Monday, August 31, 2015


Twenty-Seventh in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain."

A name is a sign, and respect for God Himself, as prescribed by the First Commandment through faith, hope, charity, prayer and religion, naturally implies respect for the name that stands for and signifies God. Your name may, of itself, be nothing more than mere sound; but used in relation to what it represents, it is as sacred, and means as much to you, as your very person, for whatever is addressed to your name, whether of praise or blame, is intended to reach, and does effectively reach, yourself, to your honor or dishonor. You exact therefore of men, as a right, the same respect for your name as for your person; and that is what God does in the Second Commandment.

The name of God represents all that He is. He who profanes that name profanes a sacred thing, and is guilty of what is, in reality, a sacrilege. To use it with respect and piety is an act of religion which honors God. Men use and abuse this holy name, and first of all, by swearing, that is, by taking oaths.

In the early history of mankind, we are told, swearing was unknown. Men were honest, could trust each other and take each other's word. But when duplicity, fraud and deception rose out of the corrupt heart of man, when sincerity disappeared, then confidence disappeared also, no man's word was any longer good. Then it was that, in order to put an end to their differences, they called upon God by name to witness the truth of what they affirmed. They substituted God's unquestioned veracity for their own questioned veracity, and incidentally paid homage to His truth; God delivered security for man. Necessity, therefore, made man swear; oaths became a substitute for honesty.

A reverent use of the name of God, for a lawful purpose, cannot be wrong; on the contrary, it is good, being a public recognition of the greatest of God's attributes - truth. But, like all good things, it is liable to be abused. A too frequent use of the oath will easily lead to irreverence, and thence to perjury. It is against this danger, rather than against the fact itself of swearing, that Christ warns us in a text that seems at first blush to condemn the oath as evil. The common sense of mankind has always given this interpretation to the words of Christ.

An oath, therefore, is a calling upon God to witness the truth of what we say, and it means that we put our veracity on a par with His and make Him shoulder the responsibility of truthfulness.

To take an oath we must swear by God. To swear by all the saints in the calendar would not make an oath. Properly speaking, it is not even sufficient to simply say: "I swear," we must use the name of God. In this matter, we first consider the words. Do they signify a swearing, by God, either in their natural sense or in their general acceptation? Or is there an intention of giving them this signification? In conscience and before God, it is only when there is such an intention that there is a formal oath and one is held to the conditions and responsibilities thereof.

Bear in mind that we are here dealing for the moment solely with lawful swearing. There are such things as imprecation, blasphemy, and general profanity, of which there will be question later, and which have this in common with the oath, that they call on the name of God; the difference is the same that exists between bad and good, right and wrong. These must therefore be clearly distinguished from religious and legal swearing.

There is also a difference between a religious and a legal oath. The religious oath is content with searching the conscience in order to verify the sincerity or insincerity of the swearer. If one really intends to swear by God to a certain statement, and employs certain words to express his intention, he is considered religiously to have taken an oath. If he pronounces a formula that expresses an oath, without the intention of swearing, then he has sworn to nothing. He has certainly committed a sin, but there is no oath. Again, if a man does not believe in God, he cannot swear by Him; and in countries where God is repudiated, all attempts at administering oaths are vain and empty.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mixed Marriages

Fifth in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood

 Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard

The Church, in her dispensation of the Sacraments, always acts as a good and kind mother. She has regard to the weakness, as well as to the strength of her children. Her divine message is all-beautiful. The ideal which she sets before her children is a perfect ideal. She ever emphasizes this ideal even though she knows that in many cases it will not be realized. She wishes her children to conform to the ideal as nearly as possible. Consequently, she condescends to them, and where in her wisdom she finds that the weak ones cannot realize what she wishes, she allows, within certain limits, that which is less good. She knows that the Sacraments were made for men, not men for the Sacraments. She prefers, then, to administer the Sacraments with certain accidental imperfections rather than allow her children to go without the grace which the Sacraments convey. For this reason, she tolerates what are known as mixed marriages.

Strictly speaking, mixed marriages are those which take place between baptized persons, of whom one is a Catholic and the other a non-Catholic. Thus, the ceremony performed between a Catholic and a Jew would not be a mixed marriage in the sense of the word as we use it. A mixed marriage, generally speaking, is that which takes place between a Catholic and a Protestant. Now, although the Church tolerates such marriages under certain conditions, yet she ever deprecates them. They fall below her ideal. In order, then, to understand clearly why the Church looks so unfavorably on such marriages, we must keep before our minds the nature of her ideal. The bond between man and wife is as the bond between Christ and His Church.

The chief characteristic of the bond between Christ and His Church is its intense intimacy and absolute perfection. Christ, indeed, by another comparison, likens it to the substantial union between Himself and His eternal Father. Nowhere can distinctness and unity be so complete as in the bosom of the blessed Trinity. The distinctness is infinite, and thus enables the Father and the Son each to receive an infinite love. Their unity is that of one infinite substance, which enables them to communicate to each other an infinite love, a love which issues in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is a type of the union between Christ and His Church. The Church, of course, is a finite creature and incapable of giving an infinite love to Christ. Nor again is the union between Christ and the Church a substantial union. The Church and Christ do not make up together one substance. But since that union has been likened to the substantial and infinite union of the Father and the Son, we conclude that it must be of a nature far more intimate and far more perfect than we can ever hope to comprehend. And since the union of man and wife has been likened to the union of Christ and the Church, we conclude that that also must be of a nature far more intimate and far more perfect than we can ever hope to comprehend. The Sacrament of marriage is a great mystery, a shadow of the mystic union of Christ and His Church, a shadow of the eternal and substantial union of the Father and the Son in the blessed Trinity.

The first and foremost reason why the Church deprecates mixed marriages is because they spoil God's ideal. Christ came on earth to speak the mind of the eternal Father. The Church exists to speak the mind of Christ. Any suggestion of difference of thought between the Father and the Son, or between Christ and His Church, carries with it the evident mark of its own absurdity. From this absurdity, however, we may gather something of the imperfection of a marriage union in which the parties profess different faiths. The Catholic faith is the most precious treasure, the most illustrious adornment, which a man can possess. It is a possession, moreover, which is unique of its kind. It cannot combine or make terms with any other faith. If one article be changed only in the slightest degree, the whole faith is rendered vain. A marriage union, therefore, in which one party makes profession of Catholicism and the other of Protestantism cannot be but an ungraceful thing in the eyes of God.

Indeed, there are few people who do not recognize the irregularity. It is only the immediately interested couple, who, for the time being, cannot see that it is a matter of the highest importance. They are madly in love, and where it is a question of so much love, the faith must accommodate itself to circumstances. Yet, if they could only see the connection between faith and love, they would have to recognize that diversity of faith in the marriage union must eventually tell against love in the marriage union. Faith is the gift by which we believe in God and in His word. Without belief in God, we cannot love Him. Without the full acceptance of His word, we cannot follow His commands and ordinances. We cannot live in sympathy with that wonderful system of morality by which He adjusts and fosters the love between man and man.

Thus it is that the Protestant married to a Catholic cannot avail himself of the teaching and the Sacraments of the Catholic Church which might be so effectual in fostering love between man and wife. Real love is that only which has faith for its foundation. But, in the mixed marriage, the faith is all on one side. It does not flourish with that fecundity which would be present were the parties united in one and the same belief. Further, this absence of faith-informed love on the part of the non-Catholic partner must in a measure react on the Catholic partner. Grace is very powerful, but it needs a nature upon which to act. And if the faith-informed love of the Catholic partner finds no response in the non-Catholic partner, if It receives an inferior love in return, or if it discovers itself misunderstood and unappreciated, then, if it does not dwindle away, it at least fails in its possible measure of fruitfulness.

