Easter - Fourth
The Value of the Faith
By Rev. John J. Hurst
It was after the last super and during the last discourse which Christ held with His disciples before His passion and death that these words were spoken. The disciples were sand and disconsolate, because He had announced He was about to leave them. They were truly devoted to Him, zealous for the glory of is name and solicitous for the extension of His kingdom. Their devotion, zeal and solicitude, however, sprung from merely natural causes and were fostered and stimulated by racial pride and self-interest. In ignorance of His true mission, they had visions of glory for Israel and honor for themselves. With His departure, all the bright visions of future greatness must vanish and they would be left to lament the absence of the master they loved and to mourn the frustration of hopes they had so eagerly cherished.
The language of Christ on this occasion was not intended to rebuke them for their indifference in not asking where He was going, but rather to alleviate their grief and to console them for His absence, by pointing out the greater advantage that would accrue to them from it. “It is expedient that I must go; for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” The wonderful transformation which the Paraclete effected by His coming, that is, by His descent upon them on the first Pentecost Sunday, is at once a confirmation of the truth of the promise of Christ and an abiding testimony of its fulfillment.
The mission of the Holy Ghost is manifold. Let us consider it in relation to the sin of which He came to convict the world. He will convict the world of sin “because they believe not in Me,” that is, He will clearly prove to the impious and incredulous, in diverse ways, but especially through the preaching and miracles of the Apostles, the special malice of sin of which they were guilty in refusing to acknowledge the divinity of Christ and to accept His doctrines.
Belief in a Redeemer was the corner stone of religion from the beginning. The people of Israel were the depositories of Divine revelation and the custodians of the true religion, and served as an instrument in God’s hands to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah. The Messianic prophecies had prepared their own minds and rendered them so familiar with His genealogical and personal characteristics; the time, place and circumstances of His birth; the chief incidents of His private life; His precursor; and His public life, that a well-educated Jew looking joyously to the fulfillment of the great promise would have little or no difficulty in recognizing the Messiah in the person of Christ. But the carnal Jews had in mind the establishment of a temporal monarchy, and disappointed in their expectations of a king who would satisfy their natural aspirations and gratify their personal ambitions, they were “foolish and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets had spoken”; so that notwithstanding His heavenly manifestations, His numerous and stupendous miracles, the perfections of His doctrine, the beauty and holiness of His life, they easily succumbed to the jealous rage and malicious designs of their spiritual guides, the Pharisees, to despise and reject Him. To account for the perversity, obduracy and obstinacy of this favored but erring people, we have but to recall the words of St. Matthew, viz., that the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them: “The heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. xviii, 15).
Religious incredulity of so-called Christians is less excusable than the rejection of Christ by the obstinate Jews, of whom it can be said they adhered to their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, retained reverence for the Prophets, and continued to comply externally at least with the requirements of the law. Moreover, if the pray of the Savior for the forgiveness of His executioners comprehended the whole Jewish nation, and there is no reason why it did not, we know that, though culpably blind, they did not fully realize the enormity of their crime. But “God, who in times past spoke to the fathers by the Prophets, hath in these days spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. i, 1-2).
With all the evidences of Christianity before us it would be unpardonably criminal for any to reject it. Announced by the most authentic prophecies, founded by one who gave the most convincing proofs of His divinity, confirmed by the most stupendous miracles, preached by twelve poor fishermen, opposed by all the learning of pagan philosophers and the power of pagan kings, despised, persecuted. satirized. We see it triumph over ever obstacle of malice, pride and prejudice and spread throughout every country in which a member of the human family has found a home. If the establishment of Christianity had not been the effect of the miracles the Apostles wrought in preaching it, we ought, as St. Augustine says, to regard its triumph as the greatest of all miracles.
