyond this world and this world’s narrow horizon, might become a member of His own kingdom, His own household. What then was it in itself? Let it recognize its dignity, its worth with this new life in it; in comparison with it the whole world were a trifle. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” It was no longer a mere creature, it was now an adopted member of the household of God Himself, a brother of the Word Incarnate, a member of His mystical body, a branch of Him the Vine, a child of His Church, founded on a rock that nothing should ever destroy, a treasured thing, even in the eyes of God Himself, seeing that it had been bought by the blood of His own Son, His own eternal, infinitely beloved Son Himself.
This was the human soul as Jesus Christ saw it, and as He described it to the soul itself. It was a picture beyond anything any philosophers before Him had conceived, or any seer had divined. Man looked up from his darkness to the mountains whence came this new light; and the light was a new life. For in the truth and vision that this light revealed life itself assumed a new meaning and significance. What was it to be? To what purpose? Its destiny was not the grave, but the house of God the Father, not the laying up of trifles that perish, but of a crown incorruptible. Its fullness of being was just the knowledge of the Father, the love of Him received and returned, the likeness to Him as the likeness of a child to a parent, growing daily in perfection, making of this sordid existence another thing, giving it a new meaning, a new ideal, a new goal, crowning it all with the certainty of another life, in which death would be swallowed up in victory. No wonder those who heard Him were “in admiration at his doctrine” (Matt. vii, 28). It was at once human and divine, perfectly responding to man’s cravings, the answer to his questionings, the fulfillment of his noblest dreams, truth supernatural, yet never for a moment beyond the range of his everyday life.
“Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are ye that hunger now, for you shall be filled.”
“Blessed are ye that weep now, for you shall laugh.”
“Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Be glad in that day and rejoice, for behold your reward is great in heaven” (Luke vi, 20–25).
No wonder again that His enemies, when they had heard Him, came away saying: “Never did any man speak as this man hath spoken” (John vii, 46). For He spoke as one who saw and knew what no other man could conceive, and that in language which no other man has equaled, with a clearness, an emphasis, a conviction, a certainty, yes, with a mastery of word and phrase which was its own pledge of truth. He was the Way, the Truth, the Life. He claimed the title, and no man dared to deny Him. Alone of all men He could ask: “Which of you shall convict me of sin?” Alone He could say: “Come to me all ye that labor and are burdened and I will refresh you”; and when He so called there was no one who dared to say to Him that His claim was arrogant.
Lastly, for the litany must end, Jesus Christ was not one to confine Himself to words. Of all that He taught He was the perfect model; perhaps most of all in this, that He was a model whom every man that comes into the world can take for his own ideal. Of no other man, not the greatest, can this safely be said. We may see in others ideals of this quality or that, of this or that virtue; but even to the greatest, if we would be just, we must grant the margin that is common to all men. Jesus Christ stands alone. He needs no margin, His perfection is confined to no one virtue or quality; look for any limitation in Him and you will not find it. He became Man, He lived among men His human-divine life, the equal of man in all things, hidden away as most true greatness is hidden, obedient as all men must obey, showing in all that He did how closely united are prayer and action, how man might sanctify, and so make perfect, every condition of social life, how he might face, and ultimately bring to good, every trial and adversity, every failure and every success. He taught, by example and experience as well as by word, patience and endurance, and hope in suffering; He braved every wrong which He knew His followers would one day have to face. He endured agony of body and soul; He bore contempt from men, ignominy and shame, ingratitude, insolence, abandonment, treason, injustice, cruelty, deprivation, every insult that comes in the lot of man. No man should ever have to say that his doom was worse than the doom of Jesus Christ.
And yet, in spite of all, though the completed picture is that of “a worm and no man,” in whom “there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of him”—yet is His example all attraction.” “When I shall be lifted up, I will draw all things to myself.” So He had said of Himself on one occasion, and indeed throughout all time His prophecy has been fulfilled. That sinless and undeserving Sufferer, enduring what He did, out of pure love for those who by right ought to have suffered in His place, has founded a new civilization; His sufferings have borne their fruit in this world as well as in the next. The sign of the cross has been seen in the sky; on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, Christendom has been built. Through the ages He has drawn about Him countless men and women to whom suffering itself, on His account, has become a joy. For it has made them the more like to Him; it has made them one with Him; it has enabled them to “fill up what was wanting” in His own suffering; it has given them the means to prove their love for Him, even as He has used the same means to prove His love for them. It has enabled them to share His life, and to do, in Him and with Him, the work for God and man for which He Lived and for which He died. Nor is the procession ended. Jesus Christ and-His Cross will remain the ideal of millions to the end of time; in that more than all things lies man’s salvation, even through the valley of this death.
For one who believes all that has here been said, and more, of Jesus Christ his Lord, and the Catholic believes it with all his heart and soul, can it be strange that Jesus Christ and His Passion occupy so prominent a place in all his thoughts and words, indeed in all his life? “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” says St. Paul; and the Catholic understands exactly what the Apostle means. “I know nothing but Jesus Christ; and him crucified.” So once more St. Paul sums up his mind; and the saints have repeated the summary again and again, with an emphasis that rings true in every word. “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me,” he says in another place; and the Catholic would gladly call it the expression of his own ideal. Others may wonder and doubt; to some He may be a stumbling block, to others a scandal and a folly; nevertheless there are those who know, and to them He is “Christ the power of God and the glory of God.”
Jesus Christ, the Son of God from all eternity, yet also truly the Son of man in time; born into this world of a woman of our race; remaining truly God, for that He could not alter, yet also becoming truly Man; this Jesus Christ has come among men, because as God He loved man, loved me, with an everlasting love. He has lived a man’s life for me, He has risen again from the dead. Because as God and Man He continues to love me, He lives for me now; in heaven before His Father and mine, “ever living to make intercession for me”; here on earth, ever renewing the oblation of Himself that He has made once for all. He lives within me even as I am within myself; He feeds my life with His own life, if I will have Him, every day. He calls me His own brother, the son of His own Father, His intimate friend, between whom and Himself there is no inequality. He gives me a share in His own inheritance, pleads to His Father for me “His own,” that “where He is I also may be,” let the handwriting against me be what it may. He turns all my sorrow into joy, all my joy into still greater rejoicing, for His sake more than for my own. He proves to me, by methods and evidences and arguments far more convincing and final than those of human reason, yet which my human reason everywhere confirms, that all this is real and true, that it is a work which only God could accomplish, a love which only God could show; yet which, when accomplished and shown, is found to be wholly worthy of Him. “God is faithful.”
Jesus Christ is all this and more to me, how then can He be other than the ultimate object of my thoughts, the captor of my affections? Jesus Christ, who has made Himself so much to me, what shall I not be to Him? Jesus Christ, who has done so much for me, what shall I not do for Him? Who has endured so much for me, what shall I not endure for Him? It is true that so long as I live this life on earth I must needs occupy myself with other things. I must take my place among men, I must do that duty which it belongs to me to do. My love must needs go out to others, indeed, let it go out to as many as it may, and as fully as they will let me give it, for that does but make me the more akin to Him, the Lover of all mankind. Still must my thoughts, and my aims, and my affections not stop with them; they must pass through and beyond them all, if they are to find their rest and satisfaction. For they have discovered Him, and He transcends all else. He has revealed Himself, and now they must hunger after Him, as the hart panteth after the waters. They have found Him and they can never again let Him go; mind and heart can henceforth find their final peace in Him alone.
Indeed, Jesus Christ, once He is known, is all in all. Other things there are in life, beautiful, good, desirable, worthy of a man’s natural love and ambition; we can appreciate and cherish them all. Other men and women there are, admirable, noble, lovable, worthy of the best we can give them, worthy of our lives. Love of country is ours, no less than it is that of other men, perhaps it is more; the evidence of blood and of service has proved it in every ordeal. Nevertheless, behind all these things, transcending them all, giving to them all a still greater lustre by reason of the light He pours upon them, stands the figure of our Lord and Beloved, Jesus Christ. The believing Christian reads his Gospels. Others may, if they will have it so, excel him in technical knowledge. They may know quite possibly better than he knows, the land of Palestine. the ways and manner of the Pharisees and Scribes, the shape of the stones on which Jesus trod, even here and there the reading of a word of a phrase in the sacred text itself. But Him who walks through those Gospels and comes out of them, who passes down from them through the ages, who is among us now, “yesterday, today and the same forever”; Him the believing Christian knows, or can know, for his very own, better than he knows his own mother, and his mother who has taught him rejoices to yield her place.
And knowing Him he follows. He listens to his Christ’s every word, and gives to it Christ’s meaning, not his own. He meditates upon His sayings, looks for the meaning He gave them, not the meaning he himself desires, or a self-occupied and sophisticated generation suggests. He counts His virtues, and sees in them the ideal of true manhood, whether he himself can rise to that ideal or not. Or when he must act, when in the business of life he must pass a judgment or come to a decision of his own, instinctively, almost unconsciously, he looks towards that Ideal and asks himself: what would the Master wish me to do? How would He have me to act? What advice does He give me for my guidance? How in this special case would He Himself have spoken or acted?
For He is the infallible Truth, and human judgment is then most true when it is most in harmony with the judgment of Jesus Christ. If again, the Christian would pray, if he would escape for a moment from the valley of this death, and would lift up his eyes to the mountains whence cometh help; if he would raise his mind and heart to God, and find communion with Him, instinctively he reaches towards Jesus Christ our Lord. “No man cometh to the Father but by me.” His thoughts unite themselves with the thoughts of Jesus Christ; together, “through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,” as the liturgy never tires of repeating, they rise to the throne of the Father who is in heaven, praying that His name may be hallowed, that His kingdom may come, that His will may always and everywhere be done. In the company of Jesus Christ hands raised with His hands, voice joined to His voice, we may sing the glory of God, even we His puny creatures, as He deserves that He should be glorified; we may adore Him, we may thank Him, we may ask of Him our daily bread, our forgiveness, protection from whatever may befall, with the trust of a child and a son.
Or when prayer is ended, and the Christian must set himself to his daily task, be it for God or man, he has before him the model working man, the Carpenter of Nazareth to His thirtieth year, earning His livelihood like any other man, serving and obeying and cherishing His mother, serving the villagers about Him. Or he may see the travel-worn teacher of the hill-side, who knew hunger and thirst, who had not where to lay His head, who at times was weary and overcome with sleep, who was so beset that He could not take His food, who, once at least, was “sorrowful unto death.” When he has occasion to meet other men, to speak with them, to deal with them, while he does not in the least forget all that belongs to them as men, still may he also remember that Jesus Christ lives or longs to live in the hearts of these His creatures even as He lives in his own. When he speaks and acts with them, when he serves them, he deals with Him.
“As often as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me,” is an incentive which has created the long line of martyrs of charity, the lasting armament of the Church of God. Thus is Jesus Christ, his Lord and his Ideal, the focus of the Christian’s thoughts; He is no less, as we have just said, the focus of his affections. For if among ourselves, among men of goodwill, to know a good man is to love him, how much more must this be true of Jesus Christ, of Him whom no man could accuse of sin, whom the crowd that looked on could only describe as the one “who did all-things well,” whom His very enemies were driven to call “Good Master!” He is the All-beauty, the All-goodness, the All-truth; meek and humble as He is, so that all may approach Him as being like themselves, yet in Him are united all the perfections of the Godhead, with all the fascinations of the perfect man. He has proved it in His life on earth, and in every action of it; He proves it for us now every day, if only we will read the signs aright.
“Which of you shall convince me of sin?”
“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
“I am the way and the truth and the light.”
“Come to me all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall have rest for your souls.”
“If any man come to me he shall not thirst.” These cries have echoed through the centuries, as much as they echoed through the Temple court, or down the lanes of Judaea. Now, as then, every charge brought against Him has fallen to the ground, convicted of falsehood in its very utterance. The witnesses have not agreed; the only charge that has been found sufficient for His condemnation has been that He has “made Himself the Son of God.” Now, as then, the multitudes have followed Him; while a few have been drawn more closely, and have found every word of His promise true to overflowing.
Indeed He has kept His word. He has not left us orphans, He has come to us; He is with us all clays even to the consummation of the world. Those who know the secret of His strong attraction alone can tell of it; those who do not know, who have never so much as conceived what the name of Jesus Christ means—how can they venture to deny or repudiate that of which they know nothing? Let men of other learning keep to their lore, and we will respect them for it; we will sit at their feet as their disciples. But do not let them, on the strength of that learning, presume to lay down dogma on that of which, by their own confession, they do not know anything at all. Ne sutor ultra crepidam. For there are those who do know Jesus Christ, not about Him only, and they are of every degree, from the lowest to the highest, the dullest to the keenest intellects, the most ignorant to the most learned; if variety of appeal and acceptance is a test of truth, then does the truth of Jesus Christ, and of the Church He has founded, stand out conspicuously above every other. These are they who have experience of His love and return it; who have Him always present before their eyes; who feel His hand guiding their own, and know they are under no delusion.
And these are they whose one word about Him is alone worth more than all denials, and all the shallow proofs of those denials, coming from those who know not what they say, and therefore are to be forgiven; who have never come near Him, and therefore are to be pitied; who are separated from Him by two thousand years of time, for they have failed to find Him as He is, if indeed He is to them more than a myth. The Christian who is worth the name knows “in whom he has believed,” and he lives in His presence and in His company. Listen to St. Bernard, one chance witness out of many, for he was one who knew:
“Lord, by Thy help may we follow Thee, by Thee may we come to Thee, for Thou art the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thou art the Way by Thy example, the Truth by Thy promise, the Life by the gifts Thou dost bestow. Thou hast said, I am the Way in which to walk, the Truth to be sought, the Life in which to dwell; the Way that has no deviation, the Truth that has no error, the Life that has no death; the straight Way, the Truth infallible, the unending Life; the wide and spacious Way, the strong and universal Truth, the Life delectable, ever glorious.”
Or again, hear St. Theresa; though her language goes beyond the experience of most, yet the Catholic understands and responds to every word she says. She is in trouble in her work for God; every hand seems to be turned against her; but the fact of Jesus Christ, as objectively real to her as she is to herself, is a lasting consolation in distress, and encouragement and source of strength. In language such as this she tells us what Jesus Christ is to her and to every Catholic, each in his own degree: “Alone as I was, without a single friend to give me a word of counsel, I could neither pray nor read, but as I remained for hours and hours together, uneasy in mind and afflicted in spirit, on account of the weight of my trouble, I began to fear that, perhaps after all I was being tricked by the devil, and wondered what on earth I could do for my relief. Not a gleam of hope seemed to shine upon me, from earth or from heaven; except just this, and this only, that in the midst of my fear. and dangers I never forgot how Jesus Christ my Lord must certainly see the burdened of all I endured.
“O my Lord Jesus Christ! What a true friend you are, and how powerful! For when you wish to be with us you can be, and you always do wish it so long as we will give you welcome. May everything created, O Lord of all the world, praise you and bless you I If only I could tramp the whole world over, proclaiming everywhere with all the strength that is in me, what a faithful friend you are to anyone who will be a friend with you!
My dear Lord, all else fails and passes away; you, the Lord of them all, never fail, you never pass away. What you allow those who love you to endure for you is all too little.
O my Lord, how kindly, how nobly (literally—how like a gentleman), how tenderly, how sweetly you succeed in handling and making sure of your own! If only one could secure that one would love nothing but just you alone! You seem, my own dear Lord, to put one who loves you to the test with rods and agonies, only that, just when you have brought her to her last extreme, she may understand all the boundless limits of your love.”
Allusion has already been made to Jesus Christ our Lord as the Head of the human race, and to His mystical body, in which the Christian is incorporated; for a fuller understanding of the Christian life, and of the Christian Church as accepted by the Catholic, it is needful to examine the meaning of the term more closely. For, to the Catholic, it is much more than a metaphor, much more than a happy way of stating our relation with Jesus Christ our Lord; His own repeated words, and words of those, like St. Paul and St. Peter, who have been His best interpreters, have left us in no doubt that this incorporation is in some sense a real thing. The mystical body, of which Jesus Christ our Lord is the Head and His followers are the members, has a true and living and life-giving existence, the fruits of which are to be seen, as the Catholic believes, both within the soul of every Christian and in the world about him.
First, we may consider the words of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. And here let it be said that when we study His words, in this place or elsewhere, it is not so much their literal interpretation that we are looking for, as the mind of Him who spoke them.
Taken by themselves they may well be given either too much meaning or too little; when they are brought together, when they are compared with one another, then we may hope they will give us the background of His mind, which is the chief matter that concerns us.
We may begin with that last scene on the side of Olivet, when the preaching of Jesus had definitely ceased, and when He concluded by foreshadowing to His Twelve the end of time and the final judgment. The just shall be separated from the wicked; they shall receive their reward: “Come ye blessed of my Father,” because of their service to Him.
“I was hungry and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: naked and you covered me: sick and you visited me: I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt. xxv, 35–36).
The just will wonder when they ever did these things; they will ask when they had ever seen Him in this plight, and He will answer: Amen I say to you, as often as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. xxv, 40).
They are moving words; they open out a new vista of the relations of man to man, both the sufferer and the benefactor, and put them on an entirely new plane. It may be said that they convey no more than that Christ our Lord takes an act of kindness done to the poor and suffering as if it were done to Himself, and if they are considered by themselves alone this may be true; yet even that meaning is a new thing, even that gives a new significance to charity. But if the reward He offers is also considered, if furthermore the words are taken in relation with others that He spoke at other times, we may easily see that His meaning is something more. The words are in the same category with those others, spoken one day to the Twelve apart: “He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me.”
But nowhere is He more explicit than in His address at the Last Supper. There He had given His disciples what He had called “a new commandment.”
“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John xiii, 34).
This is much more than has hitherto been said; it is much more than the general precept that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. It sets before us as a standard His own disinterested love, which has made Him annihilate Himself for the sake of His beloved.
To love my neighbor as I love myself is one thing; to love him even as Jesus Christ our Lord loves me is quite another; for He loves me far more than I love myself, He has done for me far more than I have done or could ever do. He asks of me a love for others which, of myself, is more than I can give; He asks me to love them with His love. But immediately on this, that He may show us where we have the means of doing the impossible, that He may put it within our reach, He makes the well-known comparison: “Abide in me: and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. . . . As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love” (John xv, 1–9).
In this way is it made possible for us to keep His “new commandment.” We are to love our neighbor, not only as ourselves, but as Jesus Christ loves us; and that is rendered yet more sublime, we are to love our neighbor as the Father has loved the Son: “As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. As I have loved you, do you love one another.” Impossible for us of ourselves, but possible if we “abide in Him,” if we “abide in His love,” if we love with His love and live with His life. In some mystic way, mystic but none the less real, or the words we have quoted have no meaning, we are united to Jesus Christ, to the Word Incarnate, to the Man-God, so that His life and His love are ours. As the engrafted branch becomes united to the vine and is made one with it, in such a way that the life of the one becomes the life of the other, so we are united with Him; with the result that, while of ourselves we can do nothing, now we are able to do that which is done by Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us . . . full of grace and truth . . . and of His fullness we have all received” (John i, 14, 16), not merely in a bestowal of a gift as from one friend to another> but by a communication of life itself. And if of life then also of the container of life, which is the body; if we are one life with Christ, then in some real sense we are one body with Christ also. We are incorporated in Him; we are members of that frame of which He is the Head; in a quite new but very real sense, in Him “we live and move and have our being,” we live, now not we, but He lives in us; we bear the marks of Christ upon our body.
