The comfort of our religion
[One of the outcomes of today’s perceived emptiness and miseries is to direct the minds of many to God and to see that in Him alone is there any hope of their finding true meaning in life, relief and consolation.]
To these people it has become plain that there is little or nothing in this world worth living for and that all the plannings that the human mind can suggest fail by themselves to convince them of securing the lasting peace, security and happiness for which they are craving.
“What is truth?”
To those, however, who are not Catholic Christians the difficulty must present itself of where they are to find religion. They are aware of many denominations and sects, called Christian, who hold programmes of religion [or, absurdly, claiming they are not practising religion while practising their own version of religion, called “we do not practise religion”] which on many points contradict each other; and there is naturally an uneasy feeling, amounting to a conviction that they cannot all be true. In their bewilderment they may well ask with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” and if it exists, “Where is it to be found?” We may sympathise very deeply with such seekers after the truth, and if they believe in God and pray to Him for guidance we may hope that He in His mercy will lead them to it. That some of them have sought this help from God is made evident that during the late war and after it the number of converts to the Catholic Faith has markedly increased.
Praying to God for guidance
While we deplore the state of those who have rejected God altogether or retain only a vague or an agnostic idea of Him, we may indeed be grateful that there has been given to us the gift of Faith and that we are members of the one true Church that Christ founded, promising, as He did, that He, the Eternal Son of God, would be with His Church and all her members to the end of the world. As Catholics we can see more easily how that promise has been fulfilled; and this only serves to confirm us the more in the truth we hold.
Reasons for gratitude
Throughout the centuries of the Church’s history we know how she has been misrepresentated, calumniated and in may ways persecuted, how at all times the forces of evil, working both within and without her, have been in league against her, so that had she been a merely human institution she would long since have perished.
If the Church had been a merely human institution, she would long have perished
We acknowledge, too, that within her own fold there have been numerous and successive scandals, and that often the human side in her rulers as well as in her members has been more in evidence than the divine.
“I am with you till the end of time” – Jesus Christ
The fact that in spite of all that is destructive she still stands firm upon the Rock on which she was founded, and that in all ages there have been those who by the heroic sanctity of their lives have vindicated the truth of her claims – all this gives further support to our Faith. The life of any one saint alone in our own modern and critical times, such as that of St John Baptist Vianney, the holy Cure d’Ars, is enough to convince us, with the well-authenticated miracles he wrought and the marvellous spiritual good he effected in so many thousands of souls, that he with us was a member of Christ’s true Church, among whose marks, as is to be expected, is that of sanctity.
As the Church is the work of God, the infinite Designer, we must expect mysteries in His revelations, which necessarily present difficulties to our limited and finite minds; but, as Cardinal Newman [a convert to the Catholic Church] long ago wrote: “No number of difficulties can create a doubt.” Our Faith is so deep-rooted that we can rest on the words of Him who by rising from the dead proved Himself to be God: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). “He who followeth me walketh not in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). It is by God’s grace that we have this gift of faith, and it is no less by His grace that we are conscious of that guiding light that keeps us securely within the fold of His Church.
Religion is not attention to God once a week only
But if in these dark days of affliction and suffering we would find solid comfort in our religion it is not enough that we profess it: we must live it.
We talk of a painter living entirely for his art: we must live entirely for our religion. The slack or indifferent Catholic whose practice of his religion is little more than external observance of the Sunday’s obligation and an occasional and infrequent approach to the Sacraments will not understand or appreciate all the helps and consolations that the life of a fervent member of the Church can yield. Religion is not attention to God once a week only: it is something that must enter into our lives every single day and into every moment of the day. It must cover all our activities, whatever their nature, and have God as the one dominant and supreme motive for whom they are undertaken. In short, our whole life must be spiritualized and be built on a supernatural foundation. The one who has a full and firm belief in God and recognises His justly exacting claims upon him everywhere and at all times, God becomes everything to him and nobody and nothing on this earth is anything but completely subsidiary and of minor importance, occupying his attention and care only as it serves to a better and worthier service of Him his Creator.
That it is possible to reach such a high standard of living is proved not only by the canonised saints of the Church, who are found in every class and in all the varied conditions of human life, but it is made plain in the example of thousands of fervent Catholics whom, thank God, we may encounter in our midst today.
Among such souls you will find those who have not always followed the narrow way of God’s commandments. There were periods in their life when they neglected God and committed many and great sins. But there came a time when by the illuminating grace of God they saw themselves for what they were, and availing themselves of the immense help of a sincere confession they found one of the greatest comforts and consolations that their religion affords. Those of us who, like them, have led unworthy Catholic lives but who betake ourselves to the Sacrament of Penance, will find ourselves strengthened to face the distresses of the present world and to bear them patiently in the knowledge that we are expiating for the wrongdoings of the past. But greater comfort even than that is given us in the great Sacrament of the Altar, when not occasionally or weekly but every day we can receive in Holy Communion the very Lord of Heaven Himself, the Incarnate Son of God, who comes to us only to console and help us and to make the time of this weary pilgrimage on earth the easier and the more meritorious, giving us the pledge that after this brief span of life we shall see Him, not under the veiled appearances of the Sacrament, but face to face in all the glory of His heaven.
An intense love
We need not wonder that we find among the saints, like St Catherine of Siena, that the reception of the Body of Christ was their sole nutriment and miraculously preserved them in life. As our Holy Communions become more frequent and more fervent we in our turn will find how great a comfort our religion becomes and how readily we can meet, without discontent [any adversity], offering our privations to Him who deprived Himself of all things that He might give us Himself in this Sacrament of His love.
He Who deprived Himself of all things that we might live
And our Lord is always with us in the Tabernacle, awaiting our visits to listen to our prayers and to hear yen us when affliction oppresses us. Even though our work at home or elsewhere keeps us busy, is it not possible for most of us some time in the day to pay Him at least a passing visit? In any case, in the midst of work it is easy to turn to Him for a minute in recollection, to renew our intention to do everything for Him and to call down His blessing upon what we are doing.
The light of understanding
It is by acting in these ways that we bring our religion into every moment of our lives and invest it with an ever-increasing significance. And so we get nearer to God and to that supreme love of Him which surpasses all human love and proves itself by a continual sacrifice of self to the Divine will in whatever way expressed. It is then we understand and experience in its fullness the comfort of our religion.
– Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J. [titles and brackets added]