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The “Catechism Collection”
The “Catechism Collection” will be a collection and synthesis of the best traditional catechisms available, which will clearly explain, in-depth, all the traditional subjects dealt with by catechisms—with the additional aspects of:
(1) Including more scriptural elements, both as proofs and as examples of the catechetical teaching.
(2) Relating the teaching to our daily life, both spiritually and practically.
(3) Looking at the moral consequences of the catechetical teaching—as regards what virtues should be practiced in applying the teaching, and what sins are committed against the teaching.
Challenging Times Require Challenging Catechetics
You cannot love what you do not know. You will not lay down your life for something you do not love GREATLY. Truth was made to be loved, but, before it can be loved, it must be known. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower”, once said that the reason that Jesus is so little loved is because He is so little known. We all know who Jesus is, but we know so little about Him. Likewise, we all know what the Faith is, but we know so little about it.
Pope St. Pius X once said that the greatest enemy of the Church was not Protestantism, nor paganism, nor the Masons, or some other body or group. He said that the greatest enemy of the Catholic Church was IGNORANCE. For it is the ignorance of Catholics that allows all kinds of false teachings and pitiful morals to enter into the fold. We know things, but we know too little. We know things, but too vaguely. We are content with a mere superficial knowledge of the Faith. We argue emotionally and not logically, using “two-bit” phrases haphazardly with an air of pretended intellectualism. That is why Catholics have succumbed to apostasy today. They are too dumb to know better and they don’t really want to know better, for the world and its worldliness offers a better package deal!
Not a “Drive-Thru” Catechism
Consequently and obviously, this is not going to be a “McDonald’s Drive-Thru” Catechism or an “Express Catechism Check-Out Line.” It will be a challenge to gather together, edit and produce and it will be a challenge to read and assimilate—yet such a challenge must be met at a time when our Faith is being challenged like never before. We, according to reputable prophecies, are living at time of apostasy, or loss of Faith, which ominously point towards Our Lord’s words: “The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, Faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Our Lady of Good Success, referring to our times, speaks of “the small number of souls, who hidden, will preserve the treasures of the Faith and practice virtue.” For the Faith will diminish as “the effects of secular education will increase … The Christian spirit will rapidly decay, extinguishing the precious light of Faith, until it reaches the point that there will be an almost total and general corruption of morals” … “Moreover, in these unhappy times, there will be unbridled luxury which, acting thus to snare the rest into sin, will conquer innumerable frivolous souls who will be lost.”
Our Lady of La Salette reinforces this, saying: “People will think of nothing but amusements” while the clergy, “the leaders of the people of God, have neglected prayer and penance, and the devil has bedimmed their intelligence. They have become wandering stars which the old devil will drag along with his tail to make them perish” because “by their wicked lives, by their irreverence and their impiety in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, by their love of money, their love of honors and pleasures, the priests have become cesspools of impurity.”
Consequently, it will be easy for the devil to make the Faith crumble: “Lucifer, together with a large number of demons, will be unloosed from Hell; they will put an end to Faith little by little, even in those dedicated to God. They will blind them in such a way, that, unless they are blessed with a special grace, these people will take on the spirit of these angels of Hell. Several religious institutions will lose all Faith and will lose many souls … The true Faith to the Lord having been forgotten … the Church will witness a frightful crisis” (Our Lady of La Salette).
The Whittling-Away of the Faith
What is true in the natural and physical realm, is often also true for the supernatural and spiritual realm. In our natural life, we have to be always working upon certain things for mere survival alone. Each and every day we need water, food, sleep, exercise and protection from danger. If we neglect any or all of these things, nature will strike back in one way or another and we will suffer in some way. Even if we have all these things, but in an insufficient manner, then the same thing will happen—only more slowly. Eat poorly or eat junk food; drink too little water and too many sugary drinks or too much alcohol; regularly sleep too little; rarely exercise; be negligent about maintaining your home or car—and very soon things will start to go wrong and fall apart.