The same is again emphasized by Jesus our Lord in the solemn prayer with which the Last Supper concluded. He begins with the appeal that His own should be given eternal life; and by “His own” He lets it be seen that He means not only His Apostles, but also their disciples, and all Christians, all believers in Him, to the end of time. Thus does He pray to His Father:
“And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me and I in thee: that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that they may be one, as we also are one. I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John XVII, 20–23).
“As thou, Father, in me and I in thee.”—“That they may be one in us.”—“That they may be one as we also are one.”—“That they may be made perfect in one.”—That this perfect union may prove to the world “that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.”—This is more than metaphor; it is far more than the mere extravagant language of love; it rings too true, and is too repeatedly emphatic, to be the invention of any human writer. It is a positive teaching, repeated that it may not be mistaken, expressed as the main idea in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ our Lord at the most crucial moment of His life; and the oneness with His own of which He speaks is daringly compared with the oneness which exists between God the Father and God the Son: “as thou and I are one.” Two Persons, yet one Godhead; two Persons, Jesus Christ and myself, yet one life, one body, even the body of Jesus Christ Himself. We can all say it, and claim the privilege; every true believer in, and faithful follower of, Christ can claim it; therefore in Him, made members of His one same body, equal branches of one same vine, receiving from Him each the same life, we are members one of another.
We are loved by the Father even as Jesus Christ is loved, for we are His body; we are of the family of the Father, for we are coheirs with Christ; we are raised to a dignity which gives a new meaning to life, a new significance to all creation. We are ennobled, and by that ennobling are compelled to endeavor to live up to the honor, to make ourselves more noble; we understand better now why, early in His life, Jesus Christ our Lord put before us that strange-sounding and seemingly impossible standard: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. v, 48).
Thus is the doctrine of the mystical but no less real union of the Christian with Christ an integral part of Christ’s own teaching. St. Paul takes hold of the same, and makes it the basis of all he has to say; it is to him the root meaning of the term Christianity, and of the Christian Church. That Church, to him, was less an organization, more an organism; not an institution, but a living thing; and the older he grew in the ways of God and the experience of men the more he insisted on this concept. It is worthy of note that the light was first given to him at the moment of his conversion; three times the story is told, and in each narration, the same is emphasized. Saul was struck to the ground. The voice he heard did not say: “Why persecutest thou my people?” but, “Why persecutest thou me?” And when Saul asked who it was that. spoke, he received the answer: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts, ix, 5).
Saul never forgot the lesson of those words. He would seem to have made them the chief subject for his life’s meditation, so that their significance, and their consequences, grew upon him more and more. To be a Christian was to be one with Christ; to be a member of the Church was to be a member of that living body of which Christ was the Head: when we have said that, we have said almost all that need be said to explain the soul of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Thus he writes to his wavering Corinthians, who had not yet grasped the need for unity among themselves: “As the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, are yet one body: so also is Christ. For in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit have we all been made to drink. For the body also is not one but many. . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and members of members” (I Cor. Xii, 12–27).
Even more explicit is his mind much later, in the Epistle to the Ephesians. And here it is well to remember the difference between the circumstances of these two letters. In the Epistle to the Corinthians he was dealing with still but partially formed Christians, and he had himself still some way to go before he found the words that would express the truth as he knew it. Here, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, he is dealing with those whom he had known from the earliest days of his apostolate. He has no misgivings about their steadfastness; he is sure he can give them the best he has to give, and they will not misunderstand; the whole Epistle rings with the emotion of a deeply affectionate heart, striving to give of its very best to those it loves dearly. Moreover, in the interval, Paul himself has spent long years in prison. He has had many hours to meditate upon the vision he has seen, to watch the growth of that living thing as it has spread about the Roman Empire, not by any organization, not by system, but like a tree by its own internal life; and he has found at last the words by which his thoughts may be sufficiently expressed. Hence, when he writes, it is no longer only as a glorious bond of union that he describes the mystical body; that is not enough. It is as a consummation, a goal, attainable even in this world, giving us an ideal, a standard, the attainment of which is its own reward, is the perfect man. Thus he writes:
“I, therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which-you are called: with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one spirit: as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all” (Eph. iv, 1–6).
This is his ideal; how is it to be secured? The rest of the Epistle makes it clear. It is by “the building up the body of Christ; until we all meet in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ: that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . . but doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the Head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity” (Eph. iv, 12–16).
Thus does St. Paul develop what he has mentioned in an earlier chapter when he has said of Jesus Christ his Lord: “He hath subjected all things under his feet, and hath made him head over all the Church, which is his body, and the fullness of him who is filled all in all” (Eph. i, 22–23).
It is explicit enough. To St. Paul, and to the whole Church that was one with him, besides the historic Christ who has lived His thirty-three years on this earth and has died, there is also a mystic Christ, the same as the former and yet distinct—how feeble are human words and ideas when we would express the supernatural!—who continues in the world, living among and in men, a Christ with a head, a soul, and members, making together one living spiritual body.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight, in charity.
Who hath predestined us unto the adoption of children, through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the purpose of his will: unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved Son” (Eph. i, 3–6).
For the man to whom this is a vivid truth, clearly it must have an effect on his whole outlook on life. It is true we have described an ideal, and not every man can rise to an ideal; nevertheless, even for the meanest who still believes, the light is before him and shines upon his path. Even here he has something to live for when all else is drab; something far more noble than all this world has to offer, though it offer of its best. It gives to things of the world a new value, a new proportion; it gives to the world itself a totally new perspective. It throws a new light on the tenets of the Christian faith which some men disparagingly call dogmas; it finds a new starting-point for reason itself, adding new arguments, creating new vistas which reason of itself could never have discovered. Let us take, for example, one among many, what the Catholic means by the sacramental life. The sacraments, to him who believes in the indwelling of Jesus Christ, are very much more than the mere ceremonial which is seen from without. They are the ingrafting into the body; they are the joints of the limbs; they are the channels through which the blood of Jesus Christ flows down into the members. Because He Himself has prescribed them and has given to them their efficacy, by their very act the movement of life is started, by them it is increased and fostered. The significance of Baptism gives a new significance, likewise, to all the sacraments that follow. By the simple act, according to His promise, and thanks to nothing of our own, it incorporates us into the body and life of Christ; and the rest, by their simple act, and thanks to nothing of our own, increase the same life within us. Above all is this true of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, that which the Catholic fondly calls the Blessed Sacrament. It is the food of the life of the soul. But the life which it goes to feed is no less than that of Jesus Christ living in us, and that life can be fed by nothing less than the living Christ who comes to us. The Catholic needs little stirring to be devoted to the Holy Eucharist. It is his glory, his pledge of the love of God, the daily sustenance of that life within him, which is far more dear to him than the life he lives in the valley of this death. It is the coming of a Friend above all friends, who enters into his very heart, or rather who draws him into a Heart that loves as does none other.—How can the Catholic do otherwise than long that other men should know and glory in this Way, and Truth, and Life, even as he knows it, and glories in it himself?
Nor is it only by way of the sacraments that the Life of Christ within us may grow to more and more. Every act of merit that we do, once we are united by Baptism to Christ, gives us an increase of the life divine, unites us yet more closely to Him. Above all is this true when we live, and move, and act in union with Him; when we let Him direct us, when we seek from His hand the vital motion that we need, when me invite Hum to live in us, and work through us, entirely, so far as that is possible, according to His own will and not ours. Then we know we are truly His members, truly the branches of the vine, that urges its sap through us to fecundity. Then, indeed, when He does His own will in us and through us, He lives in us in a real way; and by every act we do in this union we recognize it more and more: “He who abideth in me, and I in him, he beareth much fruit” (John xv, 5).
This, then, in practical life, as a consequence of Christ’s indwelling in him, is the second ideal to which the Catholic would strive to attain. He would keep before him the union between himself and the living Christ, as a fact in itself, to be cultivated more and more. Thus he knows that he will fulfill the first purpose of his being. He will give to God the praise, and reverence, and service that is his first duty; by so doing he will make of himself, both in this world and for the next, the perfect thing that God would have him to be. He would allow no day to pass but he would offer it to his God, in union with Christ who lives in him. He would rise in the morning of each day and would at once unite himself with his Christ, in His company would offer himself to the Father to do the Father’s holy will “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is every true Christian’s morning offering. In the rest of his prayer it is Jesus Christ his Lord whom he keeps before himself above all else, his inspiration and his guide. If he makes a meditation, and he makes many a one without knowing it, he looks to His example for his guidance, studies truth and virtue, and the ideals of all manhood as they are expressed in Him, asks Him for light that he may see what is best, for strength to put that understanding into effect. If he would have more, daily Mass is always near him. To assist at daily Mass is to him no extravagance, it is not even a sign of excessive devotion or holiness; it is just a natural act for the man who believes that Jesus Christ his Lord died for him, that he renews the oblation every day upon the altar, that kneeling at the foot of the cross as it is represented there, he can best join in the sacrifice of love, winning pardon for himself, winning the grace and favor of God for all men. Nor is he content only with daily Mass. He knows that there is, for him, if he will have it, daily communion; and those who make use of that offer, in England alone, are, thank God! to be numbered by thousands.
In that communion they begin their day by singing their Magnificat; in it they renew that bond of union with their Master and Lord which at all costs they would preserve; in it they hold converse, the first in the day, with Him whose ear is ever ready to listen; in it they put before Him their needs, and not only their own, but the needs of the whole Church, the needs of all men. They come away from it with another light in their eyes, a new calm in their hearts, a peace which the world cannot give, nor can it take away. Who shall say that a day so begun will be a wasted or a futile day? Who shall say that a nation among whom this is a daily occurrence, is not benefited both in the eyes of God and of man?
Thus would the fervent Catholic begin his day, if not always in fact, at least always in spirit; if he does not or cannot do these things, at least he does not look on his brother or sister who does them as in any way strange or peculiar. Thence he goes out to his daily task. The commonest laborer can carry with him the remembrance, not only that Jesus Christ too, was a working man, but that today He works in him. He may remind himself that even as he labors, at whatever task, he labors no less in union with Christ, a working member of His body, for the universal good. He comes to his meals, he takes his hour of leisure, mindful that He too, ate and drank, was hungry and thirsty and weary, and took His needed rest, sometimes “in a desert place apart,” sometimes in a cottage with His friends; that what He did then He does now, in those who are living members of His body. During the day, as may be seen, in any Catholic Church, at almost any hour, and in almost any place, he will think it no strange thing, but only right, that he should call upon his Friend of friends in His own house, hold a minute’s conversation with Him, renew with Him their mutual agreement. “Come to me, all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you,” has for him a practical meaning in his daily life; in his hour of need he does not forget Him who “is able to save them that come to God by Him: ever living to make intercession for us” (Heb. vii, 25). If this is at the root of the Catholic’s mind, because of its union with Christ, in the ordinary routine of his private life, no less is it at the root of his relation with his neighbor.
Subconsciously, at least, the Catholic cannot lay aside the revelation that Jesus Christ our Lord lives in all men, or longs to live in them if already He is not there; all men, like himself, are or are called to be members of that mystical body which is Christ, to which he himself belongs. Hence he has his own definition of, and attitude towards, authority. He does not forget that of lawful authority his Master said: “He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me” (Luke x, 16); and even of that authority which was unworthy of its trust He could say: “On the chair of Moses have sat the Scribes and Pharisees. All things, therefore, that they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not” (Matt. xxiii, 3). Therefore, in obeying a lawful master, whoever he may be, who commands a lawful act, whatever it may be, he knows that He obeys Jesus Christ our Lord Himself; only when the command is not lawful, when it violates a higher law, must he resist even unto death. He knows, too, that in the act of obeying he is most like to Him who could sum up thirty years of His life in the simple words, “He was subject to them”; and whose whole history is told in those other words: “Made obedient even unto death.”
In like manner, with regard to his fellow-man, he holds and follows a principle which is not new, but which, in matter of fact, has transformed the world, has founded our civilization, and which today is being called into question to the jeopardy of all our foundations of society. “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. xxv, 40); this, as we have already said, repeated in various forms by the Founder of Christendom, is the key, though we may have forgotten it, to all our present understanding of social life. The Christian has been taught through the ages to see in the meanest of his neighbors his Lord and Master, his beloved Christ, to serve Christ in him, to love him even as he loves himself, nay more, as we have said elsewhere, to love him even as Christ Himself loves him. He remembers St. Paul pleading for Onesimus, the runaway slave, to his master Philemon; he finds it easy, nay, after centuries, it has become natural, to accept the doctrine that among men there is neither master nor slave. The master himself will temper his command when he remembers that his servant is to him as Christ our Lord, “as he that serveth”; the equal will not make it his aim to bring down or overreach his equal, since that equal is to him in the place of Christ. Under that guidance Christianity has always been a religion of mutual service; it has been so marked in the past, it is so marked everywhere today. Let Christianity, let the Catholic Church be fostered, and charity in deed will grow with her; check her, and charity decays, a fact which our British Government knows well, and turns to good account in countries where, without her aid, little or nothing could be done.
And even if we look outside the Christian pale, if we consider those, whether abroad or at home, for whom Jesus Christ our Lord means nothing, the true follower of Christ bears in mind that these come no less within the range of Christ’s immeasurable love.
Though they may sin, though they may despise and flout Him, still did Jesus plead for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Though they flee from Him, though they believe, because so they have been taught, that He is a false teacher, a danger to their freedom and their rights, a misguided leader to-be shunned, to be fought, if possible to be crushed with His following after Him, still does He pursue them with His love, and while they live will not let them go. He would have even them incorporated in Himself, received into His fold. “Other sheep have I, that are not of this fold; them also must I bring.” In regard to all these the true follower of Jesus Christ would think as He thinks, would labor as He labors. He knows in this, as in all things, that Christ the King of Man, whose kingdom covers the whole world, whose rights are beyond all question, appeals to him to help Him in the noble work of restoring all things in Him, of making all one in Him, and by prayer, by word, by deed, by example, even, if he be called to it, by giving himself wholly to the task, he offers to the service all that he may. Believing what he does of Jesus Christ, of His mystical body, and longing to include all men in that body, every Christian, if he is true to himself, must needs be an Apostle. “So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and may glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. v, 16).
Lastly, in dealing with our enemies, with Jesus Christ a totally new mind has come into the world. Aristotle, as his Ethics show, had a-noble concept of man, yet in his attitude to insult and injury he could see no nobility but in justice, as he conceived it, and revenge. Even the Old Testament demanded “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus Christ proposed another standard.
“You have heard that it hath been said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise on the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathen this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. v, 43–48).
It was then, and it is today, a lesson hard for human nature to learn, yet did He never flinch in repeating it. And in time human nature understood. It was the last lesson His Apostles grasped, though it had been given to them from the beginning; when it was learnt, then it became the chief lesson they had to teach to others. In that alone the world has found a new light, and a new life, “through Jesus Christ.”
“And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And falling on his knees he cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep in the Lord” (Acts vii, 58, 59).
St. Paul and St. Peter are full of the same. “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good” (Rom. xii, 21).
“For this is thank-worthy: if for conscience’ sake towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully. For what giving is it, if, committing sin, and being buffeted for it, you endure? But if doing well you suffer patiently: this is thank-worthy before God. For unto this are ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his footsteps. Who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.
Who, when he was reviled, did not revile; when he suffered, he threatened not; but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly. Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray: but now you are converted to the shepherd and bishop of your souls” (I Pet. ii, 19–2 5).
All of which St. Paul is able to sum up in his practical, ever-memorable definition of Christian charity, the like of which is to be found nowhere before him: “Charity is patient, is kind; Charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up, is not ambitious; seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; excuseth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never fadeth away” (I Cor. xiii, 4–8).
Such, we may say, is the working programme of the Christian who looks upon his faith as no more nor less than incorporation in the mystical body of Jesus Christ our Lord. His life is the life of Christ Himself: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. i, 21). His ideal is to reproduce Him, to let Christ live in him: “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. ii, 20). When he recalls that incorporation, and in consequence his own nobility as a veritable adopted son of God, the rest becomes not difficult. He has now another outlook; his horizon has extended beyond the limit of this world.
Everything in this life becomes of less importance in itself: it is chiefly now of value as a means to a greater end, as a means of proving love and service of his Lord. That this love may be developed it must needs be exercised, and it finds its object in man whom Christ also loves. Thus do all his dealings with his fellow-men take on a new significance. To love them as members of the body of Christ is to love Christ Himself, to render them a service is to render a service to Him; and this, he knows full well, will be paid him back a hundredfold in an increase of love, whatever may be its seeming fate here and now. And to love God and our fellow-men even as this—that is the fulfillment of the Law, that is, for him, the perfection of a man, even judged by the standards of this world. There are other ideals: this one may seem to some fanciful and unreal. But it has been taught by One who was the very truth, and who, in the teaching of it, stands alone among men; and it has been lived by millions during nineteen hundred years, it lies today at the back of all that we mean by Christian civilization, as distinguished from every other. It is lived by millions still; and even for those of us who feel that its perfection is too high to be attained by such imperfect creatures as ourselves, even for us it is a glorious light in the distance, to approach to which is a sure line of progress, surpassing every other that man has devised both for ourselves and for the whole human race.
When, then, I ask myself what my Church means to me, I am immediately swallowed up in a greater whole, as a stone in a building, as a branch in a tree, as a limb in a body. My Church is much more to me than I am to myself; she lives more than I do; I live only as a part of her. So absorbing does this become that her thoughts are my thoughts, her ideals are mine, the goal she has before her is my goal; in a real and to me quite natural sense, I live, now not I, but she lives in me. As my hand pays no regard to itself but regards only me to whom it belongs, as it has no life of its own, but only what comes to it from me the living person, so can I, as a Catholic, regard not myself but the body to which I belong, and live, not of myself, but in so. far as I imbibe the life of her who lives independently of me, and whose life’s blood flows through me. In her I live, and move, and have my being; so natural has this become to me that I cannot think of myself as myself, except as an isolated creature, a dead and dismembered limb, in which true life is not. My life is her life, my being is her being, she has my love and my service, as I myself have the entire devotion and service of my hand. She is the living organism, I am but an organ; she is the body, I am but a member; she is the living thing, I am but a portion; she is the Bride of Jesus Christ, I am but a feature.
And I can give my Church this homage and surrender because I believe that her spirit is the spirit of Christ Himself. He dwells in her as in His own body, she has risen with Him from the tomb; with Him, having risen, she can die no more, death can no more have dominion over her. With her, and through her, and therefore “in Christ Jesus” I too am risen from the dead; I am filled with His spirit, I am no longer my natural dead self, I am a member of Him; when this body dies, then I shall know what it is to live. I see now as in a glass after a dark manner, but then I shall see face to face. He is the real living head of this real living body; I am a limb, a part of that same body, and that body is the body of Christ. So close, so alive, so invigorating is the Catholic Church to her true members, so near, through her, are they united to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Something has already been said of the place of the Saints of God, the Church Triumphant, in the mystical body of Christ; but so markedly Catholic is this devotion, especially towards her whom he fondly calls the Queen of all the Saints, that, at the risk of some repetition, this would seem the fitting place to speak of that devotion further.
