Now he may say: how can the earth be round if deep valleys, high mountains, and level plains prove to my senses the very opposite, and the countless things at rest upon its surface tell me it is motionless. Yet he believes even against the testimony of his senses that the earth is round and moving, because his teacher could have no motive in deceiving him; knows better than he, having learned more, and besides has been taught by others who after long years of careful study and research have discovered these things and know them to be true. If therefore we have to believe things that we do not understand on the authority of men, why should we not believe other truths on the authority of God? Yes, we must believe Him. If a boy knew all his teacher knew there would be no need of his going to school; he would be the equal in knowledge of his teacher, and if we knew all that God knows we would be as great as He. As well might we try to empty the whole ocean into the tiny holes that children dig in the sand by its shore, as fully to comprehend the wisdom of God. This is the mistake unbelievers make when they wish to understand with their limited intelligence the boundless knowledge and mysterious ways of God, and when they cannot understand refuse to believe. Are they not extremely foolish? Would you not ridicule the boy who refuses to believe that the earth is round and moving because he cannot understand it? As he grows older and learns more he will comprehend it better; so we, when we leave this world and come into the presence of God, shall see clearly many things that are unintelligible now. For the present, we have only to believe them on the authority of God teaching us. Another example. We take two little black seeds that look just alike and place them in the same kind of soil; we put the same kind of water upon them; they have the same sunlight and air, and yet when they grow up one has a red flower and one a blue. Where did the red and where did the blue come from? From the black seed, or the brown soil, or the pure water, air and sunlight? We do not know. It is there, and that is all. We see it and believe it, though we do not understand it.
So if we refuse to believe everything we do not understand, we shall soon believe very little and make ourselves ridiculous.
Lesson 4 ON CREATION
This lesson treats of God bringing everything into existence. The chief things created may be classed as follows: (1) The things that simply exist, as rocks, and minerals—gold, silver, iron, etc. (2) Things that exist, grow, and live like plants and trees. (3) Things that grow, live, and feel, like animals. (4) Things that grow, live, feel, and understand, like men. Besides these we have the sun, moon, stars, etc.; all things too that we can see, and also Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, and good and bad angels. All these are the works of God's creation. All these He has called into existence by merely wishing for them.
*32 Q. Who created Heaven and earth, and all things? A. God created Heaven and earth, and all things.
"Heaven," where God is and will always be. It means, too, everything we see in the sky above us. "Earth," the globe on which we live.
*33 Q. How did God create Heaven and earth? A. God created Heaven and earth from nothing, by His word only; that is, by a single act of His all-powerful will.
34 Q. Which are the chief creatures of God? A. The chief creatures of God are angels and men.
35 Q. What are angels? A. Angels are pure spirits without a body, created to adore and enjoy God in Heaven.
"Angels" are not the same as saints. Saints are those who at one time lived upon the earth as we do, and who on account of their very good lives are now in Heaven. They had bodies as we have. The angels, on the contrary, never lived visibly upon the earth. In the beginning God was alone. We take great pleasure in looking at beautiful things. God, seeing His own beauty, and knowing that others would have very great pleasure and happiness in seeing Him, determined to create some beings who could enjoy this happiness; and thus He wished to share with them the happiness which He Himself derived from seeing His own beauty. Therefore He created angels who were to be in Heaven with Him, singing His praises and worshipping before His throne.
The angels are not all equal in dignity, but are divided into nine classes, or choirs, according to their rank or office, and, as theologians tell us, arranged from the lowest to the highest and named as follows; angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominations, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. Archangels are higher than angels and are so called because sent to do the most important works. It was the Archangel Michael who drove Lucifer from Heaven and the Archangel Gabriel who announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to be the Mother of God. The angels receive their names from the duties they perform. The word angel signifies messenger.
*36 Q. Were the angels created for any other purpose? A. The angels were also created to assist before the throne of God and to minister unto Him; they have often been sent as messengers from God to man; and are also appointed our guardians.
The duties of the angels are many. Some remain always in Heaven with God; some are sent to earth to be our guardians and to remain with us. Each of us has an angel to take care of us. He is with us night and day, and offers our prayers and good works to God. He prays for us, exhorts us to do good and avoid evil; and he protects us from dangers spiritual and temporal. How unfortunate then must one be to cause him to return to Heaven with sad complaints to God; such as: "The one whom I have in charge will not obey Thy laws or use the grace Thou sendest him: with all my efforts to save him, he continues to do wrong." He will be doubly sad when he sees other angels returning with good reports and receiving new graces for those whom God has committed to their care. If you love your guardian angel, never impose on him the painful duty of bringing to God the report of your evil doings.
Now, how do we know that the angels offer our prayers and good works to God? We know it from the beautiful story of Tobias, told in the Holy Scripture. (Tobias). This holy man loved and feared God. He lived at a time when his people were persecuted by a most cruel king, who wished to force them to give up the true God and worship idols, but many of these good people suffered death rather than deny God and obey the wicked king. When they were put to death, their bodies were left lying on the ground, to be devoured by birds of prey or wild animals. Anyone caught burying them was to be put to death by the king's servants. Tobias used to carry the dead bodies of these holy martyrs into his house and bury them at night.
One day when he returned very tired he lay down by the wall of his house to rest, and, while lying there, some dirt fell into his eyes and he became blind. This Tobias had a young son whose name was also Tobias; and as he himself was now blind and poor, he wished to send his son into a certain city, at a good distance off, to collect some money that he had formerly loaned to a friend. As the young man did not know the way, his father sent him out to look for a guide. Young Tobias went out and found a beautiful young man to be his guide and he consented, and he brought Tobias to the distant city. As they were on their way they sat down by the bank of a river. Tobias went into the water near the edge, and soon a great fish rushed at him. Tobias called to his guide. The guide told him to take hold of the fish and drag it out upon the shore. There they killed it, and kept part of its flesh for food and part for medicine. Then they went on to the city, got the money and returned. The guide told young Tobias to rub the part of the fish he had taken for medicine upon his father's eyes. He did so, and immediately his father's eyes were cured and he saw. Then both the father and son were so delighted with this young guide, that they offered to give him half of all they had. He refused to take it and then told them he was the angel Raphael sent from God to be the guide of this good man's son. He told the old Tobias how he (the angel) had carried up to God his prayers and good works while he was burying the dead. When they heard he was an angel they fell down and reverenced him, being very much afraid. From this beautiful history we know that the angels carry our prayers and good works to God. Again we learn from the Holy Scripture (Gen. 28) in the history of another good man almost the same thing. The patriarch Jacob was on a journey, and being tired, he lay down to rest with his head upon a stone. As he lay there he had a vision in which he saw a great ladder reaching up from earth to Heaven. At the top he saw Almighty God standing, and on the ladder itself angels ascending and descending. Now the holy Fathers of the Church tell us this is what is really taking place; the angels are always going down and up from God to man, though not on a ladder and not visibly as they appeared to Jacob. Besides the guardian angel for each person, there are also guardian angels for each city and for each nation.
Again (Gen. 19) angels appeared to Lot to warn him about the destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrha. Angels appeared also to the shepherds on the night Our Lord was born (Luke 2). The catechism says angels have no bodies—how, then, could they appear? They took bodies made of some very light substance which would make them visible, and appeared just like beautiful young men, clad in flowing garments, as you frequently see them represented in pictures. Angels were sometimes sent to punish men for their sins, as the angel who killed in one night 185,000 men in the army of the wicked king, Sennacherib, who blasphemed God, and was endeavoring to destroy Jerusalem, God's city. (4 Kgs. 19).
But here is a difficulty. If God Himself watches over us and sees all things, why should the angels guard us? It is on account of God's goodness to us; though it is not necessary. He does not wish us to have any excuse for being bad, so He gives us each a special heavenly servant to watch and assist us by his prayers. If a friend received us into his house and did all he could for us himself, we should certainly be satisfied, but if he gave us a special servant, though it would not be necessary, he would show us great respect and kindness. Moreover whatever the angels do for us, we might say God Himself does, for the angels are only obeying His commands.
*37 Q. Were the angels, as God created them, good and happy? A. The angels as God created them were good and happy.
*38 Q. Did all the angels remain good and happy? A. All the angels did not remain good and happy; many of them sinned and were cast into Hell; and these are called devils or bad angels.
God did not admit the angels into His presence at once. He placed them for awhile on probation, as He did our first parents.
