THE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH.
Holiness is also a mark of the true
Church; for in the Creed we say, “I believe
in the holy Catholic Church.”
Every society is founded for a special
object. One society is formed with the view of
cultivating social intercourse among its members; a
second is organized to advance their temporal interests;
and a third for the purpose of promoting literary
pursuits. The Catholic Church is a society founded
by our Lord Jesus Christ for the sanctification of
its members; hence, St. Peter calls the Christians
of his time “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a purchased people."
The example of our Divine Founder,
Jesus Christ, the sublime moral lessons He has taught
us, the Sacraments He has instituted all
tend to our sanctification. They all concentre
themselves in our soul, like so many heavenly rays,
to enlighten and inflame it with the fire of devotion.
When the Church speaks to us of the
attributes of our Lord, of His justice and mercy and
sanctity and truth, her object is not merely to extol
the Divine perfections, but also to exhort us to imitate
them, and to be like Him, just and merciful, holy
and truthful. Behold the sublime Model that is
placed before us! It is not man, nor angel, nor
archangel, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “who
is the brightness of His glory, and the figure of
His substance." The Church places His image over
our altars, admonishing us to “look and do according
to the pattern shown on the Mount." And from that
height He seems to say to us: “Be ye holy,
for I the Lord your God am holy." “Be ye
perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect."
“Be ye followers of God as most dear children."
We are invited to lead holy lives,
not only because our Divine Founder, Jesus Christ,
was holy, but also because we bear His sweet and venerable
name. We are called Christians. That
is a name we would not exchange for all the high-sounding
titles of Prince or Emperor. We are justly proud
of this appellation of Christian; but we are
reminded that it has annexed to it a corresponding
obligation. It is not an idle name, but one full
of solemn significance; for a Christian, as the very
name implies, is a follower or disciple of Christ one
who walks in the footsteps of his Master by observing
His precepts; who reproduces in his own life the character
and virtues of his Divine Model. In a word, a
Christian is another Christ. It would, therefore,
be a contradiction in terms, if a Christian had nothing
in common with his Lord except the name. The
disciple should imitate his Master, the soldier should
imitate his Commander, and the members should be like
The Church constantly allures her
children to holiness by placing before their minds
the Incarnation, life and death of our Savior.
What appeals more forcibly to a life of piety than
the contemplation of Jesus born in a stable, living
an humble life in Nazareth, dying on a cross, that
His blood might purify us? If He sent forth Apostles
to preach the Gospel to the whole world; if in His
name temples are built in every nation, and missionaries
are sent to the extremities of the globe, all this
is done that we may be Saints. “God,”
says St. Paul, “gave some Apostles, and some
Prophets, and others Evangelists, and others Pastors
and Doctors, for the perfecting of the Saints, for
the work of the ministry, for the building up of the
body of Christ, until we all meet unto the unity of
faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto
a perfect man."
The moral law which the Catholic Church
inculcates on her children is the highest and holiest
standard of perfection ever presented to any people,
and furnishes the strongest incentives to virtue.
The same Divine precepts delivered
through Moses to the Jews, on Mount Sinai, the same
salutary warnings which the Prophets uttered throughout
Judea, the same sublime and consoling lessons of morality
which Jesus gave on the Mount these are
the lessons which the Church teaches from January
till December. The Catholic preacher does not
amuse his audience with speculative topics or political
harangues, or any other subjects of a transitory nature.
He preaches only “Christ, and Him crucified.”
This code of Divine precepts is enforced
with as much zeal by the Church as was the Decalogue
of old by Moses, when he said: “These words,
which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart;
and thou shalt tell them to thy children; and thou
shalt meditate upon them, sitting in thy house, and
walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising."
The first lesson taught to children
in our Sunday-schools is their duty to know, love
and serve God, and thus to be Saints; for if they know,
love and serve God aright they shall be Saints indeed.
Their tender minds are instructed in this great truth
that though they had the riches of Dives, and the
glory and pleasures of Solomon, and yet fail to be
righteous, they have missed their vocation, and are
“wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,
and naked." “For, what doth it profit a man,
if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
On the contrary though they are as poor as Lazarus,
and as miserable as Job in the days of his adversity,
they are assured that their condition is a happy one
in the sight of God, if they live up to the maxims
of the Gospel.