The Catholic knows full well that there is but one God, and one Mediator, Jesus Christ. “For there is one God; and one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times” (I Tim. ii, 5, 6). Nevertheless the Catholic believes that it has pleased the wisdom and bounty of God to give us other helps, other protectors, intercessors, models, of our own kith and kin, who, because of this human relationship with us, may be, or rather may appear to be, in some sense nearer to us. He -has made use of every means that may draw us more to Him, not least of that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. These are the saints, members of that same mystical body of which we are members, who have lived their lives under-like conditions to our own, who under those conditions have reproduced in themselves the traits and perfections of Jesus Christ our Lord, who have reduced His teaching to practice, and have therefore become for us both an example and an inspiration, and who are all the time our own brethren. We hear of their deeds, for God and for man, and we are led to ask ourselves: “Why cannot I do what these and those have done?” We think of them in their heaven of reward, and we know that love does not die. We conclude, and the evidence of Scripture confirms our conclusion, that from their place beside the throne of God they hear us and help us; nay more, we believe that from time to time God shows that He approves our devotion by special favors granted through their intercession. We honor them for their own sakes; we honor them because of the honor their lives have given to God and to man. We speak to them as friend speaks to friend; we ask them to assist us, as the poor man asks the rich man whom he trusts and loves, as the traveler along an unknown road will ask guidance of one who has already explored it.
Moreover, when we honor them we believe that we do but honor God the more. For it is no less than His reflection in them that we honor. We honor them because God has honored them, for the reasons that He has honored them, in the way that we believe He would have us honor those who have served Him well, whom He has loved, and has markedly approved. When we invoke their intercession, it is to God that our petition goes in the last resort; we ask a favored brother to pray with us at the feet of our common Father. When we set them before ourselves for our imitation, it is Jesus Christ reflected in them that we propose to imitate. “Be ye followers of me,” St. Paul said boldly to his neophytes, “as I am of Christ.” We make use of them for our encouragement, as we all make use of the great men who have gone before us: “A brother helped by a brother is like a strong city.” We ask them to show us how we, too, like them, may reproduce Jesus Christ our Lord in ourselves. Far from interfering with our worship of God, or of the Incarnate Word of God, the devotion to the saints does but draw us the nearer to them both, as the experience of centuries has proved; it completes our worship and confirms it. In their company we are in the company of Him whom they have loved above all else; no man ever yet had true devotion to the worthiest followers of Jesus Christ but longed to follow Him as they did.
And in return we are confident that the saints in heaven have regard for us. If they are our brethren, we are no less theirs; if our love keeps them in our hearts, that same love, rendered the more keen by their union now with God, keeps us no less in theirs. As they stand around the throne of God, their warfare over, their victory won, their voices cannot but be powerful with Him for whom they have lived and died; hence we invoke them, ask for their aid, looking into heaven with our purblind eyes, knowing very well that our aspirations will be graciously received. We live in the dark, groping as we may; we see as in a mirror only, and the mirror is but of this earth’s making. We know well that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him;’; but we do the little we can. And those who see “face to face,” after they themselves have gone through the valley of this death, will not, when they look back on us, be wanting to us in their pity and love. When we in our turn come to die, we have confidence that they will welcome us into their company; not least because we have held their memory in honor and affection, and have gloried in them as in those of our own whom the King has delighted to reward.
But among the saints there is one who, in the Catholic mind, holds rank pre-eminently and apart; let us then consider her with her prerogatives. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother on earth of the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ our Lord, holds her unique position essentially because of that Motherhood. On the day of the Incarnation Mary, the Maid of Nazareth, became the real Mother of God come down to earth. She gave of her body for the making of His body, of her blood for the building of His human life; had she no other claim that this on the reverence and devotion of believing man, this alone would be enough. But the record of the Incarnation sanctions much more; every word in the narrative is full of meaning, and the Catholic Church in every generation has lived upon it. She is saluted with respect by an angel, in words that at once place her above all other men and women. Before the message is given she is pronounced “full of grace”; “the Lord is with her” in a way that belongs to her alone; she is “blessed among all women”; there is nothing comparable to honor such as this paid to any other human being, in all the generations of mankind from Adam till today. When the message is delivered, it is more than just a son that is announced; it is a Savior, a Redeemer, the fulfillment of the desire of the nations. All this proclaims the nature of her Motherhood.
“Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shall bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus (i.e. Savior). He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever” (Luke i, 31, 32).
Such a message is no less than the announcement of the Messias that was looked for; and Mary knew it well. Still, that the promise might be fulfilled, her free consent was to be given; the design of God for the redemption of the world was made to depend upon the “fiat” of the Maid of Nazareth. Freely she gave that consent, and at once the work of the Incarnation and Redemption was begun; and God would have the whole world thank that little maiden for the word she uttered. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, according to thy word be it done to me.”
It was an act of complete surrender. As her preceding question declared, it cost her much; she knew too, what it would imply in the future, to be the chosen companion of Him who was to redeem the world. A few days later she made a prophecy, and wonderfully has that prophecy been fulfilled.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord And my spirit hath rejoiced In God my Savior Because he hath regarded his handmaid’s lowliness For behold from henceforth All generations shall call me blessed.”—(Luke i, 46–48).
Thus does Mary stand in a place unique, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ the Redeemer, by her own consent associated with Him in His work as no other creature could be, the second Eve, the mother of the new life, in contrast with the first Eve at every point. We cannot wonder that, by anticipation, the all-possessing and all-loving Lord blessed that soul and adorned it from the beginning of its being, as He has blessed no other.
Moreover, in that she was the actual Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mary was at once placed in a new relationship with the Blessed Trinity, far transcending that of any other creature. She was the chosen beloved of the Father, His personal associate in the work of the Incarnation. She was the Mother of the Son of God, with a mother’s natural right to His respect, His love, and even on earth to His obedience. Nay more, because of the intimate union that exists between son and mother, she had a further claim to share with Him in whatsoever lot might befall Him; His joys were her joys, His sorrows were her sorrows, when the final victory came, who could have a greater part in it than she? Further, she was in a way peculiarly intimate, peculiarly her own, the living Temple of the Holy Ghost, as the Angel had foretold to her: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee” (Luke i, 35). She was His privileged sanctuary, His spouse; with Him, in dependence on Him, but none the less with full and free co-operation on her part, she would fulfill her mission as the Mother of Jesus Christ, as the Mother of all men engendering them unto God.
Nor is this last a merely empty and poetic title. Mary has a special claim to be called the Mother of mankind; we have a special right to call her Mother. We have considered elsewhere in this chapter the meaning and significance of that mystical body of which Jesus Christ our Lord is the Head. Mary, as His Mother, as the Mother of that vital influence which has given life to that mystical body, in so far is also the Mother of that body. In a true though mystical sense the living members of that body can look upon her as their Mother; the Mother of Jesus Christ according to the flesh is the Mother of all His members according to the spirit. And as if He would Himself formally confirm and sanction this interpretation, as if He would encourage His disciples to draw it out to its logical conclusion, Jesus Christ our Lord suffered to be enacted and to be recorded for all time that memorable episode on Calvary. At the moment when the work of the Redemption was about to be completed by His death, when, in the ordinary course of nature, the Mother’s heart would have been broken with the breaking of the heart of the Son, and when, therefore, she must have died with Him, Jesus paused in His great ordeal and looked upon her. He showed to her His beloved disciple John, through him bestowed on her the rest of humankind, and said: “Woman, behold thy son.” In that gift He substituted John for Himself in His Mother’s heart. He bade the Mother find in His disciple an object that would give an outlet to her Mother’s love: “As often as you did it to the least of these you did it to me.” Likewise to John He showed Mary. He bade him be a son to her in His own place even as He had been. “Behold thy Mother,” he said; and “from that moment the disciple took her to his own.” From that moment and because of the commission, every loving disciple of the Son has taken the Mother to his own heart. This is no novel or fantastic interpretation of the passage of St. John. It has come down through the ages, from and beyond the days of Origen; what it has meant to Christendom, the liberation of and reverence for women, the conquest of barbarian brutality, the foundation and development of chivalry, the respect for chastity, and with it for all the moral law, not least the joy and hope it has brought into the lives of the poor and down-trodden, all this historians never tire of repeating.
Upon these two titles, Mary the Mother of God, and Mary the Mother of Mankind, the whole practice of the Catholic’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is built. She is the second Eve as her Son is the second Adam; as through a woman came the Fall, so through a woman came the Restoration. On this account she stands alone; thus united to the Son of God she is Immaculate, free from stain of sin as is no other human being whom God has made. As His Mother He delights Himself to honor her, as His Mother He delights that she should be honored by others; as her Son He delights to grant to her what she asks, when she pleads with Him on behalf of her many children. The Catholic must needs restrain himself from saying more. He loves Mary with a child’s affection, he thinks of her and sings her praises with a child’s heart. Through all time her name has been on his lips; she has been the inspiration of his literature and his art; all that is most beautiful in Christendom has come to it through her. And today the very hovels of the poorest, the most sordid stratum of our vaunted civilization, finds its one illumination and relief in devotedness to the Maid of Nazareth.
Indeed it is true to say that a religion is best tested by the help it gives to the poor; under that test how many of our modern sophistries come to nothing! But with the Catholic Church it is not so; it is par excellence everywhere the religion of the poor—pauperes evangelizantur.” And this is specially true of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
It was the month of May during the last year of the War in one of the poorest quarters in one of our large towns. Before a statue of our Lady a poor woman was kneeling. Her son was at the front, her only bread-winner. Tears were in her eyes as she was heard to exclaim: “Mother of God, be good to my lad and I’ll be good to yours!”
This only we would add. The more a man appreciates and loves the Son, the more, as experience abundantly proves, will he come to appreciate and love the Mother; and conversely, the more he loves the Mother, the more will he grow in devotion to the Son, seeing that in the first place it is on that Son’s account that he honors her.
It would be impossible to form an idea of the Catholic mind without understanding in some degree at least, what the Catholic thinks of that which he calls the Holy Mass. It is to him far more than a religious ceremony or practice of devotion; it is a rite at which he is present, as if it were the center of all that he calls religion. He goes to Mass, and the essential of his duty is looked upon as done; no other service can take its place, nor any number of them. All that has been said in the preceding chapters has led up to this; indeed it has been difficult to exclude it from much that has been hitherto explained.
Looking at Catholics in actual life, we have only to watch them in our streets about us to realize that for them all the Mass is the focus of their faith. On any morning in the year, not on Sundays only, in any church that is open to the people, they are to be found in groups before the altar, rich and poor alike, hearing Mass before the day’s work begins; go into a truly Catholic country, and you will imagine, at Mass-time, that every day is Sunday. When we look back in history we find the same has been characteristic of the Church’s children in all times; of kings in their palaces—many of our English kings would not begin their day till they had attended Mass; of soldiers in their tents,—who would hear Mass before they went into battle; of the rich at their shrines, of the poor in their village churches, of the working classes at their guild assemblies, of universities and centers of learning. Before the age called the Reformation, the Mass was the common bond of Christendom; since that age it has still remained the bond of union above every other for all the Catholic world.
In these islands in particular Catholics have reason to make much of Holy Mass, for to them it has been in a special way their sacrifice. Their forefathers have died for it in hundreds; when the day of destruction came, their destroyers knew that “it was the Mass that mattered,” and therefore did all they could to be rid of it. To say Mass was visited with death, nay even to claim the power to say it; our English gentry were penalized to penury for hearing it, our poor were often put to death, for this and nothing else. This is a tradition not to be forgotten; if for the Mass our forefathers sacrificed so much, we too, are prepared to make constant and great sacrifices both for its preservation and to do it honor. Out of our poverty we build church after church, and when they are built we spare no pains that they may grow in beauty; nothing is counted waste that is bestowed upon a shrine where the Mass is offered.
What, then, does the Mass mean to the Catholic? This is no place for a theological discussion, nor for an analysis of the Mass itself; though for a full understanding of what it means, even to the Catholic who pretends to no learning, both of these would need to be considered. It must be enough to state in brief what the Mass stands for in the Catholic mind, what the Catholic believes about it. To make what is essential clear from the first, the Catholic believes with the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Jesus Christ our Lord, the Great High Priest of the Christian Dispensation, has reconciled sinful man to God, and God to sinful man, by a solemn sacrifice of Himself to His Father in heaven. This sacrifice was completed on the altar of the Cross on Calvary; when completed it was sufficient, and more than sufficient, to atone for all the sins of all the world. There is now no need of any other; the debt of man to God has been fully canceled. The full price has been paid that may win again for man the life of union with his Creator; the homage due to God from His creature has been, in that sacrifice, fully rendered. Love has been requited; equal love has been returned for equal love; the flow of love between God and man has been renewed.
But the Catholic also believes that this one sacrifice, though completed on Calvary, is renewed every day on the altar, and will be renewed to the end of time. He believes that Jesus Christ our Lord, on the night before He suffered, instituted a means by which the sacrifice should be, not commemorated only, but mystically yet really enacted, wherever His Gospel should be preached, wherever His kingdom should be spread.
This daily renewal of the actual sacrifice of Calvary, is the Sacrifice of the Mass. As Jesus Christ our Lord offered Himself a bleeding Victim to His Father on the Cross, so, the Catholic believes, He comes down upon our altars every day, and renews that same offering of Himself to His Father by the hands of the priest. The Mass, in other words, is the sacrifice of Calvary itself, mystically yet truly renewed through all time. He who offers the sacrifice is the same, even Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. The Victim offered is the same; as He offered Himself then, so He offers Himself now. It is offered to the same Supreme Lord of heaven and earth, and for the same purpose. In the Holy Mass the prophecy has been fulfilled:
“From the rising of the sun even to the going down thereof, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation. For my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. i, 11).
Obviously much more than this would need to be said if we would state the position of the Mass in the order of Catholic belief and practice. But the grounds for our belief belong to another place; here we are concerned with it only in its practical side. Looked at in this light alone, three things are emphasized by the Council of Trent, which explain clearly enough the influence of the Holy Mass over the Catholic mind and the Catholic heart. The Mass, so the Council teaches, summing up all that has gone before it, was instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord Himself, was left by Him as a parting gift to His well-beloved Spouse, the Church, as a visible sacrifice to be ever in her hands, for three objects:
First, as a perpetual and living memorial of Himself. Second, that there might remain among His own a living representation, and not a commemoration only, of the greatest proof of His love, the sacrifice of Calvary. Lastly, that by this means there might be secured the most intimate communion between the human soul and Himself that even He could devise.
Let us consider these three aspects apart. First the Mass is a perpetual and living memorial of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. When at the Last Supper our Lord and our God had by His word converted the bread into His own Body and the wine into His own Blood, He added these words: “Do this in commemoration of me.” By those words He gave to His Apostles the power to do as He had done, to convert the bread and the wine into His own Body and Blood. In what special sense and to what special purpose, this is to be understood, St. Paul explains to us when, after repeating the story of the institution of the Mass, he adds: “As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink this chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until He come” (I Cor. xi, 26). Therefore, before all else, the Holy Mass was intended to be for His faithful followers a perpetual commemoration of His Passion and Death, and that with the real Body and the real Person of Jesus Himself present. When His faithful assist at Mass, they assist in spirit at that scene on Calvary; they have before their eyes above all else, Jesus Christ their Lord crucified, Jesus Christ in His agony, Jesus making for them the great and final sacrifice.
But secondly, and more important still, the Mass is not only a commemoration, it is a living representation of the sacrifice of the Cross. Thus says the Council of Trent: “In this divine sacrifice which takes place at the Mass is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, the same Christ that was offered once for all in blood upon the Cross. . . . It is one and the same victim, one and the same high priest, who makes the offering through the ministry of His priests today, after having offered Himself upon the Cross yesterday; only the manner of the oblation is different” (Session xxii, e. 2).
It is the same High Priest. As we have already seen, the Sovereign High Priest of the New Law, indeed the only Priest in the strictest sense, is Jesus Christ our Lord. It is true that in the Holy Mass He offers Himself by the ministry of priests who are but men, but He could not well to otherwise. Nevertheless it is to be noted that of himself the priest can do nothing, of himself he makes no sacrifice; he acts only by the free will and appointment of Jesus Christ, he is His vicegerent and no more, he provides but the hands and the voice by means of which Jesus Christ his Lord may act. Christ has willed, in His infinite condescension, to make His presence on the altar conditional upon the will and word of a mere man. The priest is a priest only in dependence on Jesus Christ; he cannot make himself, no man can make him, no power on earth can consecrate him; his power comes from Jesus Christ alone, and he acts only as His representative. On the other hand, once he has been duly ordained, as soon as the words of consecration have been spoken, and the act of transubstantiation has been performed, Jesus Christ Himself is there upon the altar, offering Himself to the Father; and the oblation made by the priest, and by the universal Church along with him, though it is united with the offering of Jesus, yet in itself is a thing apart. In the Holy Mass it is Jesus Christ Himself who first makes the oblation; the priest makes it only “through Him, and with Him, and in Him,” per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso.” As on Calvary, as in the sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus Christ our Lord is the Sovereign Priest.
He also remains the same Victim. By the mere fact of the priest pronouncing the words of consecration, our Lord is present on the altar, hidden beneath the veil of the sacred species, the appearances of bread and wine; He is there the same Christ, with the same affections, the same aspirations, the same dispositions, as He had on Calvary. He is there bowed down in adoration before the Father, acknowledging before Him His entire dependence on Him as man, asking pardon for the sins of all mankind, ready again, if that were needed, to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” Since then we have upon the altar the same Victim, with the same dispositions, as on Calvary, we have the same sacrifice. For it is not the manner of the act, it is the act itself which is of first importance. If the immolation in blood on Calvary stirs us most, nevertheless, in the eyes of God, it is not the mere blood-shedding which is to be most considered. Rather it is the filial love with which that sacrifice was made, the deep sense of religious obligation which led the Son of God, made man, to accept such a sacrifice that His Father’s glory might-be honored. That the will of Jesus Christ might be satisfied, that His love might give itself to the full, a visible oblation, and that an oblation of tremendous outpouring, was without doubt necessary; He would be content only with some sensible surrender that would correspond with the depths of His own devotedness. And certainly nothing could better express all this,—His desire to give all to the Father and to man, His love unbounded for both, His willingness to pay any price that they might be reconciled and made one,—than the immolation of Himself, wholly and entirely, on Calvary. Still, as we have just said, it was not the blood-shedding, nor the extent of the torture endured, that made the chief value of the sacrifice; it was rather the love that prompted the paying of such a price, and the sense of duty to the Father which carried the oblation to its last extreme. And it is this same love, and this same sense of duty, which has found the means to make the oblation perpetual. Jesus Christ, on Calvary and on the altar, is one and the same, and the same, also, is the sacrifice, His heart is there the same, with the same love, for God and for man, the same sense of justice due towards the offended Father, the same desire to give His all for man. In that same spirit the sacrifice is continued; in the Mass He has only found the way to make that continuance possible, on this earth, where it was first enacted, as well as in heaven, where He is “ever living to make intercession for us.”
