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The number of sins a person may commit is well nigh incalculable, which is only one way of saying that the malice of man has invented innumerable means of offending the Almighty—a compliment to our ingenuity and the refinement of our natural perversity. It is not always pleasant to know, and few people try very hard to learn, of what kind and how many are their daily offenses. This knowledge reveals too nakedly our wickedness which we prefer to ignore. Catholics, however, who believe in the necessity of confession of sins, take a different view of the matter. The requirements of a good confession are such as can be met only by those who know in what things they have sinned and how often.
There are many different kinds of sin. It is possible by a single act to commit more than one sin. And a given sin may be repeated any number of times. To get the exact number of our misdeeds we must begin by counting as many sins at least as there are kinds of sin. We might say there is an offense for every time a commandment or precept is violated, for sin is a transgression of the law. But this would be insufficient inasmuch as the law may command or forbid more than one thing.Let the first commandment serve as an example.
It is broken by sins against faith, or unbelief, against hope, or despair, against charity, against religion, etc. All these offenses are specifically different, that is, are different kinds of sin; yet but one precept is transgressed. Since therefore each commandment prescribes
the practice of certain virtues, the first rule is that there is a sin for every virtue violated. But this is far from exhausting our capacity for evil. Our virtue may impose different obligations, so that against it alone we may offend in many different ways. Among the virtues prescribed by the first commandment is that of religion, which concerns the exterior homage due to God. I may worship false gods, thus offending against the virtue of religion, and commit a sin of idolatry. If I offer false homage to the true God, I also violate the virtue of religion, but commit a sin specifically different, a sin of superstition. Thus these different offenses are against but one of several virtues enjoined by one commandment. The virtue of charity is also prolific of obligations; the virtue of chastity even more so. One act against the latter may contain a four-fold malice. It would be out of place here to adduce more examples: a detailed treatment of the virtues and commandments will make things clearer. For the moment it is necessary and sufficient to know that a commandment may prescribe many virtues, a virtue may impose many obligations, and there is a specifically different sin for each obligation violated. But we can go much farther than this in wrongdoing, and must count one sin every time the act is committed.
"Yes, but how are we to know when there is one act or more than one act! An act may be of long or short duration. How many sins do I commit if the act lasts, say, two hours? And how can I tell where one act ends and the other begins ?" In an action which endures an hour or two hours, there may be one and there may be a dozen acts. When the matter a sinner is working on is a certain, specified evil, the extent to which he prevaricates numerically depends upon the action of the will. A fellow who enters upon the task of slaying his neighbor can kill but once in fact; but he can commit the sin of murder in his soul once or a dozen times. It depends on the will. Sin is a deliberate transgression, that is, first of all an act of the will. If he resolves once to kill and never retracts till the deed of blood is done, he sins but once. If he disavows his resolution and afterwards resolves anew, he repeats the sin of murder in his soul as often as he goes through this process of will action. This sincere retraction of a deed is called moral interruption and it has the mysterious power of multiplying sins.
Not every interruption is a moral one. To put the matter aside for a certain while in the hope of a better opportunity, for the procuring of necessary facilities or for any other reason, with the unshaken purpose of pursuing the course entered upon, is to suspend action; but this action is wholly exterior, and does not affect the will. The act of the will perseveres, never loses its force, so there is no moral, but only a physical, interruption. There is no renewal of consent for it has never been withdrawn. The one moral act goes on, and but one sin is committed. Thus, of two wretches on the same errand of crime, one may sin but once, while the other is guilty of the same sin a number of times. But the several sins last no longer than the one. Which is the more guilty ? That is a question for God to decide; He does the judging, we do the counting. This possible multiplication of sin where a single act is apparent emphasizes the fact that evil and good proceed from the will. It is by the will primarily and essentially that we serve or offend God, and, absolutely speaking, no exterior deed is necessary for the accomplishment of this end.
The exterior deed of sin always supposes a natural preparation of sin—thought, desires, resolution,—which precede or accompany the deed, and without which there would be no sin. It is sinful only inasmuch as it is related to the will and is the fruit thereof. The interior act constitutes the sin in its being; the exterior act constitutes it in its completeness. All of which leads up to the conclusion, of a nature perhaps to surprise some, that to resolve to sin and to commit the sin in deed are not two different sins, but one complete sin, in all the fullness of its malice. True, the exterior act may give rise to scandal, and from it may devolve upon us obligations of justice, the reparation of injury done; true, with the exterior complement the sin may be more grievous. But there cannot be several sins if there be one single uninterrupted act of the will.
An evil thing is proposed to your mind; you enjoy the thought of doing it, knowing it to be wrong; you desire to do it and resolve to do it; you take the natural means of doing it; you succeed and consummate the evil—a long drawn out and well prepared deed, 'tis true, but only one sin. The injustices, the scandal, the sins you might commit incidentally, which do not pertain naturally to the deed, all these are another matter, and are other kinds of sins; but the act itself stands alone, complete and one. But these interior acts of sin, whether or not they have reference to external completion, must be sinful. The first stage is the suggestion of the imagination or simple seeing of the evil in the mind, which is not sinful; the next is the moving of the sensibility or the purely animal pleasure experienced, in which there is no evil, either; for we have no sure mastery over these faculties. From the imagination and sensibility the temptation passes before the will for consent. If consent is denied, there is no deadly malice or guilt, no matter how long the previous effects may have been endured. No thought is a sin unless it be fully consented to.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
If the Almighty had never imposed upon His creatures a Law, there would be no sin; we would be free to do as we please. But the presence of God's Law restrains our liberty, and it is by using, or rather abusing, our freedom, that we come to violate the Law. It is for this reason that Law is said to be opposed to Liberty. Liberty is a word of many meanings. Men swear by it and men juggle with it. It is the slogan in both camps of the world's warfare. It is in itself man's noblest inheritance, and yet there is no name under the sun in which more crimes are committed.
By liberty as opposed to God's law we do not understand the power to do evil as well as good. That liberty is the glory of man, but the exercise of it, in the alternative of evil, is damnable, and debases the creature in the same proportions as the free choice of good ennobles him. That liberty the law leaves untouched. We never lose it; or rather, we may lose it partially when under physical restraint, but totally, only when deprived of our senses. The law respects it. It respects it in the highest degree when in an individual it curtails or destroys it for the protection of society.
Liberty may also be the equal right to do good and evil. There are those who arrogate to themselves such liberty. No man ever possessed it, the law annihilated it forever. And although we have used the word in this sense, the fact is that no man has the right to do evil or ever will have, so long as God is God. These people talk much and loudly about freedom—the magic word!—assert with much pomp and verbosity the rights of man, proclaim his independence, and are given to much like inane vaunting and braggadocio.
We may be free in many things, but where God is concerned and He commands, we are free only to obey. His will is supreme, and when it is asserted, we purely and simply have no choice to do as we list. This privilege is called license, not liberty. We have certain rights as men, but we have duties, too, as creatures, and it ill-becomes us to prate about our rights, or the duties of others towards us, while we ignore the obligations we are under towards others and our first duty which is to God. Our boasted independence consists precisely in this: that we owe to Him not only the origin of our nature, but even the very breath we draw, and which preserves our being, for ''in Him we live, move and have our being."
The first prerogative of God towards us is authority or the right to command. Our first obligation as well as our highest honor as creatures is to obey. And until we understand this sort of liberty, we live in a world of enigmas and know not the first letter of the alphabet of creation. We are not free to sin. Liberty rightly understood, true liberty of the children of God, is the right of choice within the law, the right to embrace what is good and to avoid what is evil. This policy no man can take from us; and far from infringing upon this right, the law aids it to a fuller development. A person reading by candlelight would not complain that his vision was obscured if an arc light were substituted for the candle. A traveler who takes notice of the signposts along his way telling the direction and distance, and pointing out pitfalls and dangers, would not consider his rights contested or his liberty restricted by these things. And the law, as it becomes more clearly known to us, defines exactly the sphere of our action and shows plainly where dangers lurk and evil is to be apprehended. And we gladly avail ourselves of this information that enables us to walk straight and secure. The law becomes a godsend to our liberty, and obedience to it our salvation.
He who goes beyond the bounds of true moral liberty, breaks the law of God and sins. He thereby refuses to God the obedience which to Him is due. Disobedience involves contempt of authority and of him who commands. Sin is therefore an offense against God, and that offense is proportionate to the dignity of the person offended. The sinner, by his act of disobedience, not only sets at naught the will of his Maker, but by the same act, in a greater or lesser degree, turns away from his appointed destiny; and in this he is imitated by nothing else in creation. Every other created thing obeys. The heavens follow their designated course. Beasts and birds and fish are intent upon one thing, and that is to work out the divine plan. Man alone sows disorder and confusion therein. He shows irreverence
for God's presence and contempt for His friendship; ingratitude for His goodness and supreme indifference for the penalty that follows his sin as surely as the shadow follows its object. So that, taken all in all, such a creature might fitly be said to be one part criminal and two parts fool. Folly and sin are synonymous in Holy Writ. "The fool saith in his heart there is no God."
