|Devotion to Our Lady||
GOD COMES FIRST
There is a reason that all Catechisms begin with God. God existed before the beginning of time. God always was. All things came from God and all things should lead to God—if they do not, then they are evil.
Seek God First
Christ tells us: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Luke 12:31) … “Love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength!” (Mark 12:30).
The Creed begins with the words: "I believe in God!"
We begin our prayers with the words: "In the Name of the Father...!"
In danger, the first words many people cry-out are the words "O God!"
Yet there are so many things that clamor for our attention and devotion: our jobs, our kids, our spouses, our hobbies—the demands and distractions of life. And we have to be careful not to let them become more important or more of a priority than our relationship with God.
The first of the Ten Commandments states we will have no other gods before Him: “Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me!” (Exodus 20:3). “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any things, that are in heaven above, or that are in the earth beneath, or that abide in the waters under the Earth. Thou shalt not adore them, and thou shalt not serve them. For I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation” (Deuteronomy 5:8-9).
Yet how many of the things that occupy our time, money, thoughts and attention have taken the place where God is supposed to be? Anything can become a god to us—anything we worship or put an excessive amount of time into. Even your feelings can become a god if you allow them to control you. We need to ask ourselves: “Am I bowing down to God and His Word and Will, or am I bowing down to my feelings and my own will?” Another challenge we have to confront is living in a world soaked with humanism and materialism, where people do not want God and His Truth to interfere with their lives and routines. It seems we have an epidemic of selfishness and self-love in our world today, and this creates all kinds of unhealthy situations.
Consequences of Putting God Out of the Picture
For example, when people refuse to honor God and follow His wisdom, teachings and laws in their life and decisions, it causes them to eventually become bogged down with worry, resentment and bitterness. Eventually it shows up as sickness and disease in their bodies. And in our culture, this behavior causes a decline in our moral standards and attitudes. God’s Providence will not cooperate with us and will even punish us (Leviticus chapter 26 proves the point).
God’s Will Comes First
When you decide to serve God with your whole heart and make Him first in your life, your soul will prosper and your joy and peace will increase. Remember to lean on Him more than anything else, and tell Him: “Almighty Father, I would like to do this, but I can’t do it without You.” This simply imitates Our Lord, Who, in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, also placed His Father first, saying: “ ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt … Again the second time, He went and prayed, saying: ‘My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done!’” (Matthew 26:39; 42). He put God the Father’s will first. God comes first.
As with His divine Son, God will give you grace to do what you need to do—if you put God first.
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT GOD
Vain and Empty Souls
“All men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God” (Wisdom 13:1). In that case, we can say that we are living in an extremely vain world. Yet pause for a minute and think of what the word “vain” really means! It comes from the Latin word “vanus” which means “empty.” If we have no knowledge of God, then we are empty—for God is everything.
Pope St. Pius X Laments
In his papal encyclical, Acerbo Nimis (1905), Pope St. Pius X writes: “It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life ― but We refer to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world, but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ.
And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: ‘We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.’ How many and how grave are the consequences of ignorance in matters of religion! And on the other hand, how necessary and how beneficial is religious instruction!
REGULAR STUDY IS ESSENTIAL
(even though it may be hard or dry)
Too Little Study Going On
Pope St. Pius X, in his encyclical, writes: “How many and how grave are the consequences of ignorance in matters of religion! And on the other hand, how necessary and how beneficial is religious instruction! It is indeed vain to expect a fulfillment of the duties of a Christian by one who does not even know them. For this reason the Council of Trent decreed that the first and most important work of pastors is the instruction of the faithful. The Council of Trent therefore prescribes that they shall teach the truths of religion on Sundays and on the more solemn feast days; moreover, during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent, they are to give such instruction every day, or at least three times a week. This, however, was not considered enough!” (Pope St. Pius X, Acerbo Nimis).
More Time For Worldly & Secular Study
The Catechism is not meant to be a mere dry, intellectual quest for knowledge. It is meant to be a guide to Heaven and therefore a guide to our spiritual life. The Catechism needs to be changed into spirituality, just like our body changes the food it eats into our own flesh and blood.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange takes up the point about an insufficiency of religious knowledge which severely handicaps or even shipwrecks our interior or spiritual life.