The Church quickens the zeal of her
children for holiness of life by impressing on their
minds the rigor of God’s judgments, who “will
bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and
make manifest the counsels of the hearts,” by
reminding them of the terrors of Hell and of the sweet
joys of Heaven.
Not only are Catholics instructed
in church on Sundays but they are exhorted to peruse
the Word of God, and manuals of devotion, at home.
The saints whose lives are there recorded serve like
bright stars to guide them over the stormy ocean of
life to the shores of eternity; while the history
of those who have fallen from grace stands like a beacon
light, warning them to shun the rocks against which
a Solomon and a Judas made shipwreck of their souls.
Our books of piety are adapted to
every want of the human soul, and are a fruitful source
of sanctification. Who can read without spiritual
profit such works as the almost inspired Following
of Christ by Thomas a Kempis; the Christian
Perfection of Rodriguez; the Spiritual Combat
of Scupoli; the writings of St. Francis de Sales,
and a countless host of other ascetical authors?
You will search in vain outside the
Catholic Church for writers comparable in unction
and healthy piety to such as I have mentioned.
Compare, for instance, Kempis with Bunyan’s
Pilgrim’s Progress, or Butler’s
Lives of the Saints with Foxe’s Book
of Martyrs. You lay down Butler with
a sweet and tranquil devotion, and with a profound
admiration for the Christian heroes whose lives he
records; while you put aside Foxe with a troubled
mind and a sense of vindictive bitterness. I do
not speak of the Book of Common Prayer, because
the best part of it is a translation from our Missal.
Protestants also publish Kempis, though sometimes
in a mutilated form; every passage in the original
being carefully omitted which alludes to Catholic
doctrines and practices.
A distinguished Episcopal clergyman
of Baltimore once avowed to me that his favorite books
of devotion were our standard works of piety.
In saying this, he paid a merited and graceful tribute
to the superiority of Catholic spiritual literature.
The Church gives us not only the most
pressing motives, but also the most potent means for
our sanctification. These means are furnished
by prayer and the Sacraments. She exhorts us
to frequent communion with God by prayer and meditation,
and so imperative is this obligation in our eyes that
we would justly hold ourselves guilty of grave dereliction
of duty if we neglected for a considerable time the
practice of morning and evening prayer.
The most abundant source of graces
is also found in the seven Sacraments of the Church.
Our soul is bathed in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ
at the font of Baptism, from which we come forth “new
creatures.” We are then and there incorporated
with Christ, becoming “bone of His bone and flesh
of His flesh;” “for as many of you,”
says the Apostle, “as have been baptized in
Christ have put on Christ." And as the Holy Ghost
is inseparable from Christ, our bodies are made the
temples of the Spirit of God and our souls His Sanctuary.
“Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself
up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it
by the laver of water, in the word of life; that He
might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not
having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that
it should be holy and without blemish."
In Confirmation we receive new graces
and new strength to battle against the temptations
In the Eucharist we are fed with the
living Bread which cometh down from Heaven.
In Penance are washed away the stains
we have contracted after Baptism.
Are we called to the Sacred Ministry,
or to the married state, we find in the Sacraments
of Orders and Matrimony ample graces corresponding
with the condition of life which we have embraced.
And our last illness is consoled by
Extreme Unction, wherein we receive the Divine succor
necessary to fortify and purify us before departing
from this world.
In a word, the Church, like a watchful
mother, accompanies us from the cradle to the grave,
supplying us at each step with the medicine of life
As the Church offers to her children
the strongest motives and the most powerful means
for attaining to sanctity of life, so does she reap
among them the most abundant fruits of holiness.
In every age and country she is the fruitful mother
of saints. Our Ecclesiastical calendar is not
confined to the names of the twelve Apostles.
It is emblazoned with the lists of heroic Martyrs
who “were stoned, and cut asunder, and put to
death by the sword;" of innumerable Confessors
and Hermits who left all things and followed Christ;
of spotless virgins who preserved their chastity for
the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. Every day
in the year is consecrated in our Martyrology to a
large number of Saints.
And in our own times, in every quarter
of the globe and in every department of life, the
Church continues to raise up Saints worthy of the
primitive days of Christianity.