The same is true for our supernatural life. Our food is the Word of God—“Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Grace is water for our spiritual life—the water that is poured over us in our Baptism, signifies the grace that is poured into our souls. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Spiritual sleep or spiritual rest is where we withdraw ourselves from the world to restore spiritual energies through meditation and prayer. Protection from spiritual danger is the avoidance of the occasions of sin, which the world, the devil and our flesh bombards us with plentifully each day and which must be resisted by mortifications (meaning “to put to death” these assaults) and penance (which is paying for our past failings in this regard).
A Lack of Love is Fatal
Fr. Francis Spirago, author of The Catechism Explained, states that the teaching of the Faith should be “calculated to touch the heart and kindle the flame of charity towards God and one’s neighbor, and is not this the effect which every good hand-book of religion, every good sermon, every good catechetical instruction ought to produce? We already possess in abundance catechisms and religious manuals which appeal only to the intellect; books which do not aim at the warmth of expression and the fervent, persuasive eloquence which appeal to the heart, the force and vivifying power which affect the will through the influence of the Holy Spirit” (Preface, The Catechism Explained).
To satisfy the demands of disinterested Catholics, catechisms, over time, have become like fast-food chains, dispensing the word of God in a minimalized and truncated package. Only the bare essentials! Bite-sized chunks! Yet those bare essentials barely suffice when the Faith is under attack and cannot bear the ferocity of the attack due to the ignorance of the faithful. A pocket-knife will help you do the bare essentials, but it will not win a war for you. The celebrated “Penny Catechism” is fine, if it serves a memory jogger for the greater and deeper intricacies of the Faith that you have already learnt, but if you intend to win others over to the Faith or defend your Faith with the “Penny Catechism”, you will find that a penny does not go very far!
To Keep the Faith, We Must Love the Faith
Those who want to keep the Faith, must love the Faith. Yet love is little when your knowledge is little. Or, at best, it is only a sentimental, emotional, illogical love that cannot explain itself—which is what we must do with the Faith, as St. Peter commands: “Being ready, always, to satisfy everyone that asketh you for a reason of that hope which is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We love our family and friends because we know them well. There are plenty of better people out there—but we don’t know them and so we don’t love them. A supporter or a fan of a sports team, usually knows a lot about the team. If we want to be supporters or fans of the Faith, we had better know a lot about our Faith—otherwise our love will gradually grow cold, weaken and then fail. This happens in so many natural settings—spouses, who don’t work hard at keeping their love alive, will grow apart. Students, who do not love their studies, will gradually see their grades worsen and will eventually fail. Teachers, who do not love what they teach, will fail to communicate a love of the subject to most students. Athletes, who do not love their field of discipline, will perform poorly. A craftsman, who does not love his craft, will produce poor work.
Knowledge and Love
All of this is perfectly reflected in the shocking and terrifying statement by God: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth!” (Apocalypse 3:16). This shows us what a lack of love fervor leads to—rejection by God. Therefore, we must not only KNOW our Faith, but work hard to ensure that we also LOVE our Faith. That is why we have been given those two powers of the soul—the intellect and the will. The intellect KNOWS things, while the will LOVES things. We sometimes call the intellect and will by the similar names of MIND and HEART. The mind KNOWS, the heart LOVES. Yet the danger for our days—which are days of apostasy according to many prophecies—is both a lack of Faith and lack of charity or love of the Faith. As Holy Scripture says: “The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, Faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8). “And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Knowledge leads to love, and love preserves knowledge by keeping it focused on what is loved.
It’s a Fight, Folks!
The true preservation of the true Faith requires true effort. “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12), which is why St. Paul writes: “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain … I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air; but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment!” (Mark 12:30).