Sin is essentially an offense. But there is a difference of degree between a slight and an outrage. There are direct offenses against God, such as the refusal to believe in Him or unbelief; to hope in Him, or despair, etc. Indirect offenses attain Him through the neighbor or ourselves. All duties to neighbor or self are not equally imperious and to fail in them all is not equally evil. Then again, not all sins are committed through pure malice, that is, with complete knowledge and full consent. Ignorance and weakness are factors to be considered in our guilt, and detract from the malice of our sins. Hence two kinds of sin, mortal and venial.
These mark the extremes of offense. One severs all relation of friendship, the other chills the existing friendship. By one, we incur God's infinite hatred, by the other, His displeasure. The penalty for one is eternal; the other can be atoned for by suffering. It is not possible in all cases to tell exactly what is mortal and what venial in our offenses. There is a clean-cut distinction between the two, but the line of demarcation is not always discernible. There are, however, certain characteristics which enable us in the majority of cases to distinguish one from the other.
First, the matter must be grievous in fact or in intention; that is, there must be a serious breach of the law of God or the law of conscience. Then, we must know perfectly well what we are doing and give it our full consent. It must therefore be a grave offense in all the plenitude of its malice. Of course, to act without sufficient reason, with a well-founded doubt as to the malice of the act, would be to violate the law of conscience and would constitute a mortal sin. There is no mortal sin without the fulfillment of these conditions.
All other offenses are venial. We cannot, of course, read the soul of anybody. If, however, we suppose knowledge and consent, there are certain sins that are always mortal. Such are
blasphemy, luxury, heresy, etc. When these sins are deliberate, they are always mortal offenses. Others are usually mortal, such as a sin against justice. To steal is a sin against justice. It is frequently a mortal sin, but it may happen that the amount taken be slight, in which case the offense ceases to be mortal. Likewise, certain sins are usually venial, but in
certain circumstances a venial sin may take on such malice as to be constituted mortal. Our conscience, under God, is the best judge of our malevolence and consequently of our guilt.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
Without going into any superflous details, we shall call the Law of God an act of His will by which He ordains what things we may do or not do, and binds us unto observance under penalty of His divine displeasure. The law thus defined pertains to reasonable beings alone, and supposes on our part, as we have seen, knowledge and free will. The rest of creation is blindly submissive under the hand of God, and yields a necessary obedience. Man alone can obey or disobey; but in this latter case he renders himself amenable to God's justice who, as his Creator, has an equal right to command him, and be obeyed.
The Maker first exercised this right when He put into His creature's soul a sense of right and wrong, which is nothing more than conscience, or as it is called here, natural law. To this law is subject every human being, pagan, Jew and Christian alike. No creature capable of a human act is exempt. The provisions of this law consider the nature of our being, that is, the law prescribes what the necessities of our being demand, and it prohibits what is destructive thereof. Our nature requires physically that we eat, drink and sleep. Similarly, in a moral sense, it calls for justice, truthfulness, respect of God, of the neighbor, and of self. All its precepts are summed up in this one: ''Do unto others as you would have them do unto you "—the golden rule.
Thence flows a series of deducted precepts calculated to protect the moral and inherent rights of our nature. But we are more concerned here with what is known as the positive Law of God, given by Him to man by word of mouth or revelation. We believe that God gave a verbal code to Moses who promulgated it in His name before the Jewish people to the whole world. It was subsequently inscribed on two stone tables, and is known as the Decalogue or Ten Commandments of God. Of these ten, the first three pertain to God Himself, the latter seven to the neighbor; so that the whole might be abridged in these two words, "Love God, and love thy neighbor." This law is in reality only a specified form of the natural law, and its enactment was necessitated by the iniquity of men which had in time obscured and partly effaced the letter of the law in their souls.
Latterly God again spoke, but this time in the person of Jesus Christ. The Saviour, after confirming the Decalogue with His authority, gave other laws to men concerning the Church He had founded and the means of applying to themselves the fruits of the Redemption. We give the name of dogma to what He tells us to believe and of morals to what we must do. These precepts of Jesus Christ are contained in the Gospel, and are called the Evangelical Law. It is made known to us by the infallible Church through which God speaks.
Akin to these divine laws is the purely ecclesiastical law or law of the Church. Christ sent forth His Church clothed with His own and His Father's authority. ''As the Father sent me, so I send you." She was to endure, perfect herself and fulfill her mission on earth. To enable her to carry out this divine plan she makes laws, laws purely ecclesiastical, but laws that have the same binding force as the divine laws themselves, since they bear the stamp of divine authority. God willed the Church to be; He willed consequently all the necessary means without which she would cease to be. For Catholics, therefore, as far as obligations are concerned, there is no practical difference between God's law and the law of His Church. Jesus Christ is God. The Church is His spouse. To her the Saviour said: "He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me."
A breach of the law is a sin. A sin is a deliberate transgression of the Law of God. A sin may be committed in thought, in desire, in word, or in deed, and by omission as well as by commission. It is well to bear in mind that a thought, as well as a deed, is an act, may be a human and a moral act, and consequently may be a sin. Human laws may be violated only in deed; but God, who is a searcher of hearts, takes note of the workings of the will whence
springs all malice. To desire to break His commandments is to offend Him as effectually as to break them in deed; to relish in one's mind forbidden fruits, to meditate and deliberate on evil purposes, is only a degree removed from actual commission of wrong.
Evil is perpetrated in the will, either by a longing to prevaricate or by affection for that which is prohibited. If the evil materializes exteriorly, it does not constitute one in sin anew, but only completes the malice already existing. Men judge their fellows by their works; God judges us by our thoughts, by the inner workings of the soul, and takes notice of our exterior doings only in so far as they are related to the will. Therefore it is that an offense against Him, to be an offense, need not necessarily be perpetrated in word or in deed; it is sufficient that the will place itself in opposition to the Will of God, and adhere to what the Law forbids.
Sin is not the same as vice. One is an act, the other is a state or inclination to act. One is transitory, the other is permanent. One can exist without the other. A drunkard is not always drunk, nor is a man a drunkard for having once or twice overindulged. In only one case is vice less evil than sin, and that is when the inclination remains an unwilling inclination and does not pass to acts. A man who reforms after a protracted spree still retains an inclination, a desire for strong drink. He is nowise criminal so long as he resists that tendency. But practically vice is worse than sin, for it supposes frequent wilful acts of sin of which it is the natural consequence, and leads to many grievous offenses. A vice is without sin when one struggles successfully against it after the habit has been retracted. It may never be radically destroyed. There may be unconscious, involuntary lapses under the constant pressure of a strong inclination, as in the vice of cursing, and it remains innocent as long as it is not willfully yielded to and indulged. But to yield to the gratification of an evil desire or propensity, without constraint, is to doom oneself to the most prolific of evils and to lie under the curse of God.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
In every question of conscience there are two opposing factors: Liberty, which is agreeable to our nature, which allows us to do as we list; and Law which binds us unto the observance of what is unpleasant. Liberty and law are mutually antagonistic. A concession in favor of one is an infringement upon the claims of the other. Conscience, in its normal state, gives to liberty and to law what to each is legitimately due, no more, no less.
Truth lies between extremes. At the two opposite poles of conscientious rectitude are laxity and scruples, one judging all things lawful, the other all things forbidden. One inordinately favors liberty, the other the law. And neither has sufficient grounds on which to form a sound judgment. They are counterfeit consciences, the one dishonest, the other unreasonable. They do unlawful business ; and because the verdict they render is founded on nothing more solid than imaginations, they are in nowise standards of morality, and should not be considered as such.
The first is sometimes known as a "rubber" conscience, on account of its capacity for stretching itself to meet the exigencies of a like or a dislike. Laxity may be the effect of a simple illusion. Men often do wrong unawares. They excuse themselves with the plea: 'I did not know any better." But we are not here examining the acts that can be traced back to self-illusion; rather the state of persons who labor under the disability of seeing wrong anywhere, and who walk through the commandments Church with apparent unconcern. What must we think of such people in face of the fact that they not only could, but should know better! They are supposed to know their catechism. Are there not Catholic books and publications of various sorts? What about the Sunday instructions and sermons? These are the means and opportunities, and they facilitate the fulfillment of what is in us a bounden duty to nourish our souls before they die of spiritual hunger. A delicate, effeminate life, spiritual sloth, and criminal neglect are responsible for this kind of laxity. This state of soul is also the inevitable consequence of long years passed in sin and neglect of prayer. Habit blunts the keen edge of perception. Evil is disquieting to a novice; but it does not look so bad after you have done it a while and get used to it. Crimes thus become ordinary sins, and ordinary sins peccadilloes.
Then again there are people who, like the Pharisees of old, strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They educate themselves up to a strict observance of all things insignificant. They would not forget to say grace before and after meals, but would knife the neighbor's character or soil their minds with all filthiness, without a scruple or a shadow of remorse. These are they who walk in the broad way that leadeth to destruction. In the first place, their conscience or the thing that does duty for a conscience, is false and they are responsible for it. Then, this sort of a conscience is not habitually certain, and laxity consists precisely in contemning doubts and passing over lurking, lingering suspicions as not worthy of notice. Lastly, it has not the quality of common prudence since the judgment it pronounces is not supported by plausible reasons. Its character is dishonesty.