The Church has her eyes wide open to the weakness of human nature when she tolerates a mixed marriage. A mixed marriage is a real Sacrament, and all the graces of the Sacrament are capable of being conveyed through it, though these graces may often fail in their effects through the want of disposition in the non-Catholic party. The Catholic party may do his or her best, as the case may be, but as human nature is so weak, there is naturally an ever-present danger of the Catholic losing the faith. Over and above the certainty of spoiling God's ideal, there is the disadvantage of risking the loss of faith altogether.

Therefore it is that the Church, when she allows a mixed marriage, insists on the condition that the Catholic partner shall not be hindered in the practice of the faith. The non-Catholic must give an explicit promise to this effect. He may not make any contrary conditions, either before or after the marriage. Any attempt to compel or persuade the Catholic to go to a Protestant Church, to stay away from Mass, or to abstain from Confession, is a dishonorable violation of the condition and promise.

The Church, by a long experience, knows that such attempts are only too common. Sometimes they are done openly and menacingly. Oftener, perhaps, they are done quietly and in a friendly way. Numberless are the occasions when the danger creeps in. The Catholic is perhaps too late for Mass on Sunday. Then the obvious suggestion of the non-Catholic is: "Oh, well, come to our church for a change." Or it may be merely a social gathering under Protestant auspices, a bazaar, a tea party, an excursion - surely one cannot be so narrow as to object to these! There would be less danger in them for a Catholic who was out and out a Catholic, a Catholic joined to a Catholic in marriage, and generally subject to Catholic influences. But for the Catholic who is the partner of a Protestant, and who is without all those helps which an entirely Catholic family provides, these social functions are so many pitfalls. They seem harmless enough in themselves, but they lead from one thing to another, from the social to the religious. Indeed, wherever one partner is Protestant, the opportunities of perversion are as persistent in their frequency as they are subtle in kind and degree. In this, as in all other dangers, prevention is better than cure.

Foster a strong dislike for mixed marriages. Avoid company where you are likely to meet a partner of another religious persuasion. Reject the first overtures made by one who is not of your faith. Then, if circumstances have been too many or too strong for you, make up your mind at once that only by strict observance of the conditions laid down by the Church can your faith and your hope and your love be saved.

The fostering of mutual love, however, even the most perfect and most spiritual love, is not the chief end of marriage. The chief end of marriage is the begetting, and educating, of children for the kingdom of heaven. The Church, therefore, in her legislation for mixed marriages has a special care for the children that may be born of them. The child pertains to the ideal of the great Sacrament. In the mystery of the blessed Trinity, it is the united love of the Father and the Son, in the person of the Holy Ghost. In the mystery of Christ and His Church, the one is bridegroom, the other the bride, and they are united for the purpose of bringing forth children for the kingdom of heaven.

So, if the Sacrament of marriage must be true to its mystic types, it must be so ordained as to be an apt principle for the bringing forth and for the educating of children in the Catholic faith. The faith is so important for the child that its influence should be felt at the first dawn of reason, and all through those impressionable days of childhood and youth. No demonstration is needed to show that only when both father and mother are united in the faith can those early impressions be efficiently imparted. A different faith, in either one or the other, must inevitably tell on the character of the child. In the interest then of the offspring the Church looks askance on the mixed marriage.

When, however, she permits it as something less good, and for the sake of avoiding some greater evil, then she places a special condition in  favor of the children. The non-Catholic party must explicitly promise that all the children must be brought up in the Catholic religion. There must be no compromise. Oftentimes the non-Catholic party proposes to meet the Church half way, and suggests that the girls shall follow the mother while the boys follow the father. And the idea prevails in some quarters that the Church is willing to allow this. Let it be clearly made known that the Church knows nothing of such half measures. According to her law, every child of a mixed marriage must be brought up a Catholic. The soul of a boy is just as valuable as the soul of a girl, and the soul of a girl is just as valuable as the soul of a boy, for both have been bought with an infinite price. In their education, therefore, there must be no compromise. All, without exception, must be brought up in the Catholic faith.

Further, the Church has also a cure for the non-Catholic party. He has already received the Sacrament of baptism and now he receives the Sacrament of matrimony. He is a subject of the Church, albeit a rebellious subject. His rebellious state may be due to no fault of his own, and he may not recognize his rebellious state. The Church, however, recognizes it and consequently makes a special effort to win him back to her obedience. She places a third condition to a mixed marriage - the Catholic party must strive to bring about the conversion of the non-Catholic.

The condition tends to the perfection of the ideal, tends to the preservation of the faith of the Cathohc partner, tends to the preservation of the faith of the children, tends to the eternal salvation of the non-Catholic partner. The reasonableness of the condition is evident. Its application, however, seems at first sight to be fraught with considerable difficulty. How is one to know whether there is any hope of a professing Protestant becoming a Catholic? Does not the Spirit breathe where He will? Must the non-Catholic have already entered upon a course of instruction? The practice of the Church does not require the manifestation of such clear signs as suggested in the last question. But the two conditions concerning the faith of the wife and the children, if generously fulfilled, would seem to go a long way toward fulfilling the third condition. If the non-Catholic party willingly signs the declaration that his wife may have the free exercise of her religion, and that the children may be brought up Catholics, then that may be deemed sufficient grounds for hoping that he, too, may some day become a Catholic. Evidently he is not fighting against the Church. Evidently he has some good will toward it. Presumably he is not resisting grace. Under such conditions one may reasonably hope that the grace of God will some day prove effectual.

We must strive, then, to keep three things well to the front of the Catholic consciousness. First, the union of marriage is a great Sacrament, having its ideal likened to the union between the Father and the Son, and to the union between Christ and His Church. Secondly, mixed marriages are discountenanced by the Church because they spoil God's ideal, because they endanger the faith of the Catholic party, and because they endanger the faith of the children. Thirdly, they are sometimes tolerated in order to avoid greater evils, and then only on the three conditions that the Catholic shall have free exercise of religion, that all children shall be educated as Catholics, and that there shall be a reasonable hope of the Protestant becoming a Catholic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Apocalypse of St. John

Reading N°30 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

The island to which Domitian's tribunal banished the Apostle John was one of the Sporades in the Aegean Sea, the most arid and uncultivated of those islands mentioned by ancient Greek poets. A long volcanic mountain chain, its two parts connected by a narrow ridge, barely supported a few sorry orchards. The Apostle was probably obliged to labor in the mines. There it was that he learned, perhaps from some Christians who came from Miletus or Ephesus, which were only a few hours' sailing distance away, that in Asia, as at Rome, the Christians were being hunted out, despoiled, and put to death for their faith. There, too, he heard of the advance of another dread evil: heresy, which had so greatly disturbed St. Paul, was developing there in an alarming manner. The Apostle of the Gentiles had been much concerned about certain men of Asia who combined an excessive worship of the angelic powers with exaggerated painstaking in the matter of observances, feasts, abstinences, and practices of humiliation, thus lessening the part of the Savior in the work of salvation.[1] Not long before, in Galatia, the question was one of opposition between the Law and the Faith. But here we have to do with a new doctrine, cleverly arranged, with a tendency to corrupt the Christian religion in its very essence. Under the influence of certain men claiming connection with the deacon Nicolas, and calling themselves Nicolaites, the sect spread rapidly. Besides the strange mysteries of its doctrine, it possessed a particular character of immorality in its practices. St. Irenaeus speaks of the "unrestrained indulgence" which he noted among the Nicolaites,[2] and St. John remarks "the depths of Satan" that he observed therein.[3] The Apostle's presence in Ephesus had doubtless restrained them; his exile at Patmos seemed to leave them free rein.