But to love God wholeheartedly, we must wholeheartedly throw ourselves into knowing Him. How many people are like that? Most won’t do that! “God looked down from heaven on the children of men: to see if there were any that did understand, or did seek God. All have gone aside, they are become unprofitable together, there is none that doth good, no not one!” (Psalm 52:3-4). Most people want to “fast-track” most things that deal with God. They want a fast Mass, a fast Rosary, a short meditation, little or no spiritual reading—and little or no catechism. The fewer the pages in the catechism, the better! Try explain all that on the Day of Judgement—when you want to get into Heaven, but couldn’t be bothered with the things of Heaven while you were on Earth! You cannot fake-out God! What you sow is what you reap: “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly!” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Sowing and Reaping and Knowing
At the end of the day, “minimalists” will have a minimal chance of salvation. What is your interpretation of these words: “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)? Does that call for minimal study about God, or maximum. Most people give at least ten times more attention to trivial, worldly things than they do to God. That’s trying to fake-out God. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Short Catechisms Are For Little Children, Not Adults
A catechism is meant to be a compendium of the Faith—yet people want it to be so small that it can fit in the pocket! A compendium of the Faith means a summary of the essentials of the Faith. How is it that we have nerve to trivialize the Faith when St. John says of Jesus: “There are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written!” (John 21:25). It is only the cheap Catholic who wants to be a minimalist! Sports fans can pore over material about their teams for hours a day! Teenagers can spend hours a day on the social media! On our Day of Judgment this will be brought to our attention, with words similar to: “For the children of this world are wiser than the children of light!” (Luke 16:8). In other words, the children of the world have put in far more hours into their worldliness than the children of God have put into godliness.
A Challenge to Produce
To even think about this Catechism Collection or Catechetical Compendium is a challenge, for, as Fr. Clarke, the editor writing the Preface to Fr. Francis Spirago’s The Catechism Explained, correctly points that “Technical terms, in which almost all religious manuals abound, even those intended for children, are carefully eliminated from his pages, since, while useful and necessary for seminarians and theologians, they are out of place in a book intended for the laity. Popular manuals of religion ought to be couched in plain and simple language, like that used by Our Lord and the Apostles, easy of comprehension; for what we need is something that will touch the heart and influence the will, not cram the mind with knowledge unattractive to the reader. The state of society and the spirit of the age have also been, taken into consideration in the preparation of this book. The writer has endeavored in the first place to combat the self-seeking, pleasure-loving materialism of the day.” This sad state has worsened considerably since Fr. Spirago first compiled his 700+ page The Catechism Explained back in 1899 (republished in 1921, 1927, 1949 and 1993). Different facets of worldliness have come on the scene that simply did not exist back then—and these have to be duly covered.
Yet there are other worthy Catechisms that cannot be brushed aside—for they either contain elements that Fr. Spirago has not covered, or they explain certain things with either greater clarity or greater depth. The researching of all these Catechisms, comparing them, assessing them and blending them is not a “fast-track” project of the kind that is preferred today. Yet a Catechism has to relevant to the problems of its day, for, as the Preface of The Catechism Explained says that the “Catechism is, in fact, nothing more or less than an abstract of Our Lord’s teaching, and may be called a guide book for the Christian soul on the road to Heaven.” The lay of the land changes with each decade, as new side roads are added, that are meant to lead the Christian aside and astray. Therefore, Catechisms need to be “current” so to speak, dealing not only with teaching from the past, but also its application to the problems of the present time.
The challenge is that today's problems have become complicated, whereas the Catholic mind has become too simple, or "dumbed-down" for want of another expression. We are "dummies" as regards our knowledge of the Faith, yet very intelligent as regards things of the world. But a simple "dumb" answer cannot solve the complexities caused by today's sinfulness and worldliness.
A Challenge to Read
The above dilemma produces a problem akin to “growing pains” or perhaps “physiotherapy”, whereby the half-crippled mind has to be painfully forced through exercises that a normal mind would perform with ease—but since we have been “dumbed-down” in matters of the Faith, it is like having a person who has the body of a 40 year-old, but the mind of 10 year old. We are way behind in our religious development, but way advanced in our worldly development. Yet, as they say, “No pain, no gain!” So rather than produce just another simplistic, dumbed-down Catechism for the fast-track Catholics of the world, who don’t have time to think in any real depth, but only have time for a “two-bit” quickie answer on matters of the Faith, we will try to produce a thought provoking (thus pain inducing and time consuming) Catechism that goes into depth, rather than skims the surface.