A scruple is a little sharp stone formerly used as a measure of weight. Pharmacists always have scruples. There is nothing so torturing as to walk with one or several of these pebbles in the shoe. Spiritual scruples serve the same purpose for the conscience. They torture and torment; they make devotion and prayer impossible, and blind the conscience; they weaken the mind, exhaust the bodily forces, and cause a disease that not infrequently comes to a climax in despair or insanity. A scrupulous conscience is not to be followed as a standard of right and wrong, because it is unreasonable. In its final analysis it is not certain, but doubtful and improbable, and is influenced by the most futile reasons. It is lawful, it is even necessary, to refuse assent to the dictates of such a conscience.
To persons thus afflicted the authoritative need of a prudent adviser must serve as a rule until the conscience is cured of its morbid and erratic tendencies. It is not scruples to walk in the fear of God, and avoid sin and the occasions thereof: that is wisdom; nor to frequent the sacraments and be assiduous in prayer through a deep concern for the welfare of one's soul: that is piety. It is not scruples to be at a loss to decide whether a thing is wrong or right; that is doubt; nor to suffer keenly after the commission of a grievous sin; that is remorse. It is not scruples to be greatly anxious and disturbed over past confessions when there is a reasonable cause for it: that is natural. A scrupulous person is one who, outside these several contingencies, is continually racked with fears, and persists, against all evidence, in seeing sin where there is none, or magnifies it beyond all proportion where it really is.
The first feature—empty and perpetual fears concerns confessions which are sufficient, according to all the rules of prudence; prayers, which are said with overwrought anxiety, lest a single distraction creep in and mar them; and temptations, which are resisted with inordinate contention of mind, and perplexity lest consent be given.
The other and more desperate feature is pertinacity of judgment. The scrupulous person will ask advice and not believe a word he is told. The more information he gets, the worse he becomes, and he adds to his misery by consulting every adviser in sight. He refuses to be put under obedience and seems to have a morbid affection for his very condition. There is only one remedy for this evil, and that remedy is absolute and blind obedience to a prudent director. Choose one, consult him as often as you desire, but do not leave him for another. Then submit punctiliously to his direction. His conscience must be yours, for the time being. And if you should err in following him, God will hold him, and not you, responsible.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
The will of God, announced to the world at large, is known as the Law of God; manifested to each individual soul, it is called conscience. These are not two different rules of morality, but one and the same rule. The latter is a form or copy of the former. One is the will of God, the other is its echo in our souls. We might fancy God, at the beginning of all things, speaking His will concerning right and wrong, in the presence of the myriads of souls that lay in the state of possibility. And when, in the course of time, these souls come into being, with unfailing regularity, at every act, conscience, like a spiritual phonograph, gives back His accents and reechoes: "it is lawful," or "it is not lawful." Or, to use another simile, conscience is the compass by which we steer aright our moral lives towards the haven of our souls destination in eternity. But just as behind the mariner's compass is the great unseen power, called attraction, under whose influence the needle points to the star; so does the will or Law of God control the action of the conscience, and direct it faithfully towards what is good.
We have seen that, in order to prevaricate it is not sufficient to transgress the Law of God: we must know; conscience makes us know. It is only when we go counter to its dictates that we are constituted evil-doers. And at the bar of God's justice, it is on the testimony of conscience that sentence will be passed. Her voice will be that of a witness present at every deed, good or evil, of our lives. Conscience should always tell the truth, and tell it with certainty. Practically, this is not always the case. We are sometimes certain that a thing is right when it is really wrong. There are therefore two kinds of conscience: a true and a certain conscience, and they are far from being one and the same thing.
A true conscience speaks the truth, that is, tells us what is truly right and truly wrong. It is a genuine echo of the voice of God. A certain conscience, whether it speaks the truth or not, speaks with assurance, without a suspicion of error, and its voice carries conviction. When we act in accordance with the first, we are right; we may know it, doubt it or think it probable, but we are right in fact. When we obey the latter, we know, we are sure that we are right, but it is possible that we be in error. A true conscience, therefore, may be certain or uncertain; a certain conscience may be true or erroneous.
A true conscience is not the rule of morality. It must be certain. It is not necessary that it be true, although this is always to be desired, and in the normal state of things should be the case. But true or false, it must be certain. The reason is obvious. God judges us according as we do good or evil. Our merit or demerit is dependent upon our responsibility. We are responsible only for the good or evil we know we do. Knowledge and certainty come from a certain conscience, and yet not from a true conscience which may be doubtful.
Now, suppose we are in error, and think we are doing something good, whereas it is in reality evil. We perceive no malice in the deed, and, in performing it, there is consequently no malice in us, we do not sin. The act is said to be materially evil, but formally good; and for such evil God cannot hold us responsible. Suppose again that we err, and that the evil we think we do is really good. In this instance, first, the law of morality is violated,—a certain, though erroneous conscience: this is sinful. Secondly, a bad motive vitiates an act, even if the deed in itself be good. Consequently, we incur guilt and God's wrath by the commission of such a deed, which is materially good, but formally bad. One may wonder and say: "how can guilt attach to doing good?" Guilt attaches to formal evil, that is, evil that is shown to us by our conscience and committed by us as such. The wrong comes, not from the object of our doing which is good, but from the intention which is bad. It is true that nothing is good that is not thoroughly good, that a thing is bad only when there is something lacking in its goodness, that evil is a defect of goodness; but formal evil alone can be imputed to us and material cannot. The one is a conscious, the other an unconscious, defect. Here an erroneous conscience is obeyed ; there the same conscience is disregarded. And that kind of a conscience is the rule of morality; to go against it is to sin.
There are times when we have no certitude. The conscience may have nothing to say concerning the honesty of a cause to which we are about to commit ourselves. This state of uncertainty and perplexity is called doubt. To doubt is to suspend judgment; a dubious conscience is one that does not function. In doubt the question may be: "To do; is it right or wrong? May I perform this act, or must I abstain therefrom?" In this case, we inquire whether it be lawful or unlawful to go on, but we are sure that it is lawful not to act. There is but one course to pursue. We must not commit ourselves and must refrain from acting, until such a time, at least, as, by inquiring and considering, we shall have obtained sufficient evidence to convince us that we may allow ourselves this liberty without incurring guilt. If, on the contrary, while still doubting, we persist in committing the act, we sin, because in all affairs of right and wrong we must follow a certain conscience as the standard of morality.
But the question may be : "To do or not to do; which is right and which is wrong?" Here we know not which way to turn, fearing evil in either alternative. We must do one thing or the
other. There are reasons and difficulties on both sides. We are unable to resolve the difficulties, lay the doubt, and form a sure conscience, what must we do? If all action can be momentarily suspended, and we have the means of consulting, we must abstain from action and consult. If the affair is urgent, and this cannot be done; if we must act on the spot and decide for ourselves, then, we can make that dubious conscience prudently certain by applying this principle to our conduct: ''Of two evils, choose the lesser." We therefore judge which action involves the least amount of evil. We may embrace the course thus chosen without a fear of doing wrong. If we have inadvertently chosen the greater evil, it is an error of judgment for which we are in nowise responsible before God. But this means must be employed only where all other and surer means fail. The certainty we thereby acquire is a prudent certainty, and is sufficient to guarantee us against offending.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
Morals are for man, not for the brute; they are concerned with his thoughts, desires, words and deeds; they suppose a moral agent.
What is a moral agent?
A moral agent is one who, in the conduct of his life, is capable of good and evil, and who, in consequence of this faculty of choosing between right and wrong is responsible to God for the good and evil he does. Is it enough, in order to qualify as a moral and responsible agent, to be in a position to respect or to violate the Law? It is not enough; but it is necessary that the agent know what he is doing; know that it is right or wrong; that he will to do it, as such; and that he be free to do it, or not to do it. Whenever any one of these three elements, knowledge, consent and liberty is wanting in the commission or omission of any act, the deed is not a moral deed; and the agent, under the circumstances, is not a moral agent.
When God created man, He did not make him simply a being that walks and talks, sleeps and eats, laughs and cries; He endowed him with the faculties of intelligence and free will. More than this. He intended that these faculties should be exercised in all the details of life; that the intelligence should direct, and the free will approve, every step taken, every act performed, every deed left undone. Human energy being thus controlled, all that man does is said to be voluntary and bears the peculiar stamp of morality, the quality of being good or evil in the sight of God and worthy of His praise or blame, according as it squares or not with the Rule of Morality laid down by Him for the shaping of human life. Of all else He takes no cognizance, since all else refers to Him not indifferently from the rest of animal creation, and offers no higher homage than that of instinct and necessity.
