Matters of Faith
Are we bound to profess this faith openly?
It is not enough to believe in our heart the truth of the Catholic Church. We are also bound, under pain of sin, to make an open profession of our religion. To deny our faith through human respect or false shame, to blush at the truths of the Gospel and the practices of Catholic piety, to disavow before men what we believe in our hearts, is to commit a grievous sin, and to bring down on ourselves the severest chastisements of heaven, as we learn from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He has told us in plain words: “Whoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.” In every age, the Church of Christ has considered the external denial of faith a most grievous sin, and has condemned as heretics all those who declared that, under certain circumstances, the denial of faith was lawful, and has even inflicted very severe penalties on those who, during the ages of persecution, denied their faith to save their lives; for, to deny the faith externally in a matter of the greatest importance is in itself a grievous sin; it is to reject openly as a falsehood what one believes in his heart to be the truth revealed by God.
Moreover, not only is a denial of our religion either by words or signs a grievous sin; but all dissimulation, by which others may think that we have denied that faith, is, too, a great sin. At the time of St. Cyprian, there were some weak Catholics who, in order to escape persecution, procured for money an attestation from the magistrates that they had complied with what the persecuting laws required of them, though in reality they had not. On account of such dissimulation, those weak Catholics were looked upon by the Church as traitors to their religion, and as such they were not allowed to assist at Mass and receive the sacraments until, by a long and severe penance, they had endeavored to expiate their crime, and to satisfy for the scandal which they had given. No matter how firmly we may be convinced in our hearts of the truth of our “religion and Church,” if we deny it outwardly, by word, sign, or action, we can never “expect salvation while in that state.” The Holy Scriptures are clear and explicit on this point. In addition to the text quoted in the above answer, Christ says in St. Luke: “He that shall deny me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God.” (St. Luke xii, 9.) On this authority of Christ, St. Paul declares the same truth as a “faithful saying,” and commands his disciple Timothy, and in his person all the pastors of God’s Church, to preach and inculcate the same truth to their people. “A faithful saying, . . . if we deny Him, He also will deny us . . . These things admonish and testify in the Lord.” (2 Tim. ii, 11,12, 14.) From these words it evidently follows that, to deny Jesus Christ, and consequently to deny His faith or His Church, is a sin of the blackest dye, and one that, on the last day, will call down on us that dreadful sentence: “I know ye not whence ye are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” (Luke xiii, 27.)
It cannot be said that the foregoing passages from our Lord and St. Paul apply only to the denying of Christ, and not to the denial of the faith and of the Church. That the denial of faith is included in these texts, and considered the same as denying Christ, is manifest from the following express declaration of Christ himself: “He that shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also will be ashamed of him, when He shall come in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark viii, 38.) In this text it is stated in the plainest terms that to be ashamed, not only of Christ, but also of His words, that is, of His doctrine, of His religion, and consequently of His Church,–the depository of that faith,–is a mortal sin, and will entail on the soul eternal damnation. But if “to be ashamed” of Christ and his faith will damn the soul, how much more “the denying” of Christ and his faith? Nothing, therefore, should ever induce us to be guilty of so base a crime as is the betrayal of our faith. We must always be ready to lay down our lives sooner than to deny the faith of the Catholic Church.
There are two cases in which, in particular, we are obliged to make an open profession of our holy religion. These two cases are the honor and glory of God, or the spiritual welfare of our neighbor. If, for instance, a Catholic is called upon by public authority, whether just or unjust, to give an account of his religion, he should make an open profession of it; for, to be unwilling then to maintain or defend it through pride, human respect or worldly motives, that is, lest we should be contemned by others, or be laughed at by worldlings, is a great insult to Jesus Christ, a betrayal of our duty to him; is a preferring of what men may think of us to His approval, and is to be afraid of men more than of God. “Human respect and worldly motives” can never be received by God as an excuse for not making an “open profession” of our belief when we are bound to make it; for, concealing it through such unworthy motives, lest we should meet with any inconvenience, or be considered bigoted or illiberal, is a heinous sin, which God will severely punish hereafter. To be silent, when we are bound to speak out and declare our belief, is no less than to be ashamed of the faith of Christ and of the faith of our Church, and is sacrificing our duty to God to what others may say or think of us.