Modern Mushy Minds
Our minds have atrophied and have been turned to mush by the worldliness of our times. Yet, the mental muscle is necessary if we are to keep our Faith in these times of apostasy. Remember that, merely 50 years ago, better minds than ours grasped the Faith far better than we do today—yet they ended up going down the fatal road of Modernism, Liberalism and Ecumenism. If such strong minds could fall by the wayside, then there but for the grace of God go we! Therefore, allied to the learning of the Faith, must be the praying of the soul—as Our Lord said: “And He spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Hence the wisdom of the ancient adage: “Pietas cum doctrina, et doctrina cum pietate”—literally meaning “piety with doctrine, doctrine with piety.” We could paraphrase that to say: “Unite prayer with doctrinal learning, and doctrinal learning with prayer.” The Catechism should be able to furnish material for rich and fruitful meditation, while meditation on the truths of the Catechism should strengthen our Faith and a love of it.
Pope St. Pius X on Religious Knowledge
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. And when we mention Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life - for these find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands of their harsh employers hardly leave them time to take care of themselves or of their dear ones - 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. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. Grace, the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things, the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace, are entirely unknown to them. They have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin; hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it.
“And so they arrive at life’s end in such a condition that, lest all hope of salvation be lost, the priest is obliged to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of religion, a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul to greater love for God. And even this as too often happens only when the dying man is not so sinfully ignorant as to look upon the ministration of the priest as useless, and then calmly faces the fearful passage to eternity without making his peace with God. 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! 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, treating of the duties of pastors of souls, decreed that their first and most important work is the instruction of the faithful. It 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!
“Perhaps there are some who, wishing to lessen their labors, would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction. But for one who reflects a moment, such is obviously impossible. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is, so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes. The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of Faith, or of Christian morality, and then explain it in all its parts; and since amendment of life is the chief aim of his instruction, the catechist must needs make a comparison between what God commands us to do and what is our actual conduct. After this, he will use examples appropriately taken from the Holy Scriptures, Church history, and the lives of the saints ― thus moving his hearers and clearly pointing out to them how they are to regulate their own conduct. He should, in conclusion, earnestly exhort all present to dread and avoid vice and to practice virtue.
“We are indeed aware that the work of teaching the Catechism is unpopular with many, because, as a rule, it is deemed of little account and for the reason that it does not lend itself easily to the winning of public praise. But this in Our opinion is a judgment based on vanity and devoid of truth. We do not disapprove of those pulpit orators who, out of genuine zeal for the glory of God, devote themselves to defense of the Faith and to its spread, or who eulogize the saints of God. But their labor presupposes labor of another kind―that of the catechist. And so, if this be lacking, then the foundation is wanting; and they labor in vain who build the house.
“Too often it happens that ornate sermons which receive the applause of crowded congregations serve but to tickle the ears and fail utterly to touch the hearts of the hearers. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, plain and simple though it be, is the word of which God Himself speaks, through the lips of the prophet Isaias: ‘And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth and water it, and make it to spring and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: so shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth. It shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it’ (Isaias 55:10-11). We believe the same may be said of those priests who work hard to produce books which explain the truths of religion. They are surely to be commended for their zeal, but how many are there who read these works and take from them a fruit commensurate with the labor and intention of the writers? The teaching of the Catechism, on the other hand, when rightly done, never fails to profit those who listen to it.
“On every Sunday and holy day, with no exception, throughout the year, all parish priests and in general all those having the care of souls, shall instruct the boys and girls, for the space of an hour from the text of the Catechism on those things they must believe and do in order to attain salvation. Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no less than the young, all pastors and those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people, but not during the same hour when the children are instructed, and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days. The catechetical instruction shall be based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent; and the matter is to be divided in such a way that in the space of four or five years, treatment will be given to the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Precepts of the Church.
“No matter what natural facility a person may have in ideas and language, let him always remember that he will never be able to teach Christian doctrine to children or to adults without first giving himself to very careful study and preparation. They are mistaken who think that because of inexperience and lack of training of the people the work of catechizing can be performed in a slipshod fashion. On the contrary, the less educated the hearers, the more zeal and diligence must be used to adapt the sublime truths to their untrained minds; these truths, indeed, far surpass the natural understanding of the people, yet must be known by all - the uneducated and the cultured ― in order that they may arrive at eternal happiness.
