First Point — The obstacles which opposed the establishment of religion came from within herself and from the world without. She had against her the obscurity of her dogmas. In fact, she labored to obtain from pagan peoples the abandonment and the sacrifice of all their beliefs, and also to ask them to adopt mysteries which were wholly inexplicable to reason — the mystery of but one God the Creator, and in this only God three persons who participate in the divinity without dividing it, and a unity of nature in a trinity of persons. With this mystery of the Trinity there was another still more incomprehensible, viz., a God made man. To these two great mysteries join the dogma of original sin and all the truths associated with and dependent on it — the human race, whole and entire, tainted by the fault of only one person! even children stained in the wombs of their mothers; a virgin who gives birth and yet without ceasing to be a virgin; a God who dies on a cross, and this first sacrifice to be renewed on our altars from age to age; priests clothed with the power of pardoning sins; and, what is more prodigious still, these priests at the altar distributing to the faithful their God, who after re- deeming them nourishes them with His substance! Behold some of the truths which the apostles preached. What man could have dared to invent such a doctrine? What men would have been so senseless as to preach it, or to believe it, if it had no other support than the mere word of a man? Religion had against her the severity of her morality. There was in her teachings no sweet or con- venient philosophy which smiled on the passions, which promised festivals, or invited her followers to joys and pleasures. No; it is a religion of detachment, abnegation, and penance; her precepts and especially her maxims are fearful to nature. You can form some idea of the opposition that religion must contend against in the world, if you recall the strange words by which the Son of man begins His moral code. "Blessed are they" — but who are they? The rich or the powerful ones of the world?" Hitherto this was the universal belief, but it was an error which the world loved to believe. But Jesus exclaimed: "Blessed are they who mourn! "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake" He had already said: ''He who wishes to come after Me must deny himself; he must take up his cross daily and follow Me." These maxims and these precepts were far from being attractive, it must be admitted, especially for men who were habituated to the sensuality and luxury which the pagan religion authorized. These teachings were, therefore, a second obstacle — humanly speaking, insurmountable — to the enterprise of the apostles. To these obstacles add the prejudices which the Christian religion must at once develop. It was a new religion; it had just been born; and the dis- graceful punishment of its Author had already attached to it a character of ignominy and disgrace. A religion which attacked every prejudice, every habit, and every popular belief must necessarily have against her the natural repugnances, the force of inclination, the tyranny of habit, the impressions of education and of custom. Humanly speaking, contempt and public ridicule should welcome these twelve miserable fishermen, preaching a God crucified and imploring the homages of a pagan world for a man attached to an infamous gibbet.
Second Point. — You have just seen the obstacles which arose for the apostles from the very nature of their enterprise. Consider the obstacles which they were obliged to overcome from the world with- out. The epoch when they received their mission to found a new religion precisely coincided with the age of Augustus, — this famous age, which suggests to our mind the idea of exalted tastes, talents, and genius; an age rich in great orators, philosophers, poets, and historians; but, let us add, the age of corruption as well as of science. It was to such men, who were vain of their knowledge, that the apostles came to preach a doctrine whose dogmas appeared shocking to reason. It was to these men, plunged in delicacy and luxury, that they came to prescribe rules of conduct which wounded the most imperious desires of their hearts. But these obstacles, however great they may be, are nothing compared with the efforts which the whole world made to hinder the establishment of Christianity. And what do we see at the birth of the Church? Hell unchained raises against her all the powers of earth. Philosophers and a multitude of sophists, spread out in the East and the West, join their talents and their lights to arrest the progress of Christianity. They pervert its dogmas, revile its mysteries, and ridicule its worship. Celsus, Porphyrus, and Julian compose lampoons, in which they display all the resources of their genius, to uphold idolatry and to decry the new religion. To the perfidy of reasoning and of calumny the bloodiest persecutions are added. The people arise as one man against the faithful; the cities reject them from their walls; while the provinces arm themselves with the firm intent of extermination. Nor is this enough: legal persecution is organized, public force is opposed as a huge barrier to the progress of Christianity. The emperors, by their edicts, point out what must be the vigilance and cruelty of the magistrates. Persecution becomes general in the whole empire; everywhere the Christians are pursued as public enemies; neither the bosom of their families, nor the crevices of the rocks, nor the solitude of the deserts shall shield them from the rigor of the laws. When the ordinary punishments did not suffice, new torments were invented or the old ones were renewed, which are enough to make one shudder. Neither rank, age, sex, virtue, services rendered to the country, in fact nothing could pardon the crime of being a Christian. The persecution organized against the disciples of Christ was not a persecution of some days, or some years, but it was by ages that we must count the persecutions of the Church. We cannot follow it during three hundred years except by the traces of blood which was shed and by the light of the funeral piles kindled against her. These are the obstacles which Christianity was obliged to overcome even at her very birth. Now that you know both the project of the apostles and the obstacles which opposed them in their enterprise, strive to see if success were possible in the ordinary course of things. On the one hand, there is a religion, sweet, pompous, and agreeable, which is believed to have been established by the gods and which is considered as ancient as the world; on the other hand, a religion severe, mysterious, and wholly new. In the first were the sages, the philosophers, the armies, and the entire universe; in the second there were some ignorant men, without defense, without support, without assistance; on one side there were authority, inhumanity, fury; on the other there were weakness, patience, and death. On what side must victory come? Which one must win? Evidently the palm belongs to idolatry. But no; the emperors from their high thrones ordain that the gods must be adored. But the gods are despised. Twelve Galileans summon the universe to the feet of their crucified Master; and the world hastens to obey them, in spite of tortures, scaffolds, and funeral piles. Can you not see here the finger of God? It is visible to all eyes ; and if this submission of the human race has not been secured by the force of miracles, the conversion of the world would be more strange and astonishing than all miracles.
O my God, how I love to reflect on those prodigies which prove the divinity of the Church; my faith in them becomes livelier and more profound; may my love for them become more ardent and more generous.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897