One of these angels was most beautiful, and was named Lucifer, which means light-bearer. He was so perfect that he seems to have forgotten that he received all his beauty and intelligence from God, and not content with what he had, became sinfully proud and wished to be equal to God Himself. For his sin he and all his followers were driven out of Heaven, and God then created Hell, in which they were to suffer for all eternity. This same Lucifer is now called Satan, and more commonly the devil, and those who accompanied him in his fall, devils, or fallen angels.
Lesson 5 ON OUR FIRST PARENTS AND THEIR FALL
39 Q. Who were the first man and woman? A. The first man and woman were Adam and Eve.
In the beginning God created all things; something particular on each of the six days of Creation. (Gen. 1). On the first day He made light, on the second, the firmament, or the heavens, and on the sixth day He created man and called him Adam. God wished Adam to have a companion; so one day He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and then took from his side a rib, out of which he formed Eve. Now God could have made Eve as He made Adam, by forming her body out of the clay of the earth and breathing into it a soul, but He made Eve out of Adam's rib to show that they were to be husband and wife, and to impress upon their minds the nature and sacredness of the love and union that should exist between them.
40 Q. Were Adam and Eve innocent and holy when they came from the hand of God? A. Adam and Eve were innocent and holy when they came from the hand of God.
God placed Adam and Eve in Paradise, a large, beautiful garden, and gave them power over all the other creatures. Adam gave all the animals their appropriate names and they were obedient to him. Even lions, tigers, and other animals that we now fear so much, came and played about him. Our first parents, in their state of original innocence, were the happy friends of God, without sorrow or suffering of any kind.
*41 Q. Did God give any command to Adam and Eve? A. To try their obedience God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of a certain fruit which grew in the garden of Paradise.
He told them (Gen. 2) they could take of all the fruits in the garden except the fruit of one tree, and if they disobeyed Him by eating the fruit of that tree, they should surely die. God might have pointed out any tree, because it was simply a test of obedience. He gave them a very simple command, for if we are faithful in little things we shall surely be faithful in greater. Moreover, it is not precisely the consideration of what is forbidden, but of the authority by which it is forbidden that should deter us from violating the command and prove our fidelity. Thus disobedience to our parents and superiors, even in little things, becomes sinful. Someone might say: "Why did God not try their obedience by one of the Ten Commandments?" Let us examine them. "Remember the Sabbath." That one would be unnecessary: for every day was Sabbath with them; the only work was to praise and serve God. "Thou shalt not steal." They could not; everything was theirs; and so for the other Commandments. Therefore, God gave them a simple command telling them: If you obey, you and all your posterity will be happy; every wish will be gratified, neither sorrow nor affliction shall come upon you and you shall never die; but if, on the contrary, you disobey, countless evils, misery and death will be your punishment. The earth, now so fruitful, shall bring forth no crops without cultivation, and after years of toil the dead bodies of yourselves and children must lie buried in its soil. So having the gift of free will they could take their choice, and either keep His command and be happy, or disobey Him and be miserable.
*42 Q. Which were the chief blessings intended for Adam and Eve, had they remained faithful to God? A. The chief blessings intended for Adam and Eve, had they remained faithful to God, were a constant state of happiness in this life and everlasting glory in the next.
Our first parents and their children were not to remain in the garden of Paradise forever, but were, after spending their allotted time of trial or probation upon earth, to be taken body and soul into Heaven without being obliged to die.
43 Q. Did Adam and Eve remain faithful to God? A. Adam and Eve did not remain faithful to God, but broke His commandment by eating the forbidden fruit.
As it is told in the Bible (Gen. 3), Eve went to the forbidden tree and was standing looking at it, when the devil came in the form of a serpent and, tempting, told her to take some of the fruit and eat. It does not appear that she went and tasted the fruit of all the other trees and finally came to this one, but rather that she went directly to the forbidden tree first. Do we not sometimes imitate Eve's conduct? As soon as we know a certain thing is forbidden we are more strongly tempted to try it.
See, then, what caused Eve's sin. She went into the dangerous occasion, and was admiring the forbidden fruit when the tempter came. She listened to him, yielded to his wicked suggestions, and sinned. So will it be with us if through curiosity we desire to see or hear things forbidden; for once in the danger the devil will soon be on hand to tempt us—not visibly indeed, for that would alarm us and defeat his purpose, but invisibly, like our guardian angels; for the devil is a fallen angel who still possesses all the characteristics of an angel except goodness. But this is not all. Eve not only took and ate the fruit herself, but induced Adam to do likewise. Most sinners imitate Eve in that respect. Not satisfied with offending God themselves, they lead others into sin.
Why should the devil tempt us? God created man to be in Heaven, but the fallen angels were jealous of man, and tempted him to sin so that he too should be kept out of Heaven and might never enjoy what they lost; just as envious people do not wish others to have what they cannot have themselves.
44 Q. What befell Adam and Eve on account of their sin? A. Adam and Eve on account of their sin lost innocence and holiness, and were doomed to sickness and death.
They were innocent and holy because they were the friends of God and in a state of grace, but by their sin they lost His grace and friendship. "Doomed" means sentenced or condemned. The first evil result, then, of Adam's sin was that he lost innocence and made his body a rebel against his soul. Then he was to suffer poverty, hunger, cold, sickness, death, and every kind of ill; but the worst consequence of all was that God closed Heaven against him. After a few years' trial, as we said, God was to take him into Heaven; but now He has closed it against Adam and his posterity. All the people in the world could never induce God to open it again; for He closed it in accordance with His promise, and man was an exile and outcast from his heavenly home.
45 Q. What evil befell us on account of the disobedience of our first parents? A. On account of the disobedience of our first parents we all share in their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful.
Does it not seem strange that we should suffer for the sin of our first parents, when we had nothing to do with it? No. It happens every day that children suffer for the faults of their parents and we do not wonder at it. Let us suppose a man's father leaves him a large fortune—houses, land, and money—and that he and his children are happy in the enjoyment of their inheritance. The children are sent to the best schools, have everything they desire now, and bright hopes of happiness and prosperity in the future. But alas! their hopes are vain. The father begins to drink or gamble, and soon the great fortune is squandered. House after house is sold and dollar after dollar spent, till absolute poverty comes upon the children, and the sad condition of their home tells of their distress. Do they not suffer for the sins of their father, though they had nothing to do with them? Indeed, many families in the world suffer thus through the faults of others, and most frequently of some of their members. Could you blame the grandfather for leaving the estate? Certainly not; for it was goodness on his part that made him give. Let us apply this example. What God gave Adam was to be ours also, and he squandered and misused it because he had free will, which God could not take from him without changing his nature; for it is our free will and intelligence that make us men, distinct from and superior to all other animals. They can live, grow, feel, hear, see, etc., as we can, but the want of intelligence and free will leaves them mere brutes. Therefore, if God took away Adam's intelligence and free will, He would have made him a mere animal—though the most perfect.
When a man becomes insane or loses the use of his intelligence and free will, we place him in an asylum and take care of him as we would a tame animal, seldom allowing him to go about without being watched and guarded.
Let us take another example. Suppose I have a friend who is addicted to the excessive drinking of strong liquor, and I say to him: "If you give up that detestable habit for one year, I will make you a present of this beautiful house worth several thousand dollars. It will be yours as long as you live, and at your death you may leave it to your children. I do not owe you anything, but offer this as a free gift if you comply with my request." My friend accepts the offer on these conditions, but the very next day deliberately breaks his promise. I do not give him the house, because he did not keep his agreement; and can anyone say on that account that I am unjust or unkind to him or his children? Certainly not. Well, God acted in the same manner with Adam. He promised him Heaven, a home more beautiful than any earthly palace—the place Our Lord calls His father's house (John 14:2) and says there are many mansions, that is, dwelling places, in it. God promised this home to Adam on condition that he would observe one simple command. He had no right to Heaven, but was to receive it, according to the promise, as a free gift from God, and therefore God, who offered it conditionally, was not obliged to give it when Adam violated his part of the agreement.
The example is not a perfect one, for there is this difference in the cases between Adam and my friend: when my friend does not get the house, he sustains a loss, it is true; but he might still be my friend as he was before, and live in my house; but when Adam lost Heaven, he lost God's friendship and grace, and the loss of all grace is to be in sin. So that Adam by breaking the command was left in sin; and as all his children sustain the same loss, they too are all left in sin till they are baptized.