“We again insist on the need to reach the ever-increasing numbers of those who know nothing at all of religion, or who possess at most only such knowledge of God and Christian truths as befits idolaters. How many there are, alas, not only among the young, but among adults and those advanced in years, who know nothing of the chief mysteries of Faith.
"In consequence of this ignorance, they do not consider it a crime to excite and nourish hatred against their neighbor, to enter into most unjust contracts, to do business in dishonest fashion, to hold the funds of others at an exorbitant interest rate, and to commit other iniquities no less reprehensible. They are, moreover, ignorant of the law of Christ, which not only condemns immoral actions, but also forbids deliberate immoral thoughts and desires. Even when for some reason or other they avoid sensual pleasures, they nevertheless entertain evil thoughts without the least scruple, thereby multiplying their sins above the number of the hairs of the head.
"These persons are found, we deem it necessary to repeat, not merely among the poorer classes of the people or in sparsely settled districts, but also among those in the higher walks of life, even, indeed, among those puffed up with learning … Reflect on the great loss of souls due solely to ignorance of divine things” (Pope St. Pius X, Acerbo Nimis).
Introduction & Table of Contents
Lesson #1 The Knowledge of God
Lesson #2 Revelation Scripture & Tradition
Lesson #3 It's All About the Faith
Lesson #4 The Cross & the Creed
Lesson #5 Existence of a Supreme Being
Lesson #6 The Divine Essence of God
Lesson #7 The Perfection of God (Part 1)
Lesson #8 The Perfection of God (Part 2)
Lesson #9 The Blessed Trinity
Lesson #10 The History of Creation
Lesson #11 Divine Providence
Lesson #12 The Christian Under Suffering
Lesson #13 Angels and Devils
Lesson #14 The Creation of Man
Lesson #15 Original Sin
Lesson #16 The Redemption & the Redeemer
Lesson #17 Promise & Prophecies on Christ
1. The angels are pure spirits. They can, however, take a visible form.
The angels are pure spirits without bodies, whereas men have both body and spirit. Yet the angels can take to themselves a bodily form, as did St. Raphael (Tobias 5:18), when he undertook to accompany the young Tobias on his journey. At the sepulcher of Our Lord, after the resurrection, the angels appeared in the form of young men, and the same was the case after Our Lord’s ascension (Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10).
(a) The nature of the angels is nobler than that of man; they have greater knowledge and greater power.
The angels excel all other beings that Our Lord has created. Our Lord says that not even the angels know when the Day of Judgment will come (Matthew 24:36), thereby indicating that their knowledge is greater than that of men. So also is their power. An angel destroyed all the first-born of Egypt. Another angel caused the death of one hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers of the King of Assyria, who had blasphemed God (Isaias 37:36). An angel protected the three young men in the furnace at Babylon (Daniel 3:49).
(b) God created the angels for His own glory and service, as well as for their own happiness.
Among all the creatures that God has made, the angels resemble Him the most, and therefore the divine perfections shine forth the most brightly in them. They also glorify God by ceaselessly singing hymns of praise to Him in Heaven. The angels also serve God. The word angel signifies messenger. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” says St. Paul: “sent forth to minister to them that shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14.) Even the bad angels promote the glory of God, for God turns their attacks on us to His glory and our profit. Goethe rightly describes Satan as “a power that always wills evil, and effects good.”
(c) The number of the angels is immeasurably great.
Daniel, in describing the throne of God says: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him; and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him” (Daniel 7:10). Holy Scripture calls them the heavenly host. In the Garden of Olives Our Lord said that if He were to ask the Father, He would presently send Him twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). The number of the angels is greater than that of all men who ever have lived or ever will live. “The number of the angels,” says St. Dionysius the Areopagite: “is greater than that of the stars in heaven, or of the grains of sand on the seashore.”
(d) The angels are not all equal; there are nine choirs or ranks among them.
The rank of the angels is determined by the amount of the gifts that God has given them, and according to the office assigned them. Nearest to the throne of God are the seraphim, who burn more than the rest with the love of God; next to them are the cherubim, who are distinguished by the vastness of their knowledge. We also read in Scripture of thrones, dominations, principalities, powers, and also of three archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. There is also a corresponding division among the fallen angels.