When a man in his waking hours does something in which his intelligence has no share, does it without being aware of what he is doing, he is said to be in a state of mental aberration, which is only another name for insanity or folly, whether it be momentary or permanent of its nature. A human being, in such a condition, stands on the same plane with the animal, with this difference, that the one is a freak and the other is not. Morals, good or bad, have no meaning for either. If the will or consent has no part in what is done, we do nothing, another acts through us; 'tis not ours, but the deed of another. An instrument or tool used in the accomplishment of a purpose possesses the same negative merit or demerit, whether it be a thing without a will or an unwilling human being. If we are not free, have no choice in the matter, must consent, we differ in nothing from all brutish and inanimate nature that follows necessarily, fatally, the bent of its instinctive inclinations and obeys the laws of its being. Under these conditions, there can be no morality or responsibility before God; our deeds are alike blameless and valueless in His sight. Thus, the simple transgression of the Law does not constitute us in guilt; we must transgress deliberately, willfully. Full inadvertence, perfect forgetfulness, total blindness is called invincible ignorance; this destroys utterly the moral act and makes us involuntary agents. When knowledge is incomplete the act is less voluntary; except it be the case of ignorance brought on purposely, a wilful blinding of oneself, in the vain hope of escaping the consequences of one's acts. This betrays a stronger willingness to act, a more deliberately set will.
Concupiscence has a kindred effect on our reason. It is a consequence of our fallen nature by which we are prone to evil rather than to good, find it more to our taste and easier to yield to wrong than to resist it. Call it passion, temperament, character, what you will,—it is an inclination to evil. We cannot always control its action. Everyone has felt more or less the tyranny of concupiscence, and no child of Adam but has it branded in his nature and flesh. Passion may rob us of our reason, and run into folly or insanity; in which event we are unconscious agents, and do nothing voluntary. It may so obscure the reason as to make us less ourselves, and consequently less willing. But there is such a thing as, with studied and refined malice and depravity, to purposely and artificially, as it were, excite concupiscence, in order the more intensely and savagely to act. This is only a proof of greater deliberation, and renders the deed all the more voluntary. A person is therefore more or less responsible according as what he does, or the good or evil of what he does, is more or less clear to him. Ignorance or the passions may affect his clear vision of right and
wrong, and under the stress of this deception, wring a reluctant yielding of the will, a consent only half willingly given. Because there is consent, there is guilt but the guilt is measured by the degree of premeditation.
God looks upon things solely in their relation to Him. An abomination before men may be something very different in His sight who searches the heart and reins of man and measures evil by the malice of the evil-doer. The only good or evil He sees in our deeds is the good or evil we ourselves see in them before or while we act. Violence and fear may oppress the will, and thereby prove destructive to the morality of an act and the responsibility of the agent. Certain it is, that we can be forced to act against our will, to perform that which we abhor, and do not consent to do. Such force may be brought to bear upon us as we cannot withstand. Fear may influence us in a like manner. It may paralyze our faculties and rob us of our senses. Evidently, under these conditions, no voluntary act is possible, since the will does not concur and no consent is given. The subject becomes a mere tool in the hands of another.
Can violence and fear do more than this? Can it not only rob us of the power to will, not only force us to act without consent, but also force the will, force us to consent? Never; and the simple reason is that we cannot do two contradictory things at the same time—consent and not consent, for that is what it means to be forced to consent. Violence and fear may weaken the will so that it finally yield. The fault, if fault there be, may be less inexcusable by reason of the pressure under which it labored. But once we have willed, we have willed, and essentially there is nothing unwilling about what is willingly done.
The will is an inviolable shrine. Men may circumvent, attack, seduce and weaken it. But it cannot be forced. The power of man and devil cannot go so far. Even God respects it to that point. In all cases of pressure being brought to bear upon the moral agent for an evil purpose, when resistance is possible, resistance alone can save him from the consequences. He must resist to his utmost, to the end, never yield, if he would not incur the responsibility of a free agent. Non-resistance betokens perfect willingness to act. The greater the resistance, the less voluntary the act in the event of consent being finally given; for resistance implies reluctance, and reluctance is the opposition of a will that battles against an oppressing influence. In moral matters, defeat can never be condoned, no matter how great the struggle, if there is a final yielding of the will; but the circumstance of energetic defense stands to a man's credit and will protect him from much of the blame and disgrace due to defeat. Thus we see that the first quality of the acts of a moral agent is that he think, desire, say and do with knowledge and free consent. Such acts, and only such, can be called good or bad. What makes them good and bad, is another question.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
I will be posting a chapter a day from this lovely book. It is something that is sorely needed in our day and age. Please read on:
The contents of this volume appeared originally in The Catholic Transcript, of Hartford, Connecticut, in weekly installments, from February, 1901, to February, 1903. During the course of their publication, it became evident that the form of instruction adopted was appreciated by a large number of readers in varied conditions of life—this appreciation being evinced, among other ways, by a frequent and widespread demand for back-numbers of the publishing journal. The management, finding itself unable to meet this demand, suggested the bringing out of the entire series in book-form; and thus, with very few corrections, we offer the "Briefs" to all desirous of a better acquaintance with Catholic Morals.
BELIEVING AND DOING
Morals pertain to right living, to the things we do, in relation to God and His law, as opposed to right thinking, to what we believe, to dogma. Dogma directs our faith or belief, morals shape our lives. By faith we know God, by moral living we serve Him; and this double homage, of our mind and our works, is the worship we owe our Creator and Master and the necessary condition of our salvation.
Faith alone will save no man. It may be convenient for the easy-going to deny this, and take an opposite view of the matter; but convenience is not always a safe counselor. It may be that the just man liveth by faith; but he lives not by faith alone. Or, if he does, it is faith of a different sort from what we define here as faith, viz., a firm assent of the mind to truths revealed. We have the testimony of Holy Writ, again and again reiterated, that faith,
even were it capable of moving mountains, without good works is of no avail. The Catholic Church is convinced that this doctrine is genuine and reliable enough to make it her own; and sensible enough, too. For faith does not make a man impeccable; he may believe rightly, and live badly. His knowledge of what God expects of him will not prevent him from doing just the contrary; sin is as easy to a believer as to an unbeliever. And he who pretends to have found religion, holiness, the Holy Ghost, or whatever else he may call it, and can therefore no longer prevaricate against the law, is, to common-sense people, nothing but a sanctified humbug or a pious idiot.
Nor are good works alone sufficient. Men of emancipated intelligence and becoming breadth of mind, are often heard to proclaim with a greater flourish of verbosity than of reason and argument, that the golden rule is religion enough for them, without the trappings of creeds and dogmas; they respect themselves and respect their neighbors, at least they say they do, and this, according to them, is the fulfillment of the law. We submit that this sort of worship was in vogue a good many centuries before the God-Man came down upon earth; and if it fills the bill now, as it did in those days, it is difficult to see the utility of Christ's coming, of His giving of a law of belief and of His founding of a Church. It is beyond human comprehension that He should have come for naught, labored for naught and died for naught. And such must be the case, if the observance of the natural law is a sufficient worship of the Creator. What reasons Christ may have had for imposing this or that truth upon our belief, is beside the question; it is enough that He did reveal truths, the acceptance of which glorifies Him in the mind of the believer, in order that the mere keeping of the commandments appear forthwith an insufficient mode of worship.
Besides, morals are based on dogma, or they have no basis at all; knowledge of the manner of serving God can only proceed from knowledge of who and what He is; right living is the fruit of right thinking. Not that all who believe rightly are righteous and walk in the path of salvation: losing themselves, these are lost in spite of the truths they know and profess; nor that they who cling to an erroneous belief and a false creed can perform no deed of true moral worth and are doomed; they may be righteous in spite of the errors they profess, thanks alone to the truths in their creeds that are not wholly corrupted. But the natural order of things demands that our works partake of the nature of our convictions, that truth or error in mind beget truth or error correspondingly in deed and that no amount of self confidence in a man can make a course right when it is wrong, can make a man's actions good when they are materially bad. This is the principle of the tree and its fruit and it is too old-fashioned to be easily denied. True morals spring from true faith and true dogma; a false creed cannot teach correct morality, unless accidentally, as the result of a sprinkling of truth through the mass of false teaching. The only accredited moral instructor is the true Church. Where there is no dogma, there can logically be no morals, save such as human instinct and reason devise; but this is an absurd morality, since there is no recognition of an authority, of a legislator, to make the moral law binding and to give it a sanction. He who says he is a law unto himself chooses thus to veil his proclaiming freedom from all law. His golden rule is a thing too easily twistable to be of any assured benefit to others than himself; his moral sense, that is, his sense of right and wrong, is very likely where his faith is—nowhere.
It goes without saying that the requirements of good morals are a heavy burden for the. natural man, that is, for man left, in the midst of seductions and allurements, to the purely human resources of his own unaided wit and strength; so heavy a burden is this, in fact, that according to Catholic doctrine, it cannot be borne without assistance from on high, the which assistance we call grace. This supernatural aid we believe essential to the shaping of a good moral life; for man, being destined, in preference to all the rest of animal creation, to a supernatural end, is thereby raised from the natural to a supernatural order. The requirements of this order are therefore above and beyond his native powers and can only be met with the help of a force above his own. It is labor lost for us to strive to climb the clouds on a ladder of our own make; the ladder must be let down from above. Human air-ships are a futile invention and cannot be made to steer straight or to soar high in the atmosphere of the supernatural. One-half of those who fail in moral matters are those who trust altogether, or too much, in their own strength, and reckon without the power that said " Without Me you can do nothing."