“The interior life thus conceived is something far more profound and more necessary in us than intellectual life or the cultivation of the sciences, than artistic or literary life, than social or political life. Unfortunately, some great scholars, mathematicians, physicists, and astronomers have no interior life, so to speak, but devote themselves to the study of their science as if God did not exist. In their moments of solitude they have no intimate conversation with Him. Their life appears to be in certain respects the search for the true and the good in a more or less definite and restricted domain, but it is so tainted with self-love and intellectual pride that we may legitimately question whether it will bear fruit for eternity. Many artists, literary men, and statesmen never rise above this level of purely human activity which is, in short, quite exterior. Do the depths of their souls live by God? It would seem not.
“This shows that the interior life, or the life of the soul with God, well deserves to be called the one thing necessary, since by it we tend to our last end and assure our salvation. This last must not be too widely separated from progressive sanctification, for it is the very way of salvation.
“There are those who seem to think that it is sufficient to be saved and that it is not necessary to be a saint. It is clearly not necessary to be a saint who performs miracles and whose sanctity is officially recognized by the Church. To be saved, we must take the way of salvation, which is identical with that of sanctity. There will be only saints in heaven, whether they enter there immediately after death or after purification in purgatory. No one enters Heaven unless he has that sanctity which consists in perfect purity of soul” (Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life).
Hence, catechetical instruction is building material for this knowledge of God and achievement of sanctity. Its truths have to be chewed-over and digested. The theory has to evolve into the practice. That is the true purpose of studying the Catechism. Entry to Heaven is not a written exam, where questions are asked and the right answers are expected. The entry to Heaven is largely focused on the practical side of things too! How have you lived? What have you done with your knowledge?
1. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
God comes first―but before we deal with God, we have to deal with knowledge. For it is by knowledge that come to the truth. How do we know? From what do get our knowledge? These are some of the things we have to examine before we begin to examine God―Who must come first as the object of our knowledge.
The knowledge of God consists in the knowledge of His perfections, His works, His will, and the means of grace instituted by Him. St. Paul bids us “increase in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). Now we only know God through a glass in a dark manner; only in heaven shall we see Him face to face, and have a clear knowledge of His perfections (1 Corinthians 13:12).
1. The happiness of the angels and the saints consists in the knowledge of God.
Our Lord tells us that “this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). This is the food of which the archangel Raphael spoke, when he said to Tobias: “I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men” (Tobias 12:19). In heaven the saints and angels have an immediate direct knowledge of God in the beatific vision. We on Earth only know God through the medium of His works and of what He has revealed to us―that is to say, His creation and His revelation. Our knowledge, compared with that of the saints and angels, is like the knowledge of a country that one gets from maps and pictures as compared with the knowledge of one who has himself visited it.
2. The knowledge of God is all-important, for without it there cannot be any happiness on Earth, or a well-ordered life.
The knowledge of God is the food of our soul. Without it the soul feels hungry; we become discontented. He who does not possess interior peace, cannot enjoy riches, health, or any of the goods of this life ; they all become distasteful to him. Yet few think about this food of the soul; they busy themselves, as Our Lord says, with the “meat that perishes” (John 6:27).
Without the knowledge of God a man is like one who walks in the dark, and stumbles at every step; he has no end or aim in life, no consolation in misfortune, and no hope in death. He cannot have any solid or lasting happiness, or any true contentment.
Without a knowledge of God a well-ordered life is impossible. Just as an untilled field produces no good fruit, so a man who has not the knowledge of God can produce no good works. Ignorance and forgetfulness of God are the causes of most of the sins that men commit. Rash and false oaths, neglect of the service of God and of the sacraments, the love of gold, the sinful indulgence of the passions, are all due to willful ignorance and forgetfulness of God.
Thus the prophet Osee exclaims: “There is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed” (Osee 4:2-3). And St. Ignatius of Loyola cries out: “O God, Thou joy of my soul, if only men knew Thee, they never would offend Thee,” and experience shows that in the jails the greater part of the prisoners are those who knew nothing of God. When Frederick of Prussia finally recognized that the lack of the knowledge of God was the cause of the increase in crime, he exclaimed: “Then I will have religion introduced into the country!” The state of your family, or parish, or school, or work-place can be assessed in a similar way—the more religion there is present, the less sin will be present. Yet that is not the way most people see things! Sadly.
This is why the learning and the understanding of the Catechism, which is nothing else than an abridgement or summary of the Christian religion, is all-important. But a mere knowledge of the truths of religion is not sufficient; they must also be practiced.
3. We arrive at a right knowledge of God through Faith in the truths which God has revealed.
Without God revealing truths about Himself, human reason would only have a very vague and limited idea about God. The Faith has to be based on Divine Revelation and not just human reasoning and human discoveries. If I watch a person over the course of several years, I will come to certain knowledge of that person—I may know where that person likes to go, what the person likes to eat and drink, who the person associates with, whether they seem happy or sad, etc.