"On the Lord's Day," i.e., a Sunday, while the soul of the exiled Apostle was afflicted at the thought of so many evils, he was taken up in spirit. He says:
I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet saying: 'What thou seest, write in a book. [...]' And being turned, I saw [...] one like to the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. [...] His voice as the sound of many waters. [...] His face was as the sun shineth in his power. And when I had seen him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying: 'Fear not. I am the first and the last, and alive, and was dead, and behold I am living for ever and ever and have the keys of death and of hell.'[4]
Revelations of this sort, "apocalypses" as they were called, were not rare at that period. Supernatural gifts or charisms were frequent in the early Church. Unfortunately, illusion and fraud were mingled in them. Thirty years earlier (AD 58), St. Paul had found so many prophets and prophetesses at Corinth that he felt the urgent need of regulating the manifestations of their noisy inspirations.[5]

The account of John's visions, written at Patmos,[6] or perhaps at Ephesus after his return from exile, was addressed directly to the seven Churches of proconsular Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Indirectly it was destined for the whole Church. A preface, often given the title of "Letter to the Seven Churches," in a tone of authority that we can feel rests on a divine mission, assigns blame and praise to each of the Christian communities. The Church of Ephesus is relaxing from its first fervor;[7] the Christians of Laodicea are lukewarm;[8] those of Sardis are spiritually dead;[9] the communities of Pergamus and Thyatira allowed themselves to be partly seduced by the Nicolaites.[10] Only the Christians of Smyrna and Philadelphia receive nothing but praise, for having courageously suffered persecution from the enemies of the faith.[11]

After this preamble, there begins a series of visions; their strange character and seeming lack of order are at first disconcerting, but their power captivates. As Bossuet writes:
All the beauties of Holy Scripture are gathered together in this book. [...] Notwithstanding its depth, the reader feels so gentle an impression and so superb a harmony of God's majesty, that it is something to ravish heaven and earth. [...] In the Gospel we see Jesus Christ as man, talking with men, humble, poor, weak, and suffering. But the Apocalypse is the Gospel of the risen Christ: He there speaks and acts as a conqueror.[12]
The purpose of the book is to encourage the Christians to whom it is addressed, to show them that the triumph of the saints is assured, that the persecuting empire will be laid low, that upon its ruins will rise up a new and glorious Jerusalem. The whole book is an invitation to the Churches to look for strength in the hope of Christ, who will return triumphantly.

This moral aim is the chief intent of the Apocalypse. But we can easily see in it a great dogmatic and liturgical inspiration also.

The doctrine of this book is especially Christological and eschatological.[13] Christ is called "Alpha and Omega," the "Prince of the kings of the earth," "He that searcheth the reins and hearts," He who has "the keys of death and of hell," the Lord God, the object of adoration for Heaven and earth.

As for this visible world, it will come to an end after frightful calamities. The devil will come forth from the abyss, will seduce nations, and will encompass the city of the saints with enemies. But God and His own will triumph. The wicked will be the everlasting prey of hell, where they will fall with the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon; whereas the just will enter into possession of Heaven. For them God will create a new Heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, where they will reign forever. The Apocalypse furnishes no additional data enabling us to fix upon the date of these catastrophes. Evidently all the figures which it gives are symbolic numbers.[14] The world must remain ignorant of a date which Christ Himself said He did not know, or was unwilling to reveal even to His most intimate confidants.

The magnificent images by which the Apocalypse represents Christ's eternal glory were destined to exercise a deep influence on the development of Christian liturgy. The slain lamb standing on the throne amid the unnumbered throng of the elect; the ancients gathered about Him, carrying cups that contain the prayers of the saints; the cry of the martyrs rising from beneath the altar; the song of thanksgiving ascending from the multitttde to God, like a "new canticle," to glorify the Lamb for having "redeemed us to God in Thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation"; the angels standing round about the ancients, who "fell down before the throne upon their faces and adored, saying: Amen"; the incense rising to the throne - all these magnificent scenes would little by little inspire the liturgical ceremonies of that "breaking of bread," which, by the addition of new rites, would become the solemn Mass, celebrated by a bishop with his priests about him, amidst the smoke of incense, before an altar bearing relics of the saints and often adorned with the very image of the Lamb of God slain for the salvation of men.[15]

These sublime visions and fervent exhortations would make a powerful impression upon the Churches of Asia. Such and such details or allusions, which have become obscure for us, no doubt were living words to the men of that time.


[1] Coloss, chapters 1 and 2.
[2] St. Irenaeus, Haereses, I, xxvi, 3.
[3] Apoc. 2:24.
[4] Apoc. 1:10-18.
[5] 1 Cor. 14:26.
[6] Harnack says: "l make profession of this heresy, which attributes the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel to one and the same author." Harnack, Chronologie, I, 675, note.
[7] Apoc. 2:4 f.
[8] Apoc. 3:15-20.
[9] Apoc. 3:1.
[10] Apoc. 2:14-20.
[11] Apoc. 2:9 f.; 3:7-10.
[12] Bousset, L'Apocalypse, preface.
[13] Here and there in the Apocalypse will be found also important indications of doctrine regarding God, the Trinity, the angels, the Church, etc.
[14] For example, the number seven, recurring all through the Apocalypse, is plainly symbolic. Besides the seven Churches, there are the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven signs, the seven vials, the seven angelic prophecies about great Babylon, the seven characters of the final triumph. (Crampon, La Sainte Bible, VII, 434.) The thousand years of peace mean simply a long period of time. The number seven everywhere indicates something accomplished and complete, and the number 666, which is the sign of the beast, indicates the unachieved, the imperfect, the evil, threefold, i. e., characterized absolutely.
[15] See Dict. d'arehéol. chrét., under the word Agneau. Cf. Olier, Cérémonies de la grand'-messe, bk. 6, chap. 2. The Office of All Saints takes its whole inspiration from the Apocalypse.


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Monday, August 24, 2015

Emergency Call: Something Creepy Afoot

The following call to 110 (the German version of 911/999) was made in Aachen, Germany. Via

  • Police: "Police Hotline."
  • Caller: "Hello, my name is [...] I'd like to report a large group of people who are walking down the street with a bullhorn. One of them recited some biblical saying, and the people were repeating the same saying. It's pretty creepy."
  • Police: "Which saying?"
  • Caller: "Something biblical, like ... that they are leaving this world ... something about a shepherd and stuff."
  • Police: "How many people are there?"
  • Caller: "Unfortunately, I couldn't tell. My husband was watching them ... wait a second ..."
  • Caller's Husband (shouting in the background): "20 people!"
  • Caller: "He says 20 people."
  • Police: "They are just walking through the area?"
  • Caller: "At the moment they haven't done anything, but it seems strange. Just in case something were to happen."
  • Police: "What, exactly, were they saying?"
  • Caller's Husband (background): "... 'holy Mary, Mother of God' ..."
  • Caller: "You know, that saying ... 'and the fruit of thy womb' ... that saying people are always repeating ... I'm not a church person."
  • Police: "That's probably a procession which is passing through the area."
  • Caller: "A what?"
  • Police: "A procession. It's nothing to be afraid of."
  • Caller: "That they are wandering around here saying these things?"
  • Police: "Yes, it's a solemn church parade. That's called a 'procession' around here."
  • Caller: "Oh, I see. I'm not familiar with that. I just thought, because they were saying these things..."
  • Police: "Right. It's a procession."