The other half go to the other extreme. They imagine that the Almighty should not only direct and aid them, but also that He should come down and drag them along in spite of themselves; and they complain when He does not, excuse and justify themselves on the ground that He does not, and blame Him for their failure to walk straight in the narrow path. They expect Him to pull them from the clutches of temptation into which they have deliberately walked. The drunkard expects Him to knock the glass out of his hand: the imprudent, the inquisitive and the vicious would have it so that they might play with fire, yea, even put in their hand, and not be scorched or burnt. 'Tis a miracle they want, a miracle at every turn, a suspension of the laws of nature to save them from the effects of their voluntary perverseness. Too lazy to employ the means at their command, they thrust the whole burden on the Maker. God helps those who help themselves. A supernatural state does not dispense us from the obligation of practicing natural virtue. You can build a supernatural life only on the foundations of a natural life. To do away with the latter is to build in the air; the structure will not stay up, it will and must come down at the first
blast of temptation.
Catholic morals therefore require faith in revealed truths, of which they are but deductions, logical conclusions; they presuppose, in their observance, the grace of God; and call for a certain strenuosity of life without which nothing meritorious can be effected. We must be convinced of the right God has to trace a line of conduct for us; we must be as
earnest in enlisting His assistance as if all depended on Him; and then go to work as if it all depended on ourselves.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904
Prayer for Perseverance
O my Redeemer, will that terrible moment ever come, when but few Christians will be found animated with a spirit of faith? that moment when, provoked to indignation, Thou wilt remove from us thy protection? The vices, the evil habits of our children, have perhaps irrevocably moved thy justice this very day to vengeance! O Thou who art the author and finisher of our faith, we conjure Thee, in the bitterness of our hearts, humbled and contrite, not to permit the beautiful light of faith to be extinguished in us. Be mindful of thy mercies of old, cast a compassionate regard upon that vine which Thou hast planted with thy right hand, which was bedewed with the sweat of the Apostles, watered with the precious blood of thousands upon thousands of martyrs and the tears of so many generous penitents, and made fruitful by the prayers of so many confessors and innocent virgins. O divine Mediator, have regard for those zealous souls who incessantly raise their hearts to Thee and pray for the maintenance of that most precious treasure, the true Faith. Suspend, O must just God, the decree of our reprobation, turn away thine eyes from our sins, and fix them on the adorable blood, shed upon the Cross as the price of salvation, and daily pleading for it, on our behalf, upon our altars. Oh, preserve us in the true Catholic Roman Faith. Infirmities afflict us, annoyances wear us away, misfortunes oppress us: but preserve to us thy holy faith ; for, endowed with this precious gift, we shall willingly bear every sorrow, and nothing can affect our happiness. On the other hand, without this supreme treasure of the faith, our misfortunes will be unspeakable and immense. O good Jesus, author of our faith, keep it pure; keep us safe within the bark of Peter, faithful and obedient to his successor, thy True Vicar here on earth, that so the unity of holy Church may be preserved, holiness fostered, the Holy See kept free and protected, and the universal Church extended, to the advantage of souls. O Jesus, author of our faith, humble and convert the enemies of thy Church ; bestow on all Kings and Christian Princes, and on all the faithful, peace and true unity; strengthen and maintain all in thy holy service, to the end that we may live by Thee and die in Thee. Ah! my Jesus, author of our faith, in Thee I would live, and in Thee would I die. Amen.
(Indulgence 300 days--Leo XIII.)
First Sunday After Epiphany
A Holy Family
My dear children: Our Holy Mother, the Church, presents to us a moving picture throughout the year, namely, she throws the life and actions of our Lord upon the screen, from His Incarnation to His glorious Ascension into heaven, in order that we may consider what He has done for our salvation. On Christmas day you saw the new-born Babe in the manger; on Epiphany, the three kings from the East, greeting and worshipping Him. Today we see Jesus as a child of twelve years.
At this period of our Lord's life, Mary and Joseph took Him with them to Jerusalem. It was a long and fatiguing journey. What a beautiful example is here given to your parents. Do they take you to church, or at least send you there? When you are "Children of the law," you are bound under pain of mortal sin to hear Mass on Sundays and holidays. The great distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem did not deter the holy family from assisting at public worship. How much more easily you can comply with your religious duties! The church is at no great distance from any of you.
At the beginning of the last century there lived in the parish of Roybon, near the town of Marcellinus, in the South of France, a family belonging to the laboring class. The head of this family, Antony Ginien, had already reached a high state of Christian perfection. Although he dwelt at a distance of about five miles from the church, he was always among the first to reach it on Sundays and holydays, that he might hear Holy Mass, and assist at the offices of the Church.
In the latter years of his life it became impossible for him to travel that distance in the winter-time, on account of his infirmities; but from the Feast of Easter until All Saints he would rise early in the morning, and, with the aid of two crutches, accomplish the journey leisurely in about four hours. Finally, at the age of seventy-five, he passed to his reward, leaving to us all an admirable example for our imitation and instruction. This pious old man had surely studied the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and made it his own. From His youth, the good Jesus directs His thoughts and desires towards the service of God. Oh, that we would follow His example from our earliest days; peacefully then would we work out our soul's salvation. But how is it with us? Are we imitating Jesus not only in our twelfth year, but in all the years of our youth? There are many who pass their youthful days in levity and sin. Is this our case also? Jesus spent three days in the temple. Ask yourself this question: Do you love to pray in the House of God ? Does it give you pleasure
to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament ? It would not, indeed, be a good sign if visits to the church, prayer and exercises of devotion were distasteful to you; this would betray but little love for God on your part. The example of the boy Jesus is a pointed lesson for all children to be diligent in visiting God's House and in attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as hearing the sermon.
A rich lady who lived in the country, had no children of her own, and wished, in consequence, to adopt, as her daughter, an attractive and well-conducted girl from amoung her relations in the town. She went there for this purpose; and scarcely was her intention made public, when several girls presented themselves before her, recommending themselves to her, and claiming kindred with her. At first the lady gave no decisive answer, but presenting each girl with a coin of gold, she said : "This is the fair-day. Buy for yourselves whatever you like best. Come back afterwards, and let me see what you have bought." The girls hurried away and later on returned in the greatest delight. Almost all of them had bought gay-colored ribbons, strings of glittering pearls, gold-embroidered head dresses, and ornaments, which they showed in high glee to their newly-found relation.
One poor girl alone, Augusta by name, had bought none of these trifles, but showed as the result of her purchase a prayer-book, and a distaff with a dozen spindles. The lady was pleased with this. Taking Augusta kindly by the hand, she said : "I am delighted, my dear child, that you have turned your thoughts thus early to prayer and industry. The others have shown too clearly by their purchases that finery and vanity are more to their taste than piety and industry. You shall be henceforth to me as a daughter. Continue ever thus; be always good, pious, and industrious and our good God will be always with you, and His blessing will follow you everywhere.,, Thus was this God-fearing child rewarded in preference to her vain sisters.
The hidden life of Jesus Christ after His first stay in the temple should be our particular example, my dear children. Quietly and simply Jesus lived in Nazareth. He helped His foster-father faithfully with his carpentering, and read the wishes of His mother in her eyes. Prayerfully and laboriously His days passed until He was thirty years old, when His public teaching began. All that time Jesus, the eternal God, remained obedient to human beings. How many a child who has barely outgrown schooldays, wants to act independently and without consideration of its parents, to the bitter grief of the latter, and to its own destruction ! In a most humble way Jesus shut Himself up in the workshop of a carpenter. How many a youth full of great plans leaves his father's house because its life is too simple! How many a one is ashamed of the humble position of his father, yet Christ was never ashamed of His lowly surroundings, or His humble parentage. In an out-of-the-way village, He lived the life of a common carpenter till His thirtieth year. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age. Daily the divine Child gave clearer proofs of the infinite fullness of His divine omniscience and sanctity. Children, let us imitate Jesus. Can it be said of us in truth, that as we have advanced in years we have increased in wisdom and grace and holiness? One knowledge may be greater, but are we not still infected with the same faults and bad habits as heretofore? Oh, let us humble ourselves before God and repent of our lukewarmness!
You should often contemplate the life of the little Jesus, my children, for it is the mirror of all virtues for you, and not only during Advent, but even now when Advent and Christmas have passed away, there should be a little shrine in your heart dedicated to the dear Christ-Child. There offer your acts of prompt obedience, ardent prayer, and loving sacrifice. Jesus will consider thi§ the best and the dearest gift of the season.
Source: Story Sermonettes for the Children's Mass, Imprimatur 1921
A coloring picture of the Holy Family can be found below.
'Tis Christmas in Your Heart
Tis' a story that they love to tell in Ireland.
'Tis a story the whole world loves to hear. For 'tis the story of how warm arms held the Infant King and Christ found His cradle on a human heart while Mary slept. It seems that Brigid was still a young woman the loveliest and the sweetest in all Ireland. The water of Patrick's baptism was still moist on her white; unstained forehead; the light of faith had wakened Bethlehem stars in her eyes — When God gave her a vision and a dream.