The mere negation of a supernatural religion seems but a trivial matter to those who regard all forms of religious worship with equal indifference or maintain that a man’s religious worship with equal indifference or maintain that a man’s religious convictions are something personal for which he is in no wise responsible to society. But, apart from this deplorable fallacy, the fact remains that unbelief is not only a sin in itself, but is the source of countless other sins. Unless there is a supernatural light to guide and a supernatural motive to sustain a man in his journey through life, we will inevitably be born down by the weight of his own perverse propensities.
Natural virtue, however great, is incapable of piloting one safely through the seas of danger by which every child of Adam is surrounded. The natural in man is perfected only by the supernatural, and natural virtue of itself has never produced and never can produce a complete human being.
Religion is the basis of all morality, and any effort to produce a truly moral character without a religious basis were as futile – and the experience of history past and present amply proves it – as the attempt to drive a nail with a sponge or to keep out the tide with a broomstick. Happiness is the goal to which every human heart is turning, but happiness has its foundation only in religion. The practice of virtue and the avoidance of vice, which are the true sources of happiness, have no sanction in the natural law, beyond the assumption that virtue is its own reward. Granting the assumption, which has the semblance of truth and in many instances is true, how many faithful adherents has it? Some apply to chastity, others to honesty. But is there any “nature faker” who applies it to all the virtues; or is chastity or honesty or any other individual exemption from vice the only virtue to be deemed worthy of cultivation; or are they the completion of the whole code of morality? No, conscience left to itself is so infallibly and powerfully influenced by motives of prejudice and passion, interest and ambition, that those who rely on unaided nature for victory will inevitably succumb in a struggle in which their wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirit of wickedness in high places.”
Education in our day is regarded as an important asset. But when education is divorced from religion it becomes a dangerous ally or a useless encumbrance. Mere learning is inadequate to attain the end of true education. The head may be filled with all the learning of the ages, but unless the heart plays its part in acquiring and utilizing knowledge, the recipient is nothing but sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Knowledge, contrary to the dictum of Socrates, is not virtue, nor is ignorance vice. “Many are the things it is of no profit to know,” says the Author of the Imitation. The most perverse characters are often those whose intellects are trained at the expense of their hearts. A system of education in which religion is left out is like a garment made up of shreds and patches. It lacks the essential qualities, symmetry, cohesion and unity. It affords little or no protection to the possessor and it fails to serve the purpose of its existence. Unless one is taught the why and the wherefore, morality, patriotism and duty are but causeless growths or shadowy heritages. Why is it necessary to do good and to avoid evil, why it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country; why we must obey the dictates of conscience rather than the promptings of selfishness and pleasure, are questions religion only can fully answer and principles religion can best inculcate.
Were we to analyze the motives that withhold a man devoid of religious belief from the commission of crime, we should find that, irrespective of his own inherent disposition, they are determined and governed by the fear of consequences, such as consideration for health, loss of character, or the risk of exposure. Once religion, the barrier to his passions, is removed, who shall say to what depths of iniquity he will not sink?
And could it be otherwise, since, in the absence of religion, there is no reason why he should listen to that internal monitor, conscience, which points out to him the rightness or the wrongness of an act? He can not be just, for the just man lives by faith. He will not be honest or upright for he is without scruple as to the means of accomplishing his ends. He need not be pure, for he recognizes no law of self-restraint. And so of all the other virtues.
Moreover, when a man is not governed by the laws of religion, unbelief extends itself to every phase and penetrates every relation of life, not only rendering him senseless to every noble impulse, but skeptical of friendship, truth, honor and charity. The most miserable creature on earth is the unbeliever. He misses the purpose of his being. Life to him is but a span of animal existence. His heart is a desert, his soul a dungeon of darkness. The light that shines for innocence and virtue is extinguished in him. The joys that mass themselves for the man of faith are unknown to him. The happiness that flows from the consciousness of merit is foreign to him. The high ideals and inspirations that the pursuit of the good and the true impart have no meaning for him. Sunshine has deserted him; gloom and dejection have taken possession of him. Dead to faith, lost to hope and robbed of charity, he passes his cheerless days filling up the measure of his discontent till the hour comes when he shall deliver up his soul to its Creator of judgment.