Remember, Aachen is the home of the beautiful Aachen Cathedral:

Where strange people do creepy things


Twenty-Sixth in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Spiritism as a theory, a science, a practice, a religion - or, I might add, a profitable business venture - is considered an evil thing by the Church, and by her is condemned as superstition, that is, as a false and unworthy homage to God, belittling His majesty and opposed to the Dispensation of Christ, according to which alone God can be worthily honored. This evil has many names; it includes all dabbling in the supernatural against the sanction of Church authority, and runs a whole gamut of "isms" from fake trance-mediums to downright diabolical possession.

The craft found favor with the pagans and flourished many years before the Christian era. Wondrous things were wrought by the so-called pythonic spirit; evidently outside the natural order, still more evidently not by the agency of God, and of a certainty through the secret workings of the "Old Boy" himself. It was called necromancy or the Black Art. It had attractions for the Jews and they yielded to some extent to the temptation of consulting the Python. For this reason Moses condemned the evil as an abomination. These are his words, taken from Deuteronomy:
Neither let there be found among you any one that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens; neither let there be any wizard, nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits or fortune tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things; and for these abominations He will destroy them.
The Black Art had its votaries during the Middle Ages and kept the Church busy warning the faithful against its dangers and its evils. Even so great a name as that of Albert the Great has been associated with the dark doings of the wizard, because, no doubt, of the marvelous fruits of his genius and deep learning, which the ignorant believed impossible to mere human agency. As witchcraft, it nourished during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The excesses to which it gave rise caused severe laws to be enacted against it and stringent measures were taken to suppress it. Many were put to death, sometimes after the most cruel tortures. As is usually the case, the innocent suffered with the guilty. The history of the early New England settlers makes good reading on the subject.

Some people claim that the spiritism of today is only a revival of old-time witchery and necromancy, that it is as prevalent now as it was then, perhaps more prevalent. As Fr. Lambert remarks:
Only, the witch of today, instead of going to the stake as formerly, goes about as Madam So-and-So, and is duly advertised in our enlightened press as the great and renowned seeress or clairvoyant, late from the court of the Akoorid of Swat, more recently from the Sublime Porte, where she was in consultation with the Sultan of Turkey, and more recently still from the principal courts of Europe. As her stay in the city will be brief, those who wish to know the past or future or wish to communicate with deceased friends are advised to call on her soon. Witchcraft is as prevalent as it ever was, and the witches are as real. They may not have cats on their shoulders or pointed caps, or broomsticks for quick transit, but they differ from the witches of the past only in being liberally paid instead of liberally punished.
The Church does not deny the possibility of intercourse between the living and the souls of the dead; she goes farther and admits the fact that such intercourse has taken place, pointing, as well she may, to the Scriptures themselves wherein such facts are recorded. The lives of her saints are not without proof that this world may communicate with the unknown. And this belief forms the groundwork and furnishes the basic principles of Spiritism.

Nevertheless, the Church condemns all attempts at establishing such communication between the living and the dead, or even claiming, though falsely, such intercourse. If this is done in the name of religion, she considers it an insult to God, Who thereby is trifled with and tempted to a miraculous manifestation of Himself outside the ordinary channels of revelation. As an instrument of mere human curiosity, it is criminal, since it seeks to subject Him to the beck and call of a creature. In case such practices succeed, there is the grave danger of being mislead and deceived by the evil spirit who is often permitted, as the instrument of God, to punish guilty men. When resorted to, as a means of relieving fools of their earnings, it is sacrilegious; and those who support such impious humbugs can be excused from deadly sin only on the grounds of lunacy.

Hypnotism and mesmerism differ from Spiritism in this, that their disciples account for the phenomena naturally and lay no claim to supernatural intervention. They produce a sleep in the subject, either as they claim, by the emanation of a subtile fluid from the operator's body, or by the influence of his mind over the mind of the subject. They are agreed on this point, that natural laws could explain the phenomenon, if these laws were well understood.

With this sort of a thing, as belonging to the domain of science and outside her domain, the Church has nothing whatever to do. This is a theory upon which it behooves men of science to work; they alone are competent in the premises. But without at all encroaching on their domain, the Church claims the right to pronounce upon the morality of such practices and to condemn the evils that flow therefrom. So great are these evils and dangers, when unscrupulous and ignorant persons take to experimenting, that able and reliable physicians and statesmen have advocated the prohibition by law of all such indiscriminate practices. Crimes have been committed on hypnotized persons and crimes have been committed by them. It is a dangerous power exercised by men of evil mind and a sure means to their evil ends. It is likewise detrimental to physical and moral health. Finally, he who subjects himself to such influence commits an immoral act by giving up his will, his free agency, into the hands of another. He does this willingly, for no one can be hypnotized against his will; he does it without reason or just motive. This is an evil, and to it must be added the responsibility of any evil he may be made to commit whilst under this influence. Therefore is the Church wise in condemning the indiscriminate practice of hypnotism or mesmerism; and therefore will her children be wise if they leave it alone. It is not superstition, but it is a sin against man's individual liberty over which he is constituted sole guardian, according to the use and abuse of which he will one day be judged.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Choice of Mate

Fourth in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood

 Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard

Asked by the priest what was the way of preparing for the Sacrament of matrimony, a little Irish girl naively replied: "A little courting, your reverence." The truth thereby unconsciously spoken needs to be well spread abroad in these days. Courting time is a preparation for a great Sacrament.

In speaking of this, even as of all other phases of Christian life, there is need of much common sense. On the one hand, the young people who have arrived at this interesting stage may be expected to take it seriously, but on the other hand, they must not be expected to deport themselves as if they were preparing for a funeral. Company-keeping is one of the happiest times of life, and if it is not attended with joy and brightness there is something wrong somewhere. At the outset, then, let it be known to all parents that there is nothing sinful in their grown-up children looking for partners. Let it be known to all nuns that there is nothing wrong in big children of Mary speaking to the young men of the congregation.  Let it be known to all young men and all young maidens that the affair of courtship is not something to be ashamed of. Of its nature it involves a certain amount of modesty and shyness. Still, from its earliest signs and movements, it is something which ought to be perfectly aboveboard, known to father and mother, acknowledged in the presence of the family. It is a preparation for a great Sacrament, and its verve and joy and delight can suffer no loss through being regulated by the claims of religion.

Now, although falling in love is something which ought to be controlled by reason, it is not entirely an affair of the reason. It is primarily an affair of the heart. If only such marriages took place as were the result of clear reasoning and mere reasoning from beginning to end, this would become a very dull and uninteresting world, and we might indeed have grave fears for the survival of our race.

But in addition to reason, God has given man and woman affection and love. The affection and the love have reason to guide them, but their action depends largely on their object. The light of intellect in the man cannot make a woman's face  look more beautiful. The light of intellect in a woman cannot make a man's form look more handsome. A case of real love between a man and woman is beyond adequate explanation. A man may love a woman for her good looks, for her domestic virtues, for her intellectual endowments; but the kind of love she likes best is that when he is obliged to say: "I do not know why I like you, I only know that I do."

So the problem to be solved by all young Catholics is this: How are the claims of this mysterious and inexplicable love and affection to be reconciled with the claims of stern reason and sublime religion? Let it not be supposed that these rival claims are incompatible with each other. They all come from one and the same Author, and so it is only a question of adjustment. In order to make this adjustment, then, both parents and children should know what are the rules of the Church and what are the rules of right reason. With this double guiding light, the young people may then frequent such places and cultivate such company as shall be likely to afford a fitting environment for the passion of love when it makes its appearance.

The rules of the Church come first. Marriage is a great Sacrament, and the Church, having the guardianship of all the Sacraments, claims the right to say what is the best preparation for marriage and what are the conditions under which it may be contracted. She has a right to say what conditions affect the validity, and what conditions affect the lawfulness, of the contract. The contract is the Sacrament, and, therefore, only the Church can say what impediments render the contract unlawful, and what impediments render the contract null and void. They will all be found to be eminently practical and possessed of a special aptitude to foster that pure and passionate love which the young people value so highly.