She knelt; sweet maid; in her father's castle, alone in the little room in which she prayed to God and loved God's mother. Christmas was in her heart as Christmas was in the crisp, crackling air about her. For 'twas the lovely eve of the lovely day when Heaven came to earth and the bosom of an immaculate maid became the first cradle of a God made man.
ALONE with her thoughts, Brigid dreamed of the Christmas soon to be sung in the chapel by the old priest who had once been a Druid, till he had bowed his venerable head, as did the Magi, before Incarnate Wisdom. The cold winds swept across her room, playing like mice among the rushes on the floor, or sighing about the corners like wishful souls of the weary Old Law, tired of their long delay. But Brigid swept and garnished her soul for the coming dawn and the coming King.
SOON at the Christmas Mass the the Infant Savior was to come again. Soon she could hold Him within her breast. And for a moment even Mary she regarded without any envy. Christ would be hers too. He would be born in her virgin soul. What else could Christmas be except Christ coming to fill the soul with the glory of His Godhead hidden in swad- dling clothes or in the disguise of a white host? Yet the heart of Brigid was only for a moment content. The white host would hide Him too completely. It held Him safe as never swaddling clothes had done, and it would bind Him away from her searching sight. Ah, how she longed to see Him in all the pale sweetness of His infancy! How she ached to feel His tiny fingers fumbling at her throat, His helpless little head pillowed against her breast. His warm breath keeping rhythm with the sighs which were the beat of His soul, that could not sleep for love of heedless men.
'TRULY the host was fair and hid Him in its whiteness. Yet even the Christmas Mass would not bring to her His mother. 'Twould be the priest that would bear Him to her, not Mary, who had placed Him trustfully in the arms of shepherds sweaty from running at an angel's command. Brigid sighed for the whole of Christmas, for Christ and His mother, for the Child and the Madonna. Oh she sighed and she prayed. She prayed and she sighed. For her heart was heavy with the joy of Christmas and heavy too with an unsatisfied longing for Bethlehem. Then came the vision. The sentry struck the midnight hour heavily on her father's wall. Brigid's eyes closed, then opened again. And Christmas began. The rough stone walls of her room, damp with the winter's chill and scarred with the never healing wounds of ancient masons, receded and grew dim. Gently the walls sloped back until they were the slanting of autumnal hills, grey-brown against the heavy folds of velvet sky. She lifted her head to see, not the tapestried ceiling of her cell, but the faint flickers of watchful stars grown pale before the resistless glory of one rival star that glowed over the hills. And the little door that sh'e had passed so often, as she talked from her room to the chapel, was the dark; forbidding entry of a cave.
SLOWLY Brigid rose, for the vision needed no angel to interpret it. Off in the pathways of the hills she heard voices that she knew were those of shepherds hurrying away to their heedless fellows with glad tidings of great joy. It was no longer the sighing of the wind she heard about her, but the last faint echoes of angelic song stirring the farthest corners of the earth. And through the mouth of the cave trembled a failing light that touched the scarred entry with fading warmth and beckoned her as it receded.
WITH quick steps she hurried forward and stood while the last rays of the light died against the warm wool of her white mantle and the heavy red folds that were her sleeves, and the linen coif that bound her head and held captive her heavy braids. Drawn forward by the dying light, she entered the cave — And paused. Surely, she should kneel and adore. Heaven was here, buried in the blue shadows of a cave. God was among His people, wait- ing for His worshipers. But Brigid did not kneel. Her woman's heart was too full of pity for the scene, struck down by the heavy hand of exhaustion, a stalwart man lay upon the rough earth of the cave, his traveler s cloak scarce wrapped around him, his traveler's stick dropped from his nerveless hand. And against the wall, close to the manger, in which no mother long would leave her child, sat the weary Mary. Her back curved as it sought rest against the cold surface of the cave's hewn rock. Her eyes were stroked with heavy lines of blue. Her shoulders sagged as if they bore the weight of the heavens. And her head bent forward in utter weariness. Only her arms were alert. With the tireless skill of a mother, those arms made up for the frail strength of the girl. They curved protectingly about her sleeping Son.
BRIGID looked and marveled. Marveled that God could be so small and so sweet. Marveled that God's mother could be so weary. Marveled that she herself felt as much of pity as of love. And out of a heart of mingled pity and love Brigid spoke. "Mary" she said, and her voice was like the voice of a harp which is swept by a breeze, "Mary, you're tired indeed." And the gentlest eyes in all the world looked up beneath lids laden with sleep, and the fair head that was Mary's bowed in assent. Then whispered Brigid: "AH, well you might be, ma-cushla. For 'tis I that know all you did and suffered ere you bore your Joy. Long was the way from Nazareth and few the inns, and crowded. Sure, your strength was never great, and 'twas far miles you carried Him under your heart. You wandered long from house to house, weary and affrighted with the doors slamming in your face — and in His. Then up the long hillside to the cave and this cold comfort on a wintry night. '"Alone, macushla, well I know it was alone you bore your Child. For what use is even a good man when a woman's great hour has come? No woman took Him from your arms to bathe Him and wrap Him against the bitter wind. That too you did, alone. could you sleep, mav- ourneen, till you had held Him up to adoring angels. And were you wearied by the shep- herds, who lingered long, held captive by their joy in Him and their unwillingness to leave the Lamb of God even for their own straying lambs along the hillside? "'Mary, beloved, you're weary. Good reason you're weary." And Mary smiled, even though her lips were tremulous and her head was crushed with sleep. "But you can sleep now, Mary machree." And Brigid slipped off her white wool mantle and laid it on the ground. "Of course you couldn't sleep; not till I came, beloved. What with the dangers of the night and the men that hate Him, you had to watch. But, Mary, if you'll let me ... if, Mary, you'll trust me ... if my arms can learn from yours the art of guarding Him . . . why, here's my cloak for your cot and my bosom for His cradle and bold in her desire, yet abashed at her temerity, Brigid dropped her eyes — blue, starred with the stars of hope; then slowly lifted them, hoping, praying, holding out her arms. Then Mary smiled again, and Brigid knew her prayer was answered. Brigid was on her knees that second, close to Mary's side. Gently the mother passed her Babe from the hollow of her arms to the cradling arms of Brigid. Gently she relaxed her weary body upon the soft wool of Brigid's mantle. Her eyes fluttered and closed. She was asleep. Within the arms of Brigid the Infant King stirred as if accustom- ing Himself to His new cradle. Then a deep sigh was born of trust and contentment. His tiny body snuggled against her bosom. Small fingers warm and helpless yet resistlessly powerful; touched her throat. And Brigid sank back against the wall of the cave; her voice; the sheerest breath of melody; singing to Jesus of Bethlehem an Irish lullaby.
AND so it happened that while Joseph slept the sleep of shame and exhaustion (shame for the cave he had offered his bride; exhaustion from his efforts to avoid that shame); and Mary rested trustfully upon the mantle of Brigid; Brigid played nurse and foster mother to the Son of God. And the Son of God accepted her bosom; pure as the snows never were upon the roofs of her convents; comforting as the fire of a love that was strong enough to warm her God. The Infant of Bethlehem had made of Brigid's heart the second cradle of His Christmastide. Vision faded, say the Irish bards who tell the story, as all visions must fade until the unfading vision of the eternal Christmas. The slanting hillside stood straight again and became the cold gray stone of her familiar wall. The tapestry-hung ceiling shut out the sight of stars. The weary Joseph and the sleeping Mary were gone, and Brigid looked down into the empty hollow of her arms that had recently cradled the King of Christmas. Empty, but not for long. For Brigid rose, and through the door that had been the mouth of Bethlehem's cave she walked from her room into the chapel for the Mass of Christmas. Do you see now why the Irish call their Brigid the foster mother of the Savior? And shall we follow her through that little door which leads to the Bethlehem that is our Christmas Mass? And shall we too take into our cradling hearts the Christ of the Christmastide?
Source: Tis Christmas in Your Heart, Imprimatur 1934
A coloring picture can be found below.
LEGENDS AND STORIES OF THE CHILD JESUS
"The poorest of them all."
But they made answer to Him, " Nay "
They were lords' and ladies' sons;
And He, the poorest of them all,
Was born in an ox's stall.—Old carol.
WHAT a grumpy old woman was Nanny-Fox ! How she used to storm at her little grandson Charlie ; and when she was not crippled and helpless with rheumatism, how she used to beat him too! Even the rough crew of Tile Street, Dublin, where Nanny lived, cried shame on her for her ill-use of little Charlie. Not that Charlie ever complained, or made a fuss about any of his trials. He was a pluckylittle chap, and his natural courage was strengthened by the grace of God given him in the sacraments and by prayer. " When Jesus is present, all is well, and nothing seems difficult: most rich is he who is dear to Jesus " that is what Charlie felt in his heart of hearts, though I don't think he could have told it in such a beautiful way.