Some years ago, I met a gentleman who was taking his son, a boy of about twelve years of age, to a Jesuit College to have him educated. I congratulated him on the wisdom of his choice and the means he was affording the youth of acquiring a sound Catholic education, and I alluded to the dangers to the faith that lurk in some of the sectarian institutions of learning in the country. That, he said, is exactly the reason why I am taking my boy to a college in which I know his faith will be safeguarded, for, he added, I deem they faith the most precious treasure he can possess and the source of the greatest happiness he can enjoy. Your sentiments, I remarked, do credit to your religious convictions. “Religious convictions,” he etched. “Father, I have none; I have lost the faith. When I was my son’s age and older, I had the faith and I had, too, all and the only joys and blessings life ever afforded me. My parents were unfortunate in the selection of a school for me, in it religion was not fashionable. It was thought the correct thing for a young man to profess himself emancipated from such a superstition. Agnosticism was rife among the students, and I imbibed its principles. Huxley, Tyndall and Spencer became my trinity. From the day they usurped the place of the three Divine Persons I parted with everything that made life worth living. I left college a confirmed Agnostic and the most wretched of men. I feel, however, that I owe a duty to society and most of all to my own flesh and blood, and I have determined that whatever else my son inherits he shall not inherit his father’s legacy of woe.” He noticed the amazement with which I regarded his anecdote and, anticipating remonstrances on my part, he courteously said: “No use arguing, father, my faith is lost never to return.”
Here was a man of superior intelligence, with humanity enough left to keep one he loved from following in his footsteps, yet a self-confessed culprit, miserable beyond expression and divested of the hope of human power to restore joy to his heart and of heavenly grace to restore peace to his soul.
“All things of His Divine power which appertain to life and godliness are given us through the knowledge of Him who hast called us by His own proper glory and virtue” (St. Peter I, 1-3). Our Divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is acknowledged even by those who deny His Divinity and the supernatural character of His religion, to be not merely the supreme type of moral excellence, but also the ideal Teacher whose doctrines have influenced for all time the purpose of life and the principles of morality. He could say of Himself that He came as a light into the world, that whosoever believed in Him should not remain in darkness. He taught as one having authority and not as the thumbing scripture Scribes and Pharisees; and the works themselves, which He did, gave testimony of Him that the Father had sent Him.
The Jews rejected Him and as a consequence they ceased to exist as a nation. They had often in the course of their chequered history been punished by God with slavery on account of their idolatry and impiety. But it was only when they refused to listen to the pleadings of the Living Word that the hopes of Israel vanished and the last vision of her glory departed. The prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel and Osee regarding their fate were literally fulfilled: The children of the kingdom were cast out and strangers inherit the land. Their glory was turned into shame. Dispersed over the surface of the earth, wandering without prince, temple nor prophet, they carry about with them the mark of reprobation, longing for a restoration that will never be and awaiting the advent of Him who came once as their Redeemer and their King and will come again only as their Accuser and their Judge.
If unbelief among so-called Christians is not punished in so striking a exemplary a manner, it is not that God does not regard it with equal or even greater abhorrence. If the veil that shrouds the inner workings of the soul could be pierced by mortal eyes, the unbeliever would reveal a condition of mental anguish and moral depravity for which no political influence nor worldly greatness could compensate, and with which no loss however bitter or deplorable could compare.
We should, therefore, never cease to thank God for the priceless gift of our holy faith. We should, in an age of which infidelity and religious indifference are the characteristic traits, be careful to safeguard it and ready and able to defend it. We should at all times be willing to part with life rather than with a treasure without which life itself were worthless and salvation impossible, remembering the promise of our Divine Lord to the Apostles: “Everyone that shall confess Me before men, I will confess him also before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. x, 32).