*46 Q. What other effects followed from the sin of our first parents? A. Our nature was corrupted by the sin of our first parents, which darkened our understanding, weakened our will, and left us a strong inclination to evil.
Our "nature was corrupted" is what I have said of the body rebelling against the soul. Our "understanding darkened." Adam knew much more without study than the most intelligent men could learn now with constant application. Before his fall he saw things clearly and understood them well, but after his sin everything had to be learned by the slow process of study. Then the "will was weakened." Before he fell he could easily resist temptation, for his will was strong. You know we sin by the will, because unless we wish to do the evil we commit no sin; and if absolutely forced by others to do wrong, we are free from the guilt as long as our will despises and protests against the action. If forced, for example, to break my neighbor's window, I have not to answer in my conscience for the unjust act, because my will did not consent. So, on every occasion on which we sin, it is the will that yields to the temptation. After Adam's sin his will became weak and less able to resist temptation; and as we are sharers in his misfortune, we find great difficulty at times in overcoming sinful inclinations. But no matter how violent the temptation or how prolonged and fierce the struggle against it, we can always be victorious if determined not to yield; for God gives us sufficient grace to resist every temptation; and if anyone should excuse his fall by saying he could not help sinning, he would be guilty of falsehood.
"A strong inclination" to do wrong—that is, unless always on our guard against it. Our Lord once cautioned His Apostles (Matt. 26:41) to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation; teaching us also by the same warning that, besides praying against our spiritual enemies, we must watch their maneuvers and be ever ready to repel their attacks.
47 Q. What is the sin called which we inherit from our first parents? A. The sin which we inherit from our first parents is called Original Sin.
*48 Q. Why is this sin called original? A. This sin is called original because it comes down to us from our first parents, and we are brought into the world with its guilt on our souls.
*49 Q. Does this corruption of our nature remain in us after Original Sin is forgiven? A. This corruption of our nature and other punishments remain in us after Original Sin is forgiven.
It remains that we may merit by overcoming its temptations; and also that we may be kept humble by remembering our former sinful and unhappy state.
50 Q. Was anyone ever preserved from Original Sin? A. The Blessed Virgin Mary, through the merits of her divine Son, was preserved free from the guilt of Original Sin, and this privilege is called her Immaculate Conception.
The Blessed Virgin was to be the Mother of the Son of God. Now it would not be proper for the Mother of God to be even for one moment the servant of the devil, or under his power. If the Blessed Virgin had been in Original Sin, she would have been in the service of the devil. Whatever disgraces a mother disgraces also her son; so Our Lord would never permit His dear Mother to be subject to the devil, and consequently He, through His merits, saved her from Original Sin. She is the only one of the whole human race who enjoys this great privilege, and it is called her "Immaculate Conception," that is, she was conceived—brought into existence by her mother—without having any spot or stain of sin upon her soul, and hence without Original Sin.
Our Lord came into the world to crush the power which the devil had exercised over men from the fall of Adam. This He did by meriting grace for them and giving them this spiritual help to withstand the devil in all his attacks upon them. As the Blessed Mother was never under the devil's power, next to God she has the greatest strength against him, and she will help us to resist him if we seek her aid. The devil himself knows her power and fears her, and if he sees her coming to our assistance will quickly fly. Never fail, then, in time of temptation to call upon our Blessed Mother; she will hear and help you and pray to God for you.
Lesson 6 ON SIN AND ITS KINDS
51 Q. Is Original Sin the only kind of sin? A. Original Sin is not the only kind of sin; there is another kind of sin which we commit ourselves, called actual sin.
Sin is first or chiefly divided into original and actual; that is, into the sin we inherit from our first parents and the sin we commit ourselves. We may commit "actual" sin in two ways; either by doing what we should not do—stealing, for example—and thus we have a sin of commission, that is, a bad act committed; or by not doing what we should do—not hearing Mass on Sunday, for example—and thus we have a sin of omission, that is, a good act omitted. So it is not enough to simply do no harm, we must also do some good. Heaven is a reward, and we must do something to merit it. Suppose a man employed a boy to do the work of his office, and when he came in the morning found that the boy had neglected the work assigned to him, and when spoken to about it simply answered: "Sir, I did no harm"; do you think he would be entitled to his wages? Of course he did not and should do no harm; but is his employer to pay him wages for that? Certainly not. In like manner, God is not going to reward us for doing no harm; but on the contrary, He will punish us if we do wrong, and give no reward unless we perform the work He has marked out for us. Neither would the office boy deserve any wages if he did only what pleases himself, and not the work assigned by his master. In the same way, God will not accept any worship or religion but the one He has revealed. He tells us Himself how He wishes to be worshipped, and our own invented methods will not please Him. Hence we see the folly of those who say that all religions are equally good, and that we can be saved by practicing any of them. We can be saved only in the one religion which God Himself has instituted, and by which He wishes to be honored. Many also foolishly believe, or say they believe, that if they are honest, sober, and the like, doing no injury to anyone, they shall be saved without the practice of any form of religious worship. But how about God's laws and commands? Are they to be despised, disregarded, and neglected entirely, without any fear of punishment? Surely not! And persons who thus think they are doing no harm are neglecting to serve God—the greatest harm they can do, and for which they will lose Heaven. God, we are told, assigned to everyone in this world a certain work to perform in a particular state of life, and this work is called "vocation." One, for instance, is to be a priest; another, a layman; one married; another single, etc. It is important for us to discover our true vocation; for if we are in the state of life to which God has called us, we shall be happy; but if we select our own work, our own state of life without consulting Him, we shall seldom be happy in it. How are we to know our vocation? Chiefly by praying to God and asking Him to make it known to us. Then if He gives us a strong inclination—constant, or nearly constant—for a certain state of life, and the ability to fulfill its duties, we may well believe that God wishes us to be in that state.
After we have begged God's assistance, we must ask our confessor's advice in the matter, and listen attentively to what the Holy Ghost inspires him to say. The signs of our vocation are, therefore, as stated: first, a strong desire, and second, an aptitude for the state to which we believe we are called. For example, a young man might be very holy, but if unable to learn, he could never be a priest. Another might be very learned and holy, but if too sickly to perform a priest's duties, he could not, or at least would not, be ordained. Another might be learned and healthy, but not virtuous, and so he could never be a priest. Aptitude, therefore, means all the qualities necessary, whether of mind, or soul, or body. The same is true for a young girl who wishes to become a religious; and the same, indeed, for any person's vocation. We should never enter a state of life to which we are not called, simply to please parents or others. Neither should we be persuaded by them to give up a state to which we are called; for we should embrace our true vocation at any sacrifice, that in it we may serve God better, and be more certain of saving our souls. Thus, parents and guardians who prevent their children from entering the state to which they are called may sin grievously by exposing them to eternal loss of salvation. Their sin is all the greater when they try to influence their children in this matter for selfish or worldly motives. As they may be selfish and prejudiced without knowing it, they too, should ask the advice of their confessor, and good persons of experience. Oh! how many children, sons and daughters, are made unhappy all the days of their life by parents or superiors forcing them into some state to which they were not called, or by keeping them from one to which they were called. This matter of your vocation rests with yourselves and Almighty God, and you are free to do what He directs without consideration for anyone.
52 Q. What is actual sin? A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.
Three ways we may sin, by "thought"—allowing our minds to dwell on sinful things; "word"—by cursing, telling lies, etc.; "deed"—by any kind of bad action. But to be sins, these thoughts, words and deeds must be willful; that is, we must fully know what we are doing, and be free in doing it. Then they must be "contrary to the law of God"; that is, violate some law He commands us to obey, whether it be a law He gave directly Himself, or through His Church. We can also violate God's law by neglecting to observe it, and thus sin, provided the neglect be willful, and the thing neglected commanded by God or by His Church.
53 Q. How many kinds of actual sin are there? A. There are two kinds of actual sin—mortal and venial.
"Mortal," that is, the sin which kills the soul. When a man receives a very severe wound, we say he is mortally wounded; that is, he will die from the wound. As breath shows there is life in the body, so grace is the life of the soul; when all the breath is out of the body, we say the man is dead. He can perform no action to help himself or others. So when all grace is out of the soul we say it is dead, because it is reduced to the condition of a dead body. It can do no action worthy of merit, such as a soul should do; that is, it can do no action that God is bound to reward—it is dead. But you will say the soul never dies. You mean it will never cease to exist; but we call it dead when it has lost all its power to do supernatural good.