2. All the angels whom God created were, at the beginning, in the grace of God and well pleasing to Him. But many of the angels sinned through pride, and were cast down by God into Hell forever (2 Peter 2:4).
When God created the angels, He created them all in His grace. But none can be crowned without a struggle (2 Timothy 2:5), and God subjected the angels to trial, that so, according to the universal law of the universe, they might earn their reward of eternal happiness.
In this trial a large number of the angels fell. They desired to be equal to God, and refused to submit their will to His (Cf. Isaias 14:12-14). They did not abide in the truth (John 8:44). Hence arose a great war in Heaven. Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in Heaven. The dragon was cast out and all his angels with him (Apocalypse 12:8-9). They were all cast down to Hell; not that they were confined to any local Hell, for they are allowed to wander about the earth tempting men, but they carry their Hell with them wherever they go, inasmuch as they everywhere suffer the torments of Hell. Their leader was Satan, or Lucifer, for this was his name before he fell, and he is said to have been the highest of all the angels.
The number of the fallen angels is less than that of those who remained faithful. The fall of the angels was the more terrible, because they had previously enjoyed such a high estate. The higher the place from which we fall, the worse the fall. At the Last Day the evil angels will be judged, and their wickedness and its punishment will be made known to the whole world (Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4). To deny the existence of the evil angels is a grievous sin against Faith.
3. The evil angels are our enemies; they envy us, seek to lead us to sin, and can, with God’s permission, injure us in our bodies, or in our worldly goods.
The evil spirits are our enemies. With all their spite they can do nothing against God; so they vent their fury against men, who bear the image of God. Many theologians have asserted that the places of the angels who fell will be filled in Heaven by men. “The knowledge that a creature of earth will occupy his place in Heaven,” says St. Thomas: “causes the devil more pain than the flames of Hell.”
It was the devil who led our first parents to sin, and also Judas (John 13:27). The devil can also, so far as God permits, injure the bodies and the goods of men, as in the case of Job and the possessed in Our Lord’s time. The devil’s great object is to effect the ruin of the Church, which he knows is to be the means of destroying his power on earth (Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:31).
He also knows that he and his angels will one day be judged by the saints (1 Corinthians 6:3). Many believe that as God assigns to each child at its birth a guardian angel, so the devil assigns to each a special devil to tempt it. Hence we must imitate the Jews when rebuilding the Temple (2 Esdras 4:17). We must work with one hand and with the other defend ourselves against the foe.
Yet the devil cannot do real harm to anyone who keeps the commandments of God and avoids all sin.
The dog that is tied up cannot do any harm to those who keep out of range of his chain. The devil is like this dog. He can work on our memory and our imagination, but he has no power over our will or our understanding. He can persuade us, but he cannot compel us to evil. We must therefore energetically and promptly repel all bad thoughts that the devil puts into our heads. “Resist the devil,” says St. James (4:7): “and he will fly from you.” Our Lord dispatched the devil very promptly when He said “Begone, Satan!”
It is a great thing to treat the devil and his temptations with great contempt, and also to turn our thoughts to other things, and not allow ourselves to be disturbed or troubled by his suggestions. He who allows himself to dwell on evil thoughts draws near to the dog who is chained, and is almost sure to be bitten by him. If the devil were allowed to use his full power against us we could not resist him, for when he fell he did not lose any of his natural powers, though he lost eternal happiness.
4. God gives the devil special power over some men:
(a) God often allows men who are striving after high perfection, whom He especially favors, to be tried by the devil for long years in some extraordinary way, in order to cleanse them from their imperfections, and thoroughly humble them.
God allows His elect to be constantly besieged by the devil for years, and to endure temptations of extraordinary violence.
Sometimes the devil appears to them in visible form; sometimes he assails their ears with hideous sounds; sometimes he is permitted to strike them and to throw them on the ground. God protects their life, but allows the devil to torment them with bodily pain and with sickness. They suffer the most terrible temptations against Faith and against purity. The evil one has no power over their souls, but sometimes God allows him power over their bodies, so that they do and say the most extraordinary things in spite of themselves, in order that so they may be humbled in the eyes of men. Sometimes they even pour forth blasphemous words, and have no power to prevent themselves from doing so.