Lastly, as the Council of Trent teaches, the Holy Mass is a means of communion between Jesus Christ our Lord and the human soul. This third aspect of the Mass is not, perhaps, in itself the most important, but it is most important for our present purpose.
The Holy Mass is a means of communion between man and Jesus Christ, between man and God. It has already been pointed out how, in the ancient sacrifices, eating of a part of the victim symbolized a communion both with the victim and with God Himself. On this account what the Catholic affectionately calls Holy Communion is an integral, and indeed an essential part of Holy Mass, at least for the priest who offers it. And the Council of Trent urges that the faithful who assist at Holy Mass should do the same, in order that they, too, may share, more intimately and physically, in the spirit and life of Jesus Christ their Lord. For the object of the Holy Eucharist, as we have seen elsewhere, is our greater incorporation in Him, so that “through Him, and in Him and with Him” we may the better give glory to God, and be the more united with the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
First, then, Holy Communion incorporates the recipient in Jesus Christ our Lord.—For this reason, we may well believe, it has been instituted under the form of bread and wine. Under that form He feeds us with His Body, His Blood, His Soul, His Divinity, His whole Self. By so doing His life flows into us, and that is incorporation. He gives us the right to make His very heart our own, so that, as St. Paul and the saints are fond of repeating, there is between us but one heart and one soul. It is indeed a close union, closer can scarcely be imagined while we still remain ourselves, and it is union that is lasting. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him” (John vi, 56).
It is also a sanctifying union; it transforms ever more and more the soul of the recipient into another Christ. Little by little, nay, sometimes by great bounds, its thoughts and its judgments are altered, its perspective and outlook are reversed; there grows within a consciousness of truth and of beauty which creates almost another understanding of all things. It ceases to consider life and the things of life from its own angle, from the angle of man and the world, it leaps to the other side, it looks back upon this world as if it had already passed beyond it, almost unconsciously it learns to judge of life from the point of view of God. More and more, as it comes to see with the eyes of Jesus Christ, and to feel with His own feelings, the will is conformed to the will of Him who alone is the Master. It sees and understands that He alone is the truth, He alone is the eternal Wisdom; it comes to will only what He wills, and in the way that He wills it. It learns easily, nay, spontaneously, to repeat with Him: “Father, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven “; and in the fulfillment of that will it finds that “peace on earth” which is promised to “men of good will.” By renewed union and intimacy with Him the heart is drawn away more and more from anything of its own; in comparison with Him other things are of small account. More and more it learns to love Him who alone is worthy of all love; more and more it is led to look out on the world with His eyes, and to love it, and all in it, not less than before but more; for it is with His love that it now loves, and for the reason that He loves it, and in His self-sacrificing way.
After this manner does Holy Communion complete the sacrifice. It draws the soul of the communicant to enter into the soul and heart of the Divine Victim, its life into His life. It makes the very human body and human soul of him who partakes of it truly victims themselves; for it unites them to the Victim of all victims, in His work of glorifying God, of making satisfaction for mankind, of winning for men the graces that may lift them beyond themselves. No wonder St. Paul breaks out, in one of those many exclamations which seem to find their full significance only in the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament:
“I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and the acceptable and the perfect will of God” (Rom. Xii, 1, 2).
But in thus uniting the living man to the living Jesus Christ his Lord, Holy Communion also unites him to the Godhead, that is, to all the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
For in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the Word Incarnate, are found the two other Persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Ghost; They are inseparable, They are one God, They live one in the other. Therefore when the Son of God comes into the soul that receives Him He does not come alone. He comes with the Father of whom He is being ever born, from all eternity unto all eternity: “I and the Father are one.” He comes with the Holy Ghost who, from eternity unto eternity, proceeds by love from the Father and the Son. Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, we are made by that act the adopted sons of God, we enter into His family; fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that sonship becomes ever more real and absorbing, the family tie ever more close, since it is no longer we that live, but He lives in us. Thus is realized, every day more and more, by every Holy Mass said, by every Holy Communion received, the whole aim and object of man’s creation, the purpose of God Himself in making man, union ever more intimate between created man and God.
This must suffice to explain why, to the Catholic, the sacrifice of the Mass, with Holy Communion as a part of it, is the crowning act of all Christian worship and devotion, why it is the center of all that he means by religion, both in its teaching and in its practice, why it is looked upon as the most fruitful source and the surest preserver of the supernatural life within him, why he considers the loss of the Mass to be the greatest-of misfortunes, why so many have died for it, both priests and layfolk. It is a Memorial of the Passion, and as such it takes us to the foot of Calvary, there to contemplate, with time and space removed from between us, in sorrow, in love, in sympathy of fellow-suffering, that crucified Lord who has so loved us, who has given His life for that love, suffering, agonizing, dying, at the hands of those He loved, and for their sakes. It is a real and living representation of the drama of Calvary; as such it places in our hands all the virtue, all the grace, all the fruits and merit of the sacrifice which was consummated on the hill of Golgotha. In the Mass and through the Mass we are united with Jesus Christ our Lord, the Lamb of God, the Victim without spot or stain; united with Him, we, too, in spite of all our nothingness and evil, are able to glorify God as He deserves; we, too, are able by supplication and atonement of our own, to obtain pardon for our sins, no matter how great they may be; we are able to plead, with the assurance that we shall be heard, for all the helps and graces we may need for our salvation and sanctification. For Jesus Christ pleads with us, with unspeakable groanings, and His prayer cannot be denied; the Holy Spirit interprets our hearts for us and His voice is true. Holy Mass is an intimate communion between ourselves and Jesus Christ, and through Him with God Himself; a communion which transforms us into other christs, which makes us ever more and more like to the divine Model, and which draws us ever nearer to that perfection of the Father, held out to us as the Ideal of man.
For these reasons, and there are more, it may be shown why it is that to the Catholic the Holy Mass is the greatest of all his devotions, if indeed it may be given that name. It is the culminating point of his religious faith, the most efficacious of all his forms of prayer, to which he has recourse without ceasing. It has its own intrinsic value. It does not depend for its efficacy on the man who says it, or on him who hears it, or on the one who makes use of it; it depends on Him who is the one High Priest and the one Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. Its value is objective, that is, it contains the self-oblation and the prayer of Him who offered Himself once for all, and of all His universal Church made one with Him in her oblation and prayer. It is a perpetual memorial of Him, a perpetual reminder that He is with us still, “Yesterday, today, and the same for ever.” It is an ever-living re-enactment of that one sacrifice by which He proved His love, greater than which not even He could have shown. It is a bond of union between Him and His own, a means of communion between the two, in love, in sacrifice, in life itself, such as only God Himself could have devised.
Thus does the Holy Mass far surpass every other offering, oblation, sacrifice that man of himself can make, every other form of prayer that he can utter. It is the continued oblation of Calvary; not a commemoration only, not a reminder only, but, since both Priest and Victim are the same, it is one with that first sacrifice. In the Holy Mass time and space are eliminated; the eyes of God look through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, and in that blood all is blended into one. The pierced Heart on Calvary is still open, it is still the source from which pour down unceasingly all the wonderful graces by which God enriches His Church, by which He blesses the whole human race. It is the treasure beyond all others, the pearl of great price, for which all else is given, even, if it need be, life itself. There is nothing too good for the place in which it is established, nothing too rich to adorn it; the Mass has inspired the noblest of the works of all the arts, it has lifted mankind to the highest point of man’s ideals and has brought it together as no concordat has ever done, or can ever hope to do.
Above all, and in the first place, it is the treasure of the Catholic priest. For it he may be said to live, and from it, in return, he receives both support in the life that is his and its recompense. He claims nothing for himself because of his high dignity; he is what he is, not for anything of his own, but only because of Him who has said “you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” and who has chosen “whom he would himself.” He has received an anointing and a command; in accordance with that command, by virtue of the power given to him, he speaks and acts, not in his own person, but in the person, as the instrument, the voice, of Jesus Christ, who has given him the commission. He uses no words of his own, he uses only the words which Christ Himself used: “This is my body, this is my blood”; and by those words, as if Christ our Lord Himself were speaking, the bread is changed into the body of Christ, the wine is changed into His blood, Jesus Christ is brought by him upon the altar.
This is the priest’s first function in life; it is its own reward, its own sufficient explanation and completion of his being. It is also his sufficient strength. By the Mass and from the Mass, there comes to him every morning the help that he may need in his daily round. From the Mass he draws the means by which he may sanctify himself and others, the souls that have been entrusted to him; the zeal of the priest will inevitably lead him to love of his morning Mass and, conversely, love of his morning Mass is a sure guarantee of his burning zeal for souls. For the same reason he is set in a place apart by his Catholic people. The reverence they pay him is a different thing from that given to others in high places; it is given to him for nothing of his own, nor is it ever taken from him, for he is “a priest forever.” Wherever he may be, of whatever nationality, an ally or an enemy, however wanting he may show himself in many ways, he is for them a man apart. He has been specially chosen by God for God’s own work; his hands have been specially consecrated to perform this special function; the whole man is now different from other men. He may fail and prove himself unworthy; human weakness may appear in him no less than in others, still the Catholic never can forget that he is what he is, a priest for ever without any undoing, marked, however great his sin and shame, with that which will distinguish him, for better or for worse, for all eternity, a vicegerent of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself in the most solemn function in the world.
It is the Mass, again, which wins the notice of the unbeliever as does nothing else. He cannot pass it by unnoticed, as its history has shown; though he may not understand, yet will he be either the friend of its mysterious fascination or its implacable enemy. It is the Mass again, that draws the sinner to the feet of Christ, to receive upon himself the cleansing blood that flows down upon his head. It is the Mass which gives the superhuman strength to win through every trial, whether from without or from within; by it and for it confessors have lived and martyrs have died, it has peopled alike the monastery and the home. By the aid of the Mass the meanest of the poor and the least instructed rises to the full height of his dignity, as the priest of the poor has proof every day of his life. On the other hand the highest amongst men learns in the Mass the duty of his place; nowhere more than before the altar of God are all men truly equal, and one, and free, and independent, and considerate of mutual rights. By it all alike are given a new vision of life, ignorant and learned, foolish and wise, great and little; from it they are stirred to new courage, to accept the very truth rather than appearance, or spurious word, or convention, to practice a life of realities, higher than those of this world, a life in itself seemingly simple but in fact heroic. The Mass, with the infinite horizon it opens out, lifts up generous souls to the heights of mystic union; in a word it is through the Mass, more than through any other channel, that the waters of Redemption are poured out and spread throughout the world.
The Holy Mass is not the only means of grace and progress in the spiritual life, that is, we would repeat and insist, in the making of the perfect man. Jesus Christ our Lord has told us that He has come “not to destroy but to perfect,” and history has proved the truth of His words. The Catholic, every Christian, believes that by following His lead, and by using the means which He has provided, man is made the better as a man in this life as well as for the next, and that the whole tenure of this world is lifted up by adherence to Him and to His ordination. Indeed, he believes that this is what is meant by Christian civilization; he believes that by simply obeying His injunctions, and by no other way, has that great revolution been brought about in the history of mankind with which no other can compare.
Now, among the means which He has provided are some, so simple in themselves as almost to seem trivial, yet in their working, and because of their significance, absolutely fundamental to the whole Christian idea. These are the seven sacraments. The Catholic believes that there are certain outward ceremonies, certain actions, or tokens, instituted and appointed, at least in their essentials, in their matter and form, directly by our Lord Himself. These ceremonies, these actions, performed as He has ordained, with the intention which He had in mind, and in proof of our faith in His word and our adherence to Him, of themselves confer on the soul some special grace, some special mark of His bounty, which would be given in no other way. He knew how human nature tended to be drawn after, and to be influenced by external ceremonial, external manifestations, external symbolism. A shake of the hand, a salute of a superior, a simple word uttered, however conventional, a look, a gesture, a tone of voice, all these and many more, in themselves trifling and meaningless, yet become, as between man and man, so full of meaning, so expressive, that human life is made up of, and is guided by, their use. They are outward signs conveying inward meaning, speaking more than words, giving more than gold and silver; they are sacred ceremonies, natural sacraments, by which the whole human race is bound together, all the more because of their very insignificance.
We cannot then be surprised that, in His infinite bounty and stooping down to our littleness, God should have willed, through His Son Jesus Christ, to establish certain external signs or conventions, as between Himself and man, certain acts, or pledges, or tokens, in return for which man shall receive from God special proofs of His favor and love. These are the seven sacraments. They are not only signs of grace received, they themselves, in the very act, confer these graces; in this sense, that the man who performs the outward act, in the mind of Jesus Christ who constituted it, with the dispositions which He required, immediately and at once receives the grace which the act is intended to signify. As the joining of. hands, between two men, not only implies, let us say, sorrow on the one side, forgiveness on the other, but itself proves that both have been given and received, so the sacraments confer their special graces, not only in virtue of the recipient’s dispositions and deserts, but of themselves and on their own account. Objectively and independently of the subject who receives them, as actual instruments in the hand of God, by the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord alone and not ours, the sacraments confer their grace. “Do this,” says the Father to His son, “show me this mark of submission and confidence, and I will give you what I alone can give.”
On this account it is that the Catholic puts the seven sacraments in a place apart. They form an integral element in his life, without which that life cannot rightly function; they are as the veins in the body, carrying the life’s blood from the central heart, the heart of Jesus Christ, to every member; they are the channels along which the living water flows through the garden enclosed. The Catholic makes belief in the seven sacraments a distinguishing feature of his faith in practice; one may almost say that his devotion to, and reception of, the sacraments is the measure of his devotion to his faith. Certainly this is true; when it is said of a Catholic that he “frequents the sacraments,” or that he does not, every other Catholic understands at once what is meant; on that point there is nothing more to be said.
It will not therefore be out of place to dwell for a moment on the significance of the seven sacraments in Catholic life. They are, as we have explained, a free gift of a loving God, over and above anything man otherwise receives. They depend upon himself only in so far as he does what is needed to receive them; but, that done, they pour upon him superabundantly the grace won for him by the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Each sacrament confers its own special grace; each is instituted for a special occasion, to meet a special purpose or need in the life of the human soul, such has been the providence and charity of God.
Thus, in Baptism, the soul is started on its supernatural career; it is initiated, born again, and we have seen elsewhere how that re-birth is taken as a very real thing. The child that is baptized was before a human being and no more, with none but a human being’s rights; it has now become a being with a claim of its own to eternal life. It has received the grace of spiritual regeneration, it has been purified from original sin, the evil effect of the Fall of man, of which we have spoken elsewhere. By Baptism there is created in the soul the “new man,” the regenerated man, “born of water and of the Holy Ghost,” who lives by the life of Jesus our Lord. As St. Paul boldly expresses it, in Baptism the old man, the merely natural man, has died. By Baptism the soul has been buried with Jesus Christ and has risen with Him; henceforward it lives by a new life, which is His own risen life, a life eternal, with all the claims that eternal life implies. “Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism unto death, that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in the newness of life” (Rom. vi, 3, 4).
“For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. iii, 27).
“Buried with him in baptism: in whom also you are risen again by the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him up from the dead” (Col. ii, 12).
From these passages and others akin to them we may easily deduce that, in the mind of St. Paul and all his first Christians, the Sacrament of Baptism had a twofold significance and effect. In the first place it gave the grace of death to sin, the grace of spiritual crucifixion of the lower nature, the “old man”; by that grace the soul that is baptized is enabled to fight and to master the evil inclinations within itself. In the second place it conferred the grace of spiritual regeneration; that is, it incorporated the soul that was baptized with Jesus Christ its Lord, it gave it access to, and enabled it to participate in His very life. It lifted it up to a plane whereon it might live in conformity with His mind and His example, thus becoming a perfect Christian, another christ. But in consequence, as St. Paul never tires of insisting, on the side of the baptized there lies the corresponding obligation. To be baptized is to accept a responsibility, a glorious one, it is true, one that it is an honor to receive; nevertheless it is not a compulsion, there still remains human freedom with which Christ our Lord will never interfere, and of that the baptized soul must make use for itself. To combat sin and sin’s causes, both within the soul itself and in the world about it, to adhere to Jesus Christ and to reproduce Him, these are the undertaking of him who is baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Confirmation is the second of the sacraments; as its name implies, it adds a new strength to the soul in its battle, it stamps it as a soldier of Jesus Christ. As the child grows to manhood, as the time comes when it may be called upon to profess, openly and generously, and perhaps at some cost to itself, its belief in and adherence to Christ and His Godhead against whatever adversary, the Sacrament of Confirmation is given to it as a weapon of defense, a pillar of support; above all it is an antidote to that subtlest of enemies, human respect, which is sheer cowardice however general, and which prevents so many from the practice of the faith that is in them. Confirmation increases the light of faith; it gives a safe and reliable assurance of certainty even when reason may be dark, or when ignorance becomes aggressive; it engenders a gladness in the service of God when ail else leads to sorrow, and suffering, and even martyrdom.
By the Sacrament of Confirmation the Holy Ghost comes into the soul in a new way; with that indwelling His gifts, though already bestowed in the Sacrament of Baptism, are renewed and expanded and invigorated. Faith is enlightened that it may see the things that are more excellent, and may live its life with a yet greater certainty and joy; it penetrates deeper, it becomes part of the soul’s very being, connatural. At the same time, while it thus opens the mind to understand and see, it also strengthens the will to act. With the help of Confirmation evil is more easily resisted, good is more easily done; Confirmation is, in brief, the Sacrament of Christian manliness, well adapted to the time when the battle of life begins in earnest.
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, after all that has been said elsewhere in these pages, need not be further explained here; to give it its due, and the place it holds in the mind of every Catholic, “the world, methinks, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” The Catholic loves it as the apple of his eye, he cherishes it as his treasure, for which he is willing to part with all else; indeed, as we approach the end of this study, we ask ourselves whether it would not have been better for our purpose to have concentrated on this alone, and to have said that the Catholic mind, and life in the Catholic Church, was just that. All else leads up to it, or follows from it.
The .Gospels themselves find their climax in the sermon in the synagogue at Capharnum and the Last Supper in Jerusalem. As Jesus Christ our Lord Himself said, the first marked the parting of the ways, the second would be followed by His death and victory; all posterity would be divided according as it accepted or did not accept His own Body and Blood for its food and drink. Nowhere is Catholic unity more proved and vindicated than round the Eucharistic table; nowhere does non-Catholic disunion show itself more glaringly, more hopelessly. The very doctrine of Infallibility may be shown to rest upon, to be a necessary consequence of, the infallible Word who gave us His Body and His Blood. He who said: “This is my Body,” who said: “Do this for a commemoration of me,” also said: “I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world”; “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me.” Thus the Holy Eucharist nourishes at once each human soul that receives it and also the whole Church of God, making it one with Himself, the very truth, infallible. That both the body and the members may live and grow, they need sustenance suited to their life; and since that life is itself divine, none other than a divine sustenance can feed it. This is given to us in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Christ’s very Body and Blood, His Soul and His Divinity. It transforms us into other christs and fills us, really, and not merely as it were, with His Spirit, His mind, His virtues, above all with His living self—begetting love, both for God and for man.