"Venial" sin does not drive out all the grace; it wounds the soul, it weakens it just as slight wounds weaken the body. If it falls very frequently into venial sin, it will fall very soon into mortal sin also; for the Holy Scripture says that he that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little. (Ecclus. 19:1). A venial sin seems a little thing, but if we do not avoid it we shall by degrees fall into greater, or mortal, sin. Venial sin makes God less friendly to us and displeases Him. Now if we really love God, we will not displease Him even in the most trifling things.
54 Q. What is mortal sin? A. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.
"Grievous"—that is, very great or serious. "Against the law." If we are in doubt whether anything is sinful or not, we must ask ourselves: is it forbidden by God or His Church? and if we do not know of any law forbidding it, it cannot be a sin, at least for us.
Suppose, for example, a boy should doubt whether it is sinful or not to fly a kite. Well, is there any law of God or of His Church saying it is sinful to fly a kite? If not, then it cannot be a sin. But it might be sinful for another reason, namely, his parents or superiors might forbid it, and there is a law of God saying you must not disobey your parents or superiors. Therefore a thing not sinful in itself, that is, not directly forbidden by God or His Church, may become sinful for some other reason well known to us.
We must not, however, doubt concerning the sinfulness or lawfulness of everything we do; for that would be foolish and lead us to be scrupulous. If we doubt at all we should have some good reason for doubting, that is, for believing that the thing we are about to do is or is not forbidden. When, therefore, we have such a doubt we must seek information from those who can enlighten us on the subject, so that we may act without the danger of sinning. It is our intention that makes the act we perform sinful or not. Let me explain. Suppose during Lent a person should mistake Friday for Thursday and should eat meat—that person would not commit a real sin, because it is not a sin to eat meat on an ordinary Thursday. He would commit what we call a material sin; that is, his action would be a sin if he really knew what he was doing. On the other hand, if the person, thinking it was Friday when it was really Thursday, ate meat, knowing it to be forbidden, that person would commit a mortal sin, because he intended to do so. Therefore, if what we do is not known to be a sin while we do it, it is no sin for us and cannot become a sin afterwards. But as soon as we know or learn that what we did was wrong, it would be a sin if we did the same thing again. In the same way, everything we do thinking it to be wrong or sinful is wrong and sinful for us, though it may not be wrong for those who know better. Again, it is sinful to judge others for doing wrong, because they may not know that what they do is sinful. It would be better for us to instruct than to blame them. The best we can do, therefore, is to learn well all God's laws and the laws of His Church as they are taught in the catechism, so that we may know when we are violating them or when we are not, i.e., when we are sinning and when we are not.
*55 Q. Why is this sin called mortal? A. This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.
When the soul is sent to Hell it is dead forever, because never again will it be able to do a single meritorious act.
*56 Q. How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal? A. To make a sin mortal three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.
"Grievous matter." To steal is a sin. Now, if you steal only a pin the act of stealing in that case could not be a mortal sin, because the "matter," namely, the stealing of an ordinary pin, is not grievous. But suppose it was a diamond pin of great value, then it would surely be "grievous matter." "Sufficient reflection," that is, you must know what you are doing at the time you do it. For example, suppose while you stole the diamond pin you thought you were stealing a pin with a small piece of glass, of little value, you would not have sufficient reflection and would not commit a mortal sin till you found out that what you had stolen was a valuable diamond; if you continued to keep it after learning your mistake, you would surely commit a mortal sin. "Full consent." Suppose you were shooting at a target and accidentally killed a man: you would not have the sin of murder, because you did not will or wish to kill a man.
Therefore three things are necessary that your act may be a mortal sin: (1) The act you do must be bad, and sufficiently important; (2) You must reflect that you are doing it, and know that it is wrong; (3) You must do it freely, deliberately, and willfully.
57 Q. What is venial sin? A. Venial sin is a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance, or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.
"Slight," that is, a small offense or fault; called "venial," not because it is not a sin, but because God pardons it more willingly or easily than He does a mortal sin. "Less importance," like stealing an ordinary, common pin. "Great importance," like stealing a diamond pin. Without "reflection" or "consent," when you did not know it was a diamond and did not intend to steal a diamond.
*58 Q. Which are the effects of venial sin? A. The effects of venial sin are the lessening of the love of God in our heart, the making us less worthy of His help, and the weakening of the power to resist mortal sin.
"Lessening of the love," because it lessens grace, and grace increases the love of God in us. It displeases God, and though we do not offend Him very greatly, we still offend Him. "Weakening of the power to resist." If a man is wounded, it will be easier to kill him than if he is in perfect health. So mortal sin will more easily kill a soul already weakened by the wounds of venial sin.
59 Q. Which are the chief sources of sin? A. The chief sources of sin are seven: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth; and they are commonly called capital sins.
A "source" is that from which anything else comes. The source of a river is the little spring on the Mountainside where the river first begins. This little stream runs down the mountain, and as it goes along gathers strength and size from other little streams running into it. It cuts its way through the meadows, and marks the course and is the beginning of a great river, sweeping all things before it and carrying them off to the ocean. Now, if someone in the beginning had stopped up the little spring on the mountain—the first source of the river—there would have been no river in that particular place. It is just the same with sin. There is one sin that is the source, and as it goes along like the stream it gathers strength; other sins follow it and are united with it. Again: each of these "capital sins," as they are called, is like a leader or a captain in an army, with so many others under him and following him. Now, if you take away the head, the other members of the body will perish; so if you destroy the capital sin, the other sins that follow it will disappear also. Very few persons have all the capital sins: some are guilty of one of them, some of two, some of three, but few if any are guilty of them all. The one we are guilty of, and which is the cause of all our other sins, is called our predominant sin or our ruling passion. We should try to find it out, and labor to overcome it.
Every one of these capital sins has a great many other sins following it.
"Pride" is an inordinate self-esteem. Pride comes under the First Commandment; because by thinking too much of ourselves we neglect God, and give to ourselves the honor due to Him. Of what have we to be proud? Of our personal appearance? Disease may efface in one night every trace of beauty. Of our clothing? It is not ours; we have not produced it; most of it is taken from the lower animals—wool from the sheep, leather from the ox, feathers from the bird, etc. Are we proud of our wealth, money or property? These may be stolen or destroyed by fire. The learned may become insane, and so we have nothing to be proud of but our good works. All that we have is from God, and we can have it only as long as He wishes. We had nothing coming into the world, and we leave it with nothing but the shroud in which we are buried; and even this does not go with the soul, but remains with the body to rot in the earth. Soon after death our bodies become so offensive that even our dearest friends hasten to place them under ground, where they become the food of worms, a mass of corruption loathsome to sight and smell. Why, then, should we be so proud of this body, and commit so much sin for it, pamper it with every delicacy, only to be the food of worms? This does not mean, however, that we are not to keep our bodies clean, and take good care of them. We are bound to do so, and could not neglect it without committing sin. The one thing to be avoided is taking too much care of them, and neglecting our soul and God on their account. The followers of pride are: conceit, hypocrisy, foolish display in dress or conduct, harshness to others, waste of time on ourselves, etc.
"Covetousness," the same as avarice, greed, etc., is an inordinate desire for worldly goods. "Inordinate," because it is not avarice to prudently provide for the future either for ourselves or others. Covetousness comes under the Tenth Commandment, and is forbidden by it. We must be content with what we have or can get honestly. The followers of covetousness are: Want of charity, dishonest dealing, theft, etc.
"Lust" is the desire for sins of the flesh; for impure thoughts, words, or actions. It comes under the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, and includes all that is forbidden by those Commandments. It is the habit of always violating, or of desiring to violate, the Sixth and Ninth Commandments. Lust and impurity mean the same thing. The followers of lust are, generally, neglect of prayer, neglect of the Sacraments, and final loss of faith.
"Anger" comes under the Fifth Commandment. It is followed by hatred, the desire of revenge, etc.