These assaults of the devil are called obsession. Holy Job was assailed by the devil; and so was Our Lord in the desert; so were St. Anthony, St. Teresa, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, the Cure d’Ars, and many other saints. These holy persons knew that God would never allow them to be tempted beyond their powers of resistance, and that God permitted these temptations for their greater sanctification. They were perfectly resigned to the will of God, and at length drove away the devil by their fearless resistance to his assaults.
Thus when the devil threatened the life of St. Catharine of Sienna, she answered: “Do what you can; what is pleasing to God is pleasing to me.” St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi said to him: “You do not seem to know that you are preparing for me a glorious victory.” St. Anthony in the desert defied him, saying: “How feeble you are! I suppose that is why you are bringing such a crowd of devils to tempt me.”
When those who are tempted meet the devil with the courage of a lion, he has no more power against them than a startled hare, but when they fear him, then he comes on with all the force and boldness of a lion. He can always be driven away by the means of grace provided by the Church; by the sign of the cross, by invoking the name of Jesus and Mary, by holy water, by earnest prayer, by the use of relics, etc. The more violent the assaults of the devil, the greater will be the protection afforded by almighty God to His servants; often during times of trial they have revelations from God, or saints and angels appear to them to console and strengthen them.
Those who deny the reality of these occurrences, of which we so often read in the lives of the saints, show very little acquaintance with the spiritual life. Yet it is the spirit of the Church to receive all accounts of these preternatural and supernatural occurrences with great caution, as there is always a danger of illusion or deceit. Nor need ordinary mortals fear such special attacks of the evil one; they are reserved for the special friends and favorites of God.
(b) It also sometimes happens that God allows men of vicious lives, or those who sin against Faith, to be punished or led astray by evil spirits.
God sometimes permits that the bodies of men who have given themselves over to the indulgence of their passions be possessed by evil spirits, as a town is occupied by a general who has conquered it. This state is called possession. In the time of Our Lord there were many thus possessed, and who in consequence were dumb (Matthew 9:32), blind (Matthew 12:22), and exceeding fierce (Matthew 8:28).
God permitted that then there should be many such, that He might show the power of the Son of God and the feebleness of the devils in His presence, and that He might drive them forth from those whom they tormented. Yet it does not follow that all who were possessed were necessarily so through their own fault. Some children were possessed from their birth (Mark 9:20). Sometimes God allowed even holy men to be possessed for a time; but more often it was a punishment for grievous sin, and especially for a deliberate friend ship with the devil, as was the case with the witch of Endor (1 Kings 28:7 seq.; Cf. Acts 16:16).
Such cases are not infrequent now in pagan countries. God also permits the evil spirits to mislead those who practice spiritualism, which consists in the invoking of the spirits of the dead in order to discover things secret, or that are taking place at a distance. The devils personate the spirits invoked, and by their superior knowledge are able to reveal many things, by which they delude those who deal with them into thinking that they are really conversing with some departed relative or friend. On these occasions the spirits will sometimes take a material form. Spiritualism leads to the loss of Faith or of morals, or at least to the ruin of the peace of mind of the person practicing it. Very often it is mixed up with a great deal of imposture.
5. The angels who remained faithful to God behold the face of God continually and sing His praises.
Our Lord says of our guardian angels: “I say to you, that their angels always behold the face of My Father Who is in Heaven.” The angels at Our Lord’s birth sang the praises of God. Their songs of praise are different, just as their knowledge and their love of God are different. The angels are sometimes represented as children, because they are immortal and therefore ever young; sometimes with wings to express the swiftness with which they pass from place to place, and their promptness in carrying out the will of God; sometimes with lilies in their hands to show their perfect spotlessness; sometimes with harps to signify that the praise of God is their constant employment; sometimes without any body, but only a head and wings, to show that they are intellectual beings.