If the soul has the misfortune to lose this life of grace by grievous sin, or if ever it is stained by venial sin—and what soul at some time is not?—then there is the healing Sacrament of Penance to wash away the guilt, to effect a fresh reconciliation, to give new hope and courage and to enable the sinner to begin again. In multis peccavimus omnes; we have all done evil in many ways, we know it, each one knows it in himself and the loving God knows it of us all.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John i, 8–10).
Jesus Christ our Lord came into the world, first and foremost, “to save his people from their sins.” He spoke of Himself above all things else as one sent, less for the just than for “one sinner that would do penance.” Once only in His life did He prove His divine right directly by miracle, and that was when He first presumed to use the words: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” When He had again risen from the dead, and again had taken the Apostles to His own, He sealed the bond between them with their new commission: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven.” In these and other ways He has taken care that of all His sacraments none shall have more manifest confirmation than the Sacrament of Penance; for it is the sacrament by which the saving virtue of His precious Blood is applied to the soul. That soul is but asked to acknowledge its own guilt, to be truly repentant, to be resolved to break with evil-doing, to be firm in its will to sin no more, and by the act of absolution it is forgiven. To lay down less conditions would be unworthy, of God and of man; once the contrition is sincere, then the forgiveness, complete and all-healing, is of the nature of God Himself.
There is another hour of weakness for which the tender understanding of Jesus Christ our Lord has provided. When death comes to knock at our door we have need to be strengthened anew, and to be prepared, as far as help, human and divine, can prepare us, to go forward and stand before the throne of the living God, the Just Judge, from whom nothing is hidden, in whose sight the angels are not pure. There may be distress and fear because of past offenses, or what is worse, there may be no distress, there may be only callousness and hardness of heart. Present weakness, whatever the guilt, may make us shrink from the prospect of coming judgment; more pitiful still, the soul may be passing into another world with an affectation of defiance. Then is given the Sacrament of Extreme Unction to fortify the one, to bring the other to a realization of the truth. The anointing with consecrated oil is bestowed on the senses of the body, the gateways by which sin may have entered in; at the same time there is poured into the soul a grace of consolation and of spiritual renewal. Hardness of heart gives way to truth, remains of sin are cleared away, confidence is revived, the final trials and temptations are met, the soul is filled with that hope voiced by St. Paul, who claimed that he had fought the good fight, and rejoiced in the prospect of the crown that awaited him. And with regard to this Sacrament of Extreme Unction, let the writer be allowed to conclude with one remark. We hear much of miracles, wrought in an answer to the prayers and devotion of the faithful; we believe that the miracles surrounding the Sacrament of Extreme Unction surpass them all, miracles both temporal and spiritual. Probably no priest who has had much experience in dealing with the dying, has not had occasion to be struck with the ways of God in their regard; procuring by extraordinary ways that His own in their need should receive the sacrament, or when it has been received, pouring down His consolations, natural and supernatural, in ways manifest to all.
It will be seen that these five sacraments are given to sanctify and to provide for the individual soul in its own passage through life. There is the sacrament of the beginning and the sacrament of the end. There is the sacrament of maturity, Confirmation. There are the life-giving sacraments, the one to heal the wounded soul, Penance, the other to give it the bread of life, the Holy Eucharist. There remain two more. Man is not only an individual, he is also a member of Society. And Society is twofold, spiritual and temporal. To establish and confirm man in each of these there is a further sacrament, consecrating him and sanctifying him for his place in relation to other men.
First, there is the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This sacrament gives to the ministers of the Church the powers conferred by Jesus Christ our Lord on the Apostles; which powers, seeing that the Church was to be for all time, they were to hand on to those who were to come after them. These are the powers of consecrating the Holy Eucharist in Holy Mass, of absolving from sin in the name of Jesus Christ, of administering the other sacraments, as also the commission to go and preach His word. And in addition to the powers given by the sacrament there is also conferred corresponding grace.
There is the grace to be worthy of those powers, to live in such a way, to such a standard, that the priest ordained may prove himself a faithful servant; in particular there is given an increase of love for God, for the person of Jesus Christ whom he represents, for the Blessed Sacrament of which he is appointed the special guardian, for the souls of men, for whose sake he consecrates his life. He is given the strength of purpose to accept his responsibility with a glad and generous heart; to ignore himself, if need be to sacrifice himself, in union with the Master who has chosen him, and has “set him that he may bring forth fruit, and that his fruit may remain.” None but a priest can know the significance of these graces; but for him it is not too much to say that they are tangibly real, so real that because of them his whole outlook on life, and therefore his whole attitude to life, are altered.
Lastly, there is the family, the unit from which all society is built, the destruction of which has invariably meant the destruction of civilization itself. By nature the family is sacred, and Jesus Christ our Lord, who came “not to destroy but to perfect,” would make it still more sacred by His own blessing and sanctification. Jesus Christ our Lord has made the bond which secures the unit of the family far more sacred than any civil contract; He has raised it to the rank of a sacrament, so that what has been joined together no man and no thing shall put asunder. The Sacrament of Matrimony gives to husband and wife a confidence and trust in one another which no human bond can give; it adds the grace and the strength to meet the obligation, on the fulfillment of which not their own lives alone but the whole of human society depends. It gives them first, if they will accept it, the grace of absolute and constant fidelity to one another, and to the vow which loves induces them to make, to respect the sanctity of the marriage bond, despite the urging of an evil nature. It prompts them to respect the rights of God, the Lord of earth and heaven, and the absolute Master of all life, in its beginning as well as in its end, so that fathers and mothers may be faithful not only to each other, but also to whatever God may wish to give them as blessing to them from their union.
Thus for each important circumstance in the spiritual life of man, for every duty, individual or social, Jesus Christ our Lord has provided in the sacraments a wonderful support of sanctifying grace; and that this sanctifying grace may be put into operation, each of the sacraments gives, in addition to its own special grace, a right to further actual graces, bestowed upon us that we may be stirred to the practice of the special virtues which those conditions or duties require. Indeed the life of the sacraments is preeminently the life of grace; to understand the one is to understand the other, to accept the one is to accept the other, and that understanding and that acceptance are the characteristic of the Catholic mind. They lie behind his faith, making it natural and easy; they set before him the supernatural as an objective reality, to which the things of time and space are only secondary; they give him at once a goal of ambition beyond anything this world can suggest, and a stimulus and power to attain it. It is for the soul itself that receives and is inspired by the grace of the sacraments to correspond. It will dispose itself, as perfectly as it may, to receive the graces which Jesus Christ its Lover offers to it, it will make much of the dignity and honor which every sacrament received confers; it will keep these things in mind in its actual life, bearing about the mark of Jesus Christ upon itself. Reverence for the sacraments, the reception of the sacraments, the sovereign means of its own security, and of union with God and man, these are so characteristic of the Catholic mind that its very enemies point to them as its chief distinguishing feature.
In these ways, and in many others, we are taught how the Spirit of God worketh in us. It remains for us to do what we are able that we may possess the indwelling of that Spirit, and knowing He is there, may give Him the honor that is His due. This, precisely, is what we mean by the interior practice of religion, religion of the heart. The first of the Christian’s duties must be to bear in mind the God who has done so much for him, who “has brought him out of darkness into the supernatural light,” who is so near to him, who has done him the honor to make Himself a guest in his house. For a royal visitor we would do much, for the visit of the Blessed Trinity can we do less? The realization of that alone has made saints, witness St. Theresa, in more places than one.
And the method is simple. The believer in the Blessed Trinity and in His abiding presence in the faithful soul, will make it his endeavor, wherever he may be, and whatever he may have to do, to live and to act as becomes one who is in that august company. That is why the Catholic, throughout many centuries, has grown accustomed to the Sign of the Cross. In that sign he would conquer, by its means he would face any foe; he would begin every action that comes within his day, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” In each single want of his life he would give to the Father all the glory that event can give Him; such is the duty of an adopted son. He would give like glory to the Son, mindful that He has bought him at the price of His blood, has made him His lasting friend. He would give the same to the Holy Ghost, who has given so much to him, even the power to perform the very act which he is at that moment performing.
The interior man will go further. He will do more than dedicate to God the ordinary actions which make up his day. He will turn to Him often in his thoughts, “raising his mind and heart to God” not only in times of actual prayer but at all times; he will follow the teaching of St. Paul, that he should “pray always.” When times are dark he will recall the Father of lights and will appeal to Him.
“How long O Lord dost thou turn thy face from me? . . . Consider and hear me, O Lord my God, enlighten my eyes” (Ps. xii, 1–4).
When he discovers his own weakness, as he will do many times, he will find courage even against himself in the presence of Him who is Almighty: “In thee, O Lord, I have hoped, let me never be confounded. . . . Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge to save me. For thou art my strength and my refuge, and for thy name’s sake thou wilt lead me and nourish me” (Ps. xxx, 2–4)
In desolation and dryness, when the skies are as brass and prayer becomes a weary burdened, he will remember Him who could pray: “Father, if it be possible, suffer this chalice to pass from me. . . . If this chalice cannot pass from me, but I must drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. xxvi, 42).
When, on the other hand, prayer becomes more easy and familiar, then he will take the counsel of Him who is the model of all prayer: “Thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee” (Matt. vi, 6).
This obviously is the first reaction of the believing Christian to the truth of the divine indwelling; it is the practical recollection of his Lord ever present with him. The second is akin to the first, and naturally flows from it; it is that of adoration.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. . . . Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me and holy is his name” (Luke i, 46–49).
So does the Queen of all the faithful teach it to us with a spontaneity that tells us volumes about her inner soul. And the Church responds with her constantly repeated song: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”
Thirdly, there is love, that glorious possession of man, which is his perfection as a man, as well as a son of God. Without love all else is of little worth, with it all else may be made to have value. And because love is essentially generous, essentially active, so, nay much more, does the love of God refuse to be confined to mere words or to mere sentiment and feeling; it must prove itself by action and sacrifice. What can it give? What can it do? “What return can I make to the Lord for all He has given to me?” The repentant sinner will prove his love by making what atonement he may; he will be encouraged the more by the memory of Him to whose lips the words came spontaneously: “Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much” (Luke vii, 47). Grateful love, the love of the clean of heart that sees its God and all that He means, will not cease to thank its Benefactor and to strive to make Him some return, not, indeed, a return that is worthy of Him, or in any way adequate to what it has received, but yet according to the measure of its own feeble nature. And beyond these still further reaches the love of friendship; which will accept with joy, humble joy, the equality that God has bestowed upon it, will speak with Him familiarly as a friend with a friend, will break forth into love of generosity, giving and ever giving, will forget itself and its own petty interests for the sake of the good pleasure of its Beloved, will rejoice, should occasion offer, to be accounted worthy to suffer reproach for His sake, will welcome death itself as the happiest of fortunes should the Beloved ask for its life.
And this will lead to the fourth duty, which is that of imitation and likeness. “Love makes like,” and he who loves God cannot but rejoice in every shade of likeness to God that there is in him. Clearly then, since he is the temple of God, he will strive to preserve the cleanness of that temple, cleanness of both body and soul. We have seen how St. Paul makes use of this incentive to restrain and purify his convert Gentiles.
“Know you not that you are the temples of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, him will God destroy. For the temple of God is holy which you are” (1 Cor. iii, 16, 17; and I Cor. vi, 19; 2 Cor. vi, 16, quoted above).
But furthermore, given its cleanness, there is no ornament too precious, none too transcendent, for the beautifying of the temple in which God abides. This is the meaning and motive of perfection; a saint seeks it, less for his own sake, more for the sake of Him who lives within him. Jesus Christ our Lord Himself puts it before us: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. v, 48). It is an ideal none too high, seeing what glorious things have befallen us; since the Father has adopted us as sons, and since it is His will that we should henceforth call Him Father, He cannot but will that we should grow in likeness to Him, and He cannot but give us the means by which we may attain to that likeness. Indeed what else is the significance of the Incarnation? The Son of God has become man, has been “made in all things like to man without sin,” that man in his turn may become like to God. He has lived the life of a man, and has died his death, that man in return may live and die like Him. And to be like to the Son is to be like to the Father:
“He who hath seen me hath seen the Father also” (John xiv, 9).
“No man cometh to the Father but through me” (John xiv, 6).
But above all other virtues there is one which Jesus Christ our Lord puts before His own as that which most likens them to the Three Persons in one God, it is the virtue of fraternal charity, of love of one man for another, of man for his fellow-men. By that characteristic men were to know who were His disciples. He would give the injunction to them, as a new commandment; He would set His own great love before them as a standard for their own; in the light of the Blessed Trinity, of His own love, the commandment He renewed took a new significance.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John xiii, 34, 35)
“As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. . . . This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John xv, 9–12).
When, at the end of the Supper, He uttered His last prayer for His own He asked specially for this, and the motive that urged Him to ask it was that it would make them most like to God. “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John xvii, 21).
It is impossible to make too much of this final prayer; still less is it possible that anyone but Jesus Christ our Lord, the true Son of God, would have uttered it, or could even have conceived it. The ideal union is that of the Blessed Trinity; the union of man with man is then most perfect when it is most in accordance with that model. And that this may be made possible, He Himself comes and lives in man, in each one and in all; when that indwelling has produced its effect, then, and by that evidence, “the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Fraternal charity, union among the brethren, is, or should be, the one great “mark?’ of His Church from the beginning, emphasized by Himself. Holiness, catholicity, apostolic succession, these from their very nature can only be the fruit of time, but the mark of unity is always: “And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul” (Acts iv, 32).
So, in his time, St. Paul understood the “new commandment” that Jesus Christ had given. Whatever other virtues he extolled and encouraged, in the end he came always back to this; whatever other evils he reprehended, he attacked none more vehemently than breach of union. He knew already, from experience, how true was His Master’s warning, that in this, more than in anything else, men should know who were His disciples. We have seen in a former chapter, how He deprecated nothing more than disunion; how he never tired of reminding his people that they were one body and one spirit, that they had one and the same Father, who dwelt in them all, how they should make it their chief endeavor to preserve “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. iv, 3–6). And what he taught in word, that same, it is very evident, was in the minds of the early Christians. They came from very different origins, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, Asiatic and African, slave, free man, and noble. They had in themselves by nature almost every cause that would make them split apart, social antipathies, national prejudices and aspirations, philosophic differences, rival teachers even of the sacred Word, when the Gospels had not yet been written, infiltrations from without, superficial parallelisms with other forms of belief, divergences of policy in the treatment of neophytes, divergences in regard to the ancient Jewish law, dark gropings as to the future, the needs of various Churches, demanding sacrifice from one another. Nevertheless, in spite of these and other disintegrating forces, with nothing of nature to help them, even though at times they were none too clear how their beliefs were to be defined, these early Christians knew that of all things else their Christianity must be one; that without unity there was no true Christianity; that he who broke away was to be considered no true Christian, on whatever ground he seceded.
This was their inner spirit, and their driving power, this impressed itself most on the pagan world around them. “See how these Christians love one another,” the onlookers said; and they knew that in that love there was life. They rose up against it, for centuries they tried to kill that life and they could not, for it was more than the life of man, more than a man-made unity. It had risen from the dead; having once risen it could die no more, “death could no more have dominion over it” (Rom. vi, 9). Then its enemies, since they could not destroy it, did what they could to imitate it, and to weaken its witness they produced a “religion” like to it in many ways. They adopted its customs, its ceremonial, its forms of government, even its sacraments; an emperor with the forces of an empire behind him set up a hierarchy on its lines. But all these failed, they were human and, like all things human, were destined to die. Such union came from without, it had not grown from within. They went down one by one, even the world soon had no use for them; only the one united because living Church, the vine whose husbandman was the Father Himself, continued to grow.
So it has always been, and so it is today. The strength of the Church is her unity, which nothing is able to break, not because it is too strong, for humanly it is weak, but because it is a unity that is not of this earth.
“The weak things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen: and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh shall glory in his sight. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and justice and sanctification and redemption” (I Cor. i, 27–30).
In the history of the Church of God there may be records of divisions and differences, there may be secessions, there may be scandals within her own household, but in spite of them all the one Catholic Church lives on. These things her Founder Himself foretold must come to pass; they were-the necessary consequence of that human element with which it was His will to work. On the other side seceders come together or endeavor to do so. They would claim a unity in name which has no meaning in fact; they would put on a semblance of unity by methods of their own; may God bless their efforts. They would agree among themselves betimes lest worse evil befall them. But such unity is not, and cannot claim to be, a living thing; it comes only from without, it is a convention and no more, only on the surface does it even appear to resemble that unity which is the living Christ. It can make no pretense to that unity of faith, and of love, and of hope which St. Paul and his Christians knew, and understood, and loved and for which they laid down their lives. The unity that comes from without is mechanical; it is not a living organism; it has no head, no body, no members of that body, united by a common life indwelling in them all. The pagan world looks on and is not deceived, or edified, or won by make believe; and it is against the rock of paganism that true Christianity is tested.
One, not only by convention, not only by comprehension, but by force of an eternal government, not by wealth or social bond, not even in the first place by a hierarchy, but by a life which must be there before a hierarchy can exist at all, this is the secret of the Catholic Church. “Before Abraham was I am.” Before organization is Christ; the Catholic Church, as St. Augustine says in his vigorous way, is Jesus Christ upon earth.
We hear the cry “Back to Christ” often repeated, and it is one that is surely sincere from whatever side it may come. But that the goal may be secure the cry must go further. It must not stop with Christ the man, it must go back through Christ to God, for that, as He has expressly told us, is the whole purpose of His coming. It must reach upward and onward to the Three Divine Persons in one God who dwells in us, the Center of all true religion, the strength by which we live and are, the ideal towards which human nature, consciously or unconsciously, aspires, the model of that true unity, and true love, which is, or should be, the Christian’s distinctive mark, his best assurance that he is what he would be, a friend of God.
In the preceding chapters something has already been said of the Catholic ideal, and of the means at the Catholic’s disposal by which he may hope to attain it. It is an ideal, frankly, not of this world, though not on that account does it go counter to any truly noble ideal in it; the greatest saints, rightly understood, are the greatest heroes, and conversely, in every hero that the world of men reveres there is always something akin to sanctity. A merely rich man is seldom a hero, but a merely poor man may often be. A merely successful man may be that and no more; a man submitting to failure is often a hero indeed. A man who has no cares may be one to be pitied; one whose life is full of sorrows wins most men’s regard. “Blessed are the poor; Blessed are the meek; Blessed are those that mourn.”
To illustrate and confirm this statement, to show that the Catholic ideal, in matter of fact, contains all that even this world in its heart most honors and reveres, whatever it may say in its thoughtless moments, it may be well to consider it apart. We may look at it and the means by which it is attained from another angle, the subjective angle of man himself; in a clear idea of the perfect man, or of a perfect life in the light of Jesus Christ our Lord, we may find a happy summary and application of all that has hitherto been said. Let us then try to describe the ideal of a man as a Catholic understands it, or rather the ideal of life as, considered along his perspective, it is to be lived upon this earth.