Charlie's father, old Nanny's son, had married when he was quite young. His wife had died
when Charlie was born: she had been weak and ailing for some time, and her husband had not money enough to buy her food and nourishing things to keep her alive. For he had no trade; the little money he earned was for selling white mice and rats, of which he had always a great number in cages at home—in the one room in which they lived. Perhaps living in the stifling atmosphere with so many animals helped to kill the mother, as it certainly did Charlie's father, who, stricken with a fever, for want of pure air, good nursing, medicine, and nourishment, died when Charlie was only twelve years old. He had been good to his boy while he lived, for he had never forsaken his religious duties; and, when dying, he made Charlie promise faithfully to go regularly to confession and communion, never to miss Mass on Sundays or days of obligation, and to be very devout to our blessed Lady. Charlie had promised, and in spite of temptations and difficulties had kept his promise manfully ; for our dear Mother upholds amid all trials and obstacles those who ask her for her help, and do not turn aside when it comes.
Nanny was a wicked old woman. She had drowned all the whispers of her conscience in gin, long ago; and if at times loud warnings would make themselves heard, she hugged the devil closer to her heart, till at last she heard no voice, obeyed no dictates, but his. Charlie took care of the mice, and went about the streets with them trying to sell them. It was not such a poor business, after all. Many children liked to watch the little pets running up ladders, playing hide-and-seek, and doing the other pretty tricks that Charlie taught them; and they generally begged pennies from their nurses or parents to give to Charlie, who would have got on very well as far as money was concerned if it had not been for his grandmother. But old Nanny took all his money from him at the end of the day, and spent most of it for gin.
Charlie could have kept it from her had he chosen, for of course he need not have told her how much money he had taken during the day; but he had promised his father to be good to her—his father had not foreseen the result and he could never tell a lie, or deceive the least little bit in the world, not even though his grandmother took the money for gin, and left him half-starved and in rags. Drink is so selfish, so unkind : it uproots the feelings that
are deepest-rooted by God in our hearts—the longing for Him and the love of our own relations.
When Nanny was ill, Charlie was as gentle and forbearing with her as a Sister of Charity. Not that he was perfect. Now and then, when she sent him to the public house at the end of the street to spend some of his hard-won coppers on gin, Charlie would stand in the street outside the door of the " Red Lion" for a moment and stamp his foot, and say dreadful words, in his rage that such things should be. Now and then, too, he would watch some well-dressed boy of his own age. There was one in particular he often saw walking by the side of his mother or companions, chatting gaily, and going in and out of toy, sweet, or book shops; and dark rebellious thoughts would come into the poor boy's heart, and a half-quelled murmur against God for making him poor.
One winter in particular, old Nanny was very trying. She began by taking all the money she
could get for gin, and often Charlie had not enough for food. It was no unusual thing for him to have only a hunch of dry bread for his dinner, and neither breakfast nor supper. He
was more than usually cheerful and patient, however, for he was preparing for confirmation; and Father Southwell, who was instructing him, guessing at many things in Charlie's life that the boy kept secret, took advantage of the time, not only to fit his instructions with the boy's daily need, but also to keep him back sometimes when the rest of the class was dismissed, to give him a few kind, encouraging words, to help him on his way. You who are surrounded by loving friends and relatives little know the worth of kind words of sympathy to a soul that is in its daily struggle alone but for unseen help.
One day Charlie was coming home, after a long tramp; it was so cold and snowy that few people had ventured out, and Charlie had not liked to disturb the little mice in their warm nest of hay, to make them perform. He met a funny little old gentleman in Tile Street—a most unusual place to meet any one in clean, respectable clothes. "Ah! you're the white-mice boy? " he said, stopping Charlie.
"Yes, sir," answered Charlie, who remembered to have seen the old gentleman in church and in a house at the other end of the town, where the rich people lived.
"Well, and where do you live, and where are your father and mother? " Charlie thought the old gentleman very inquisitive, but being a very modest, courteous boy, he answered quietly:
"I live at No. 17, sir; and my father and mother are dead."
"Do you live alone?" asked the old gentleman.
" No, sir; I live with my grandmother."
" What's her name?" was the next question.
" Nanny Fox," answered Charlie, more and more astonished, and truth to tell, a little annoyed at being catechised so abruptly.
" And how much do you make a day?"
"Sometimes ninepence or a shilling; never more than that. Sometimes I don't sell anything or take any coppers all day."
" You'll never make your fortune at that rate," said the old gentleman. " And how much do
you give to your grandmother? "
" All I get," Charlie answered sharply, for he was getting very angry at having his affairs pried into.
"All! Stuff and nonsense! Don't tell lies, boy," said the old gentleman tartly.
" Very well, sir. Why did you ask me all those questions, which are no business of yours, if you did not intend to believe me?"
The old gentleman was more pleased with Charlie's sudden blaze of wrath than he cared to show. He chuckled away in his white silk handkerchief that was muffled all about his throat and ears, but he only said:
"Here's sixpence for you, boy."
"I don't want your sixpence," answered Charlie.
"Why won't you take it? You take money from other people."
"That's for my white mice, or for making them act," said the boy. " If I let you pay me for answering your questions, you might come and ask some more tomorrow, and I won't answer them."
Charlie was very angry. He hated the old man, and would have gone home penniless rather than take his money.
"Very well," said the old gentleman, and went on his way. If Charlie had looked round, he would have seen the old man standing still in the middle of the pavement to look after him; and if he had followed him, he would have heard him talking to himself in this wise:
"Very fine lad; I quite believe all Father Southwell tells me about him; a great deal more there is, too, as I have learned from the neighbors; more, too, if one only knew it. Dreadful
old woman!" he added, waving his stick fiercely in the air. The dreadful old woman was Charlie's grandmother. He had been asking questions of others in Tile Street that afternoon, and had learned a great deal about Charlie that had convinced him of the justice of the good opinion he had formed of the boy from seeing him in church.
We will leave Charlie, having seen him met at the door by Nanny and beaten with her crutch for having brought home so little money, shivering and sobbing in the miserable attic that he called home (for even he broke down sometimes), and follow the old gentleman home. He lived, as I have said, in the better part of the town, in a large house standing back from the road, in a pretty garden. It was dark when he reached home, and the warm, well-lighted hall as he entered struck him in painful contrast to the houses in Tile Street. For Sir Charles Felton was a good old man, with a large heart brimful of love for God and his neighbors, and his questions had not been purposeless or merely inquisitive; but I must not tell his secret yet. He went into the drawing-room as soon as he
had taken off his things, where he found Lady Felton, a lady as good and kind as you could
wish, and Annie, their daughter, true child of such parents. There was also a little boy about thirteen years old, though he looked much younger, curled up in the most comfortable chair in the room, reading.
"Late again, father," said Annie, getting up and moving a chair near the fire for Sir Charles.
"It's six o'clock, but we waited afternoon tea for you, as it was such a wretched afternoon." Be it noted the little boy did not offer to move, not even to look up and smile a greeting to his grandfather.
"Where have you been?" asked Lady Felton as she gave Sir Charles his tea.
"In Tile Street, making inquiries about that little white-mice boy that we have all taken a fancy to."
"Oh! I am so glad, father," said Annie. "I hope he is the little saint we think him."
"Very nearly, very nearly," answered Sir' Charles. He told them all he had heard about Charlie. "He's a namesake of yours, Charlie," he added, turning to his little grandson. But the boy gave no answering smile. He looked up for a moment from his book half-contemptuously and then went on reading. He had only been with his grandfather and grandmother for a month or two, since his father's regiment had been ordered out to India, and his mother had gone too. At home he had been left to himself a great deal; his mother spoiled him or took no notice of him. His father was never at home, and being supposed to be too delicate to go to school, he had had a private tutor, who came only for three hours in the morning. Charlie had been left a great deal to the servants, who had filled his head with pride and nonsense. The consequence of all this was that he was a very disagreeable, overbearing little boy, and considered it an insult to his dignity to have a poor street boy spoken of as his namesake. His grandfather noticed his disdainful manner,
and being very particular about respectful behavior in children, ordered him out of the room.
"That boy is perfectly unbearable, with his airs and graces," he said. " He is so rude and unmannerly, too."
"Yes, it's a great pity," said Lady Felton.
"The only grandson, too, and always the eldest. But I think we shall be able to do something with him, and he will get a lot of it knocked out of him at school."
" What have you been doing all day?" asked Sir Charles of his daughter.
" I have been out with coal tickets this morning. We went for a drive in the afternoon, and since then I have been practising for the concert in the schoolroom tomorrow."
Soon it was time to dress for dinner, so they had no further talk about either of the Charlies, though they were none the less the subject of much thought. Sir Charles could not help contrasting their behavior to their grandparents.
"And the difference between them," he said in a loud voice in the middle of dinner, to everybody's surprise.
"Difference between what? " asked Annie, laughing.
" Your mother and that poor boy's grandmother," he answered warmly. " And to think--"
but suddenly remembering the servants, he, relapsed into silent thought.
The next day the ground was covered with snow. Charlie, our first friend, started out with his mice, for it was a bright, clear day, and he thought he would be sure to get some coppers, for many people would be about shopping now, it was so near Christmas. When he came to the upper part of the town, which was more like country than town, with its detached houses in their large gardens and wide roads with avenues of trees, he saw a lot of boys making a snow man. When they had finished it, they began to shy snowballs at the
pipe they had stuck in its mouth. Charlie, unthinking, and with a boy's love of fun, made up a snowball and threw it. It just struck the barrel of the pipe and knocked it out of the snow man's mouth.