But all this is merely superficial or external knowledge, based on my observations and theories about the person. I do not know if the person goes somewhere because they have to go, or because they want to go. I do not know if the food they eat is because they like it, or as a penance, or because they have to eat it for health reasons. I do not know the relationship of the person to the other persons it meets, etc. I need that person to reveal and tell me those things. The same is true for our knowledge about God.
Today, Modernists reject Divine Revelation, and so they cripple and cast doubt upon the knowledge we have about God. They want to rely on pure human science and deduction alone! That is an absurdity that will lead many of them, not to Heaven, but to Hell. For they will have disbelieved, rejected and ignored the truths that God has chosen to share with us.
“The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Psalm 18:2). It is true that by means of reason and from the contemplation of the creatures that God has made man can arrive at a knowledge of God: “For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and divinity―so that they are inexcusable. Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified Him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:20-21).
But our reason is so weak and prone to err, that, left to simple human reasoning alone, without revelation from God, it is very difficult for man to attain to a clear and correct knowledge of God. What strange and perverted views of the Deity we find among heathen nations: “For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind that museth upon many things. And hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon Earth: and with labor do we find the things that are before us. But the things that are in Heaven, who shall search out? And who shall know Thy thought, except Thou give wisdom, and send Thy Holy Spirit from above” (Wisdom 9:15-17).
God therefore in His mercy comes to our aid with Divine Revelation. Through believing the truths that God has revealed, man attains to a clear and correct knowledge of God. Hence St. Anselm says: “The more I am nourished with the food of Faith, the more my understanding is satisfied.” Faith is a divine light that shines in our souls: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
It is like a watch tower, from which we can see that which cannot be seen from the plain below; we learn respecting God that which cannot be learned by mere reason from the world around. It is a glass through which we perceive all the divine perfections. It is a staff which supports our feeble reason, and enables it to know God better. There are two books from which we gain a knowledge of God; the book of Nature, and Holy Scripture, which is the book of revelation.
2. DIVINE REVELATION
If a person, standing amongst the branches and leaves of a forest, looks at people in a field, through binoculars, from a long distance away, he sees all the people in the field, but they cannot see him. But if the person approaches them and speaks to them, the people in the field will be aware of the person’s existence and presence and will come to know something about the person. Such is our relation to God. He sees us, but conceals Himself from our eyes. Yet He has, in many ways, made Himself known to men; to Abraham, to Moses in the burning bush, to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, etc.
1. God has, in His mercy, in the course of ages often revealed Himself to men (Hebrews 1:1-2).
God has often communicated to men a knowledge of His perfections, His decrees, and His holy will. Such revelation is called supernatural, as opposed to the natural revelation of Himself that He makes through the external world.
2. God’s revelation to man is generally made in the following way: He speaks to individuals and orders them to communicate to their fellow-men the revelation made to them.
Thus God spoke to Abraham, Noe, and Moses. He sent Noe to preach to sinful men before the Flood, He sent Moses to the Israelites when they were oppressed by Pharao. Sometimes God spoke to a number of men who were assembled together, as when He gave the law to the people on Mount Sinai, or when Our Lord was baptized by St. John and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, a voice being heard from Heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Sometimes God revealed Himself through angels, as for instance to Tobias through the archangel Raphael. When God spoke to men, He took the visible form of a man or of an angel, or He spoke from a cloud (as on Sinai), or from a burning bush, as He did to Moses, or amid a bright light from heaven, as to St. Paul, or in the whispering of the wind, as He did to Elias, or by some interior illumination (Deuteronomy 2:6-8). Those to whom God revealed Himself, and who had to bear witness before others to the divine message, were called messengers from God, and often received from Him the power of working miracles and of prophecy, in proof of their divine mission. (Cf. the miracles of Moses before Pharao, of Elias, the Apostles, etc.)
3. Those who were specially entrusted with the communication to men of the divine revelation were the following: the patriarchs, the prophets, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Hebrew 1:1), and His Apostles.
Revelation is to mankind in general what education is to individual men. Revelation corresponds to the needs of the successive stages of human development, to the infancy, childhood, and youth of mankind. The patriarchs, who had more of the nature of children, needed less in the way of precepts, and God dealt with them in more familiar fashion ; the people of Israel, in whom, as in the season of youth, self-will and sensuality were strong, had to be trained by strict laws and constant correction; but when mankind had arrived at the period of manhood, then God sent His Son and introduced the law of love (1 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 3:24).