If we seek for Apostles, we
find them conspicuously among the Bishops of Germany,
who are now displaying in prison and in exile a serene
heroism worthy of Peter and Paul.
Every year records the tortures of
Catholic missioners who die Martyrs to the
Faith in China, Corea, and other Pagan countries.
Among her confessors are numbered
those devoted priests who, abandoning home and family
ties, annually go forth to preach the Gospel in foreign
lands. Their worldly possessions are often confined
to a few books of devotion and their modest apparel.
And who is a stranger to her consecrated
virgins, those sisters of various Orders who
in every large city of Christendom are daily reclaiming
degraded women from a life of shame, and bringing them
back to the sweet influences of religion; who snatch
the abandoned offspring of sin from temporal and spiritual
death, and make them pious and useful members of society,
becoming more than mothers to them; who rescue children
from ignorance, and instill into their minds the knowledge
and love of God.
We can point to numberless saints
also among the laity. I dare assert that in almost
every congregation in the Catholic world, men and women
are to be found who exhibit a fervent piety and a
zeal for religion which render them worthy of being
named after the Annas, the Aquilas and
the Priscillas of the New Testament. They
attract not indeed the admiration of the public, because
true piety is unostentatious and seeks a “life
hidden with Christ in God."
It must not be imagined that, in proclaiming
the sanctity of the Church, I am attempting to prove
that all Catholics are holy. I am sorry to confess
that corruption of morals is too often found among
professing Catholics. We cannot close our eyes
to the painful fact that too many of them, far from
living up to the teachings of their Church, are sources
of melancholy scandal. “It must be that
scandals come, but woe to him by whom the scandal
cometh.” I also admit that the sin of Catholics
is more heinous in the sight of God than that of their
separated brethren, because they abuse more grace.
But it should be borne in mind that
neither God nor His Church forces any man’s
conscience. To all He says by the mouth of His
Prophet: “Behold I set before you the way
of life and the way of death.” (Jer. xx.)
The choice rests with yourselves.
It is easy to explain why so many
disedifying members are always found clinging to the
robes of the Church, their spiritual Mother, and why
she never shakes them off nor disowns them as her
children. The Church is animated by the spirit
of her Founder, Jesus Christ. He “came into
this world to save sinners." He “came not
to call the just but sinners to repentance.”
He was the Friend of Publicans and Sinners that He
might make them the friends of God. And they
clung to Him, knowing His compassion for them.
The Church, walking in the footsteps
of her Divine Spouse, never repudiates sinners nor
cuts them off from her fold, no matter how grievous
or notorious may be their moral delinquencies; not
because she connives at their sin, but because she
wishes to reclaim them. She bids them never to
despair, and tries, at least, to weaken their passions,
if she cannot altogether reform their lives.
Mindful also of the words of our Lord:
“The poor have the Gospel preached to them,"
the Church has a tender compassion for the victims
of poverty, which has its train of peculiar temptations
and infirmities. Hence, the poor and the sinners
cling to the Church, as they clung to our Lord during
His mortal life.
We know, on the other hand, that sinners
who are guilty of gross crimes which shock public
decency are virtually excommunicated from Protestant
Communions. And as for the poor, the public
press often complains that little or no provision
is made for them in Protestant Churches. A gentleman
informed me that he never saw a poor person enter an
Episcopal Church which was contiguous to his residence.
These excluded sinners and victims
of penury either abandon Christianity altogether,
or find refuge in the bosom of their true Mother, the
Catholic Church, who, like her Divine Spouse, claims
the afflicted as her most cherished inheritance.
The parables descriptive of this Church which our
Lord employed also clearly teach us that the good and
bad shall be joined together in the Church as long
as her earthly mission lasts. The kingdom of
God is like a field in which the cockle is allowed
to grow up with the good seed until the harvest-time;
it is like a net which encloses good fish and bad
until the hour of separation comes. So, too, the
Church is that great house in which there are
not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood
The Fathers repeat the teaching of
Scripture. St. Jerome says: “The ark
of Noah was a type of the Church. As every kind
of animal was in that, so in this there are men of
every race and character. As in that were the
leopard and the kids, the wolf and the lambs, so in
this there are to be found the just and the sinful that
is, vessels of gold and silver along with those of
wood and clay."