The honor of God, then, requires us to declare, our faith openly, and not to be ashamed of Christ nor of His words, when we are questioned about our religion before a judge or public magistrate, though such “open profession of our faith” may cost us all we have, or even our very lives. Hence all the holy martyrs, when examined before their persecuting judges, openly confessed their faith in Christ, and rejoiced, with the apostle, to suffer for His name. They suffered death itself in the midst of the most cruel torments, rather than do the smallest thing contrary to their holy faith, or even anything that had the appearance of being contrary to faith. Neither their parents, nor friends, nor love for their country, could prevail upon them to deny their religion. On those occasions they addressed their friends in words like these:
For God I die with willing heart.
I see sad tears bedim your eye–
Weep not for me! Tis sweet to live, more sweet to die!
Weep not for me! Fond hearts, farewell!
Soon shall our grief be o’er:
In heaven we’ll meet once more!
Farewell, dear land, that gave me birth,
My home, the dearest spot on earth!
Kind friends, bear home my parting sigh:
“For God to live is sweet; more sweet, more blest to die!”
Farewell, green hills, bright skies, farewell!
O scene surpassing rare!
But heaven is far more fair!
Farewell, fond mother! Bless thy child!
Farewell, dear father, good and mild.
Rejoice with me; repress each sigh,
And pray that I may falter not, may bravely die!
Farewell, fond hearts–farewell, farewell!
A crown of heavenly light
Gleams o’er me dazzling bright!
For over three hundred years the Irish people have suffered, struggled, and died for the faith. They suffered poverty with all its bitterness, they endured exile with all its sorrows, they suffered outrage and even death itself, rather than lose their God. The minions of hell enacted the fiendish penal laws, and soon that country, so rich and fruitful in colleges and convents, became one vast, dreary wilderness. In tracts of country, thirty, forty, fifty miles in extent, the smoke from an inhabited house, as English chroniclers themselves declare, was nowhere to be seen. The people had disappeared and left only skeletons in the land. The living were to be met only in the glens and dark caves of the mountains. There they dragged out a wretched existence, feeding on the weeds and garbage of the earth. Like shadows they moved about, haggard and wan, starving and wounded, and they endured the cruel pangs of hunger, till God, in His mercy, took them to a better world. Again and again were these harrowing scenes repeated. Ireland became prosperous again in spite of the most galling oppression; and the people of Ireland were again starved and massacred for their faith, and those that survived were shipped off to the British West Indies, and sold there as slaves. The British fleet was ordered around the coast. Over eighty thousand of the most influential and most distinguished of the Irish Catholics were packed on board, and their bones have long since rotted in the soil of the English sugar-plantations of Jamaica.
The last effort of tyranny is still fresh in the minds of many–I mean the late famine years. There are, no doubt, some of my readers who have witnessed the appalling scenes of that gloomy period, and, once witnessed, they can never, never be forgotten. Ah! no. Like living fire, these horrid scenes burn into the memory, and leave there a horrid scar–a mark that can never be effaced. There were thousands and thousands wasting away aud dying of hunger. They were falling and dying as the leaves fall in autumn. The food that was sent to the poor people from America was kept in the harbors until it rotted. And there, in the sight of the famishing people, the wealthy Protestant, the overfed wives and daughters of the sleek, oily Protestant parsons, had plenty of food for their cattle, they had food in abundance for their pet birds or their lapdogs, whilst the poor starving Catholics wished to even eat the husks of the swine, and it was not given them.