"Gluttony" is the sin of eating or drinking too much. With regard to eating, it is committed by eating too often; by being too particular about what we eat, by being too extravagant in always looking for the most costly things, that we think others cannot have. With regard to drinking, it is generally committed by taking too much of intoxicating liquors. The drunkard is a glutton and commits the sin of gluttony every time he becomes intoxicated. Gluttony, especially in drink, comes in a manner under the First Commandment, because by depriving ourselves of our reason we cannot give God the honor and respect which is His due. Think of how many sins the drunkard commits. He becomes intoxicated, which in itself is a sin. He deprives himself of the use of reason, abuses God's great gift, and becomes like a brute beast. Indeed in a way he becomes worse than a beast; for beasts always follow the laws that God has given to their nature, and never drink to excess. They obey God, and man is the only one of God's creatures that does not always keep His laws. Think too of the number of insane persons confined in asylums, who would give all in this world for the use of their reason, if they could only understand their miserable condition. Yet the drunkard abuses the gift that would make these poor unfortunate lunatics happy. Again, the drunkard injures his health and thus violates the Fifth Commandment by committing a kind of slow suicide. He loses self-respect, makes use of sinful language; frequently neglects Mass and all his religious duties, exposes himself to the danger of death while in a state of sin, gives scandal to his family and neighbors, and by his bad example causes some to leave or remain out of the true Church. By continued intemperance, he may become insane and remain in that condition till death puts an end to his career and he goes unprepared before the judgment seat of God. Besides all this he squanders the money he should put to a better use and turns God's gifts into a means of offending Him. If a father, he neglects the children and wife for whom he has promised to provide; leaves them cold and hungry while he commits sin with the means that would make them comfortable. Drunkenness therefore is a sin accompanied by many deplorable evils. There are three great sins you should always be on your guard against during your whole lives, namely, drunkenness, dishonesty, and impurity. If you avoid these you will almost surely avoid all other sins; for nearly all sins can be traced back to these three. They are the most dangerous, first, because they have most followers, and secondly, because they grow upon us almost without our knowing it. The drunkard begins perhaps as a boy by taking a little, even very little; the second time he takes a little more; the next time still more, then he begins to be fond of strong drink and can scarcely do without it; finally he becomes the slave of intemperance and sells his soul and body for it. The passions of dishonesty and impurity grow by degrees in the same manner. Therefore avoid them in the beginning and resist them while they are under your power. If you find yourself inclined to any of these sins in your youth, stop them at once.
"Envy" is the desire to see another meet with misfortune that we may be benefited by it. We are glad when he does not succeed in his business, we are sorry when anyone speaks well of him, etc. Envy comes under the Eighth Commandment.
"Sloth" is committed when we idle our time, and are lazy; when we are indifferent about serving God; when we do anything slowly and poorly and in a way that shows we would rather not do it. They are slothful who lie in bed late in the morning and neglect their duty. Slothful people are often untidy in their personal appearance; and they are nearly always in misery and want, unless somebody else takes care of them. Sloth comes under the First Commandment, because it has reference in a special manner to the way in which we serve God. How, then, shall we best destroy sin in our souls? By finding out our chief capital sin and rooting it out. If a strong oak tree is deeply rooted in the ground, how will you best destroy its life? By cutting off the branches? No. For with each returning spring new branches will grow. How then? By cutting the root and then the great oak with all its branches will die. In the same way our capital sin is the root, and as long as we leave it in our souls other sins will grow out of it. While we are trying to destroy our sins without touching our capital sin—our chief sin—we are only cutting off branches that will grow again. Indeed a great many people are only cutting off branches all the time and that is why they are not benefited as much as they could be by the prayers they say, Masses they hear, Sacraments they receive, and sermons they listen to. But do not imagine that because you are not becoming better, when you pray, hear Mass, and receive the Sacraments, you are doing no good at all. That would be a great mistake, and just such a thing as the devil would suggest to make persons give up their devotions. What is the use, he might say, of your trying to be good? You are just as bad as you were a year ago. Do not listen to that temptation. Were it not for your prayers and your reception of the Sacraments, you would become a great deal worse than you are. Suppose a man is rowing on the river against a very strong tide. He is rowing as hard as he can and yet he is not advancing one foot up the stream. Is he doing nothing therefore? Ah! he is doing a great deal: he is preventing himself from being carried with the current out into the ocean. He is keeping himself where he is till the force of the tide diminishes, and then he can advance. So they who are trying to be good are struggling against the strong tide of temptation. If they cease to struggle against it, they will be carried out into the great ocean of sin and lost forever. Someday the temptation will grow weaker and then they will be able to advance towards Heaven. We feel temptations most when we are trying to resist them and lead good lives, because we are working against our evil inclinations—the strong tide of our passions. We have no trouble going with them.
Lesson 7 ON THE INCARNATION AND REDEMPTION
"Incarnation" means to take flesh, as a body. Here it means Our Lord's taking flesh, that is, taking a body like ours, when He became man. "Redemption" means to buy back. Let us take an example. Slaves are men or women that belong entirely to their masters, just as horses, cows, or other animals do. Slaves are bought and sold, never receive any wages for their work, get their food and clothing and no more. As they never earn money for themselves, they can never purchase their own liberty. If ever they are to be free, someone else must procure their liberty. Now, suppose I am in some country where slavery exists. I am free, but I want one hundred dollars; so I go to a slave owner and say: I want to sell myself for one hundred dollars. He buys me and I soon squander the one hundred dollars. Now I am his property, his slave; I shall never earn any wages and shall never be able to buy my freedom. No other slave can help me, for he is just in the same condition as I myself am. If I am to be free, a free man who has the money must pay for my liberty. This is exactly the condition in which all men were before Our Lord redeemed them. Adam sold himself and all his children to the devil by committing sin. He and they therefore became slaves. They could not earn any spiritual wages, that is, grace of God to purchase their liberty; and as all men were slaves one could not help another in this matter. Then Our Lord Himself came and purchased our freedom. He bought us back again, and the price He paid was His own life and blood given up upon the Cross. In His goodness, He did more than redeem us; He gave us also the means of redeeming ourselves in case we should ever have the misfortune of falling again into the slavery of the devil—into sin. He left us the Sacrament of Penance to which we can go as to a bank, and draw out enough of Our Lord's grace—merited for us and deposited in the power of His Church—to purchase our redemption from sin.
60 Q. Did God abandon man after he fell into sin? A. God did not abandon man after he fell into sin, but promised him a Redeemer, who was to satisfy for man's sin and reopen to him the gates of Heaven.
"Abandon" means to leave to one's self. Adam and his posterity were slaves, but God took pity on them. He did not leave them to themselves, but promised to help them.
"Gates of Heaven." Heaven has no gates, because it is not built of material—of stone, or iron, or wood. It is only our way of speaking; just as we say "hand of God," although He has no hands. Heaven is the magnificent home God has prepared for us, and its gates are His power by which He keeps us out or lets us in as He pleases. Our Lord, therefore, obtained admittance for us.
61 Q. Who is the Redeemer? A. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind.
62 Q. What do you believe of Jesus Christ? A. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God and true man.
"True God." He was true God equal to His Father from all eternity. He became man when He came upon the earth about 2,000 years ago, and was born on Christmas Day. Now He is in Heaven as God and man. Therefore, He was God always, but man only from the time of His Incarnation.
*63 Q. Why is Jesus Christ true God? A. Jesus Christ is true God because He is the true and only Son of God the Father.
God the Father, first Person of the Blessed Trinity, is His real Father, and St. Joseph was His foster-father, selected by the Heavenly Father to take care of Our Lord and watch over Him while on earth. A foster-father is not the same as a stepfather. A stepfather is a second father that one gets when his real father dies. A foster-father is one who takes a person, whether a relative or a stranger, and adopts him as his son. It was a very great honor for St. Joseph to be selected from among all men to take care of the Son of God; to carry in his arms the great One of whom the prophets spoke; the One for whom the whole world longed during so many thousand years; so that next to our Blessed Mother St. Joseph deserves our greatest honor.
*64 Q. Why is Jesus Christ true man? A. Jesus Christ is true man because He is the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has a body and soul like ours.
He has all that we have by nature, but not the things we have acquired such as deformities, imperfections, and the like. Everything in Our Lord was perfect. Above all, He had no sin of any kind; nor even inclination to sin. He could be hungry, as He was when He fasted forty days in the desert. (Matt. 4:2). He was thirsty, as He said on the Cross. (John 19:28). He could be wearied; as we read in the Holy Scripture (John 4:6) that He sat down by a well to rest, while His disciples went into the city to buy food. All these sufferings come from our very nature. We say a thing comes from our very nature when everybody has it. Now, everyone in the world may at times be hungry, thirsty, or tired; but everybody in the world need not have a toothache or headache, because such things are not common to human nature, but due to some defect in our body; and such defects Our Lord did not have, because He was a perfect man. Therefore, Our Lord had a body like ours, not as it usually is with defects, but as it should be, perfect in all things that belong to its nature, as Adam's was before he sinned.
