Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Hidden Life of Jesus

1. It is an amazing thought that Jesus, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, should have chosen to live quietly for thirty years in a carpenter's workshop along with his supposed father Joseph. He could have confounded the philosophers of Greece and Rome with His infinite wisdom. He could have attracted crowds by His miracles and drawn the attention of the whole world. But He preferred silence and a busy hidden life. Why? Because men needed to learn one thing before anything else. It was a simple thing, but difficult to practise. It was humility they needed to learn, for humility was to be the foundation of the giant structure which He had come to raise up and whose spire was to reach to Heaven. If this edifice, the Church, was to be so high, its foundation would have to be very deep. Let us learn this lesson of humility and silence from the hidden life of Jesus.

The tendency in modern times even in regard to spiritual projects, is to try and draw attention and admiration. Perhaps this is why these projects are so often unsuccessful. Like the seed thrown by the sower upon the hard ground, they wither away because they have no moisture (Cf. Luke 8:6). Without humility a great deal of noise can be made, but nothing supernatural is achieved. The first lesson we must learn from Jesus is the silence and recollection of the interior life.

2. Jesus chose to be an ordinary workman. He had power over the angels of Heaven, over the sun and stars of the firmament, over the waves of the ocean and over all the elements. By a single act of His divine will He could multiply loaves and change water into wine. Yet He elected to earn His living by the sweat of His brow. In His times the artisan was held in low esteem and was very often a slave. Manual labor was regarded as sordid and undignified. Christ wished to sanctify manual work by His own toil. He wished to teach men that in the eyes of God the hoe is as valuable as the pen. There is no difference between driving a plough and wielding a sceptre as long as a man is fulfilling his duty for the love of God. The only thing in this regard which is displeasing to God is laziness and inactivity. Anyone who leads an idle life at the expense of others is breaking God's law, which commands everybody to work. Let us follow the example of Jesus the worker. Let us avoid idleness, which is the father of vices and is opposed to the command of God (Cf. Gen. 3:19; 2 Thess. 3:10). Let nobody claim that there is no need for him to work because he has enough money to last him all his life. There was far less need for Jesus to work in order to live, yet He chose to work as an ordinary labourer. If we do not have to work for our own sakes, let us reflect on how much need there is for us to work for others and for the glory of God. If justice does not compel us, charity does. It makes very little difference whether a man goes to hell for lack of justice or for lack of charity.

3. There are many who complain that their work is degrading or heavy or unsatisfying. This is an indication that they are working for themselves rather than for God. We should sanctify our work by prayer. We should meditate on the example of Jesus and remember that there are many sins for which we must make reparation. If we offer our work to God, it will not only become meritorious, but much easier. To work purely for profit is avarice, to work for the good opinion and praise of others is vanity; and to work in order to pass the time is a waste of time. The perfect Christian approach to work in order to do our duty, to please God, to atone for our sins and to gain Heaven.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Obedience of Jesus

1. Many people are anxious to be in a position to give orders, but very few wish to have to obey them. This is because there are so few humble men and so many who love to make a display. The moral of the Gospel in this regard is completely opposed to worldly standards. The Gospel shows us how the Word of God came down from the glory of Heaven in order to become man like us and to live for thirty years subject to Mary and Joseph. He became, moreover, obedient to death, even to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Therefore God also has exalted him and has bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). If we wish to follow Jesus, we must not aim at seeming important, but at becoming humble. We must not seek to command, but to obey. Then we shall also be taken up into the glory of God the Father, where we shall be rewarded for our humility and obedience. If we are placed by Divine Providence in a position of authority, let us accept it as a cross, as St. Pius X did when he was elected Pope. But let us remain essentially humble. Let us give orders pleasantly and gently, and act sternly only when it is absolutely necessary.

2. Obedience is an universal rule, without which there could be no harmony in the world. All creatures obey the laws of nature laid down by their Creator. The sun rises in the east, moves along its accustomed path everyday and every season, and sets in the west. The stars never leave the orbit arranged for them by the hand of God. The waves of the sea toss about when disturbed by the strength of the wind, but they fall back again without ever crossing the boundaries which God has set for them. Man alone dares to rebel against his Creator and against those who represent God on earth. Man alone dares to repeat the blasphemous cry of Satan: "I will not serve!" Remember the example which Jesus has given to us. Although He is God, the lord and master of heaven and earth, He condescends to obey Mary and Joseph, two creatures incapable of achieving anything without Him. He was subject to them (Luke 2:51). Let us learn from Him how to obey willingly and humbly. Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29).

