The Value and Necessity of Christian Doctrine – Father Muller
If we wish to go to a certain city, the first thing we do is to ask the way that leads to it. If we do not know the way, we can never arrive at that city. So, too, if we wish to go to heaven, we must know the way that leads to it. Now, the way that leads to heaven is the knowing and doing of God’s will. But it is God alone who can teach us His will; that is, what He requires us to believe and to do, in order to be happy with Him in heaven. And God Himself came and taught us the truths which we must believe, the commandments which we must keep, and the means of grace which we must use to work out our salvation. To know God’s will is to know the true religion. This knowledge is, indeed, the greatest of all treasures. Hence the Lord says to all men, through the great prophet Jeremias: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man in his strength, nor the rich man in the abundance of his wealth; but let him that does glory, glory in his knowledge of me,” that is, of My will. (Jer. ix, 23). It is for the same reason that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exhorts all men to “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice” (Matt, vfi, 33), and calls those “blessed who hunger and thirst after justice,” that is, after the knowledge of God’s holy will. “Martha, Martha,” he said, ” thou art solicitous about many things. Mary,” who is sitting at my feet, to listen to my words, has “chosen the better part.”
How necessary it is, then, to learn the Christian Doctrine! What will become of us, or what sort of life shall we lead hereafter, if we are careless about being instructed in the religion upon which the happiness not only of the present, but also of the future life, depends. Not knowing God, not knowing how to love and serve Him, man is like the beasts of the field, nay, inferior to those beasts; for the life of a man without religion is a daily outrage against God, who created man to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world. Instead of this, the man without religion becomes the servant of the devil; when he dies, God will not receive him; He will cast him off, and the miserable man will fall into the hands of the devil, whom he has served all his life, and who will repay that service by tormenting him forever in hell.
A person who knows and speaks many languages,– French, Latin, German, Italian,–is admired for his learning. But to be fully instructed in our religion is a thousand times more beautiful, and a thousand times more necessary and more useful. It is the knowledge of knowledge, the service of services. It is for this reason that our dear Saviour said: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God;” and again: “Blessed are the ears that hear what you hear,” i.e., the Christian Doctrine.
If pastors of souls are obliged, under pain of mortal sin, to preach the word of God, the faithful, too, are bound in conscience to go and listen to the word of God.
Does a child not listen to the word of his father? Does a servant not listen to the word of his master? Does a senseless beast not hear the voice of its keeper? And shall a Christian not listen to the word which God, his Creator, speaks to him in sermons and instructions? The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ went to the temple in Jerusalem, and there listened attentively to the explanation which the Jewish priests gave of the law of God. It was our Lord Himself who had given the law, and He knew its meaning. There was, then, no necessity at all for him to listen to the explanation of the law. Yet he went and listened attentively to it, in order to show us, by his example, the obligation under which we are of listening to the word of God. As, in corporal distempers, a total loss of appetite, which no medicines can restore, forebodes certain decay and death, so, in the spiritual life of the soul, a neglect of, or disrelish for religious instruction is a most fatal symptom. What hopes can we entertain of a person for whom the science of virtue and of eternal salvation seems to have no interest?
“He who turneth away his ears from hearing the law,” says the Holy Ghost,–“his prayers shall be an abomination.” (Prov. xxviii, 9.) St. Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome that “those who did not like to have the knowledge of God, were delivered up by God to a reprobate sense, to do those things that are unbecoming, to become filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, hateful to God, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy.” (Rom. i, 28-32.) “He, therefore, who is of God,” says Jesus Christ, “heareth the word of God; but he who heareth it not, is not of God.” (John viii, 47.) But ” whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words,” says our Lord to the apostles, “going forth out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
Daily experience, indeed, shows that there is no more effectual means for reclaiming sinners to penance, and rousing the just to greater fervor in the service of God, than an assiduous listening to the word of God. David, learned and enlightened as he was, repented of his crime of adultery only after Nathan the prophet had reproved him for it in the name of God. Josaphat would not have given up his sinful alliance with an idolatrous people, had not Jehu, in the name of God, sharply reprimanded him for it. St. Augustine was very learned; his conscience reproached him sharply for his bad life; he felt very unhappy, and yet for all that, he did not abandon his evil ways until he came to Milan, where he was converted by the sermons and instructions of St. Ambrose. Would that we could see the hearts of many before and after a sermon or an instruction! What a sudden change for the better would be noted in many hearers who went to hear the word of God without thinking in the least of changing their manner of life, but who, after the sermon, left the church with deep sorrow for their sins, and a true purpose ot amendment!