The holy angels also possess exceeding beauty and splendor. If an angel were to appear in the firmament of heaven in his full glory, the sun would disappear before his brightness, just as the stars now disappear before the brightness of the sun. When St. John saw an angel in all his glory, he thought he must be God Himself, and fell at his feet to adore him (Apocalypse 22:8). In appearing to men the holy angels hide their glory.
The angels will be our companions in Heaven. This is why they take so great an interest in us while we are on earth, and rejoice over the sinner doing penance. They often intervene to help us in our spiritual and temporal needs, if we do not, by our resistance to grace, put obstacles in their way.
6. The holy angels are also called guardian angels, because they watch over us (Hebrews 1: 14).
Jacob saw a ladder reaching up to Heaven, and the angels ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12). This was to signify that they come down on earth to protect us, and ascend back to Heaven to sing praise to God. The guardian angels watch over us, as a shepherd over his flock. They count it as their happiness that they are appointed to watch over the servants of God, and promote the welfare of souls, and no wonder, when we remember that the King and Lord of all things came “not to minister, but to be ministered unto.” The service they render us causes them no trouble or anxiety, but rather joy and happiness, for their one desire is that the will of God should be done, and they rejoice in contributing to this.
The general opinion of theologians is that everyone has a special guardian angel, who watches over him all through his life. The dignity of the angels given to us depends on the dignity of the persons to whom they are assigned. Ordinary Christians have one of the lower orders of angels; priests, bishops, kings, etc., have nobler spirits to guard them. Cities, countries, parishes, religious houses, have each their guardian angel.
Our guardian angels help us in the following ways:
(a) They put good thoughts into our minds, and move our will to what is good.
The angels who appeared to the shepherds at Bethlehem, and who were seen at the tomb of Christ, and after His ascension, made themselves visible and spoke to men; but generally they influence us without being seen or heard by us. They move us to some step that is conducive to the welfare of our souls or bodies, and often save us from some impending danger by a secret impulse, without which we should have incurred death or misfortune.
(b) They offer our prayers and our good works to God.
Thus St. Raphael offered the prayers of Tobias (Tobias 12:12). The angel in the Apocalypse offers the prayers of the saints in a golden censer (Apocalypse 8:3). This is not because God Himself does not hear our prayers, but the angels mingle their prayers with ours, and so make them more acceptable to God. “In all the benefits we receive from God,” says St. Thomas: “our guardian angel takes part, because he helps in obtaining them for us.”
(c) They protect us in danger.
Thus, St. Peter was delivered from prison by an angel (Acts 12:7 seq.}, Daniel was kept safe in the den of lions, and the three young men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 6:22; 3:49). We read stories sometimes of children being run over, or falling from a height, and escaping unhurt. We can scarcely doubt that this was owing to the intervention of their guardian angels. God has commissioned the angels thus to help us. “He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalm 90:11). But the chief office of our guardian angel is to preserve us from the snares of the devil; the holy angels have powers over the evil spirits, who fly away at their approach (Cf. Tobias 8:3).
We must therefore commit ourselves to the care of our guardian angels in all times of danger, and before undertaking a journey, or any new enterprise, and we should wish our friends when they start on a journey, the good wish of Tobias when his son was leaving his home: “May the angel of God accompany you!”
(d) They often reveal to men the will of God.
Instances in point are the sacrifice of Abraham, the message of the angel to Zacharias and to Our Lady. The appearance of an angel sometimes causes fear at first, but it soon changes to consolation and joy. It is just the opposite with the appearances of the evil angels; they give consolation to begin with, but this soon changes to confusion and fear.
If we desire the protection of the holy angels, we must try and imitate them by a holy life; we must also honor them, and often invoke their aid.
Experience teaches us that innocent children enjoy a wonderful protection from the angels. Innocence attracts them, and sin drives them away, as smoke drives away bees. We cannot expect our guardian angels to take care of us when we are doing what we know is displeasing to God. We must also beg for the aid of our guardian angel; we must congratulate him on his faithfulness to God; we must salute him when we go out and when we come in; we must thank him for all his benefits. We must say with Tobias: “What can be worthy of his benefits, and what can we give him sufficient for these things?” (Tobias 12:3). The Church honors our guardian angels on the second of October; in some places on the first Sunday in September.