Man, even if he be reckoned in the order of nature only, is made for God. He comes from God; in God and from God he lives, and moves and has his being; at the end he goes back to God. There are those, a very small minority, who call this in question; perhaps they have reasons which satisfy them, we ourselves have never been able to find them. To most thinking men, to every average man who has not been deceived, the facts of life tell their own story, are their own evidence. While man lives in this world he is entirely in the hands of God, far more than he is in his own; when the end come, as his prudent foresight tells him, nothing else can matter very much but the relation that will exist at that moment between himself and God. Coming from God, the creature of God, he is of necessity created for the purpose which the all-seeing, and all-loving God has in view for him. Even as a creature, a tool from the hand of God, this would be true of man; how much more true it is, now that we know with what everlasting love God has loved us, with what bonds He has drawn us to Himself!
Moreover, even as creatures and no more, it is not hard to discover that our final goal is the attainment of God. Since God is what He is, the Summum Bonum, absolute perfection, the source and the content of all that is excellent and perfect, the attainment of Him or even the reaching towards Him, is the noblest end for which a creature can be made. For that is the attainment of the fullness of being, as far as a creature can attain it; and knowing God in all His magnificence, in all His magnanimity, in all His outpouring love, knowing too, the wondrous creature, man, with all his glorious possibilities, an end less noble would seem to be unworthy of them both. Nature itself proclaims that man is made for God. Super-nature echoes it, lifts it up to a higher level, proclaims man to be made, not only to reach God as a final goal, but to live His very life; to be not only a creature with an obligation but a son with a filial duty, not only a son but a friend, an intimate, whom love has lifted out of mere creaturehood into a certain equality with the God who has so loved.
Moreover, since God is infinite perfection, and since on that account He is the source from which all other perfection flows, it follows that the more nearly a man arrives at a likeness to God, and the more he shares, in whatever way, in the divine perfection, so much the more perfect will he be in himself as a man. “Be ye perfect,” said Jesus Christ our Lord, “even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Indeed it is this very fact that accounts for the hunger that is in every man for ever more and more than that which he has acquired; no matter what he may attain to in this life he is never satisfied, he craves for yet more, the things that lie about him are as nothing. “Thou hast made us, O Lord, for Thyself,” St. Augustine repeated to himself, after he had tried every other satisfaction and had failed to find contentment; “Thou hast made us, O Lord, for Thyself, and our hearts shall find no rest till they rest in Thee.” And St. Thomas tells us the same in his own theological language. “Man’s last end is the uncreated good, that is, God Himself. He alone can perfectly content the will of man, with His infinite bounty” (1–2, iii, I).
Hence, whatever else a man may be called upon to do, or may choose for himself as his aim in life, in whatever direction his life may lead him or whatever ideal he may put before his eyes, ultimately, behind all this, if he would make his life a perfect thing, and would know the true joy of living, there must be the fact of God, and of striving after God, as the crowning of it all. The knowledge of God is above all other knowledge; the love of God, received and given back, is above all other love; the service of God, loyal and devoted, is above all other service; life in God and for God and with God, is above every other life; the glory of God is the most ennobling, shedding its lustre on the man who gives it. These are the end and object of life, even of natural life, whether of man or of all creation; these are the source of true perfection, even of natural perfection. The truly perfect man is he who is most perfect in the sight of God, whatever he may be in the sight of man; and the perfect man in the sight of God is he who has known Him most clearly, has loved Him most dearly, has served Him with a perfect service and a whole heart.
If this is true of man in the natural order, of man considered only in his state as man, much more must it be true of him considered in the order of the supernatural. Let it be remembered that when we speak of the supernatural we do not by any means eliminate the natural, we only lift it to a higher plane. Jesus Christ our Lord did not come to destroy but to perfect; in Himself, in His character, life and personality, while essentially supernatural, yet did He show Himself, on that very account, essentially the perfect natural Man. In the supernatural order, as we have endeavored to explain, man has been raised by a loving God who longs for him to a state beyond that of nature, beyond natural man’s own needs, or cravings, or ideals, beyond his natural possibilities or dreams; so far beyond with a vista opened before him so dear, that he may easily “forget the things that are behind” in his eager “stretching forth to the things that are before.” He has been called, and he has been given the power, so to live that one day he may enjoy the beatific vision of God Himself; in a true sense, though he sees but in a glass after a dark manner, he already enjoys its foreshadowing in the life of grace. This is why the saints of God are the happiest of men on this earth; they have seen the vision, they have tasted the delight of true living, and now no suffering, no failure, no contempt, no injustice is able to separate them from the love of God, which they have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This further ideal it is that the Christian has before himself when he speaks of the perfect man; this is what is meant by the many books that are written, dealing with what is called Christian perfection. It is not that the Christian values things natural any the less, it is only that he has discovered other things that are more valuable. It is that addition to the natural ideal which has come through Jesus Christ our Lord; the light has appeared to them that sit in darkness, and in that light the whole perspective of life has been altered. Men and women who have seen it have become changed beings; they have become “fools for Christ’s sake,” they have given away with both hands all that others count essential to life in order that they may follow it. They have gladly given life itself and all its ambitions, freely, eagerly, counting the sacrifice nothing, that they may secure the things that are more excellent, the peace which Christ alone can give, the joy which He alone can pour out, full measure and flowing over, the truth of life, the transparency of soul, the warmth of heart, the generosity of hand, the blessedness of foot, which is the reward, even here in this life, of those who have given their all for Him.
And the result, even judged by human standards? is such that nothing can equal, whether we consider man in himself or the effect of his life upon his fellowmen; witness St. Bernard or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Francis Xavier, or St. Theresa, or St. Francis de Sales, or St. Vincent de Paul. There were noble standards in the pagan world, though when tested in practice they seldom seemed able to endure; they never produced anything to compare with these. With all its ideals and all its philosophy, and all its art and beauty, the pagan world is a world of disappointed aspirations, and disillusionment ending in despair. There are equally noble standards and ideals in the pagan world today, but do they endure any better; It is a world of unrest, clamoring for peace and there is no peace; a world of groping in the wilderness, seeking water and finding none. It is determined to be content in spite of the evidence, to enjoy itself though the city burns, its misery is suppressed not conquered. Looked at in a true perspective, if by its fruits it may be known, then the modern paganism is condemned no less, perhaps more, than the paganism of old. Jesus Christ alone has “overcome the world.” He alone has solved the problem of human unrest, and has said: “Come to me all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” He has set aside nothing of the best that the world had to offer; He has taken that best and has made it perfect. He has built a new world upon it, and the result of His labor is transcendently another thing. And to make this new world possible for man to reach, for of himself he can do nothing—“No man cometh to the Father but by me”—He has Himself become “the Way,” by which it may be walked, “the Truth” by which it may be known, “the Life” by which it may be lived. This is why to the Christian the following of Christ is the way to all perfection; growth in likeness to Him, reproduction of Christ in himself, living not himself but Christ living in him, that to the Christian is the highest and noblest standard at which one can aim; it is the making of the perfect man.
If this is the ideal of the perfect man, as Jesus Christ our Lord has revealed it to us, and as Christendom, in spirit at least, has always accepted it, it may be well for practical purposes, that we try to see how it affects actual life, to examine more closely its essential features. St. Thomas Aquinas sums these up for us in a single sentence: “The perfection of Christian life,” he says, “consists intrinsically and essentially in love, primarily in love towards God, secondarily in love towards our neighbor.”
In this sentence, and in others like it frequently recurring in his works, the Angelic Doctor assumes, as a fact so self-evident that it needs no further consideration, that the perfect man, as the Christian understands him, is built entirely on charity; that without charity nothing else will produce him, not all the gifts of nature, nor all the training in the schools, nor all the virtues, nor all the successes in the world; that with it in perfection everything else will follow. By charity, as he here and elsewhere explains it, he means in the first place the love of God. God is to him the Great Reality, the one Being who contains in Himself all that is lovable, who has proved His love in wondrous ways, who is worthy of all love in return. To give back to God that love, in gratitude if for nothing else, to grow in appreciation, first of all that He has done and then of all that He is, and in consequence to love Him yet more; in the end to be devoured with that love, so that nothing else may come between man and this one object of affection, that to St. Thomas, and to all the saints who have filled the world’s history with glory, is the first foundation of the truly perfect man.
But secondarily, as he says, and not independent of the first, he puts the love of man for his fellow-men. He does not see the two apart; the one is a sequel of the other. If the love of God exists then the love of man must follow, not only as a fruit of the tree, but as its direct, indeed its most direct manifestation. St. John gives the same to us in his own forcible way: “Let us therefore love God, because he hath first loved us. If any man say I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God love also his brother” (I John iv, 19–21).
St. Paul likewise sums up his teaching: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children. And walk in love as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness” (Eph. v, 1–2).
When we speak of love in reference to God, and of that, as the commandment says, “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”; and when we speak of the love of our fellow-men “even as we love ourselves”; clearly the word love must be taken in a sense far transcending that of ordinary speech. On this account St. Paul preferred to use the word “charity” to “love”; in his time, as in ours, the common word had been so corrupted, so alloyed, so debased, that it no longer expressed the pure golden thing of which he wished to speak. Not that his charity would in any way destroy the love of nature; on the contrary, the charity of Jesus Christ perfects the love of man, it raises it to a higher order, it stimulates it by yet nobler motives, it opens out to it further and finer methods of expression. It defends natural love, essentially good and true in itself, from any of that danger which must always beset what is merely natural; it stirs depths of love which, from natural motives only, would never have been stirred at all.
For the God whom we love is not merely some abstract Deity, distant from us and apart; He is not only the God whom reason can discover, supreme, independent, the All-Master. He is the God made known to us by revelation, the God of the Blessed Trinity, and the Blessed Trinity is the expression of God’s essential love, His essential life of love, how He “is love” itself. He is the God whom we call Father, with all that the word implies, because, as He would have us think of Him, so He is towards us. He is the God whom we call Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the proof of the Father’s love, the proof of human love made divine. He is the God whom we call the Holy Ghost, love personified. We love God, therefore, not only because of what reason teaches us, though that alone would be a deep foundation for gratitude, and affection, and generosity; we love Him, much more, so much more that the first is swallowed up, because by faith we know Him to be infinitely good, infinitely lovable, infinitely all-absorbing, yet at the same time infinitely condescending to such as we, stooping down to us and pleading, just that, and only that, He may have our love in return. We love Him, moreover, with more than our little human love; we love Him with a love made perfect, made divine, made worthy so that even He may deign to accept it, because it is united with love of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself. It passes through His heart, it is helped by the grace which He Himself has given to us, that we may love the more and the better.
This love for God is no sentimental thing, it is no mere matter of the feelings of emotions, no subtle self-satisfaction. We have only to look at the lives of those who have been most fired by it, of those who, literally, have fallen in love with their All-beloved, to realize the strong, devouring, self-annihilating passion it is. It is true man must always remain man, so long as he walks on this earth, with a body as well as a soul. In consequence his noblest and most selfless affections will seldom be without emotion of some kind; even the saint, whose love has made him give his all, and has asked for nothing in return, pleads later that he may know his Lover’s love given back to him in mutual affection. Nevertheless, emotion, enjoyment of love if we may so call it, is no true test of love in any order, much less is it a condition, or test, or proof of a man’s love for God The essence of love does not require it. Rather, in every degree, love is devotedness; it is best proved by a will to give, a joy in giving, because of Him to whom we give. In our love of God it is no different; to Him love gladly gives its all, if need be even itself, entirely for Him and for His greater glory, preferring His good pleasure to its own, indeed to that of any creature whatsoever.
Such, in its object, its source, and its manifestation, is the Christian’s love for the God who has so wonderfully shown Himself to him; the same, in due proportion, is to be said of his love for his fellow-men. To the Christian, as we have already had occasion often enough to see, his fellow-man is much more than just his fellow-man; whoever he may be he is the image of God, made unto God’s own likeness, a reflection of His divine perfections, capable of reflecting them ever more and more. He is a dwelling-place of God, or, even at his worst, he is one in whom God longs to dwell; in God, and with God in him, he is capable of all manner of development of beauty, of love. To love him is to love Jesus Christ Himself; to serve him, is to do a service to Him who is worthy of all service. On this account in the first place, for the love of God more than for the love of man himself, or rather because the one has absorbed, and transformed, and supernaturalised the other, is a Christian’s love poured out upon his neighbor. He sees in him one that is so precious, that he has been bought by God Himself, at the price of the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. He loves him with that mark of true love, with that longing that would have the best for the beloved; and that is not only his good, and prosperity, and happiness here on earth, but also his supernatural good, the perfection of the life within him, his eternal well-being and happiness. Thus is the love of man a true reflection of the love of God. There are not two loves, two virtues of charity, one for God and one for men; there is one, which embraces both, God for His own sake, and our fellow-men, indeed all creation in its degree, because of themselves as they are seen with the eyes of God.
But if the essence of perfection in a man is founded on this love of God and of his fellow-man, it follows that the way to perfection must, of all things, run along the line of this love. The soul that would be perfect must love much; it must let itself be led by love; it must love generously and intensely with a love that is true, that is pure, selfless, disinterested. Self-seeking love is not love; true love is measured by its opposite. Nor will true love be fulfilled or satisfied by a mere act of charity, with whatever fervor that act, in word or in deed, may be performed. “If I should distribute all my goods to the poor, and I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. xiii, 3). Love goes beyond mere acts, acts are no more than the offshoots of love, signs of its life but nothing else. For indeed love is a life and a living; it permeates all we are, all we do; it is a way of thinking, a way of feeling, a way of willing; we love and at once the object loved stands before us in other colors, more real, more beautiful, more longed for as our own, more to be served with all we have and are. When we love we live, no, not we, but the Beloved lives in us. Every act we perform becomes a fulfillment of His will, not our own; we live to please Him, not ourselves, in every moment of our being we express our love for Him whom we love above all. Hence it comes about that everything we do, our whole lives and every trifling action in them, may be transformed into one unceasing act of love, thereby making towards the framing of the perfect man; and that progress will be more real in proportion as the love is more intense, more selflessly generous, more energetic, more constant. What is of account in the eyes of Him we love is not the act itself we give to Him; in itself what can any act of puny man be to God Almighty? It is rather the will with which it is done and offered, it is the effort of love that it proves, independently of self, of all one’s own consolation, or satisfaction, or reward.
And the same, as we have said, in its degree, is the character of Christian love for its fellow-man. For since this love is one with the love of God, to show it in any true way for another is to show it to God Himself. “As often as ye did it to the least of these you did it to me.” Indeed, as the lives of the great lovers of God clearly show, the love of God is often best and most easily manifested by the love of men about us; love of God, where it is abundant, easily, necessarily, overflows on them. Love of God, seeing in its fellow-man a reflection of God Himself; seeing in him Jesus Christ, its Lord and Beloved; on that account it runs to serve him, it gives itself for him, and that with the same intensity and energy that it would serve Christ our Lord. It matters not to a Little Sister of the Poor that the old man she serves and cares for is an utter stranger to her, is perhaps ungrateful and a trial, is loathsome and diseased. He is loved by Jesus Christ, he has the likeness of Christ somewhere about him, to serve him is to serve her Beloved, and she is more than content. Nor does it matter to the missionary that his message is set aside by the wise and prudent, that he must preach the good tidings only to the outcast, the untouchable, the refuse of mankind. In him no less than in another is the image of Jesus Christ; he too, is capable of the love of God as is the most meticulous of men; in him the servant sees the Master, and it is enough. Such love is the making of the perfect man as the Catholic understands the word, even when measured by the standards of life here on earth.
But human life on earth is not in itself a perfect state. We have already seen elsewhere that even regenerated man is left with his tendencies to evil; there is a law in his members, as the Apostle says, which draws him continually to do the evil he would not. In other words there is in man another kind of love, at variance with the kind of love of which we have just spoken. In heaven we shall be free and untrammeled; there we shall love even as we are loved, without any need of safeguards. But here on earth, as experience proves to us every day, it is quite otherwise. In our present state of fallen nature it is not possible to love with a true and effective love without sacrifice; without, that is, the suppression of a lower love which interferes and demands its own. Much more is this true when we speak of the love of God. Being human, with human aspirations and human inclinations towards the things that belong to this life only, we cannot love God wholly without a struggle, without a surrender of some kind. The lower self must be kept down; love that is illicit must be excluded; from the first dawn of reason until our last breath the contest will always go on. It is true the battle is not continuous; there are moments of respite for every one, there are habits formed which make the contest easy and almost connatural. Nevertheless the man who would be perfect can never wholly lay aside his arms, he needs to be always prepared. This is the meaning of that asceticism which belongs to all Christian teaching. It is not a notion of cruelty, it is not fanaticism, it is not unnatural; it is the generous pursuit of an ideal which would push aside all else that comes in its way. It is a recognition of the glory of man, and of the grandeur of human life; but at the same time the price that must be paid if that glory and grandeur are to be attained.
In these two, then, in love and sacrifice, all Christian perfection lies; by these two the perfect man is made according to the Christian ideal. And, with the grace of God to help him, who shall say that he is unable to attain it? “Of yourselves you can do nothing”; that is true, but “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Is it so difficult to love One who is, and who has proved Himself to be, infinitely lovable, infinitely loving, infinitely worthy of my love, whose Person moreover, is perfectly in harmony with, kindred with, adapted to my own? One who has first loved me: “in this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us” (I John iv, 10); who “has so loved the world as to give his own Son”; who has so loved us as to make us His own sons:
Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called and should be the sons of God” (I John iii, 1)? Moreover, the love that He asks of me is no very extraordinary thing; it is the love which is most akin to my nature, which lifts up that nature to its highest point. It is the love of devotion, let us rather call it devotedness, to Him and His cause, the noblest service that man can give. It is the gift of myself to Him, that He may do with me what He will. “God wills it,” used to be a battle cry; it remains the cry of the soldier of Christ in the battle of God, above all in the battle that must ever go on within him.
And in practice, in what does this love and this battle consist? For the Christian life is above all things practical. It cannot stop at theory, for many Christians there is no theory at all, so steeped is the soul in the life itself; they can only have pity for those who will for ever theorize, who will for ever ask questions, who, having no guide, no foundations, no authority, must for ever grope about, revolving round and round among themselves. Well, then, as a beginning, even to wish, or at least to will to love, that in itself is love, as St. Leo says: there is no desire where there is not love, to desire is itself to love. Again to keep the commandments of God, that is love; to come to the feet of God, in our nothingness, our weakness, our sinfulness, to look up to Him and to trust Him, to know that He looks on us with pity and trust in return, to ask His forgiveness when we have failed Him, to accept from His hand what we need, to abide by His loving decision, knowing very well that the Father, if the child asks for bread, will not give him a stone. To go away from His presence, and for His sake live the life He has appointed for me, that is truly to live; for it is to love, and to prove my love by living. To face the duty that lies before me to be done, whatever it may be, because He has given it to me, in the way that He would have me do it, because I believe that to do it is a thing that pleases Him, makes the smallest trifle great on that account, makes life itself, and any life, worth living. Nay more, going beyond the daily burdened, to take my rest and relaxation, to eat and drink and sleep, because again He has arranged it so and would have us enjoy these things, all that is no less to love; “Come apart into a quiet place and rest awhile,” was a call of love which Jesus Christ once gave to the disciples whom He loved, and who loved Him. No, for most of us, as St. Paul said many times, once we know Him who is not hard to know, the life of love is not difficult. Indeed, with the grace of God to help us, once the vision has been seen, there is nothing easier, nothing more natural, if in a matter of this kind we may use the word, than to practice without ceasing this love of God, and by that means to grow in that perfection of our manhood which alone is worth the name.