The devil knows and fears this power of the word of God. Hence he makes all possible efforts to prevent both the just and sinners from going to listen to sermons and instructions. He suggests to them: You are sufficiently instructed; you know all your Christian duties; you have already heard so many sermons, you can hear nothing new; you may read in books all that can be said in sermons, and thus Save yourself the fatigue of going to church and staying there so long. If he cannot prevent them at all from going, he does all in his power to distract them during the sermon, or make them feel sleepy, or bored in listening to it, in order thus to prevent them from reaping any benefit from the word of God.
We read in the life of St. Anthony of Padua that the devil often caused disturbance during the sermons of this great saint. One day a noble lady was listening with the greatest attention to his preaching. Suddenly a strange messenger stood before her, and gave her a letter which stated that her darling child was dead. Alarmed at this sad news, she rose immediately to leave the church. On beholding this, St. Anthony cried out to her: “Stay, for your child is not dead. That strange messenger is but a disguised devil.” Something similar happened during a sermon of St. Vincent Ferrer. One day, whilst he was preaching in a public square, in presence of a large audience, there were seen three wild horses, running toward the people. Now, when St. Vincent saw that every one of his hearers was greatly frightened, and endeavored to save himself by flight, he cried in a loud voice: “Stay, be not afraid, those horses will not hurt you; they are evil spirits, who have come to prevent you from listening to the word of God, and from being converted.” He then made the sign of the cross over the horses, and the evil spirits suddenly disappeared.
If only all men were so well persuaded of the necessity of hearing the word of God, and of its wholesome effects, as the devil is, the Church would be crowded at every sermon and instruction. Whilst we listen to the word of God, Jesus Christ speaks at the same time to our hearts, since He is then present with us, according to His promise; “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt, xviii, 20.) Whence the same happens to us as befell the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: hearing the words of Christ, they felt their hearts burn within them. (Luke xxiv, 32.)
St. Anthony the hermit, while listening to the words of the holy Gospel, felt himself so powerfully moved, that he forsook the world and all that it had, and withdrew into the wilderness, to live alone with God. The like is also related of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. On hearing a sermon on the vanity of earthly things, he conceived such a disgust for them, that he turned his back upon the world, and hastened to hide himself in a cloister.
Every Christian should, then, always bear in mind what our Lord says in the Gospel: “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” (Matt, iv, 4.)
God is so pleased with those who eagerly listen to the explanation of the Christian Dootrine, that He often manifests His pleasure by miracles.
One day four thousand, and at another time five thousand people followed our Lord into the wilderness to hear him preach; and as they had nothing to eat, he multiplied a few fishes and loaves of bread in so wonderful a manner that all were filled. St. Gregory relates a remarkable circumstance of a visit which St. Benedict paid to his sister, St. Scholastica. After they had taken supper, Scholastica requested her brother Benedict to delay his return to his monastery until the next day, in order that they might entertain themselves until morning on religious subjects, especially on the happiness of the other life. St. Benedict, unwilling to transgress his rule, told her that he could not pass a night out of his monastery. So he begged her not to insist any longer upon the violation of his rule. When Scholastica saw that her brother was resolved on going home, she laid her hands, joined, upon the table, and her head upon them, and with many tears begged of Almighty God to prevent her brother from returning home,, in order that she might have the pleasure to listen to his spiritual discourse. No sooner had she ended her prayer, than a tremendous storm of rain, thunder, and lightning, began to rage. St. Benedict was forced to remain, in spite of himself. He complained to his sister, saying: “God forgive you, sister! what have you done?” She answered: “I asked of you a favor, and you refused it; I asked it of Almighty God, and He granted it. Go now if you can.” So St. Benedict was obliged to stay with his sister Scholastica until next day. They spent the night in conversation upon spiritual subjects, chiefly on the happiness of the blessed, after which both most ardently aspired, and which she went to enjoy four days after.
One day Brother Albert, Provincial of the Franciscans, was to preach in the church of the convent in which St. Catharine of Bologna lived. Catharine had just put the bread in the oven when the bell rang for the sermon. Immediately making the sign of the cross, she said to the bread, “I recommend you to the Lord’s care,” and thereupon she left the bakehouse, and went into the church. The preacher spoke for five hours: it was more than time enough for the bread to be burned and reduced to cinders; however, when she took it out of the oven, it was of a more beautiful brown than usual. (Life of the Saint, p. 327.)