St. Gregory the Great writes:
“Because in it (the Church) the good are mingled
with the bad, the reprobate with the elect, it is rightly
declared to be similar to the wise and the foolish
Listen to St. Augustine: “Let
the mind recall the threshing-floor containing straw
and wheat; the nets in which are inclosed good and
bad fish; the ark of Noah in which were clean and
unclean animals, and you will see that the Church
from now until the judgment day contains not only
sheep and oxen that is, saintly laymen
and holy ministers but also the beasts
of the field.... For the beasts of the field
are men who take delight in carnal pleasures, the
field being that broad way which leads to perdition."
The occasional scandals existing among
members of the Church do not invalidate or impair
her claim to the title of sanctity. The spots
on the sun do not mar his brightness. Neither
do the moral stains of some members sully the brilliancy
of her “who cometh forth as the morning star,
fair as the moon, bright as the sun." The cockle
that grows amidst the wheat does not destroy the beauty
of the ripened harvest. The sanctity of Jesus
was not sullied by the presence of Judas in the Apostolic
College. Neither can the moral corruption of
a few disciples tarnish the holiness of the Church.
St. Paul calls the Church of Corinth a congregation
of Saints, though he reproves some scandalous
members among them.
It cannot be denied that corruption
of morals prevailed in the sixteenth century to such
an extent as to call for a sweeping reformation, and
that laxity of discipline invaded even the sanctuary.
But how was this reformation of morals
to be effected? Was it to be accomplished by
a force operating inside the Church, or outside?
I answer that the proper way of carrying out this
reformation was by battling against iniquity within
the Church; for there was not a single weapon which
men could use in waging war with vice outside the Church,
which they could not wield with more effective power
when fighting under the authority of the Church.
The true weapons of an Apostle, at all times, have
been personal virtue, prayer, preaching, and the Sacraments.
Every genuine reformer had those weapons at his disposal
within the Church.
She possesses, at all times, not only
the principle of undying vitality, but, besides, all
the elements of reformation, and all the means of
sanctification. With the weapons I have named
she purified morals in the first century, and with
the same weapons she went to work with a right good
will, and effected a moral reformation in the sixteenth
century. She was the only effectual spiritual
reformer of that age.
What was the Council of Trent but
a great reforming tribunal? Most of its decrees
are directed to the reformation of abuses among the
clergy and the laity, and the salutary fruits of its
legislation are reaped even to this day.
St. Charles Borromeo, the nephew of
a reigning Pope, was the greatest reformer of his
time. His whole Episcopal career was spent in
elevating the morals of his clergy and people.
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Braga, in Portugal, preached
an incessant crusade against iniquity in high and low
places. St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Alphonsus,
with their companions, were conspicuous and successful
reformers throughout Europe. St. Philip Neri
was called the modern Apostle of Rome because of his
happy efforts in dethroning vice in that city.
All these Catholic Apostles preach by example as well
as by word.
How do Luther and Calvin, and Zuinglius
and Knox, and Henry VIII. compare with these genuine
and saintly reformers, both as to their moral character
and the fruit or their labors? The private lives
of these pseudo-reformers were stained by cruelty,
rapine, and licentiousness; and as the result of their
propagandism, history records civil wars, and bloodshed,
and bitter religious strife, and the dismemberment
of Christianity into a thousand sects.
Instead of co-operating with the lawful
authorities in extinguishing the flames which the
passions of men had enkindled in the city of God, these
faithless citizens fly from the citadel which they
had vowed to defend; then joining the enemy, they
hasten back to fan the conflagration, and to increase
the commotion. And they overturn the very altars
before which they previously sacrificed as consecrated
priests. They sanctioned rebellion by undermining
the principle of authority.
What a noble opportunity they lost
of earning for themselves immortal honors from God
and man! If, instead of raising the standard of
revolt, they had waged war upon their own passions,
and fought with the Catholic reformers against impiety,
they would be hailed as true soldiers of the cross.
They would be welcomed by the Pope, the Bishops and
clergy, and by all good men. They might be honored
today on our altars, and might have a niche in our
temples, side by side with those of Charles Borromeo
and Ignatius Loyola; and instead of a divided army
of Christians, we should behold today a united Christendom,
spreading itself irresistibly from nation to nation,
and bringing all kingdoms to the knowledge of Jesus