The first qualification that a Catholic would look for in a partner for life would be that the partner should also be a Catholic. Mere acquaintances feel that they have a common and lasting bond between them if they are both Catholics. This feeling must be indefinitely intensified between two who are to live together in the intimate life of holy matrimony. Indeed, the advantages of such a condition, together with the evil consequences following upon the neglect of it, need a separate treatment. It will be sufficient here to say that the Church regards the matter as of the most vital importance. The impediment is classified, with two others, under the title of " Prohibition of the Church." These two also will recommend themselves as obviously conducive to the safe-guarding of the Sacrament. The one is the proclamation of the banns, by which each party is protected against possible fraud or mistake. The other is that which requires the consent of parents. It is part of the solemn duty of parents to watch over the children in an affair of great consequence. And indeed parents, especially the mother, do watch their children most anxiously. The law of nature compels it, the law of the Church sanctions it. With reason, then, does the Church oblige children to consult their parents in the matter. Of course, cases may and do arise in which the consent of the parents is unjustly held back. Some parents out of mere selfish love dislike to lose their children, and act all regardless of the divine ordinance that for the sake of matrimony a man shall leave his father and mother. In case of dispute, however, the children will not go against the wishes of their parents without first consulting their confessor.

Again, since the Church regards marriage as a great Sacrament, she encourages her children to celebrate it with great pomp and festive joy. It happens as a rule only once in a lifetime and, therefore, is most fittingly accompanied with banquet and merry-making. All these things, however, would manifestly be out of place during times set about for the more solemn religious exercises. The Church ordains, therefore, that marriages shall be discouraged during the seasons of Advent and Lent; in Advent until the feast of the Epiphany, in Lent until Low Sunday inclusive. A marriage may, however, be permitted during these times, but it must be celebrated without any of that external display which would otherwise be so fitting on such an occasion.

A third condition for a lawful marriage is that neither party shall be engaged to any one else. There are three points of view from which a previous engagement must be regarded. It has a personal aspect, a legal aspect, and an ecclesiastical aspect.

No man of honor will enter into a new engagement until he has been formally released from any previous engagement in which he may have become involved. It would, perhaps, be needless to say that he ought not to make serious overtures to another partner until he has been released by the first; for, oftener than otherwise, it is the appearance of a new face which is the cause of dissatisfaction with the old one. A man in such a predicament owes it both to himself, to his previous partner, and to his prospective partner to arrange an honorable settlement as soon as possible. The claims of society demand that neither girl should be kept in a false position. The previous partner, too, may have legal rights to compensation for breach of promise.

Then again there is the ecclesiastical aspect of the matter. The law has recently been changed, and henceforth only those engagements hold good in ecclesiastical law which have been made in writing, signed by both parties and signed by the parish priest or ordinary, or at least two witnesses. Of course, couples may marry lawfully without such an agreement in writing, but without such an agreement the engagement will not be binding in conscience or produce any canonical effect. It would produce a legal effect and a social effect; it would hold good in the eyes of the law of the country and in the eyes of all respectable society. Nay, more, although there would be no obligation to marry, although the espousals were invalid, through want of proper formality, still those invalid espousals would render a person liable to all due restitution or damages just as if they were valid. Thus the Church protects the weaker party in two ways. First, she gives the warning and protects young people against imprudent engagements - engagements entered into without deliberation, and under circumstances when innocence and ignorance hinder the due consideration of the dignity of the Sacrament. Secondly, she obliges the guilty party to make fitting restitution for all the material loss which the innocent party may have suffered in consequence.

Another impediment, similar to that of previous betrothal, is the impedimental vows. Obviously, a vow to do one thing is a hindrance to the making of a vow to do something contrary. So rarely, however, does this impediment arise that it may be left for individual treatment. If there has been a vow of any kind, the matter should be mentioned to the confessor.

Further, there are a number of impediments which not only render a marriage unlawful and sinful, but also null and void. Let us clearly understand the difference between what is unlawful and what is invalid. If I burn down my neighbor's haystack, it is validly burnt down, for there is no haystack left; but it is unlawfully burnt down. My action is valid, but not lawful. If I shoot at my neighbor in the dark and miss him, my action is both unlawful and invalid. I have intended to take my neighbor's life, but have failed to do so.

Likewise, there may be certain attempts to get married which, on account of certain impediments, produce no effect. Such ceremonies are both unlawful and invalid. It is the duty of the priest to inquire whether there be any such impediments before he allows the celebration to take place. Most of them are so rare as not to need public treatment.

When the banns are published, the faithful are told that if they know of any impediment, either of consanguinity, affinity, or spiritual relationship, they are bound to declare the same as soon as possible. The impediment of spiritual relationship is that which arises out of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The chances of this relationship are reduced to a minimum by the custom of having a man as sponsor for the boys and a woman as sponsor for the girls.

The two great diriment impediments, therefore, which need to be carefully watched by young people are the impediments of consanguinity and affinity. Consanguinity is the connection of blood relationship; affinity is the connection of relationship by marriage. The Church excludes marriages between persons who may be related to each other within certain degrees of relationship. She thus forbids marriage between first, second, or third cousins; and also between a man and his deceased wife's sister. These are the more common cases in which difficulty arises and which need to be carefully guarded against. In some of them, of course, which are not involved in the primary law of nature the Church may grant a dispensation. Nevertheless, she regards them as evil, and only grants dispensations in order to prevent greater evils. The disastrous results of intermarriage are well known. It leads to deterioration of the race, to insanity, to physical deformity, and to a general weakening of the social bond. The Church, therefore, in setting her face against such marriages, proves herself to be the friend and guardian of the temporal, as well as of the spiritual well-being of her people.

Now, although the Church is very strict in limiting the freedom of her children whenever it is for their good, yet at the same time she leaves much to their own individual judgment. Those who look forward to a happy marriage, therefore, must avail themselves of that freedom which the Church allows, and use also their own sound judgment and common sense. In this sphere one cannot lay down hard and fast rules. What is good in England may be bad in America; what is permissible in one degree of society may be inadvisable in another. The custom of the country or of the particular sphere of Catholic society is a point which must always be considered. Nevertheless, a few general suggestions may be offered.

Character or virtue will be the first quality to be sought for in the choice of a mate. The predominant and essential virtues expected from the man are honesty and sobriety. These are especially manly virtues. In the natural order it is the sense of honor which will keep the husband faithful to his wife, and insure for her that respect, care, and protection to which she has a right. Sobriety, too, is absolutely necessary for the making of a happy home. The love may be there and the fidelity may be there, but they will be in constant peril if they are accompanied by drunkenness. And if drunkenness be a failing during the days of courtship, a reform after marriage cannot be expected. The pity of it is that girls are only too eager to find excuses for a lover addicted to this failing. "Oh, but he is as quiet as a lamb when he is sober!" The only reliable advice to give to a girl with an intemperate sweetheart is to break off the engagement at once. The predominant virtue expected from the woman is chastity. This will be measured by the care which she takes in avoiding occasions of sin. Here it is not a question of having sinned grievously, but of a constant observance of all those habits of modesty, reticence, sobriety of language and gesture, and, above all, utmost decorum in all necessary intercourse with members of the opposite sex. They are habits which can be observed and felt much more effectually than they can be described. In fact, every Catholic girl knows them, and no one is so observant of and sensitive to them as the honorable young man who comes to pay court to her.