One day St. Anthony of Padua preached to an immense concourse of people. It was a beautiful summer’s day. But scarcely had he begun his sermon, when the sky clouded over, and showed every symptom of a very severe storm. The saint went on quietly, notwithstanding the peals of thunder and the flashes of lightning that played among the clouds. The people were frightened, and prepared to seek a shelter from the drenching rain that threatened them. When St. Anthony noticed the uneasiness and fright of his auditors, he recollected himself for a moment, and then cried out, in a loud and clear voice: “Christians, fear nothing; do not leave your places; remain where you are, and I promise you, in the name of God, that not one drop of rain shall fall upon you.” At these words the people felt easy: no one moved from his place. Wonderful to relate, the rain fell in torrents, the hail devastated the surrounding fields, but the sky above the auditory of St. Anthony remained clear and serene. (Life of St. Anthony of Padua.)
If God, on the one hand, has, by miracles, shown the great pleasure which He takes in those who are eager to hear His word, He also, on the other, has, by frightful punishments, shown His great displeasure with those who do not care for the Christian Doctrine.
St. Francis Regis once gave a great mission in the city of Naples. Several nights before the mission began, he went through the streets to every house. He knocked at each door, as he went along, and when it was opened, he said: “Please, for the love of God, to come to the sermons of the mission.” In a certain house there was living a very wicked woman: her name was Catharine. St. Francis knocked at the door of Catharine’s house. When it was opened, he said: “Please, for the love of God, to come and listen to the word of God during the mission.” Catharine answered and said: “No, I will not go to the mission.” St. Francis left the house, and went on his way. The next evening St. Francis came again to Catharine’s house, and knocked at the door. The door was opened. “How is Catharine?” said St. Francis. “Catharine!” a voice answered, ” Catharine is dead!” “Then,” said St. Francis, “let us go upstairs, and see the dead body.” They all went up to a room where a dead body was laid on a bed. It was the dead body of the wicked Catharine, who only the night before had said, “I will not go to the mission.” They stood round the dead body. St. Francis stood in front of it, and looked at the pale, lifeless face. Then he said, with a loud voice, ” O Catharine! Catharine! you that would not come to the sermon! tell me,–in the name of God, I command you to tell me,–where are you? where is your soul?” A moment passed, and the corpse opened its mouth. That dead tongue moved, and answered in a frightful voice, “I am in hell.”
Catharine had lived many years, and committed many dreadful mortal sins. Still our dear Lord did not send her to hell. Then St. Francis came to her from God. He asked her to listen to him, and be converted. She answered: “No, I will not listen.”
Another terrible example of divine justice occurred in 1745, when St. Alphonsus and his missionary priests were preaching at Foggia. One of the priests went through the public places, to call the people to the church. Happening to pass before a tavern, he invited the drinkers to listen to the word of God, and take part in the other exercises of the mission. A tipsy fellow, holding up his glass, called out, “My father, would you like to see what is my mission?” and putting the glass to his lips, he instantly dropped down dead. (Life of St. Alphonsus.)
When we hear the Christian Doctrine explained, we should listen with the intention to profit by it. Our dinner, says Father Furniss, C.SS.R., does us very little good, unless we have an appetite for it. So hearing God’s word in a sermon, instruction, or Catechism, or when we read a good book, will do us very little good, unless we have an appetite for it, and a desire to hear it. If we do not feel this desire, we should at least wish for it, and pray for it, and it will be given to us. It is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, called the gift of “understanding.”
Moreover, we must not go to an instruction or sermon through mere curiosity, for example: to hear how somebody preaches, nor only because we are obliged to go, and would be scolded if we were absent. We must go to hear the word of God, because it is able to save our souls. (James i, 21.)
In almost every instruction we hear something recommended which we feel in our hearts just suits us. This is a particular light which God sends from heaven into our hearts. We must then say to ourselves, Now I will begin this very day to do that very thing: “Be ye doers of the word of God, and not hearers only.” (James i, 6.)
When we have eaten our dinner, we keep the food in our stomach, to feed our body. So, when we have heard an instruction, we should keep some of it in our mind, to think about afterward, and feed our souls with it. In the stable of Bethlehem there were the infant Jesus, Mary his mother, and Joseph, and the shepherds. When the shepherds were gone away, Mary, who was full of divine wisdom, kept the words of the poor ignorant shepherds in her heart, and thought of them, and meditated on them. (Luke ii.)