*65 Q. How many natures are there in Jesus Christ? A. In Jesus Christ there are two natures: the nature of God and the nature of man.
He was perfect God and perfect man. His human nature was under the full power of His divine nature, and could not do anything contrary to His divine will. You cannot understand how there can be two natures and two wills in one person, because it is another of the great mysteries; but you must believe it, just as you believe there are three Persons in one God, though you do not understand it. Those who learn theology and study a great deal may understand it better than you, but never fully. It will be enough, therefore, for you to remember and believe that there are two natures—the divine nature and the human nature—in the one person of Our Lord.
*66 Q. Is Jesus Christ more than one person? A. No, Jesus Christ is but one Divine Person.
"But one," so that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, the Messias, Christ, Jesus, Our Lord, Our Saviour, Our Redeemer, etc., are all names for the one Person; and, besides these, there are many other names given to Our Lord in the Holy Scripture, both in the Old and the New Testaments.
*67 Q. Was Jesus Christ always God? A. Jesus Christ was always God, as He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, equal to His Father from all eternity.
*68 Q. Was Jesus Christ always man? A. Jesus Christ was not always man, but became man at the time of His Incarnation.
69 Q. What do you mean by the Incarnation? A. By the Incarnation I mean that the Son of God was made man.
70 Q. How was the Son of God made man? A. The Son of God was conceived and made man by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
*71 Q. Is the Blessed Virgin Mary truly the Mother of God? A. The Blessed Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God, because the same Divine Person who is the Son of God is also the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
*72 Q. Did the Son of God become man immediately after the sin of our first parents? A. The Son of God did not become man immediately after the sin of our first parents, but He was promised to them as a Redeemer.
God did not say to Adam when He would send the Redeemer, and so the Redeemer did not come for about 4,000 years after He was first promised. God permitted this long time to elapse in order that mankind might feel and know how great an evil sin is, and what misery it brought upon the world. During these 4,000 years men were becoming gradually worse. At one time—about 1,600 years after Adam's sin—they became so bad that God destroyed by a deluge, or great flood of water, all persons and living things upon the earth, except Noe, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and the animals they had in the ark with them. (Gen. 6). Let me now give you more particulars about this terrible punishment. After God determined to destroy all living things on account of the wickedness of men, He told Noe, who was a good man, to build a great ark, or ship, for himself and his family, and for some of all the living creatures upon the earth. (Gen. 6). When the ark was ready, Noe and his family went into it, and the animals that were to be saved came by God's power, and two by two were taken into the ark. Besides the two of each kind of animals, Noe was required to take with him five more of each kind of clean animals. Clean animals were certain animals which, according to God's law, could be offered in sacrifice or eaten; they were such animals as the ox, the sheep, the goat, etc. Therefore, seven of each of the clean animals, and two of each of the other kinds. Why did He have seven clean animals? Two were to be set free upon the dry earth with the other animals, and the other five were for food and sacrifice. Noe spent a hundred years in making the ark. At that time men lived much longer than they do now. Adam lived over 900 years and Mathusala, the oldest man, lived to be 969 years old. There are many reasons why men live a shorter time now than then. When the door of the ark was closed, God sent a great rain that lasted for forty days and forty nights. All the springs of water broke forth, and all the rivers and lakes overflowed their banks. Men ran here and there to high places, while the water rose higher and higher till it covered the tops of the mountains, and all not in the ark were drowned. The big ark floated about for about a year; for although it stopped raining after forty days, just think of the quantity of water that must have fallen! Think of the rain what would fall during the whole of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—forty days. It took a long time, therefore, for the waters to go down and finally disappear. When the waters began to go down, Noe, wishing to know if any land was as yet above the water, opened the little window, and sent out a raven or crow over the waters. The raven did not come back, because it is a bird that eats flesh, and it found plenty of dead bodies to feed upon. Then Noe sent out a dove, and the dove came back with the bough of an olive tree in its mouth. From this Noe knew that the earth was becoming dry again. After some days, the ark rested on the top of a mountain named Ararat. When all the waters had dried up, Noe and his family and all the animals passed out of the ark. He offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and he and his family settled once more upon the earth. For a while, the descendants of Noe were good, but when they became numerous they soon forgot the deluge and its punishments, and became very wicked. Many forgot the true God altogether, and began to worship the sun, moon, and stars. Some worshipped animals, and others idols of wood or stone. They offered up human victims and committed all kinds of sins most displeasing to God. Many were in slavery; masters were cruel; and things were becoming daily worse, till just before the coming of Our Lord the world was in a terrible condition of misery and sin. The lawmakers tried to remedy these evils by their laws, and the teachers and professors by their teaching; but all was of no avail. God Himself must save the world.
God gave many promises of the Redeemer. The first one was given in the garden to our first parents. God said (Gen. 3:15) to the serpent: I will put enmities, that is hatred, between thee and the woman; that is, between the devil and the Blessed Virgin—whom the holy writers call the second Eve; because as the first Eve caused our fall, the second Eve helped us to rise again. I will put also a great hatred between the devil and your Redeemer. The next promise of the Redeemer was made to Abraham. (Gen. 15). Another was made to Isaac, and another to Jacob; and later these promises were frequently renewed through the prophets; so that during the four thousand years God encouraged the good people, by promising from time to time the Redeemer.
Some of the prophets foretold to what family He would belong, and when He would be born, and when and what He would suffer, and how He would die. They also foretold signs or things that would come to pass just before the advent or coming of the Messias (Gen. 49:10); so that when the people saw these things coming to pass, they could know that the time of the Messias was at hand. Thus when Our Lord came, the whole world was waiting and looking for the promised Redeemer, because the signs foretold had appeared or were taking place. But the majority did not recognize Our Lord when He came, on account of the quiet, humble, and poor way in which He came. They were expecting to see the Redeemer come as a great and powerful king, with mighty armies conquering the world; and in this they were mistaken. If they had studied the Holy Scriptures they would have learned how He was to come—poor and humble.
*73 Q. How could they be saved who lived before the Son of God became man? A. They who lived before the Son of God became man could be saved by believing in the Redeemer to come, and by keeping the Commandments.
We have seen that God promised the Redeemer during four thousand years. Now, those who believed these promises and kept all God's Commandments, and observed all His laws as they knew them, could be saved. They could not, it is true, enter into Heaven after their death, but they could wait in Limbo without suffering till Our Lord opened Heaven for them. They were saved only through the merits of Our Lord. And how could this be when Our Lord was not yet born? Do you know what a promissory note is? It is this. When a man is not able to pay his debts just now but will be able afterwards, he gives those to whom he owes the money a promissory note, that is, a written promise that he will pay at a certain time. Now, those who died before Our Lord was born had the Holy Scripture promising that Christ would pay for them and for their sins when He would come. So God saved them on account of this promise and kept them free from suffering till Our Lord came. If any died when they were little infants, their parents answered for them as godfathers and godmothers do now for infants at Baptism.
74 Q. On what day was the Son of God conceived and made man? A. The Son of God was conceived and made man on Annunciation Day—the day on which the Angel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God.
"Annunciation Day" is the 25th of March. You can easily remember that feast. Everybody knows that St. Patrick's Day is on the 17th of March, and therefore eight days after it comes Annunciation day. There is another feast coming in between them, the feast of St. Joseph, on the 19th of March. Therefore it is easy to remember these three feasts coming all in March and almost together. Annunciation is the name given to that day after the angel came, but it was not called so before. Annunciation means to tell or make known, and this is the day the angel made known to the Blessed Virgin that she was selected for the high office of Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin was expecting the Messias, and was probably praying for His speedy arrival, as were the rest of her people, when suddenly the angel came and said: Hail, full of grace. (See Hail Mary Expl.).
75 Q. On what day was Christ born? A. Christ was born on Christmas Day in a stable at Bethlehem, over nineteen hundred years ago.