Next, compatibility of temper must be examined. It is easy to discern. Quarrels during time of courtship may be reasonably excused from time to time. The proverb that true love never runs smoothly implies that, in the common estimation of mankind, lovers' quarrels are a part of the business of love-making among those who are not angels. But there are some lovers whose courtship seems to be one perpetual quarrel, one everlasting carping, jealous insinuation, and complaint. Obviously such a life would only be accentuated in the marriage state, and the sooner the engagement is broken off the better for both parties.

The question of health, too, ought not to be overlooked. In earlier days the Church spoke more explicitly on the matter, though now she leaves it to the parties themselves to decide. The cases in which the difficulty most frequently arises are those of insanity and consumption. As a counsel of perfection it is well in such circumstances to abstain from matrimony. But where this abstention is fraught with moral danger, then the advice of a medical expert should be sought. Parents have a duty toward their prospective offspring as well as to themselves. The science of heredity is anything but an exact science. As for consumption, the treatment of it has now been so vastly improved that very many consumptive people may now marry without serious danger either to each other or to their offspring. Those, however, who contemplate such a marriage ought always to consult a specialist previously.

The questions of age, social standing, and wealth may not be overlooked. Certainly many happy marriages have taken place between persons far removed from each other in age, fortune, and position. These, however, are exceptions rather than the rule. A young person will not naturally seek a much older one with a view to matrimony. But the cases of those hunting after a larger fortune and higher position are only too frequent. And it is these who come to grief in married life.

Lastly, there is the question of passion and personal beauty. Let it be said at once that passion is not a bad thing in itself. It is only bad when it overrides reason. Let it be said, too, that beauty of form and looks is not a thing in itself to be despised. The Church, in her office of virgins, applies to them the words of the psalmist: "With thy comeliness and thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign." So long as it is kept in due subordination to the gifts of character and virtue, then it may be prized for what it is worth. Only when opposed to the fear of God is beauty said to be vain, and form fallacious.

The great principle to be kept before one's mind, therefore, in the choice of a mate, is that the Sacrament of marriage is not a crushing or a cramping of human nature, but a perfecting and realizing of it. If limits have been placed by the law of God, by the law of the Church, by the law of reason, then those limitations of choice are the conditions of a wider and nobler freedom. If it seems hard to have one's choice limited to a partner of the same religion, remember that that law duly observed will be a safeguard against a multitude of more irksome limitations in the future. If it seems unfair to have one's choice limited to those who are not of blood relationship, remember that that law duly observed will probably mean salvation from some of the most horrible calamities which can befall the marriage state. If love seems to have limits set to it by reason, remember that those reasonable limits are the barriers which prevent love from degenerating into mere passion, and insure for it a strong and lasting endurance.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Persecution under Domitian

Reading N°29 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Domitian (AD 51-96)
About the year AD 95, the Apostle John's paternal governance of the churches of Asia was suddenly disturbed by the violent persecution of Domitian. The amazing extravagance of the last of the twelve Caesars had ruined the public treasury. There was no hope of filling the void by an increase of land-taxes or indirect taxes which already weighed so heavily on the commerce of Rome. The Emperor thought of the tax which, since the year 70, all those of Jewish birth paid their conqueror; he now extended it to those who "lived as Jews."[1] The expression was vague; it opened the way to most odious searching and inquiring. At any rate, it applied to the Christians, and perhaps had them chiefly in mind. By means of countless official informers,[2] Domitian was able to learn of the progress made by the new religion among the great Roman families. It was well known that the property of all persons condemned to death or proscribed went to the Emperor.

Many Christians refused to let themselves be taken for Jews. The separation of the two religions was by this time a fact. To pay the Jewish tax seemed to them a lie, nay, a kind of abjuration of the faith. The Emperor was angered. Who were these people, strangers to the religions officially sanctioned at Rome, who "lived as Jews," but repudiated the religion of the Jewish people? The epithets "innovators" and "atheists" were cast at them.

Inquisitorial proceedings increased. Domitian's fury was at its height when one of his informers pointed out to him, among the Judaizers and "atheists," his own cousin-german, Flavius Clemens, father of two children whom he intended for the imperial service. Flavius Clemens, the consul of that year (95), was the son of Vespasian's elder brother, Flavius Sabinus, who was prefect of Rome in the time of Nero and who in AD 64 witnessed the massacre of Christians. This Sabinus, it seems, had been deeply and painfully impressed. Tacitus relates that in Sabinus' last years his gentleness, moderation, and aversion for sanguinary contests were spoken of and even led some people of fiery temper to accuse him of cowardice.[3] Sabinus' son and daughter-in-law courageously embraced the Christian religion. It was a case of death or proscription. Flavius Clemens was executed in the very year of his consulate. Flavia Domitilla, his wife, was exiled to the island of Pandataria. Another Flavia Domitilla, their niece, was interned on the island of Pontia. The historian Dion Cassius, relating their execution, says they were condemned for the crime of "atheism."[4] Suetonius seems to allude to other executions of Christians of the highest station when he writes:
He put to death many senators, among them several exconsuls, including Civica Cerealis, at the very time when he was proconsul in Asia, Salvidienus, Ortus, Acilius Glabrio while he was in exile - these on the ground of plotting revolution [quasi molitores rerum novarum].[5]
Besides need for money and hatred of the Christian name, another feeling entered the tyrant's soul: fear. Hegesippus, as quoted by Eusebius, tells that, "like Herod, he [Domitian] was afraid of the coming of Christ,"[6] because throughout the East it was being noised abroad that the government of the world would belong to a scion of David. So he ordered a search to be made for all living descendants of that king. The grandsons of Jude, having come to Rome from the depths of Batanea, were sent back after a look at their calloused hands, which evidenced their life of manual labor. It is possible that John, so renowned for his close relations with Jesus, was summoned for the same reason. However this may be, we do know that, having come or been brought to Rome, he there was subjected to the terrible ordeal of boiling oil. We learn of this from Tertullian, who says: "The Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence sent back to his island exile."[7] The traditional site where this event is supposed to have taken place is the Latin Gate or, more exactly, the open space later occupied by the Roman gate.[8]

The Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist
Juan de Roelas (1570-1625)

The tyrant's persecution reached beyond Rome, even into Asia. The Apocalypse, written shortly after, speaks of "the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus." The angel of the Lord says to the angel of Smyrna: "I know thy tribulation," and to the angel of Pergamus: "I know thou hast not denied my faith."[9] The Acts of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch relate that "during the storms and persecutions, he diverted the danger by the firmness of his soul."[10] Pliny, writing from Bithynia in AD 111 or 112, says that certain Christians avowed to him "that they had quit their faith twenty years ago,"[11] very likely in this persecution of Domitian.


[1] Suetonius, Domitian, 12.
[2] Tacitus, History, IV, 50; Life of Agricola, 45; Pliny, Letters, I, 5; n, II; Juvenal, IV, 110-118.
[3] Tacitus, History, III, 65-75.
[4] Dio Cassius, LXVII, xiv. Cf. Suetonius, Domitian, 15. Fifty years after Clement's death, St. Justin wrote that the pagans still called the Christians "atheists". (First Apology, 6.) In the legal terminology of Rome, beginning in the second century, the word "atheist" does not, strictly speaking, signify the absolute denial of the Divinity, but rather a refusal to honor the gods of the Empire and to take part in public worship. Those were the only gods recognized by the State. Not only did it recognize them, but it incorporated their worship in the political institutions. While the sacra privata and gentilitia concerned only the family or the gens, the sacra publica were closely associated with the prosperity of the city. The State could compel participation in public worship. Such was the law of Rome. (Cf. Cicero, De legibus, II, 8-10; Livy, xxv, I.)
[5] Suetonius, Domitian, 2. Glabrio was consul in AD 61.
[6] Eusebius, H. E., III, xx, 1.
[7] Tertullian, De praescr., 36.
[8] Tillemont, Mémoires: St. John the Evangelist, art. 5.
[9] Apoc. 2:9 f., 13; 16:9-11; 20:4.
[10] Acta S. Ignatii (ed. by Funk), II, 260.
[11] Pliny, Letters, x, 96.


