05 March 2009

Saintliness the Standard of Christian Principle

You know very well, my brethren, and there are few persons anywhere who deny it, that in the breast of everyone there dwells a feeling or perception, which tells him the difference between right and wrong, and it is the standard by which to measure thoughts and actions. It is called conscience; and even though it be not at all times powerful enough to rule us, still it is distinct and decisive enough to influence our views and form our judgments in the various matters which come before us. It needs good teachers and good examples to keep it up to the mark and line of duty; and the misery is, that these external helps, teachers, and examples are in many instances wanting.

Even in countries called Christian, the natural inward light grows dim, because the Light, which lightens everyone born into the world, is removed out of sight. That inward light, given as it is by God, is powerless to illuminate the horizon, to mark out for us our direction, and to comfort us with the certainty that we are making for our Eternal Home. That light was intended to set up within us a standard of right and of truth.

Sin, so subtle in its approach, so multitudinous in its array, so incessant in its solicitations, so insignificant in its appearance, so odious, so poisonous in its effects. It falls on the soul so gently and imperceptibly; but it gradually breeds wounds and sores, and ends in everlasting death. And as there are men who live in caverns and mines, and never see the face of day, and do their work as best they can by torchlight, so there are multitudes, nay, whole races of men, who, though possessed of eyes by nature, cannot use them duly, because they live in the spiritual pit, in the region of darkness.

Man, a being endued with reason, cannot… live altogether at random; he is obliged in some sense to live on principle, to live by rule, to profess a view of life, to have an aim, to set up a standard, and to take to him such examples as seen to him to fulfill it. His reason does not make him independent; it forces on him a dependency on definite principles and laws, in order to satisfy its own demands. He must, by the necessity of his nature, look up to something; and he creates, if he cannot discover, an object for his veneration. He teaches himself, or is taught by his neighbor, falsehoods, if he is not taught truth from above; he makes to himself idols, if he knows not of the Eternal God and His Saints.

Wealth is one idol of the day, and notoriety is a second. I am not speaking… of what men actually pursue, but of what they look up to, what they revere.

But O what a change, my brethren, when the good Hand of God brings them by some marvelous providence to the pit’s mouth, and then out into the blessed light of day! What a change for them when they first begin to see with the eyes of the soul, with the intuition which grace gives, Jesus, the Sun of Justice; and the heaven of Angels and Archangels in which He dwells; and the bright Morning Star, which is His Blessed Mother; and the continual floods of light falling and striking against the earth, and transformed as they fall, into an infinity of hues, which are His Saints; and the boundless sea, which is image of His divine immensity; and then again the calm, placid Moon by night, which images His Church; and the silent stars, like good and holy men, traveling on in lonely pilgrimage to their eternal rest! Such was the surprise, such the transport, which came upon the favored disciples, whom on one occasion our Lord took up with Him to the mountain’s top. He left the sick world, the tormented, restless multitude, at its foot, and He took them up, and was transfigured before them. How truly was this a glimpse of Heaven! The holy Apostles were introduced into a new range of ideas, into a new sphere of contemplation. Everything on earth, the brightest, the fairest, the noblest, paled and dwindled away, and turned to corruption before them; its most substantial good was vanity, its richest gain was dross, its keenest joy a weariness, and its sin a loathsomeness and abomination.

Very various are the Saints, their very variety is a token of God’s workmanship; but however various, and whatever was their special line of duty, they have been heroes in it; they have attained such noble self-command, they have so crucified the flesh, they have so renounced the world; they are so meek, so gentle, so tender-hearted, so merciful, so sweet, so cheerful, so full of prayer, so diligent, so forgetful of injuries; they have sustained such great and continued pains, they have persevered in such vast labors, they have made such valiant confessions, they have wrought such abundant miracles, they have been blessed with such strange successes, that they have been the means of setting up a standard before us of truth, of magnanimity, of holiness, of love. They are always our standard of right and good; they are raised up to be monuments and lessons, they remind us of God, they introduce us into the unseen world, they teach us what Christ loves, they track out for us the way which leads heavenward. They are to us who see them, what wealth, notoriety, rank and name are to the multitude of men who live in darkness – objects of our veneration and of our homage.

~Excerpted from a homily by Cardinal John Henry Newman~