Again, when we go to an instruction, we should listen to it with attention. The sin of Adam has made our minds very weak, and we cannot always keep our attention fixed. But we should not be wilfully distracted. Sometimes people will listen to any little trifle, instead of listening to an instruction. There was a great city called Athens. The soldiers were on their way to this city to destroy it. The people of the city were in great fear. They met together to think what should be done to save the town. Amongst them was one very wise man, called Demosthenes, who stood up and began to speak to them. The people would not listen to him. They talked and made a great noise, so that he could not be heard. Demosthenes, therefore, gave over speaking, and was silent for a few minutes. Then he cried out to the people that he had a story to tell them. When they heard that he was going to tell them a story, they became very quiet, silent, and attentive. He began his story: “There were two men,” he said, “travelling together. One of them had hired an ass from the other. In the middle of the day they stopped. He who had hired the ass got off it. As the sun was very hot, he sat down in the shadow of the ass. ‘No,’ said the other, ‘you shall not sit down in the shadow of my ass. You hired my ass, but you did not hire its shadow.'” When Demosthenes had said this, he gave over speaking. The people called out to him to go on. Then he said to them: “My good people, when I speak to you about the shadow of an ass, you listen to me; but when I speak to you about the safety of this town, you do not listen.” So, many people will let themselves be distracted by the shadow of a fly, or any little trifle, instead of listening to the word of God. Hear what the fishes did:–
You may have heard how God made an ass speak to Balaam, to tell him that he was doing wrong. (Num. xii.) He was angry with the ass, and beat its side with a stick, and the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and it said: “What have I done to thee? Why dost thou strike me!” Something like this happened in times of old:–One day St. Anthony was preaching in a town called Rimini. The people would not listen to him. So he came down from the pulpit, went out of the church, and walked till he came to the sea. He stood on the sand of the sea-shore, and cried out to the fishes in these words: “Fishes of the sea and of the rivers! listen to me. I wanted to preach to the people, but they would not listen to me. So I am going to preach to you.” When he had said these words, an immense number of fishes of all sizes came round him, covering all the sea. The little fishes came first. Behind them were the middle-sized fishes, and then the great fishes. They were in good order, and very quiet, with their heads out of the water, turned toward the preacher. Then St. Anthony spoke to them in these words: “Fishes, my little brethren! you ought to thank your Creator for all the good things He has given you. First, there is the beautiful water in which you live,–the sea water as well as the fresh water, whichever you like best. Then there are the holes and caves in the rocks, where you can go when a storm troubles the water. God has made you able to swim, and given you all that you eat, to preserve your lives. In the great Deluge, when it rained on the earth for forty days and forty mghts, all the other animals were drowned, and you only were kept alive. When the prophet Jonas was thrown into the sea, God gave him to you, to keep him alive for three days. When the people came to Jesus, and asked him to pay the tribute, you helped him to pay it. You were the food of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, before and after His resurrection! Now, when you remember all these great favors you have received from God, you ought to bless Him and thank Him, even more than other creatures.” When the fishes heard these words, they opened their mouths, and bowed their heads, and showed how great was their desire to thank God. Then St. Anthony, full of joy, cried out: “Blessed be the great God, because the fishes praise Him when men refuse to praise Him.” And now, when the people heard what a wonderful thing had happened to the fishes, they all went out to see it. They knelt down before St. Anthony, and asked him to pardon them, which he did. Then the saint turned round, gave his blessing to the fishes, and sent them all away. So Almighty God worked a miracle, to let us see how much He desires that we should listen to His holy word, which is full of power. (Eccles. viii.)
Let us be at least as good as the fishes, and listen to the words of life which Almighty God speaks to us. What we hear in an instruction is not the word of a man, but the word of God. “You received my word,” says St. Paul, “not as the word of man, but as it is indeed, the word of God.” (1 Thess. ii, 13.) We should always have a great love for the Christian Doctrine, and especially for the book which briefly contains the Christian Doctrine in question and answer,–the Catechism. One day St. Teresa was asked by her sisters in religion what book they should often read and study. The great saint answered: “The Catechism; for this is the book which contains and explains the law of God:” that is, it treats, 1, of all the truths we must believe; 2, of the commandments we must keep; and, 3, of the means of grace we must use,–that is, the sacraments and prayer,–in order to be happy with God forever in heaven.
Taken from ~ The Church and Her Enemy by Father Michael Muller, 1884