It is true the added practice of sacrifice is harder; were it an easy thing, human nature would not call it sacrifice would admire it less, would not call him a hero who made it nobly. But God, and the Christian life for God, ask for sacrifice only as all human life asks for it. They do not ask that we should make of sacrifice a kind of object to be lived for, as if in itself it were good; they do not ask that we should seek it as the one source of perfection. “If I should distribute my goods to the poor, and should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. xiii, 3). Sacrifice has its value only from this, that it comes from love and leads to it. It is enough to love God and to seek that love; enough to realize that in this mortal life this cannot be done without many a surrender. There are many obstacles to love of any kind; he who would love aright must be determined to overcome them. Taken in this light, sacrifice is seen to be good; it is reasonable, it is tolerable; soon it becomes a thing to be desired, in the end even to be loved. That is the secret of the saints. “To suffer or to die,” cried one of them; “not to die but to suffer,” cried another, both, because they saw and realized the love behind the suffering that made it more than worth while. A mother who loves her child, if that child is grievously ill, will not hesitate to spend long hours by its bedside, counting nothing of fatigue, or service, or suffering, for indeed they are her only consolation; let her be assured that on her service the life of her child depends, and there will be no limit to the sacrifices she will make. And it is the same in all true living.
We advertise pleasure and indulgence, we seek comfort and abundance; but we honor and revere sacrifice, for a noble end, given in a noble way, as the one true proof of life. There is no word of Christ to which the whole world responds more easily than this: “Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
No other than this is the Christian’s attitude to sacrifice and suffering. He has the impulse of the love of God behind him, the desire to be loyal to that love above every other, and to prove it. He has the confidence, nay the certainty, that if he will but surrender what hinders him in the manifestation of that love, if he will but give to God, the object of his love, what He asks, then he will please Him, he will spread His glory, and at the same time—but this is a secondary end—by growth in that love he will ensure his own salvation, his satisfaction, his perfection. “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” He knows all this because an authority he can trust has set it before him; he has it confirmed from his own experience; he sees it in noble lives about him and before him, above all in the life of the model of all men, the Man God. What did He not endure that the Father might be duly glorified, that souls might be saved, that He might give proof of the burning love for His Father and for men that consumed Him? And we, His disciples, incorporated in Him by Baptism, nourished with His Body and Blood, called to take our part with Him that we may “make up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ,” can we hesitate to suffer along-side, in union with Him whom we claim to love, for love of Him since we would prove it, for His sake and for the sake of the same objects that led Him to suffer willingly. Furthermore, is it not true, even if we consider our own selves only, that suffering is by no means an unmixed evil? The man who has never suffered we pity, the man who shuns suffering at every turn we tend to despise, the man who has had much of it easily wins our love.
More than that, we know that in the school of suffering we learn what cannot be learnt elsewhere, by its means we are made proof against all manner of evil and falsehood.
“In the cross is safety, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from our enemies, in the cross is the source of all satisfying sweetness,” says the author of the Imitation of Christ (ii, 12, 2); or as St. Augustine puts it: “For hearts that love, no labor is too laborious; nay, it becomes a pleasure, even as men find pleasure in the hardships of the chase, in the weariness of buying and selling. . . . For when a soul loves it does not suffer, or, if it suffers, the suffering itself is loved” (De bono viduitatis, 81).
As an illustration of the Christian mind as described in this chapter let us give a prayer of that great English Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, whom some have dared to call the most typical Englishman that has ever lived. The doom had not yet come, but he foresaw that it was coming. His King had petulantly turned away from him, though but a year before he had seemed to love him with all his soul. More had resigned his place at Court; he had retired to his home at Chelsea, in the hope that for the rest of his days he might live in quiet among his own. At this time he wrote in the margin of his Book of Hours the following prayer, a human document if ever there was one: “Give me thy grace good God To sett the world at nought To sett my mynde faste uppon Thee and not to hange uppon the blaste of mennys mouthis To be content to be solitary Not to long for worldly company Little and little utterly to caste of the worlde To ridde my mynde of all bysyness there Not to long to here any worldly thingis But that the hering of worldly fantasyes may be to me displesant Gladly to be thinking of God Piteously to call for his helpe To lene on the comfort of God Bysyly to labor to love hym To know my own vilitie and wretchednesse To humble and weken myself under the mighty hand of God To bewayle my synnes passed For the purging of them patiently to suffer adversities Gladly to bere my purgatory here To be joyfull in tribulacions To walk the narrow path that leadeth to life To bare the crosse with Christe To have the last things in remembrance To have ever before myn yie my deth that ys ever at hand To make deth no stranger to me To forsee and consider the everlastyng fire of hell To pray for pardon before the judge to come To have contynually in mind the passyon Christe suffered for me For hys benefitys incessantly to give hym thankys To by the time agayn that I have loste To abstayn from vayne confabulacyons Of worldly substance, frendys, libertie, life, and all to set the losse at right nought for wynnynge of Christe To think my most enemys my beste frendys For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did hym with their malice and hatred. These myndes are more to be desired of every mann than all the tresore of all the princys and kyngs, christen and hethen, were it gathered and layed together all upon one hepe.
Note. The Book of Hours, in the margin of which this prayer is written, is in the possession of the Earl of Denbigh and is preserved at Newnham. The historical setting is given on the authority of the late Cardinal Gasquet.
Let us now endeavor to sum up what has been said by way of explanation of what a Catholic means by Catholic life. It is nothing new, nothing original; were it that it would not be Catholic, universal in time and in place. It is as old as, and is to be found in, St. Paul and St. Peter; it comes down to us through St. Augustine and St. Jerome, St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Theresa, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul; it has made such heroes as these and by its means they have made others. It is found in, and has been the inspiration of, a Joan of Arc, a Columbus, a Thomas More, a Pasteur, a Pastor, a Foch; Dante, Petrarch, Racine; Chaucer, Crashaw, Francis Thompson; Alfred the Great, Edward the Confessor, Henry VI; Dunstan, Langton, Grosseteste, Colet; yes, by reaction, even in those whose lives in the Catholic past have added no lustre to the Catholic role. It is found today in every part of the world, in every degree of life; in Rome, Paris, London, Berlin, New York, as well as in the African forest, or the Indian jungle, or the Chinese hamlet; the same in belief, the same in moral ideal, the same, thank God, in its fruit. It is a life which follows logically from what the Catholic accepts, from what Christendom till these last centuries has always and everywhere accepted, as the basis of its faith and very being: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. ii, 5). Indeed that, to the Catholic, is the importance, is the justification is the necessity, of what is called dogma, and of an authority which shall be so safe as to make the basis of that dogma sure. Without a definite belief, without an authority which cannot err, there can be no solid ground on which he may build up the life he professes; a fact he sees illustrated every day in the ebb and flow, the opinions and the contradictions, the certainties and their flat denial, the ever-changing theories and principles and explanations, the shifting sands, and the houses built upon those sands, falling in ruins about him. In Western Christendom at least, and with that alone need we concern ourselves, his Catholic Church alone stands solid. So much has every other changed, so much does it continue to change, that, in despair, it is claimed that this very instability, and surmise, and fluctuation is in itself a sign of the truth. Men speak of changing with the times, they forget that truth does not and cannot change. But the belief and the practice of the Catholic Church are a consistent whole. They have come down through the centuries past, adapted to each succeeding generation, but in themselves unaltered; growing, perhaps, in precision from learning and experience, but always the same one truth. They have been maintained by the vast majority of Christians that have ever been, they are maintained by the vast majority of Christians today, beneath every variety, and nation, and class, and circumstance. In that belief and practice, and in them alone, Christianity still is one; because of them alone, what is called Christian civilization claims to excel every other.
The Catholic mind, the Catholic life, is founded first on the Catholic acceptance of a living, personal, objective, omniscient, omnipotent God, from whom all things created have come, to whom they go, in whom and by whom they live, on whom they depend for everything; but also a God who is all-loving, who is essential love, who has a personal and loving’ care of each one of His creatures. This God, the source of all being and all good, is man’s first beginning and his last end; from God man came, to Him he goes, in Him he lives and moves and is; he is made for this loving Creator’s loving purpose, so that the attainment of that purpose is the whole meaning of man, the one final goal which will give him the full realization of himself, and peace. The Catholic mind and life are founded, next, on the Catholic acceptance, wholly and without reservation, of Jesus Christ our Lord, truly God, truly Man, the Redeemer of the human race from a fallen state, the Mediator between God and man, the Lover of men, the infallible Teacher of men, the Model for all men to imitate, the Head of the human body, the Light that has come into the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Priest and the Victim in the one reconciling sacrifice, in which “mercy and truth have met each other, justice and peace have kissed (Ps. Ixxxiv, 11).
Depending on these two axioms, for without them we can go no further, the Christian life, distinct from, yet not apart from, the natural life of man, may be looked at from two extremes. It is the act of God and it is the act of man. On the one hand it is the gift of this loving God, pouring out Himself, as is His nature, on a much-beloved soul; on the other hand, and in return, by the acceptance and use of that bounty, it is the gift of the loving human soul to a much-loved God.
First, then, it is the gift, wholly undeserved, of a loving God to the human soul that is loved. From all eternity the God whose essence is love, who can act only out of love, has loved His own creature, man. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee” (Jer. xxxi, 3). The prophet here does but voice the whole mind of God’s revelation. He reminds us that only by the eyes of love can the Old and the New Testaments be rightly read, only by a reason enlightened by love can the dealing of God with man be interpreted, only by a will emboldened by love can the outstretched Hand of God be grasped. Because of that Divine Love, because love, wherever it is found, in God or in man, cannot but desire the best for its beloved, because love will give what it can and all that it can, for that beloved’s good, the God of all love has, from the beginning, predestined for His beloved man a life, a goal, a consummation far above that belonging to man’s own nature; a life therefore, and a consummation in a true sense supernatural; a life which can only be described as a sharing in His own perfect life, the life divine.3
Nevertheless, for His own greater glory, and for the ultimate glory and reward of man himself, in His infinite wisdom God has refrained from forcing His largesse on His free creature. Of all the creatures He has made in the order of their creation, man alone has the power to honor God with a free service; than willing and loving obedience no greater honor can be paid to any higher power. God Almighty, who will not contradict His own creative act, has left it to man freely to accept, or, if he will, reject, the unique boon that is offered to him; in that acceptance to give to God the glory which man alone can give, and to win for himself in return the glory which man alone can receive. He has left man free to accept the gift or reject it; still His love could not leave man alone to make his choice unaided. For man’s own sake, wishing for him only the best, He could not but draw him, induce him, plead to him, nay even threaten him, while at the same time He gave him the means to choose the right way and follow it. That man might attain the life offered to him, that even here upon this earth he might live that life so far as human conditions would permit of it, God devised a means by which He Himself might live in every soul who would receive Him. He would not stop short with that which He had done in creating man; in His love for man He would lift him up to more and more, He would draw him unto Himself, He would re-create him, making him to be “born again” in a nobler state of being. This is what the Catholic Church means by the life of grace; that life of which St. Paul, and St. John, and St. Peter never tire of speaking. Man born of woman in the order of nature is “born again of the Holy Ghost” (John iii, 5) in the order of Grace: “Born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John i, 13).4
This is what we mean by the supernatural life. It is a new thing, an addition to our life of natural existence. It places us on another plane, the plane of God Himself. It gives to life a new meaning, a goal beyond that of this creation, nay, a right to the attainment of that goal, if only we will ourselves live the life that leads towards it.
Thus is God, the Creator, the Preserver, the All-Father, the Lover, at once the cause of the supernatural life that is within us, and also its ideal. He is its source, its means, and its end; we live in so far as we love Him. And as for all life some kind of organism is needed, so for this supernatural life of man there is bestowed upon him a supernatural organism, by which he may be able to live it. It is an organism which may transform every act he does as man; no longer now are they only his own, no longer are they acts of human nature only with only their natural values, but they are also acts of the life divine that is in him. As such they are pleasing to God, not as the acts of a creature only, but as the acts of a son of His own. They are meritorious in that higher order, they give to man the power to earn for himself the reward that belongs to a son of God. It is again the life of a loving God, who cannot restrain Himself in giving, whose only limit in generosity is the limited capacity of the beloved creature, man, to receive. It is entirely His own handiwork, His own reconstruction in us, even as was our creation itself; nay more, it is indeed Himself living in us, in a way that is entirely new, not merely by-virtue of His being—per potentiam, per praesentiam, per essentiam, as the philosophers express it—but by virtue of a further union, freely given, freely received. This is what the Catholic means when he speaks of the state of grace, of the life of habitual grace, of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the human soul with His gifts and fruits, and of the actual graces which are poured out on man along with these.
This, then, was the design of God for man from all eternity; in this light has man from all eternity lived as a concept in the Divine Mind. Had man not been told of it, had it never been revealed to him from above, man might never have guessed it; though in the thinking philosophers of old there is easily seen a longing for, and a suspicion of, something of the kind. But once he has been told it, once by revelation of the word of God Himself he has been lifted beyond the world of sense and reason into a realm where truth alone lives unveiled, he reflects and sees how this seeming extravagance of generosity is only in accordance with the nature of that loving God whom he now knows. To do such things is only like God; worthy of Him in His love, worthy of Him in the manner of the gift.
But men failed God. With the human freedom that was his, the one power that distinguished him from all other creatures and made him master of them all, with which he could, if he would, give to God an honor, a glory, a service, that no other creature could give, man abused the grand ideal offered to him, rejected the grace and lost it. He preferred to the life supernatural the natural life he had about him, the life that begins and ends in death, and centers only in himself. He preferred himself to God, the life of “the valley of this death” to the life eternal; man “loved darkness rather than the light” (John iv, 19). With the rejection, deliberately made, he committed an offense against Him who would so honor him; an offense for which, being but a creature, of himself it was impossible to atone.
Still the God of love would not be outdone. Man had refused Him, man had chosen to be a groveling human being and no more. He had told his Lover he would have none of Him; but the Lover would still pursue. He would yet come to man; He would yet win man, if in any way that were possible, and would take him unto Himself. He would plead to Himself that man was blind, that he knew not what he did; He would win him by a further divine extravagance of love. Nevertheless should this be done in order, according to that perfect harmony which was His, and which was reflected in His creation. While He was infinitely loving He was also infinitely just; and that justice might be fulfilled, as well as love and mercy satisfied, He would have this gift of Himself, once rejected by man, by man to be won back. Yet how could this be done?For, as we have seen, natural man could of himself merit nothing any more. “By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Rom. v, 12). And the dead can do no more. Man, who by his own hand had died to the life of God, could not again of himself rise from the dead, and take back the life he had rejected.
But the God of love found a solution; such a solution as only love could have devised, only love divine could have carried out.5
To redeem the lost and enslaved, to raise the dead to life, to give to the offender a place once more in the household, and at the same time to give to Himself as God an adequate return for that which had been taken from Him, God Himself, in the person of His Son, came into this world, and lived the life and died the death of man. As man, truly man, yet immaculate and unstained “in all things like to man, without sin,” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made truly Man, in the nature of man upon this earth, gave to His Father a perfect service; as Man, and in the name of the whole human race. As Man, yet with the power of the Godhead within Him, He asked of His Father forgiveness for the evil that had been done; and He gave His human life, the last drop of His blood, in full atonement. Love devised the means; love made the willing sacrifice; love accepted the atonement with gladness, and once more poured itself out on its beloved.6
Thus in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly Man, and only because He was both in His one single Person, mankind gave back to God a perfect and an adequate service and homage, nay more, a service and an homage more adequate and perfect than he could ever have given had he never fallen; or rather, had Jesus Christ never been made Man.
Man had repaid to God a divine satisfaction; in Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, through the merits of Jesus Christ, man could again look up and be forgiven with both justice and mercy satisfied, and take on his supernatural life anew. So much has man received through Jesus Christ our Lord; this is the fundamental significance of what the Catholic means by the Incarnation and the Redemption. But that has not been all. It has not been enough for a God of love, made a Man of love, to have canceled the handwriting that was against His beloved, and then to have left him to work out his destiny as best he could. Jesus Christ our Lord is indeed truly God, and as such can claim an equality with the Father; but He is also truly Man. As such He has made Himself the equal of man and in that equality the model of mankind, even in the ways of this life, with all its weakness, with all its groping in the dark.7
In other words, God as He is from all eternity, Jesus Christ is also in time Man like other men, with one only safeguard as we have seen. He is the Friend of man, bringing down to earth that love which was in Him in heaven; the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ beats with the love of God. He is the Brother of man, a member of, one with, the human family, of the same flesh and blood as other men; being such, nothing that is human is alien from Him, joy or sorrow, success or failure, learning or ignorance. Because of what He is and of what He has done, He is the source and the sower of all that is good in the held of mankind: “Of his fullness we have all received” (John i, 16). “He is the blessed and only mighty, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Tim. vi, 15). He is the foundation stone of the human temple, the coping stone of the arch. He is wedded to His own by a band more close than that of marriage, for He is the living Head of the living mystical body. In phrases such as these with an emphasis which implies that they would have them taken as more than mere metaphors, the writers of the New Testament endeavor to describe what Jesus Christ our Lord is to men by the simple reason of His humanity.8
Thus in Jesus Christ all men are one, or may be one, as the branches of the vine are one growth, one thing, whether they come from the trunk or are engrafted on it.9
In this way is man’s spiritual life seen to be a pure gift of God, coming to him, at once in justice and in mercy and in love, through the merits of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is its source, He is its sustenance, He is its model; He has also provided the means by which we may keep and develop it. And the means are mainly these. Lest man in his weakness misunderstand, or in his shallowness misinterpret, or in his preoccupation forget, or in his self-seeking ignore the vital truth which He has revealed, and for which He has shed His blood, He has provided for all time a safe guide, who shall keep that truth secure and alive, and shall save man from his own blindness.
“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And to thee I will give the keys of the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt. xvi, 18).
“He that heareth you, heareth me: and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me” (Luke x, 16).
“These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and will bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John xiv,. 25, 26).
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the spirit of truth is come, he will teach you all truth” (John xvi, 12, 13).
“Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi, 15, 16)
The Catholic reads these passages and many others like them. He remembers the repeated word that “God is faithful” and ever unchanging; and he wonders how it can be that man nevertheless can doubt or deny His abiding and infallible guidance. He who gave such insight into Himself and His life of love, who uttered such commands to His beloved creatures, who gave such assurances of perpetual presence: “Behold I am with you all days,” could never leave man wholly to his own resources, to find his way in the dark as best he might. He to whom time is as nothing, who is as much with men today as He was when Jesus Christ His Son uttered those words, who cares no less that we of this generation should belong to Him than those of Capharnaum and Bethsaida, cannot have deserted us. He has said it, and His word is true; because we believe in Him we believe in His representative, whoever and whatever that representative may be.