"Christmas Day" is the 25th of December, one week before the New Year. It is called Christmas Day since the time Our Lord was born, over nineteen hundred years ago. "In a stable at Bethlehem." The story of Our Lord's birth is in every way a very sad one. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph lived in Palestine—called also the Holy Land since Our Lord lived there. Palestine was the country where God's people, the Jews, lived, and at the time we are speaking of, it was under the power of the Roman Emperor, who had his soldiers and governor there. He wished to find out how many people were there, and so he ordered a census or count of the people to be made. (Luke 2). We take the census very differently now from what they did then. We in the United States, by order of the government, send men around from house to house to write down the names; but in Palestine, when they wanted the number of the people, everyone, no matter where he lived, had to go to the city or town where his forefathers had lived and there register his name with all the others who belonged to the same tribe or family. Now, the forefathers of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin belonged to the little town of Bethlehem (Luke 2); so they had to leave Nazareth where they were then living and go to Bethlehem. This was shortly before Christmas. When they got to Bethlehem, they found the place crowded with people who also came to enroll their names. They went to the inn or hotel to seek for lodging for the night. The hotels there were not like ours. They were simply large buildings with small rooms and no furniture; they were called caravansaries. A man was in charge of the building, and by paying him something persons were allowed the use of a room. No food was sold there, so travelers had to do their cooking at home and bring whatever they needed with them. When the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph went to the inn they found all the rooms occupied. Then they went up and down the streets looking for some house where they might stay. Nobody would take them in, because St. Joseph was old and poor and had no money, or little, to give. They were refused at every door, a very sad thing indeed. What were they to do? It was growing dark, and the lights most likely were being lighted here and there in the houses. The old towns were not built as ours are, with houses on the outskirts growing fewer as we advance into the country. They were surrounded by great walls to keep out their enemies. There were several large gates in these walls, through which the people entered or left the city. At night these gates were closed and guarded. Nearly all the people lived within the walls and the country was lonely and almost deserted. Only shepherds were to be found in the country, and they lived in tents, which they carried about from place to place, as soldiers do in time of war. Such was the country about Bethlehem. As St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin could not find anyplace to stay in the town they were forced to go into the country. They must have suffered also from fear because the country was infested with wolves and wild dogs, so fierce that they sometimes came into the towns and attacked the people in the streets. Besides, many robbers were wandering about waiting for victims. Palestine is a hilly country and there were on the sides of some of the hills large caves in which these robbers frequently took refuge or divided their spoils. Because the shepherds at times, especially in bad weather, brought their animals into these caves, they are often called stables. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph found, we are told, one of these cold, dark places, went into it for the night, and there Our Lord was born.
It was the month of December and must have been quite cold, so the little Infant Jesus must have suffered greatly from the cold. If it had been a stable such as we see in our days it would have been bad enough; but think of this cold, dark, miserable cave, and yet it was Our Lord, the King of Heaven and earth, who was born there. There are few people so poor that they have to live in a cave. What wonderful humility, then, on the part of Our Lord. He could have been born, if He wished, in the grandest palace man could construct and have had thousands of angels to bring Him whatever He needed, for they are His servants in Heaven. But Our Lord became so humble to teach us. What impression should this make on those who are too fond of dress and too vain about their homes.
It was foretold by the prophets that Our Lord would be born in Bethlehem, and when the time was near at hand His parents were living in Nazareth; then the Roman Emperor gave the decree that the census be taken, which obliged Our Lord's parents to go to Bethlehem, and thus Our Lord was born there, and the words of the prophets fulfilled. See how God moves the whole world, if necessary, to accomplish what He desires. But how naturally He does everything. Nobody knew—not even the Roman Emperor himself—that he was giving an edict to fulfill the prophecies and the promises of God. So, at times, people do many things to carry out the designs of God, though they know it not. We should never complain therefore to do unwillingly whatever work we have to perform, because it may be something that God wishes us to do for some very special end. If you look back upon your lives, you can see that God guided and directed you upon many occasions.
*76 Q. How long did Christ live on earth? A. Christ lived on earth about thirty-three years, and led a most holy life in poverty and suffering.
The life of Our Lord was spent in the following manner. At the time Our Lord was born in Bethlehem wise men or kings, called Magi, came from the East—perhaps from Persia or Arabia—to adore Him. They saw a strange star, and leaving their own country came to Palestine. When they came as far as Jerusalem, they went to King Herod and asked him where the young King was born. Herod was troubled, for he was afraid the new King would deprive him of his throne. He called together all the priests and asked them about this royal child. They told him and the Magi that, according to the prophecies, the Saviour should be born in Bethlehem. The Wise Men saw the star once more, and followed it to Bethlehem, where it stood over the stable in which Our Lord lay. They entered, and adored the Infant Jesus, and offered Him presents. Now, Herod told them to come back after they had found the newborn King, and tell him where He was, that he too might go and adore Him. But such was not Herod's real intention. He wished not to adore but to kill Him. See, then, how the wicked pretend at times to do good, that they may deceive us and lead us astray. Be always on your guard against a person if you suspect his goodness. But Herod could not deceive God, who, knowing his heart, warned the Wise Men not to return to Herod, but to go back to their own country by another way, which they did. We celebrate the day on which the Wise Men adored the Infant Jesus on the feast of the Epiphany (six days after New Year's Day). When the Magi did not return, Herod knew that they had avoided him. He was very angry indeed, and in order to be sure of killing the poor little Infant Jesus, he had all the infants or children in or near Bethlehem who were not over two years old put to death. We honor these first little martyrs who suffered for Christ on the feast of Holy Innocents—three days after Christmas.
After the departure of the Wise Men, God sent an angel to St. Joseph warning him of Herod's evil designs, and telling him to fly with Jesus and Mary into Egypt. Then St. Joseph, with the Blessed Virgin and the Infant, set out for Egypt. St. Joseph did not ask the angel how long he would have to stay there; nor did he ask to be allowed to wait till morning. He obeyed promptly; he arose in the night, and started at once. What an example of obedience for us! They must have had many hardships on the way. They must have suffered much from hunger, cold, and fear. They dare not go on the best roads, for we may well suppose that Herod had his spies out watching for any that might escape. So they went by the roughest roads and longest way. In Egypt they were among strangers, and how could a poor old carpenter like St. Joseph find enough work there! The Holy Family must at times have suffered greatly from want. They remained in Egypt for some time. Afterwards, when Herod died, they returned to Nazareth. (Matt. 2).
At twelve years of age Our Lord went to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer sacrifice with His parents. (Luke 2:42). He afterwards returned to Nazareth, and then for eighteen years—called His hidden life—we do not hear anything of Him. Most likely He worked in the carpenter shop with His foster-father, St. Joseph.
At the age of thirty (Luke 3:23), Our Lord began His public life; that is, His preaching, miracles, etc. His public life lasted a little over three years, and then He was put to death on the Cross.
*77 Q. Why did Christ live so long on earth? A. Christ lived so long on earth to show us the way to Heaven by His teaching and example.
Christ went through all the stages of life that each might have an example. He was an infant: then a child; then a young man, and finally a man. He did not become an old man to set an example to the old, because if men follow His example in their youth and manhood they will be good in old age. Youth is the all-important time to learn. If you want a tree to grow straight, you must keep it straight while it is only a little twig. You cannot straighten an old oak tree that has grown up crooked. So you must be taught to do right in your youth, that you may do the same when old. Of the hidden or private life of Our Lord we, as I have said, know nothing, except that He was obedient to His parents; for He wished to give an example also to those holy persons who lead a life hidden from the world. Some books have given stories about what Our Lord did in school, etc., but these stories are not true. The only true things we know of Our Lord are those told in the Holy Scripture, or handed down to us by the Church in her teachings, or those certainly revealed to God's saints. Remember, then, that others are taught best by example, and be careful of the example you give.
Lesson 8 ON OUR LORD'S PASSION, DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSION
The Passion, that is, the terrible sufferings of Our Lord, began after the Last Supper, and ended at His death. On Thursday evening, Our Lord sat down for the last time with His dear Apostles. He had been talking, eating, and living with them for over three years; and now He is going to take His last meal with them before His death. He told them then how He was to suffer, and that one of them was going to betray Him. They were very much troubled, for only Judas himself knew what he was about to do.
78 Q. What did Jesus Christ suffer? A. Jesus Christ suffered a bloody sweat, a cruel scourging, was crowned with thorns, and was crucified.