3. It is easier to practice the virtue of obedience when we remember that all power comes from God. Then we can see Him in those who have authority over us. This will prevent us obeying orders from secondary motives, such as the desire to please men or to avoid punishment. We shall be able to obey solely for the purpose of doing our duty and pleasing God. Many think that it is easier to command than to obey. They are mistaken. Anyone in authority has grave responsibility before God and men and can sin seriously as well. The man who is obedient to his lawful superiors in the name of God, however, can never go wrong. Reflect on the following exhortation of St. Paul, which still holds good in our times. Slaves, obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ; not serving to the eye as pleasers of men, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart, giving your service with good will as to the Lord and not to men, in the knowledge that whatever good each does, the same he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is slave or freeman. And you, masters, do the same towards them, and give up threatening, knowing that their Lord who is also your Lord is in Heaven, and that with him there is no respect of persons (Eph. 6:5-9).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Knowledge and Goodness

1. Joseph DeMaistre's views on the relationship between knowledge and goodness may seem a little extreme, but they are nothing but the truth. "If the guardianship of education is not restored to the Church, and if knowledge is not everywhere subordinated to goodness, the evils which await us will be incalculable. Science will brutalise us. Because of it men will become more savage than the barbarians."

We do not wish to speak slightingly of knowledge. It is a gift from God, Who has given us our intellects to know the truth. But truth, like every created thing, comes from God and should lead us back to God. It is the same with knowledge. If we investigate the secrets of nature and do not make of them a ladder which helps us to climb towards our Creator, we turn the natural order upside down and inevitably fall backwards. We can gain by our labours a mastery over the hidden forces of nature. If we do not use them to benefit humanity, but to destroy those of our brothers whom we call our enemies, we are worse than Cain. Science which does not serve goodness is worse than barbarism. The latter has very few instruments of destruction at its disposal. When science rebels against sound idealism, however, and makes itself absolute, it can destroy all that we have inherited of beauty and goodness throughout the centuries.

2. The supremacy of goodness over knowledge has to be admitted in practice as well as in theory. It is useless and even harmful for us to be courageous if we are not also good. Very often knowledge is like a weapon in the hands of a child. If the child is naughty or careless he can do a great deal of damage with the weapon. Before everything else we must be good. We must have that Christian goodness which embraces all the virtues and culminates in the love of God and of our neighbour. Once we have acquired this goodness, science will benefit by it. It will become a powerful means of enlightenment rather than of destruction. It will no longer be mere knowledge; it will be wisdom. It will teach us how to live and show us our proper destination. In short, it will become an instrument of virtue which will contribute enormously to the welfare of the human race.

3. Science is too easily glorified today. But knowledge for the sake of knowledge does not lead us to God and is very often stupidity or worse. It can be an instrument of evil and of physical and spiritual destruction. This is why St. Paul wrote: Let no one rate himself more than he ought, but let him rate himself according to moderation, and according as God has apportioned to each one the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3). Knowledge puffs up, he said, but charity edifies (1 Cor. 8:1).

"The humble knowledge of oneself," The Imitation of Christ tells us, "is a surer way to God than deep researches after science. Knowledge is not to be blamed...but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred. But because many take more pains to be learned than to lead good lives, therefore they often go astray" (Bk. 1, Ch. 3). So let us learn everything which our position in life requires of us, and as much besides as we are able. But above all let us learn to be good and holy. If we fail in this, the rest is useless and dangerous.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas

It is generally recognised that St. Thomas Aquinas was a great philosopher and theologian. The Cartesian philosopher, Jourdain, said of him that no other man had come so near to being infallible. The eclectic philosopher, Cousin, referred to the Summa Theologica as one of the greatest masterpieces of human genius. Dante celebrated in immortal verse this wonderful synthesis of thought. When he canonised St. Thomas, John XXII declared that "every article he wrote was a miracle."

One might say that St. Thomas was raised up by God, for he gathered together the whole of human knowledge up to his own time and interpreted it in the new light of Christianity. He ordered it into a complete, compact body of philosophical and theological doctrine to serve as an impregnable defence against the errors of his own and later times. In spite of his greatness, however, Thomas of Aquin was a very humble man. There is a good deal of truth in Pascal's remark that little knowledge makes the mind proud, but real wisdom makes it humble. We cannot all imitate the knowledge of St. Thomas, but we should imitate his humility.

2. Thomas of Aquin was a wealthy nobleman of great intelligence. A brilliant future seemed to lie before him. But he answered the inspiration which called him to a life of Christian perfection in the Order of St. Dominic. This divine vocation encountered serious obstacles. His mother and brothers opposed it. The latter went as far as capturing him beside a woman whoh tempted him to sin against holy purity. But it was all useless. He chased away the temptress with a blazing torch. Then he knelt before a cross outlined upon the wall and as he was praying fervently he experienced such wonderful peace that it seemed like a foretaste of Heaven. From that day he was never again tried by temptations of the flesh. He was like an angel in human form.

Do we wish to share even a little in these rewards? Let us listen to the good inspirations which God gives us. Like St. Thomas, let us be ready to make any sacrifice rather than offend God. Let us be prepared to work earnestly to acquire the virtues proper to our state in life.