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Monday, August 17, 2015

Idolatry and Superstition

Twenty-Fifth in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

The first and greatest sinner against religion is the idolater, who offers God-worship to others than God. There are certain attributes that belong to God alone, certain titles that He alone has a right to bear, certain marks of veneration that are due to Him alone. To ascribe these to any being under God is an abomination, and is called idolatry.

The idols of paganism have long since been thrown down, their temples destroyed; the folly itself has fallen into disuse, and its extravagances serve only in history to point a moral or adorn a tale. Yet, in truth, idolatry is not so dead as all that, if one would take the pains to peruse a few pages of the current erotic literature wherein people see heaven in a pair of blue eyes, catch inspired words from ruby lips and adore a well trimmed chin-whisker. I would sooner, with the old-time Egyptians, adore a well-behaved cat or a toothsome cucumber than with certain modern feather-heads and gum-drop hearts, sing hymns to a shapely foot or dimpled cheek and offer incense to "divinities," godlike forms, etc. The way hearts and souls are thrown around from one to another is suggestive of the national game; while the love they bear one another is always infinite, supreme, without parallel on earth or in heaven.

No, perhaps they do not mean what they say; but that helps matters very little, for the fault lies precisely in saying what they do say; the language used is idolatrous. And a queer thing about it is that they do mean more than half of what they say. When degenerate love runs riot, it dethrones the Almighty, makes gods of clay and besots itself before them.

What is superstition and what is a superstitious practice? It is something against the virtue of religion; it sins, not by default as unbelief, but by excess. Now, to be able to say what is excessive, one must know what is right and just, one must have a measure. To attempt to qualify anything as excessive without the aid of a rule or measure is simply guesswork.

The Yankee passes for a mighty clever guesser, outpointing with ease his transatlantic cousin. Over there the sovereign guesses officially that devotion to the Mother of God is a superstitious practice. This reminds one of the overgrown farmer boy, who, when invited by his teacher to locate the center of a circle drawn on the blackboard, stood off and eyed the figure critically for a moment with a wise squint; and then said, pointing his finger to the middle or thereabouts: "I should jedge it to be about thar." He was candid enough to offer only an opinion. But how the royal guesser could be sure enough to swear it, and that officially, is what staggers plain people.

Now right reason is a rule by which to judge what is and what is not superstitious. But individual reason or private judgment and right reason are not synonyms in the English or in any other language that is human. When reasoning men disagree, right reason, as far as the debated question is concerned, is properly said to be off on a vacation, a thing uncommonly frequent in human affairs. In order, therefore that men should not be perpetually at war concerning matters that pertain to men's salvation, God established a competent authority which even simple folks with humble minds and pure hearts can find. In default of any adverse claimant, the Catholic Church must be adjudged that authority. The worship, therefore, that the Church approves as worthy of God is not, cannot be, superstition. And what is patently against reason, or, in case of doubt, what she reproves and condemns in religion is superstitious.

Leaving out of the question for the moment those species of superstition that rise to the dignity of science, to the accidental fame and wealth of humbugs and frauds, the evil embraces a host of practices that are usually the result of a too prevalent psychological malady known as softening of the brain. These poor unfortunates imagine that the Almighty, who holds the universe in the hollow of His hand, deals with His creatures in a manner that would make a full-grown man pass as a fool if he did the same. Dreams, luck-pieces, certain combinations of numbers or figures, ordinary or extraordinary events and happenings - these are the means whereby God is made to reveal to men secrets and mysteries as absurd as the means themselves. Surely God must have descended from His throne of wisdom.

Strange though it may appear, too little religion - and not too much - leads to these unholy follies. There is a religious instinct in man. True religion satisfies it fully. Quack religion, pious tomfoolery, and doctrinal ineptitude foisted upon a God-hungry people end by driving some from one folly to another in a pitiful attempt to get away from the deceptions of man and near to God. Others are led on by a sinful curiosity that outweighs their common-sense as well as their respect for God. These are the guilty ones.

It has been said that there is more superstition - that is belief and dabbling in these inane practices - today in one of our large cities than the Dark Ages ever was afflicted with. If true, it is one sign of the world's spiritual unrest, the decay of unbelief; and irreligion thus assists at its own disintegration. The Church swept the pagan world clean of superstition once; she may soon be called upon to do the work over again.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

In Assumptione Beatae Mariae Virginis

The Assumption of the Virgin
Guido Reni (1575-1642)

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Immaculatam Virginem Mariam, Filii tui Genitricem, corpore et anima ad caelestem gloriam assumpsisti: concede, quaesumus; ut ad superna semper intenti, ipsius gloriae mereamur esse consortes.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast taken up the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of Thy Son, with body and soul into heavenly glory: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may always, intent on higher things, deserve to be partakers of her glory.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Choice of State

Third in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood

 Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard

How is it that nearly the whole of the creative literature of the world has been made to center around the young girl? How is it that love stories about married people, widows, and widowers have such a prosaic savor and so often tend towards degeneracy? It is because there is something mysterious in virginity. There is a power hidden in the virgin mind which can change the destinies of men, of nations, of the race. Shall this power be divided, ministering to the procreation of body and education of soul? Or shall it renounce the carnal part and be devoted exclusively to the care of the spirit?

These questions are very old, perhaps as old as the human race itself; for there is some reason to believe that the sins of our first parents had something to do with the vow of virginity. At any rate, we know that in the earliest Roman times the problem faced the maidens of the family. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth. But family worship was not enough. A special sanctuary was needed where all the citizens of the State could worship as one great family. The goddess was there represented by an eternal fire burning on her hearth or altar. And virgins were set aside to keep alive this fire. The goddess was chaste and pure, as the fire symbolized. The virginity of the priestesses both figured and realized that purity. Thus, even in natural religion virginity was regarded as a higher type of spirit life.

When God became incarnate, He added a higher sanctity to virginity by choosing to be born of a Virgin. By the same act, too, he raised the dignity of motherhood. Both states of life were needed for the perfection of His plans. Some would be called to one state, others to the other. Christ Himself declared that renunciation of marriage was more blessed than fruition, provided it was done for the kingdom of heaven's sake. Not every one could receive that word, but he who could, let him.

St. Paul applied this doctrine when he said:
He that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well, and he that giveth her not doeth better.
In biblical language the term virgin includes men as well as women. Thus, St. John, in the Apocalypse, says:
These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins.
In modern language we speak of the men as celibates. The Council of Trent uses both words in defining that single blessedness is the higher gift:
If anyone says that the married state is to be placed before that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not a better and more blessed thing to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be joined in matrimony, let him be anathema.
The virginity or celibacy here spoken of is not necessarily that of the ecclesiastical or religious life. The Church recognizes three normal states of life: marriage, which is good; single blessedness in the world, which is better; single blessedness in religion, which is best.

This does not mean however that the single life is better for everybody, nor that the religious life is the best for everybody. These states are only good, better, and best, when regarded in themselves. If we look at them with regard to particular people, the order of good, better, and best may be reversed. Indeed, for the vast majority of people marriage is by far the best thing. The single life in the world would maim them, and perhaps life in religion would ruin them. Everything depends on the individual's circumstances, his temperament, his health, his ability, his desires, above all his graces. This, then, is the problem with which all young people are confronted: To what state of life am I called?

Let us say at the outset that the solution is love.