After the Supper, Our Lord went with His Apostles to a little country place just outside Jerusalem, and separated from it by a small stream. He told the three Apostles, Peter, James, and John, to stay near the entrance, and to watch and pray, while He Himself went further into the Garden of Olives, or Gethsemani, as this place was called, and throwing Himself upon His face, prayed long and earnestly, but the Apostles fell asleep.
We often find persons who are in great anguish or dread covered with a cold perspiration. Now, Our Lord's agony in the garden was so intense that great drops, not of sweat, but of blood, oozed from every pore, and trickled to the ground. There are three reasons given for this dreadful agony.
(1) The clear, certain knowledge of the sufferings so soon to be endured. If we were to be put to death tomorrow and knew exactly the manner of our death and the pain it would inflict, how great would be our fear! Our Lord, knowing all things, knew in every particular what He would have to undergo. Moreover, His sufferings were greater than ours could be, even if we suffered the same kind of death; because His body was most perfect, and therefore more susceptible of pain than ours. A wound in the eye, because the most sensitive and delicate part of the body, would cause us greater pain than a wound on the foot or hand. Thus, all the parts of Our Lord's body being so perfect and sensitive, we can scarcely imagine His dreadful torments, the very thought of which caused Him such agony.
(2) The sins, past, present, and future of all men. He knew all things, as we have said, and looking back upon the world He saw all the sins committed, of thought, word, and deed, from the time of Adam down to His own; and seeing all these offenses against His Father, He was very much grieved.
(3) The third reason why He grieved. He looked forward and saw how little many persons would profit by all the sufferings He was about to endure. He saw all the sins that would be committed from the time of His death down to the end of the world. He saw us also sinning with the rest. No wonder then that He suffered so much in the garden. This suffering on that night is called "Our Lord's Agony in the Garden." That night Judas, who had betrayed Him to His enemies, came with a great band of soldiers and people, with swords and clubs, to make Our Lord a prisoner. He did not try to escape, but stood waiting for them, though all His Apostles, who had promised to stay with Him, ran away. Then the soldiers led Our Lord to the house of the Chief Priest. Then they gathered the priests, and gave Him a kind of trial, and said He was guilty of death. But at that time the Jews had no power to put persons to death according to the law; so they had to send Our Lord to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, to be condemned, because they were under the power of the Romans. The Jews acted against their laws in the trial of Our Lord.
(1) They tried Him at night; and (2) they allowed Him no witnesses in His defense, but even employed false witnesses to testify against Him, and thus acted against all law and justice. Early in the morning they led Him to Pilate, who commanded that He should be scourged. Then they stripped Our Lord of His garments, fastened His hands to a low stone pillar, and there He was "scourged" by the Roman soldiers. The lashes used by the Romans were made of leather, with pieces of bone, iron, or steel fastened into it, so that every stroke would lay open the flesh. It is most likely these were the lashes used upon Our Lord till every portion of His body was bruised and bleeding, and they replaced His garments upon Him. Now, you know if you put a cloth upon a fresh wound the blood will soak into it and cause it to adhere to the mangled flesh. Our Blessed Lord's garment, thus saturated with His blood, adhered to His wounded body, and when again removed caused Him unspeakable pain. Next, the soldiers, because Our Lord had said He was a king—meaning a spiritual king—led Him into a large hall and mocked Him. They made a crown of long, sharp thorns, and forced it down upon His brow with a heavy rod or reed; every stroke driving the thorns into His head, and causing the blood to roll down His sacred face. They again took off His garments, and opened anew the painful wounds. Because kings wore purple, they put an old purple garment upon Him, and made Him a mock king, genuflecting in ridicule as they passed before Him. They struck Him in the face and spat upon Him; and yet it seems our patient Lord said not a word in complaint. Then they put His garments upon Him, and Pilate asked the people what he should do with Him, and they cried, "Crucify Him." It was then Friday morning, and probably about ten or eleven o'clock. They made a cross of heavy beams, and laying it upon His shoulders, forced Him to carry it to Calvary—the place of execution, just outside the city; for it was not allowed to execute anyone in the city. Our Lord had not eaten anything from Thursday evening, and then with all He suffered and the loss of blood, He must have been very weak at eleven o'clock on Friday morning. He was weak, and fell many times under the Cross. His suffering was increased by seeing His Blessed Mother looking at Him. When He arrived at Calvary they tore off His garments and nailed Him to the Cross, driving the rough nails through His hands and feet. It was then about twelve o'clock. From twelve to three in the afternoon Our Blessed Saviour was hanging on the Cross, with a great multitude of His enemies about Him mocking and saying cruel things. Even the two thieves that were crucified with Him reviled Him, though one of them repented and was pardoned before death. Our Lord's poor Mother and His few friends stood at a little distance witnessing all that was going on. When Our Lord was thirsty His executioners gave Him gall to drink. At three o'clock He died, and there was an earthquake and darkness, and the people were sorely afraid.
But you will ask, how could these soldiers be so cruel? They were Romans; and in those days men called gladiators used to fight with swords before the Roman Emperor and all the people—just as actors play now for the amusement of their audience. People who could enjoy such scenes as men slaying one another in deadly conflict would scarcely be moved to pity by seeing a man scourged. Again, in the early ages of the Church, during the persecutions, the Emperors used to order the Christians to be thrown to wild beasts to be torn to pieces in the presence of the people—who applauded these horrible sights. They who could see so many put to death would not mind putting one to death, even in the most terrible manner.
79 Q. On what day did Christ die? A. Christ died on Good Friday.
"Good Friday," so called since that time.
*80 Q. Why do you call that day "good" on which Christ suffered so sorrowful a death? A. We call that day good on which Christ died, because by His death He showed His great love for man, and purchased for him every blessing.
*81 Q. Where did Christ die? A. Christ died on Mount Calvary.
"Mount Calvary," a little hill just outside the city of Jerusalem. For every city they have a special prison or place where all their criminals are executed. Now, as the great Temple of God was in Jerusalem, the city itself was called the City of God, because in the Temple God spoke to the priests in the Holy of Holies. The Temple was divided into two parts: one part, something like the body of our churches, called the Holy, and the other part, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, called the Holy of Holies. It had about the same relation to the Temple as our altar and sanctuary have to our churches. The Ark of the Covenant was a box about four feet long, two and a half feet high, and two and a half feet wide, made of the finest wood, and ornamented with gold in the most beautiful manner. In it were the tables of stone, on which were written the Commandments of God; also the rod that Aaron—Moses' brother—changed into a serpent before King Pharaoh; also some of the manna with which the people were miraculously fed during their forty years' journey in the desert when they fled out of Egypt. All these things were figures of the true religion. The Ark itself was a figure of the tabernacle, and the manna of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy of Holies was hidden from the people by a veil. Only the Chief Priest was allowed into that sacred place, and but once a year. The veil—called the veil of the Temple—hiding that Holy of Holies, though the things mentioned above were no longer in it, was torn asunder when Our Lord died on the Cross (Matt. 27:51); because after His death there was no need any longer of figures; for after His death we have the tabernacle itself and the real manna, the real bread from Heaven, viz., the body of Our Lord. The veil was rent to show also that God would not remain any longer in the Temple, but would be for the future only in the Christian Church. On account of all these things, therefore, Jerusalem was called the Holy City, and no criminals were put to death in it, but were conducted to Calvary—which means the place of skulls—and were there put to death. I now call your attention to one thing. If the Jews showed such great respect and reverence for the Ark containing only figures of the Blessed Sacrament, how should we behave in the presence of the tabernacle on the altar containing the Blessed Sacrament itself!
*82 Q. How did Christ die? A. Christ was nailed to a cross and died on it, between two thieves.
"Two thieves," because they thought this would make His death more disgraceful—making Him equal to common criminals. One of these thieves, called the penitent thief, repented of his sins and received Our Lord's pardon before his death. The other thief died in his sins. Holy writers tell us that one of these thieves was saved to give poor sinners hope, and to teach them that they may save their souls at the very last moment of their lives if only they are heartily sorry for their sins and implore God's pardon for them. The other thief remained and died impenitent, that sinners may fear to put off their conversion to the hour of death, thus rashly presuming on God's mercy. Persons who willfully delay their conversion and put off their repentance to the last moment, living bad lives with the hope of dying well, may not accept the grace to repent at the last moment, but may, like the unfortunate, impenitent thief, die as they lived, in a state of sin.