On the Catholic Priesthood
Spiritual Helps to Attain and Perfect the Gift of Christian Manhood
In suggesting what may be of assistance in securing the perfection to which we are called as disciples of Christ, I do no think it necessary to refer to sinful practices and habits. I wish rather to direct attention to positive aids enabling one to live a praiseworthy and noble life in the sight of God and men.
1. And, first, we must prize above all earthly possessions the gift of Faith, and grow in the love of it day by day. That gift is the root of supernatural justification. Without Faith it is impossible to please God and win the reward which He has promised.
We learn by Faith the mysteries of religion and the over-ruling action of Divine Providence in this world. Human reason, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, can never acquire positive certitude of revealed truths without supernatural means, and hence theology (and not philosophy) is the source of true wisdom, for it is founded on the Word of God. By a lively and firm faith we conquer our spiritual enemies and surmount the obstacles to our attainment of eternal life. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, our faith" ( I John. v. ) But this precious inheritance of Faith can be lost; and it behoves us to avoid the dangers in the midst of which it may perish. We must walk with circumspection and caution, and shun the presumptuous belief that to lose it is impossible. We should never read infidel or heretical publications, or take part in any kind of non-Catholic worship, or join societies condemned by the Church, or engage in mere controversy, which has never converted anyone. But we must have a full and accurate knowledge of our religion and be able to explain clearly to honest inquirers the various articles and practices of Catholic belief. Hence, one of the most useful branches of study to which laymen can devote themselves is the Catholic doctrine, with its many interesting questions connected with Scripture, history and natural science. For the Church wishes all her children to have an intelligent knowledge of her teaching. Each one, like Sir Thomas More, Daniel O'Connell and so many men of genius and worth in the past, should be able to give a reason for the Faith that is in him and thus, while he aims at being truly religious, he will take care to show that he is, also, intellectual.
2. The peculiar temptations of young men and women spring mainly from the lustihood of the flesh, which wars against the soul. In the fight against such temptations all will be materially helped by promptitude in asking with confidence the intercession of the Mother of God, and by earnest imitation of her virtues, especially her purity. In the heat of the conflict, what need we have of her prayers and her example in this respect! "Who shall bring you forward" (these are Cardinal Newman's words), "in the narrow way if you live in the world, but the thought and patronage of Mary? What shall give you patience and endurance when you are wearied out with the length of the conflict with evil, with the unceasing necessity of precautions, with the irksomeness of observing them, with the tediousness of their repetition, with the strain upon your mind, with your forlorn and cheerless condition, but a loving communion with her? She will comfort you in your discouragements, solace you in your fatigue, raise you after your falls, reward you for your successes. She will show you her Son, your God and your all. When your spirit within you is excited, or relaxed, or depressed, when it loses its balance, when it is restless and wayward, when it is sick of what it has and hankers after what it has not, when your eye is solicited with evil and your mortal frame trembles under the shadow of the Tempter, what will bring you to yourselves, to peace and health, but the cool breath of the Immaculate and the fragrance of the Rose of Sharon? It is the boast of the Catholic religion that it has the gift of making the young heart chaste; and why is this but that it gives us Jesus Christ for our food and Mary for our nursing Mother? Fulfill this boast in yourselves; prove to the world that you are following no false teaching, vindicate the glory of your Mother Mary (whom the world blasphemes) in the very face of the world by the simplicity of your deportment, and the sanctity of your words and deeds. Go to her for the royal heart of innocence. She is the beautiful gift of God which outshines the fascinations of a bad world, and which no one ever sought in sincerity and was disappointed. " ("Discourses to Mixed Congregations.")
3. The last help which I will mention, is devoted personal love of Him who, besides being God, was the greatest, the most perfect man that ever trod this earth, even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And why should we not love Him with an everlasting love which knows not limit; He loves us, though He foresaw our sins; He love us with love that cannot change, for is is as immutable as Himself, who is God. He loves with a compassionate love, for He has taken our human natures, and He is moved with pity to see the weakness, weariness, troubles and temptations of His brethren. For us men and for our salvation the Son of God was born into this world and led a life of poverty and suffering, and preached His Gospel and founded His glorious Church, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail; for us He was condemned and scourged and crucified. He died for our iniquities, and rose from the dead for our justification, and hath ascended into Heaven, there to make intercession for us at the right hand of His Father and prepare a place, that where He is we may be also, united with Him in perfect love and bliss for endless ages. In return for His faithfulness and affection, we must be faithful, too, and fight as good soldiers of Christ for the advancement of God's Kingdom in our own hearts and as far as we have the power, in the hearts of all men. The most persuasive truth of the doctrines revealed by Him to His Church, is the virtuous lives of His followers, for actions speak louder than words. We shall pray, then, for His grace, devoutly worship Him in the Blessed Sacrament, unite with Him in the Adorable Sacrifice of the Altar, and receive Him as often as possible in Holy Communion. Thus, through His Almighty help, we shall become valiant in Faith and strong in love, and perfect in Christian Manhood, until (To Him be the praise!) the Apostle's words are verified in us, "you are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one. "