But what is love? Its mystic nature defies an exhaustive description. There is, however, a simple definition which may be applied to every kind of love. It is: To will good for some one. This is the essence of love, whether of father, mother, husband, wife, child, friend, or enemy. It may be accompanied by the passion of affection or by the passion of aversion. If I love my mother, affection is also present. If I love my enemy, aversion is probably present. I may feel a dislike to a man, yet at the same time will to do him good.

Further, love may be devoid, or almost devoid, of passion. I may have a love for the religious life, for instance, without having any affection for it. I may see that only by entering religion shall I be able to do the greatest good to my fellow men. Even though I have an aversion for common life and loss of liberty, yet I may see in those things my best chance of salvation and love them accordingly.

In the choice of a state of life, then, the leading question will be: Which state do I really love? Do I want to be married? Do I want to live singly in the world and devote myself to a special profession? Do I want to be a priest? Do I want to be a nun? Above all, is my desire constant, or do I waver between one thing and another, never knowing my own mind?

Marriage will be the choice of most. It is the state for which they are by nature fitted, and for them the highest and most perfect life which they can live.

In most cases, the choice is settled by a chance meeting and by the accident known as falling in love. Mutual passion for each other is the predominant attractive force. If this passion is consonant with reason and revelation, then it is all good and beautiful. If there are impediments to the proposed marriage, then the passion is out of place and must be checked. Passion cannot be good if it has for its object that which tends to the ruin of the end of marriage. But the impediments placed by God and by the Church are all arranged to protect the end of marriage, and therefore passion must never seek to override them.

The case, however, often arises in which only one of the pair feels the passion. What is the other to do? Suppose it to be the girl, and suppose her mind to be expressed by some such saying as this : "I like him, you know, but I cannot say that I am in love with him."

There is need here to distinguish between love and passion. Love is essentially an act of the will; passion is essentially a mere sensation. Let us repeat, though, that the most perfect love for married people is that in which the will is fired by passion and in which the passion is controlled by the will. But let us never forget that the lasting element in such love is that of the will. Passion burns out in time.

The girl, then, who is in every way fitted for marriage receives an offer from a young man who is in many ways suitable. She feels that she can honor and respect him, but hesitates about accepting him because she does not feel in love. If she is young and likely to have other chances, she may wait. But if she is likely to become an old maid then she may fortify herself with the philosophical distinction between love and passion. If she believes that the man will do all he can to make her happy, and she is determined to do all she can to make him happy, she will be well advised to marry him. Good will is the real stuff of which love is made, passion is but an added perfection. Moreover, the good will in such cases invariably rouses the passion before the days of courtship are ended.

On the part of the man the doubt is hardly ever as to whether he is in love or not, nor yet as to whether he is called to marriage or the Church. He usually knows quite well what he wants. He doubts only his power of fulfilling the obligations of the new state of life.

In regard to marriage, he is afraid he cannot afford to keep a wife. The number is growing of those young men who abstain from marriage in order that they may have the pleasure of trifling luxuries. They prefer to be free for the joys of cigarettes and billiards rather than undertake the burden of marriage with its greater joys. Such a choice is nothing but low, unworthy selfishness.

More important, however, is the case where the young man finds the single life a constant temptation to impurity. Then must he seriously turn his attention to marriage as to his salvation. "It is better to marry than to burn." And it is best of all to marry early, before bad habits are formed. The number of unhappy homes, caused through youthful indiscretion before marriage, is appalling. It were better, therefore, to marry, even with poverty in prospect, than to lead a single life continually tempted and perhaps continually falling.

Vocations to the celibate life usually begin to show themselves before the age adapted to marriage. Parents need to know that such a vocation is a special gift of God. Its chief sign is a spontaneous and constant desire. Two dangers are to be avoided. Parents must not force the idea of the priesthood or of the cloister on their children. Nor, on the other hand, must they suppress it when it appears. Indeed, they will be on the lookout for the signs of zeal and piety which accompany the desire, so that the vocation may have every chance of coming to maturity. It is a great privilege to be able to offer a child for the special service of God.

There is a prevalent impression in many Catholic families that there are only two callings for girls, either to get married or to become a nun. Now such is not Catholic teaching. There is an impression, too, that the single state outside marriage or religion is something lower than either. Neither is that Catholic teaching. On this point the Church is in full sympathy with the age. She sanctions and encourages a career for certain women in a life of single blessedness without the cloistral vows. And more, she provides the means in her Sacraments by which such a life is lived to its highest perfection.

I think the origin of confusion in regard to the Church's teaching comes from misunderstanding her practice as to the taking of vows. She strongly discourages the taking of any vow, and especially the vow of virginity, outside a religious order or congregation. There is not the same protection for it in the world as there is in religion. The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, and the Eucharist are all-powerful against the temptation to incontinency, but they are by no means proof against the desire for the Sacrament of matrimony. The practice of spiritual directors therefore is to recommend not a vow but a resolution.

Thus, if a girl makes a resolution to lead a single life outside religion, and afterwards receives an offer of marriage which she wants to accept, then there is no difficulty whatever in changing her resolution. Whereas, if she were under a vow she would have to make serious efforts to keep the vow, and could only be dispensed from it on the understanding that she could not possibly keep it.

If, however, this single life in the world be adopted, it must be adopted for the kingdom of heaven's sake. Nor does this mean that it must be lived in continuous contemplation, or in continuous slumming. A certain amount of contemplative prayer will be included in it, and, if one has time and opportunity, a certain amount of slumming or similar charitable work will be helpful to it. What is meant, however, is that the life shall be lived at least in a state of grace and that effort shall be made towards spiritual perfection.

The renunciation of marriage implies the power to remain chaste, and involves the duty of availing one's self of the means to do so. Religion is the only reliable help. We carry our treasure in frail vessels. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. Therefore the spirit must be continually strengthened by renewed communion with the spirit world. In marriage, the flesh is to a certain extent satisfied. In virginity and celibacy the flesh is mortified. And this mortification is sustained just in proportion as the spirit satisfies its supernatural longing for God. Regular Confession and Communion therefore are the first normal conditions of a chaste life outside the marriage state.

In the natural order, the normal condition of chastity is work. Rene Bazin, in his exquisite story, Redemption, draws a fine picture of a young milliner who made her occupation a fascinating and consoling joy. But she was an exception, and ended, moreover, by taking the nun's veil. The occupation of women in workshops does not of its nature tend to keep them good. It is drab and uninteresting. Marriage, therefore, is their hope. And if they adopt the single life, either voluntarily or in willing submission to necessity, their hope lies almost solely in the regular use of the other Sacraments.

The single life is more easily chosen by the woman of the middle and upper-middle classes. She can enter the learned professions. An expert authority has said, though the statement has been questioned, that from twenty to thirty percent of women are by temperament adapted to single life in the world. Whatever the exact percentage may be, it would seem to pertain to the normal state of a healthy society that a certain number should be free from the cares of a family so as to be able to take a more active and independent part in the social and spiritual regeneration of the community.

It is well, in these days, to insist upon this phase of the Catholic ideal. Single blessedness, thus sanctified by the Church, has a social as well as an individual value. The restraint practiced in the single life reacts generally on the whole social organism. It reacts particularly on the marriage state, strengthening it and keeping it pure. We are all members one of another. The power of self-conquest which virginity implies is bound to tell in greater or less degree on every member of society.

Let no one, then, despair of being unable to find a vocation. Those who marry do well, for, without them, neither the Church nor the world could continue. Those who marry not do better, for they sacrifice themselves for the whole spiritual kingdom, bearing fruit to the extent of many souls. If they do not choose this state spontaneously, even so they can sanctify it by using it and dlrecting it to the higher claims of the spirit.