"Bravo!" cried most of the boys, in admiration of the good aim. But one of them came up to him and said haughtily, "Go away ! What right have you to shy at our snow man, you dirty little cad?"
Not a blow with Nanny's crutch, or a cold night on the bare floor, would have made the poor boy wince with pain, or the tears gather in his eyes, as did these cruel words uttered by Charlie Felton. Little did the latter know his grandfather was within sight and earshot.
"Shame !" cried the other boys, and one of them ran after Charlie Fox and asked him to come back and share in the game. But he was too deeply wounded, and he ran off. Just as he was turning a corner of the road, he met the little old gentleman of the night before.
"Ah! my boy, we have met again. I wanted to see you. The day after tomorrow's Christmas Day, and you and I will forget that we misunderstood each other last night, and you will come to wish me 'a merry Christmas' after High Mass. I live at Felton House, but in case I miss you after church or you forget, I have written it down on this piece of paper." Giving Charlie the piece of paper, he bustled off.
Charlie Felton came in to luncheon glowing with health and fun; he was rather surprised at his grandfather's dry, short answers to all he said. "But he is such a queer old stick," he said to himself. In the evening he went to the concert in the school. He enjoyed the first part very much. He always imagined himself of much importance when he went out with his grandfather, as every one made so much of Sir Charles, for all loved and honored the good old man. In the second part of the programme was a pretty old Christmas carol sung by four of the school children, each taking a different part. It is an old English one, not so well known as many others, though beautiful in the lesson it teaches. Charlie could not make out why his grandfather fixed his eyes on him with such a meaning look. I will give some of the verses here, and you will discover, as Charlie did, at the third verse what Sir Charles meant by it.
As it fell out one May morning,
On one bright holiday,
Sweet Jesus asked of His dear Mother
If He might go and play.
"To play, to play, sweet Jesus shall go,
And to play now get you gone;
And let me hear of no complaint
At night when you come home."
Sweet Jesus went down to yonder town,
As far as the Holy Well,
And there did see as fine children
As any tongue can tell.
He said : "God bless you every one,
And Christ your portion be.
Little children, shall I play with you?
And you shall play with Me."
But they made answer to Him, "Nay"
They were lords' and ladies' sons;
And He, the poorest of them all,
Was born in an ox's stall.
Sweet Jesus turned Him about,
And He neither laughed nor smiled,
But tears came trickling from His eyes
Like water from the skies.
Charlie grew redder and more uncomfortable every moment tinder his grandfather's gaze. He guessed now that Sir Charles had seen his unkindness to the little white-mice boy in the morning. And poor Charlie, who was there owing to the kind forethought of Father Southwell, his only friend, who gave him any little treat he could, rejoiced in thinking that at least in one point he resembled our most sweet Lord, who, with His dear Mother, suffered such poverty and hardship and contempt for our sake. Nothing more was said by Sir Charles, but on Christmas morning after High Mass, when Charlie Fox came to Felton House, his little namesake received him with kind words and frankly spoken regret for his cruel speech about the snow man, and offered to give all his Christmas presents to make atonement. He was as active as his grandfather ever after in trying to be kind to the poor, especially to Charlie Fox, who was given regular work in the garden by Sir Charles; and the boys became such friends that when they were grown up and Sir Charles and his son dead and little Charlie succeeded to the title and estates, his namesake was made his agent—nay, more, his confidential and honored friend.
Dear children, the winter is as cold now as then; the poor suffer in as great reality; all around us are the poor, the sick, and the sad. If we cannot give alms, if we cannot go on errands of mercy and charity, we can at least speak words of brotherly love and comfort. We can love all, as we would wish to be loved ourselves. Is it much to ask of us one little encouraging sentence to some one weary at heart, one little act of self-denial to help the needy? Much? No, nothing. Is anything too great a sacrifice for the love of our most sweet Lord? We can never, never love Him enough, never do anything to show the millionth part of our gratitude to Him. And let us not forget our dearest Mother, Mary; let us ask of her to help us give ourselves and all we have in the best and wisest way to sweet Jesus for His Christmas gift. We will offer our gifts through her, for then we know they will be accepted; for her Son will welcome all that comes through her hands, and we shall be safe in His keeping now and evermore.
Source: Legends and Stories of the Holy Child Jesus, 1894
I made a Christmas coloring book up for my kiddos this year and thought that I would share it with you. There are 32 coloring pages and some poetry from an old book titled, Greetings to the Christ Child, from 1879. Feel free to download and print it to use for your own families. You can find the file in our download tab under coloring pictures.
Genevieve was born at Nanterre, near Paris. St. Germanus, when passing through, specially noticed a little shepherdess, and predicted her future sanctity. At seven years of age she made a vow of perpetual chastity. After the death of her parents, Paris became her abode; but she often travelled on works of mercy, which, by the gifts of prophecy and miracles, she unfailingly performed. At one time she was cruelly persecuted: her enemies, jealous of her power, called her a hypocrite and tried to drown her; but St. Germanus having sent her some blessed bread as a token of esteem, the outcry ceased, and ever afterwards she was honored as a Saint.
During the siege of Paris by Childeric, king of the Franks, Genevieve went out with a few followers and procured corn for the starving citizens. Nevertheless Childeric, though a pagan, respected her, and at her request spared the lives of many prisoners. By her exhortations again, when Attila and his Huns were approaching the city, the inhabitants, instead of taking flight, gave themselves to prayer and penance, and averted, as she had foretold, the impending scourge. Clovis, when converted from paganism by his holy wife, St. Clotilda, made Genevieve his constant adviser, and, in spite of his violent character, became a generous and Christian king. She died within a few weeks of that monarch, in 512, aged eightynine.
A pestilence broke ont at Paris in 1129, which in a short time swept off fourteen thousand persons, and, in spite of all human efforts, daily added to its victims. At length, on November 26th, the shrine of St. Genevieve was carried in solemn procession through the city. That same day but three persons died, the rest recovered, and no others were taken ill. This was but the first of a series of miraculous favors which the city of Paris has obtained through the relics of its patron Saint.
Reflection.—Genevieve was only a poor peasant girl, but Christ dwelt in her heart. She was anointed with His Spirit, and with power ; she went about doing good, and God was with her.
A coloring picture of St. Genevieve can be found below.
The January 2017 Gazette is finished and ready to download and/ or print. You can find it on our download page under St. Catherines Academy Gazette.
This is a series of Catholic Gazettes for children. We are trying to put a little information in each gazette for all ages. We pray that it will help all to know and love the Faith better. It is put together by the students of St. Catherine's Academy as part of their Language, Religion, Art and Typing Courses. A.M.D.G. We hope you enjoy it. If you have any suggestions, ideas or comments please let us know at : <firstname.lastname@example.org>
God Bless all of you!
Tim, the father of this clan, Timmy, Mary, Sarah, Katie, Patrick, Elizabeth and the teacher, Julie. God is good!!
~ ALL ARTICLES ARE MEANT TO BE IN KEEPING WITH THE SOUND TEACHINGS OF THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, WHICH IS THE SAME CHURCH FOUNDED BY OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST AND WILL LAST UNTIL THE END OF TIME.~
Jesus, thy name ever blessed,
Bids every heart rejoice,
'Tis fit thy praise should be confessed
By every youthful voice.
Jesus, at thy blest name,
'Tis beautiful to see,
With one accord, a multitude
Adore, on bended knee.
Jesus, the mighty God,
Jesus, meek, and gentle one,
My heart its Lord adores in thee,
Its brother dares to own.
Jesus, thy bitter woe,
Demands that tears be given ;
Jesus, my risen Lord, thy triumph
I'll sing with, those of heaven.
Jesus, thou Shepherd good,
I sing thy dying love,
Who, that thy lambs might not be lost,
Left thy bright throne above.
Jesus, thou Lamb of God,
I sing thy purity ;
Model of innocence, no guile
Was ever found in thee.
Jesus, the humble babe,
Let praise be sung to thee,
Who, in the crib at Bethlehem,
Hid thy dread majesty.
Jesus, the judge of all,
Thy mercy will I sing,
For thou hast justice satisfied,
My Saviour and my King.
Jesus, the King of Kings,
Thy glories dare I sing,
Before whom angels veiled adore,
And fitting tribute bring ?
Jesus, the Prince of Peace,
Oh ! while I sing thy praise,
I pray thy blessed peace be mine,
The remnant of my days.
Source: Catholic Hymns for Youthful and Infant Minds, 1847
A coloring picture can be found below:
Holy Mother Church dedicates the month of December the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The purpose of this website is to share the beautiful Catholic resources that God has so richly blessed us with. All texts unless they are my own words have their sources quoted, and most of them are in the public domain. Any educational items that I have made for or with my children are NOT TO BE USED FOR PROFIT, but are meant to be used for personal use by individuals and families. You may link to our site if you so choose.
A Saint for everyday and good reading at:
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