The word of God is true; the voice that utters that word is, when uttering it, infallible; were the Catholic to doubt he must alter his whole concept of God, of his loving God, of a God who has bound himself by love to His creature. Love such as His cannot deceive nor be deceived; love such as His cannot fail its beloved; if at any time it has spoken with certainty it speaks with certainty for ever. “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church,” because I believe in the absolute fidelity of God.
This is the first means by which the life of God in the soul of man is preserved, the means of sure guidance. As Jesus Christ our Lord spoke infallibly by His own mouth, so does He speak infallibly by the mouth of that Church of which He is the living Head.
Next there is the gift of the sacraments and with them the sacramental life. “You shall draw waters in joy out of the fountains of the Savior,” sang the prophet (Isaias, xii, 3); and the Catholic believes that forth from the opened side of Christ have come those seven streams, those “outward signs of inward grace,” those ceremonies which, if performed by the humble creature, of themselves bestow on man an ever-increasing means for his justification and salvation. They are not mere devotions; they are not mere ritual practices; they are outward signs of grace given within; the Catholic believes that they have their origin in the institution of Jesus Christ Himself, and that in their acceptance he receives from the hands of the same Jesus Christ, and in virtue of His great victory, a positive addition of the supernatural-to be gained in no other way. Other graces, thanks to his union with Christ, the Christian may acquire by effort of his own; the grace of the sacraments he cannot earn, he can only open the gates, by the key which Christ Himself has ordained, that the flood of Christ’s love may flow over him.
Hence it is that in the reception and use of the sacraments the practice of the Catholic religion is most manifested; the Catholic will use both terms as complementary to each other, as if they expressed the same thing. It is common to hear him describe his fellow Catholic as one who “goes to the sacraments.”
Lastly, among these seven sacraments is one which is specially dear to him. It is that which is at once a sacrament and a sacrifice. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, the “Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is made our food, the memory—of His Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge is given to us of future glory,”—this sacrament has inevitably become the center round which all Catholic practice circles. In the Holy Eucharist the Catholic believes, on the authority of Jesus Christ Himself, consistently maintained by His delegated authority through the centuries, that his Lord and Master abides with him on earth; through it he believes that the same Lord and Master comes into him, dwells within him, feeds his life with His own, nay, absorbs him into Himself, so that he no longer lives but Christ lives in him. In the Holy Mass he is with that same Lord, not only at the hour at which it is said, but at that other hour when the Sacrifice of Calvary was actually performed. It is a tremendous truth, yet it is a truth none the less; and all Europe, indeed all the world wherever Christianity has reached, is strewn with the evidences of what that truth has done for mankind. Jesus Christ, “yesterday, today, and the same for ever”;—this, in a word, is the Catholic faith, this is the Catholic mind; life in the Catholic Church is no more nor less than this: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It is the crowning act of a God of love, the last extreme of Jesus Christ, the God-man, in His effort to conquer the heart of His beloved but stubborn creature. And He has won. The prophecy has been fulfilled: “From the rising of the sun even to the going down thereof my name is great among the Gentiles: and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation. For my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. i, 11).
But to the Catholic the Mother cannot be separated from the Son; indeed to him to honor the one is to honor and imitate the other. Through her willing acceptance He came into the world, by her “Fiat” the work of redemption was begun; the love of the Mother for the Son, and the love of the Son for the Mother, the natural blended with the supernatural, bound them together inseparably, in life, in death, and after death. For years she commanded and He obeyed; to the end she was always His Mother; at the last He gave us to her, and her to us, for our mutual cherishing and keeping. Therefore is she now, for us who have been given to her to be her own children, an advocate with her Son such as is no other; on our part, since she has been so bequeathed to us, to honor her is to honor Him. To treat her as a loving child treats a losing mother is to do that very thing which He did, and which He has asked us to do in His place.
And with her are the angels and saints. They, too, are our brethren; they are part of the great family of God, His sons and His heirs, members of that same body to which we belong. They have in their day fought the good fight, they have finished their course, they have received the crown of justice from Him who is the Just Judge. In their place of rejoicing they have a care for us. “There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner that doth penance.” If angels rejoiced at the birth of Jesus Christ amongst us, singing “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace to men of good will”; if when He was hungry “angels came and ministered to Him in His need”; if, in His hour of distress, when He prayed that the chalice might pass from Him, an angel gave Him new strength; if the children of men have their angels in heaven to protect them:—“See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. xviii, 10),—then we may be sure that we have the help, the prayers, and the company of all these in the battle of life. “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood: but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph. vi, 12).
Such is the spiritual life, looked at from the side of God, as the free gift of an infinitely loving God to His beloved man. It remains for man freely to accept it, for in this free acceptance lies the consummation of it all; and then, having accepted it, with faith, with love, and with hope, to cultivate it. And if this is to be done as a return of love, after the manner of Him who has so given Himself, then it must be by a similar self-surrender.
He has so loved me and has given Himself for me; I must love Him and give myself for Him. In comparison with the life which He holds out to me, I recognize that this life on earth is a very little thing, in itself now of little worth, however great it might have seemed had no other horizon been revealed to me, rendered great only because of its oneness with something far greater. If I would be what He would have me to be, I must give myself to Him as He has given Himself to me, for Him to mold as He pleases; and in proportion to the wholeness of that gift will the spiritual life develop in me.10
In three ways is this to be done. There is, first, for one who accepts the supernatural, for every Catholic, for every believer in the Son of God made Man, the natural man within him to be subdued; above all, that part of the natural man which makes him a slave to his lower appetites, “the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John ii, 16). Against these domineering powers even the natural man must fight, if he would remain a man and not be dragged down to the level of a beast; much more if he would subject to himself, and be complete master of, all that is natural in him.11
This necessary self-subjection is the first thing the true follower of Jesus Christ will undertake, and the grace of God will be with him. It is the path laid down to prayer by every master of it; it is the key to that joyful asceticism which has always accompanied the Catholic Church in her history, in her saints, in her hermits and recluses and religious orders, in the hair shirt of a Thomas More, and the voluntary poverty of princes and kings. It is not contrary to nature; the saints-were the most natural of men; it is but the conquest of nature, bringing it into subjection that it may serve, not submitting to its tyranny, and feebly, pitifully, calling that submission freedom. Next, on the more positive side, the follower of Jesus Christ will not only strive to conquer the evil that is in him; he will aim at cultivating what is good.12
But the greatest of all good is love; love of God in the first place, who “is love,” who “hath first loved us,” who “has so loved as to give His only begotten Son,” who loves us “with an everlasting love,” whose love compels the man who would be truly desirous to make Him some return. Now, on the world’s own standard, the greatest proof of love is self-surrender. “Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friend”; and in like manner, greater love for God no man hath, than that he lay down his life for God. But the laying down of life need not mean what is usually meant by death, as we see all around us; there is a complete self-surrender in complete service, in complete devotedness to the beloved. So is it with man’s love of God. For the sake of God, to estimate life, and everything in it, in accordance with the estimate of God and not his own; for the love of God to strive to become what God would have him be, not merely what he himself would choose, and that no matter how much human nature, as it is called, may resist and fight against it; for the service of God to do with life whatever God would have him to do with it, and not merely to live according to his own ambitions—this is the Christian’s ideal. It is a true laying down of his life for his Beloved; it is a perfect fulfillment of the law; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, with all thy might and with all thy strength.”
And it brings with it its own ample reward; as He has promised, a hundredfold, pressed down and flowing over. For to die to oneself with Jesus Christ our Lord is to rise again with Him; to lay aside one’s own life for His sake is to receive His life in return. Nor is this mere metaphor, or a merely allegorical way of speaking. In a mystical but none the less true manner Jesus Christ lives in every soul that will receive Him: to it He gives the power to become and to be a Son of God. We live, now not we, but He lives in us. On this account it is that we offer our prayers “Through Jesus Christ our Lord,” uniting our nothingness with His unbounded merits. On this account, whenever we perform an act, which of itself is of no worth, it may become of exceeding great value, made pleasing in the sight of God our Father. By this union, feeble creatures as we are, we are supernaturalised, and the deeds which we do partake of the supernatural. We are made “partakers” in the divine nature of Him who has “deigned to partake of our human nature”; ejus divinitatis participes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.
And furthermore because of this union, love working all in all, in every other soul as in mine, we are made one with each other, in a sense far more real and effective than human nature of itself could make us. Being made one, we long that all the rest of mankind who are still outside this divine embrace should attain it, should be made one with us, sharing in the same ineffable inheritance: “that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that, being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all understanding: that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. . . . With all humility and mildness, with patience supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one spirit: as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all” (Eph. iii, 17–19; iv, 2–6)
To this union with God, little as it often knows it, human nature naturally tends. That craving for its own perfection, for its own complete realization of itself, which is inherent in every normal human being, is no more than the effort of the soul, striving to respond to the attraction, the forestalling love of God. However it may seek its satisfaction and completion elsewhere it is never satisfied; there is always something more, so much more that what it attains seems as nothing, and slips like water from its grasp. For “He has first loved us,” and He has implanted His own love in us. He has loved us “with an everlasting love,” and love of the everlasting is our own love no less.
He loves with a love that is infinite, personal and true, that never fails, that always abides; that love, if we will receive it, of necessity tells on us, and almost unknowingly we yearn to give it back. That is the secret of human longing, of its dissatisfaction with itself, of everything it actually attains. We reach out to God whether we are aware of it or not; we hunger to possess Him, it has become part of our being to do so: “Thou hast made us, O Lord, for thyself, and our hearts shall find no rest till they rest in thee.”
Hence it comes about that there is no knowledge in this world that can compare with the knowledge of God. For we cannot love what we do not know; and since the love of God is man’s one satisfaction, then the knowledge of God, if he is true to himself, should be man’s chief occupation. More than that, since God Himself is love, the knowledge of God is the knowledge of love, and that in its sublimest degree, in its sublimest object. It was love that inspired and gave the one commandment, making it suffice for all else: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind and with thy whole strength.”
This knowledge of God and of the love of God, in itself and in its bestowal on us, cannot but react upon ourselves. Of ourselves we know we are nothing, we are undeserving of that love, and by our infidelities we have made ourselves still less worthy. Still we crave for it; and that alone will make us feel the need, will make us strive that we may become more lovable, will compel us to look up to Him who still loves us with a love that will not be broken, to plead for His mercy, His forgiveness, His pity and condolence; to throw ourselves upon Him that He may take us again to His embrace. It will make us seek in all things to do the will of Him who has so loved us, and whom we would fain love in return; for to do the will of the Beloved is, in itself, a joyful proof of love. It will make us recognize His laws and obey them, seek His counsels and follow them, search out occasions for His glory and promote them, find in the events of life, be they happy or unhappy, only manifestations of His good pleasure, and therefore opportunities for further proofs of love. It will draw us, furthermore, to prayer, for in prayer we are in communion with the Beloved; in prayer, as its definition tells us, the mind and heart of man are raised to God.
If this is the interior orientation of the soul of the man who once knows his relation to God, in his exterior life it will inevitably manifest itself. For the things of life are no less the creatures of the living God than we are; in their degree He loves them all, He is in them all, they declare Him and His glory by their very being. “The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands” (Ps. xviii, 1).
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: the world and all that dwelleth therein” (Ps. xxiii, 1). “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power also and His divinity” (Rom. i, 20). In the things of earth, then, and through them, we may recognize, if we will, His handiwork, nay, we may recognize even Himself; for they, too, are His image, they have caught some shadow of His infinite beauty and lovableness, they, too, give back some reflection of that great central Sun which is Himself. Thus does the whole ordering of life come to be the design of Him who “ruleth from end to end mightily and disposeth all things sweetly.” Though to us, oftentimes, His purpose is a mystery, and His ways, not as our ways, are past finding out, yet behind all that appears on the surface we know that His will and ordination, and His love, the prompting of that ordination, are for ever shining; even as the sun is ever shining behind the blackest cloud, indeed, as that cloud is itself no more than of the sun’s own making, and is ultimately for good. Conformity to the will of God is no mute, compulsory, fatalistic submission; it is the glad acceptance of His guidance who knows us better than we know ourselves; it is the loyal service of a King to serve whom is man’s highest honor. It is a return of love for love, yearning to repay, in what feeble manner it can, all that has been bestowed upon it; it is a fulfillment of that purpose for which we have been made, and therefore is the only means by which we can attain any true satisfaction even in this life.13
And if in the material things and events of life we find God and the will of God, how much more shall we find them in the men and women about us! They, too, even as ourselves, Jew and Gentile, bond and free, are made to His image and likeness, be they who they may, however unseemly to our purblind human eyes. Grace does not destroy nature, the supernatural does not in any way obliterate that which is truly natural; if, then, nature itself prompts us to love our fellow-man, the love of God urges us to love him even more. Love and reverence for God binds even closer the family tie, the bond between husband and wife, between parents and children.
“Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for it. . . . So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. v, 25–28).
Here is the Catholic ideal of the married state, no less than the love of Christ Himself for His beloved, which He proved by His death. And for the ideal of parenthood there is proposed no less than the fatherhood of God Himself; “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. iii, 14,15).
To the child too, is given the model of Him who for thirty years “was subject to” His parents (Luke ii, 51); they learn to obey as they obey Him from whom all authority descends. So is it, again, in our dealings with those we love. Friendship is not stifled by the example of Him who loved as Jesus Christ loved; St. John is our witness, St. Paul, built upon that example, is a burning furnace of pure love of friends. And with all our relations with man it is the same. For the sake of God, because He gave it to us, because we believe it to be His will even more than ours, we accept the lot, the duty, the profession, the fortune that is ours.
For His sake, because He cares for man, which is a more sure and all-embracing ground than any affection of our own, we too would care for them and cherish them; because Jesus Christ gave Himself for men, we too, in our little way, would give to men what we have and what we are. To do this in His way, to love our fellow-men because Christ loves them, for the reasons that He loves them, in the way that He loves them, is only to prove our love of God the more; and it is to prove it in a manner that draws us the nearer to Him, that draws from ourselves lives far more noble and heroic than human nature of itself can hope to produce.
“Let us therefore love God: because God hath first loved us. If any man say ‘I love God,’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God loveth also his brother” (I John iv, 19–21).
Thus does the love of God compel us to the love of man, to the love of each man and of all men together; members of one single body, which is the body of Jesus Christ, inspired by the same love, which is His love burning in us all. Thus, too, does the love of man take us back to the love of Him who is at once the source and the object of all love; we are His body, members of one another, so near to Him, and to one another to Him, that His spirit is our spirit, His truth is ours, infallible and safe, His life is one with our own.
This love, born of God in whom we have believed, and who is faithful, outpoured on everything that is, even as His own is outpoured, one, holy, universal, apostolic, is the ideal of the Catholic faith in practice, It is the fulfillment of the Catholic mind: “In this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” It is its word made flesh, the goal towards which the Catholic would aspire; and however much in actual effect he may fall short, still he hopes, in spite of failure, that he may yet draw more towards it “through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1“Ille tenet et quod patet et quod latet in divinis sermonibus qui caritatem tenet in moribus; amore petitur, amore quaeritur, amore pulsatur, amore denique in eo quod revelatum fuerit permanetur” (Serm. 189, de Temp.).
2“Venit Redemptor et dedit pretium fudit sanguinem suum, et emit orbem terrarum. Quaeritis, quid emerit? Videte quid dederit, et invenietis quid emerit. Sanguis Christi pretium est. Tanti quid valet? Quid, nisi totus orbis? Quid, nisi omnes gentes? Valde ingrati sunt pretio eius, aut multum superbi sunt, qui dicunt aut illud parum esse, ut solos Afros emerit, aut se tam magnos esse, pro quibus solis illud sit datum. Non ergo exultent, non superbiant. Pro toto dedit quantum dedit” (In Ps. 95. n. 8).
3“Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight, in charity, who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ with himself according to the purpose of his will: unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved Son” (Eph. i, 3–6).
“Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy hath regenerated us unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. i 3–4).
4“You are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (Rom. viii, 9).
“For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit of God giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. viii, 15–17).
“And because you are sons, God hath sent the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant but a son. And if a son an heir also through God” (Gal. iv 6, 7)
5“God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world: but that the world may be saved by him” (John iii, 16, 17).
“By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us, and sent his son to be a propitiation for our sins” (John iv, 9, 10).
6“God commendeth his charity towards us: because when as yet we were sinners according to the time, Christ died for us. Much more therefore, being now justified by his blood shall we be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son: much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. And not only so: but also we glory in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received reconciliation” (Rom. v, 8
7“I have given you an example,” He said of Himself: “I am the way and the truth, and the life.” St. Paul is bold in his emphasis of this point.
“For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in nature found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Phil. ii, 5–8).
“We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that through the grace of God he might taste death for all. For it became him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation by his passion” (Heb. ii, 9, 10).
“We have not a High Priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things as we are, without sin” (Heb. iv, 15).
“Wherefore it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest before God, that he might be a propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that wherein he himself hath suffered and been tempted, he is able to succor them also that are tempted” (Heb. ii, 17, 18).
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. viii, 3).
8Now therefore, ye are no more strangers or foreigners: but you are fellow-citizens with the Saints and domestics of God, built upon the foundations of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the comer stone: in whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into an holy temple of the Lord. In whom you also are built together into an habitation of God in the spirit” (Eph. ii, 19–22).
“You are God’s husbandry: and you are God’s building” (I Cor. 9)
“For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus” (I Cor. iii, 11).
“Christ as the Son in his own house: which house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and glory of hope unto the end” (Heb. iii, 6).
“Unto whom coming, as to a living stone, rejected indeed by man but chosen and made honorable by God: be ye also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (s Pet. ii, 4–5).
“As therefore you have received Jesus Christ the Lord, walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him and confirmed in the faith, as also ye have learned: abounding in him in thanksgiving” (Col. ii, 6, 7).
“For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband. . . . Therefore my brethren, you also are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ: that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead that we may bring forth fruit to God” (Rom. vii, 2, 4).
“For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. xi, 2).
“For as the body is one and hath many members and all the members of the body, whereas they are many are one body: so also is Christ. For in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one spirit we have all been made to drink. . . . Now you are the body of Christ and members for member” (x Cor. xii 12, 27).
“For as in one body we have many members but all the members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ: and every one members one of another” (Rom. xii, 5).
9“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch and shall wither” (John xv, 4–6).
“I am come that they may have life and may have it more abundantly” (John x, 10).
“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John viii, 12).
10“He that shall lose his life for me, shall find it” (Matt. x, 39).
“For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and lose himself and cast away himself” (Luke ix, 24, 25).
“He that loveth his life shall lose it: and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal” (John 12, 25).
11“The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of this darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh and its concupiscence” (Rom. xiii, 12–14).
“I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh. For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things you would. . . . And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh, with its vices and concupiscence. If we live by the spirit let us walk in the spirit” (Gal. v, 16–25)
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul” (I Pet. ii, 11).
12For he that will love life and see good clays, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him decline from evil and do good. Let him seek after peace and pursue it: because the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and His ears are open unto their prayers; but the countenance of the Lord upon them that do evil things” (I Pet. iii, 10–12).
13“I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart. Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications O Lord, and I will always seek after it. Give me understanding and I will search thy law: and I will keep it with my whole heart. Lead me into the path of thy commandments: for this same I have desired.”