Of all those who declared to men the divine revelation, the Son of God was pre-eminently the true witness. He says of Himself: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear testimony to the truth” (John 18:37). He was of all witnesses the best, because He alone had seen God (John 1:18). The Apostles also had to declare to men the Divine Revelation. They had to bear witness of what they had seen, and above all of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:39).
4. Types of Revelation: Divine Public Revelation & Divine Private Revelation
With the Divine Revelation that was given through Christ and His Apostles, the revelation that was given for the instruction of all mankind was concluded. This revelation, intended for all mankind, is officially known as “Divine Public Revelation”—because it is a revelation that comes from God (hence “Divine”) and it is intended for all mankind (hence “Public”). Any revelations made by God after the death of the last of the Apostles (St. John), cannot add one iota to Divine Public Revelation. These secondary revelations are called “Divine Private Revelations” and though they cannot add anything to “Divine Public Revelation”, they are meant to bring our attention to elements in Divine Public Revelation that we have forgotten, are neglecting or ignoring.
Hence, when Our Lady appears at Fatima and asks for prayers and penances, she is adding nothing new to Divine Public Revelation, but simply focusing our attention on what was already revealed in Divine Public Revelation—namely: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) … “That we ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1) … and “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Yet these were things that our pleasure seeking and pleasure loving world was forgetting—so a Divine Private Revelation was needed to refocus mankind on a Divine Public Revelation. (read more here)
5. Even since the death of Our Lord and His apostles God has often revealed Himself to men; yet these subsequent revelations are no continuation of the earlier revelation on which our faith rests.
Instances of these subsequent revelations are the appearances of Our Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary, and of Our Lady at Lourdes. Such revelations must not be too lightly credited, as men are liable to be deceived; yet they must not be rejected without examination. Many of the saints have had such revelations, i.e., St. Francis of Assisi, to whom Our Lord appeared upon the cross, and St. Anthony of Padua, in whose arms the Child Jesus deigned to rest.
These private revelations were more especially given to those who were striving after perfection, in order to encourage them to greater perfection still. Yet God sometimes revealed Himself to wicked men, i.e., to Baltassar in the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5:5, seq.}. Hence a private revelation given to any one is not necessarily a mark of holiness.
These revelations, moreover, were no further continuation of the revelation intended for the instruction of the whole of mankind, which ended with the death of the last of the Apostles; they are rather a confirmation of truths already revealed.
Thus Our Lady, when she appeared at Lourdes, proclaimed herself the “Immaculate Conception,” so confirming the dogma which Pius IX had defined four years earlier, and the countless miracles and cures that have taken place there have established the truth of the apparition. Yet it is always possible that the malice of the devil may introduce deceptions into private revelations. Therefore, no one is bound to give to them a firmer belief (even though they have in general been approved by the Church), than he would give to the assertions of an honest and trust worthy man.
6. Revelation was necessary because, in consequence of Original Sin, man without revelation has never had a correct knowledge of God and of His will; and also because it was necessary that man should be prepared for the coming of the Redeemer.
The three Wise Men would never have found Christ if He had not revealed Himself to them by means of a star; so mankind would have lived far off from God, and would never have attained to a true knowledge of Him, if He had not revealed Himself to them. As the eye needs light to see things of sense, so human reason, which is the eye of the soul, needs revelation to perceive things divine (St. Augustine). Original sin and the indulgence of the senses had so dimmed human reason that it could no longer recognize God in His works (Wisdom 9:16). This is proved by the history of paganism.
The heathen worshiped countless deities, idols, beasts, and wicked men, and his worship was often immoral and horrible, as in the human sacrifices offered by him. The gods were often the patrons of vice. The greatest men among the heathens approved practices forbidden by the natural law. Thus Cicero approved of suicide, Plato of the exposing to death those children who were weak or deformed. Their theories when good were at variance with their practice. Socrates denounced polytheism, but before his death told his disciples to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius.
Many of the best of the heathens recognized and lamented their ignorance of God. Besides, without a previous revelation the Savior would have been neither known nor honored as He ought to have been known and honored; it was fitting that He should be announced beforehand, like a king coming to take possession of his kingdom. We ought indeed to be grateful to God that He has given us the light of revelation, just as a blind man is grateful to the physician who has restored his sight. Yet how many there are who willfully shut their eyes to the light of revelation even now!