By Rev. John J. Burke.
"If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments" (Matt. xix. 17).
WHEN Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, He did so in order to lead us into life, to open heaven for all mankind. How important our salvation must be, then, for which Christ shed His precious blood. If it is important, He must have taught us how to attain it. This, too, He did by the words, "keep the commandments."
To assist us in keeping the commandments He left a representative on earth. His Church, whose ministers were to teach all nations, is this representative. To her He said: "He that hears you, hears Me."
The night before He died He instituted the adorable sacrifice of the Mass, saying: "This is My body . . . This is My blood which shall be shed for you." He then gave the apostles and their successors power to do what He had just done: "Do this in commemoration of Me." He also gave them power to baptize, to forgive sins, to bless, to be "dispensers of the mysteries of God." He gave them power to confer these powers on others. "As the Father sent Me [i.e., with the same power] I also send you." To these apostles and their successors He spoke when He said that He would remain with them until the consummation of the world. To them and the Church He said: "He that hears you hears Me." What the Church teaches, then, Christ teaches.
As, in the natural order, man is born, grows to manhood, is nourished, and if sick needs proper food and remedies: so, in the supernatural order, there is a birth, it is Baptism; there is a manly growth, it is Confirmation; there is a nourishing food, it is the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life; there is a medicinal remedy against death, it is Penance; and there is a balm to heal the wounds, the scars of sin, it is Extreme Unction. These are some of the channels through which God's grace flows into our souls to assist us to keep the commandments.
The practices of the Church naturally flow from her teachings. She teaches that there is but one God, the creator and Lord of heaven and earth and all things; that man by his reason alone can find out this truth; that the order, beauty, and harmony of the works of nature show God's work; but that there are some truths which the deepest intellect of man can never fathom. Hence she teaches that God has revealed certain truths; such as the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Blessed Sacrament. When we know that God has revealed these truths we are acting reasonably not only in believing them, but also in showing our belief by practices of respect, adoration, and love.
The Church teaches that we must not only believe, but practise our religion. For faith alone will not save us. "Faith without works is dead." To have these works we must "keep the commandments." We must love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. All the commandments are comprised in this. In fact, the essence of Christianity is charity.
Where will you find charity practised in reality except in the Catholic Church? If you wish to see the truth of this, visit our larger towns and cities, and you will find hundreds of hospitals, asylums, schools, and other charitable institutions in which are thousands of the children of the Catholic Church, who have left everything to alleviate every ill that flesh is heir to, and follow the meek and humble Jesus in His mission of love.
The Catholic Church alone teaches, as Jesus taught while on earth, the duty of penance. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me." According to Christ's teaching, the Church sets aside the penitential season of Lent and other times of mortification.
The Church also teaches that we must not only be faithful in the observance of the practices of religion, but that we must also live in peace and justice and charity with all mankind, and die with a hope beyond the grave. If we love God we will faithfully observe the practices of the Church; these practices will assist us in keeping the commandments, by which we will enter into life.
We have seen that the various ceremonies and practices of the Catholic Church are dictated by right reason; that they are the rational deduction from Christ's teaching; that they obtain for us divine grace, excite pious thoughts, and elevate our minds to God; and that a true Christian is one who not only believes but also practises the teachings of Christ and His Church. The observance of these pious practices of the Church makes us Christians in fact as well as in name. They assist us to keep the commandment and to live in accordance with our faith. By faithfully observing them, we show that we are not ashamed to be Christ's followers. And if we follow Him, who is the way, the truth, and the life, we will not walk in darkness; but will enter by the narrow way into the presence of truth itself, in the regions of eternal light.
This is taken from Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremonies and Practices.
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