A few years before the gloomy reign of terror, there lived near a certain town in Ireland a poor, honest farmer with his wife and children. They were poor, indeed, but yet they were contented and happy. Never did the poor or the stranger pass their door without partaking of their hospitality; and what they had, they gave with a willing heart. But the famine year came on. The good farmer was unable to pay the tithes. His little property was distrained. The police entered his farm; they seized his unreaped corn; they took away his crops; they drove his cattle to the pound. The poor unhappy man himself was expelled from that little spot of earth on which he was born, where he had lived so long, and where he had hoped to die. He was turned into the public road with his wife and children. No roof, no food, no clothing—he was cast in beggary and nakedness into the cold, heartless world. He sought for a shelter for his little ones. He sought for employment, but could find none. He was a Catholic. His neighbors around were bitter Protestants of the blackest dye. They offered him shelter, food, and clothing, but on one condition–that he would apostatize.
But the cries of his children aroused him. He forgot for a moment his own sufferings. He took his two weak, starving babes in his trembling arms, and hurried away with tottering steps. He begged from house to house, from door to door; he begged for a crumb of bread for his poor, starving little ones, but no one gave him a morsel of food. They offered him food and clothing and shelter if he would only apostatize, if he would give his children to be brought up in their false creed. “But,” cried the heart-broken father, “oh! how could I give my children to be brought up in a false creed and deny their holy faith? Oh! how could I sell their souls to the Evil One for a mess of pottage?”
After some time the unhappy man felt a heavy load weighing like lead upon his trembling arm. He looked. One of his poor babes had ceased moaning. It was dead–cold and stiff in death. The heart-broken father sat down beneath a tree by the wayside and prayed, but he could not weep. Ah! no; his eyes were dry, his heart was withered. In wild, passionate tones he called on heaven to witness his agony–he called God to witness that he did not wish the death of his children, that he would gladly lay down his life to save his family, but he could not–oh! no! no!–he could not deny his holy faith; he could not sell their souls to the devil. He tried once more to obtain some food for his remaining child, but in vain, and at last the poor innocent sufferer gasped and died too in his arms. Ah! whose heart can remain unmoved at the sufferings of the Irish Catholics? Whose heart, at the same time, does not rejoice at their constancy in the faith?
When our neighbor’s spiritual welfare requires it, we should, too, make open profession of our religion. If, for instance, another is in danger of denying his faith unless he is publicly encouraged or instructed; or, again, when we hear wicked men railing against the Gospel or ridiculing the truths of our religion, and at the same time have wellgrounded hopes that, by defending those sacred truths, we shall check the impiety and railing of these unbelievers, and prevent others who are present from being hurt by these impious attacks on religion, it becomes then a duty to profess openly our esteem and veneration for the Gospel truths; for the edification of our neighbor and the honor of God require us to do so.
During the French Revolution a good Catholic Vendean, named Repoche, was taken prisoner by the infidel soldiers. They brought him to a place where a large cross had been erected, and said to him: “You have been taken with arms in your hands. Your life is forfeited. See! yonder is the cottage in which you were born: Your father is there waiting for you. Now, your life will be spared, but on one condition.” The good soldier cast a longing look at his cottage. He thought of his aged father, he thought of his pleasant home. His brave heart was wrung with emotion, and the blinding tears rolled down his cheeks. “Tell me,” he said, “what must I do.” One of the infidel soldiers gave him an axe. “Here,” said he, “take this axe and cut down that cross, and you shall be set at liberty.” The Catholic soldier took the axe and deliberately walked over to the cross. His fellow-prisoners turned away their eyes. They were filled with grief at the thought that one of their number was about to abjure his God–deny his holy faith. Repoche stood at the foot of the cross. He looked around it with a brave and dauntless air, and brandishing the ponderous battle-axe over his head, he cried out in a loud voice: ” Death to the wretch that dares insult the cross of Jesus Christ. I shall defend it from dishonor as long as there is strength in this arm, or life-blood in this heart!” With flushed face and flashing eyes, the noble soldier brandished his terrible weapon with such force that no one dared approach him. At last the bloodthirsty soldiers transfixed him with their bayonets; and the brave, noble Catholic, bleeding at every pore, threw his dying arms around the cross, and defended it to his last breath.