3. St. Thomas was not only a tireless student, but a man of unceasing prayer. He was accustomed to say that anything he ever learned was the result of prayer rather than study. In any case, as far as he was concerned, study and any other activity was a prayer. No matter what he was doing, his mind was absorbed with God. He died when he was about fifty years of age, but he was able to leave behind a masterpiece of human and divine wisdom which has probably never been surpassed.

Everything which is good and beautiful comes from God. Even though our stature is far less than that of St. Thomas, we must constantly nourish our desires and intentions with prayer and focus them on good objects.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Holy Contentment

1. We must not think that there is anything sad or sullen about virtue. It is quite otherwise. Virtue is the only real happiness. It is a quiet contentment, based on and depending on God, which is not afraid of dangers or difficulties because it knows that everything can be overcome with the help of God. I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). This happiness is not founded on passing pleasures, but on the confident expectation of the everlasting joys of Heaven. It can exist even in the midst of difficulties and sorrows, because these detach us from the world and raise us to a higher level. When the Jews first persecuted the infant Church, the Apostles were said to have been happy to suffer for the name of Christ (Act. 5:41). This is an example of the contentment which accompanies virtue, the peace which neither threats nor injuries can destroy. Seek this lasting happiness. Do not despise the lesser pleasures of this world as long as they are innocent, for everything is good and beautiful which comes from God. Do not become too fond of them, however. Remember that God alone can fill our hearts with real happiness.

2. Some people picture the Saints as grim and austere men, shut away in the ivory tower of their own sanctity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, there were some who practised austerities and penances which would astonish and frighten many of us today. Even in the midst of the voluntary acts of mortification, however, they were full of holy joy. They no longer craved for anything in this world; they desired Heaven alone. It is said that St. Romuald's countenance was always so radiantly cheerful that anyone who looked at him felt happy. The gaiety of St. Philip Neri and many others has become a well-known legend. Heaven was already in their hearts. We cannot all arrive at such a height of sanctity, but we can and must avoid vain and sinful pleasures and search for the real happiness which comes from a good life.

3. There is a story told about St. Francis of Assisi and another brother who were approaching a monastery after a long journey. They were tired and hungry and it was late. "When we arrive at the monastery and knock at the door, the porter may not recognise us," St. Francis said to his companion. "He may send us away with hard woods under the impression that we are a pair of thieves. If that happens, we shall be made to look ridiculous and shall have neither food nor lodging for the night...That would be pure joy. I'm telling you!" Naturally, it woud be impossible for everyone to become quite as detached as this from worldly things. But we should all have that confidence in God which gives peace and spiritual contentment during the trials of life. The joy of Christian resignation is the knowledge that everything we suffer for the love of God helps us to merit Heaven.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Martyrdom

1. St. Ambrose describes virtue as a slow martyrdom. In this sense we must all be martyrs. There is only one difference. The Martyrs of the Church shed their blood and gave up their lives for Jesus within one hour or one day and gained their reward immediately. Our martyrdom, on the other hand, will be prolonged. It will last all our lives and will end only when we accept death with resignation from the hands of God. Ours is the martyrdom of virtue. Let us clearly understand that solid Christian virtue is a slow and continual martyrdom which will end with death. It is not a flower which springs up spontaneously in the garden of the soul. It is like a seed which is thrown on the damp earth and must die there slowly so that it can generate young shoots which will produce the ears of corn. Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit (1 John 12:24-25). It is necessary, then to descend into the mire of humility and to remain there until we die. Only after we have died to ourselves shall we rise again in God (Cf. ibid). After the death of our lower instincts and vices we shall find a new life.

2. Perhaps we complain at times about the humiliations which we have to endure and the temptations which we have to overcome. But this is the prolonged martyrdom of a virtuous life. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us, has been enduring violent assault and the violent have been seizing it by force (Mt. 11:12). We must struggle against ourselves and our evil inclinations in order to gain the kingdom of Heaven. Only those who fight can conquer. St. Paul says that nobody can win the crown of victory unless he has fought valiantly. One who enters a contest is not crowned unless he has competed according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So let us resign ourselves willingly to the lengthy martyrdom of a good life. If we do, our martyrdom will prove easy and acceptable. We shall trust in God and shall be comforted by the thought of the crown which awaits us.

3. Those who go the way of worldly vanity and vice endure a martyrdom in any case. There is no doubt that their martyrdom is even more painful. Worldly pleasure is like a gilded cup which has a little honey on the rim but when it is drained leaves behind a bitter taste. St. Augustine says that God has ruled from all eternity that a disordered soul will be its own punishment. Sacrifice which demands heroic virtue leaves God's peace in the soul. Those sacrifices, on the other hand, which are demanded by a worldly life and excessive pleasures are a martyrdom which brings no reward and no happiness. Since either way we must undergo a martyrdom in this life, let us choose the sweet martyrdom of virtue. Our reward will be in Heaven.