Mystery of Faith -
The Eucharist; - Man's Final Destiny
PEOPLE OF GOD
Reverend H. A. Johnston, S.J.
A.C.T.S. No. 1599 / Do (1971)
This is the third and final part of Father Henry Johnston's reflections
on The Credo of the People of God,
promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 30 June, 1968.
Again we have that clarity of thought and simplicity of expression
which has marked Father Johnston's writings over the years.
The whole of this series should be of great help to those who wish to
deepen their grasp and love of the truths of our Catholic faith.
These thoughts were published originally in the Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart,
- THE EDITOR
Nihil Obstat: BERNARD O'CONNOR, Diocesan Censor.
Imprimatur: J. R. KNOX Archbishop of Melbourne.
25th March, 1971.
* * *
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH
In our progress through the Creed
in which Pope Paul has set forth for us our faith and the faith of the
Church, we come now to a truth which is both of the highest practical
importance for us and has been called, in a special sense, the mystery
We believe, as a truth revealed by God, that in the Mass Jesus Christ,
our saviour, is made really present, God and man, as our victim in
sacrifice, and that we thereby continue the offering of the actual
sacrifice by which we were redeemed.
We believe that when we partake of the victim thus offered we are
receiving Jesus Christ himself as the food of our souls.
We believe that in every Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is
reserved, our risen Lord is as truly present as he is in heaven or as
he was at Bethlehem or in Nazareth or on Calvary. As God he is, of
course, everywhere; we can never be separated from him. But as Man he
is only in heaven and in the Blessed Eucharist.
There is hardly any need to repeat here what the Mass is and what it
means for us. A recent ACTS pamphlet of mine, We Offer the New Mass, is easily
available, and it opens with a brief summary of the meaning of the mass.
What a wonderful thing it would have been if we could have changed the
unbelieving, mocking throng on Calvary into reverent believers, fully
appreciating what was taking place! But that is what happens when the
Church gathers her children round the altar on which Christ's sacrifice
is continually being offered.
In union with Christ our Redeemer and supported by the grace of the
Holy Spirit, we offer to God the Father the wonderful sacrifice by
which the world was redeemed; and this not on a single privileged
occasion which could leave only a precious memory behind, but every
time we come to Mass. We have here a source of graces and blessings
which we could never exhaust.
When we receive holy communion we unite ourselves with the victim of
sacrifice in the most. intimate way, by entering into a living union
with him. He promised, we remember, that those who would eat him would
live by his life. So when we offer this victim of infinite value we
also offer ourselves to the Father in the best possible way, losing
ourselves in his beloved Son.
In order that we may lead a vigorous supernatural life we need food to
sustain and strengthen us. Could we ever have dreamed of a food like
this, or if we had could we have dared to hope for it? Yet here the Son
of God makes himself our food; we have his strength and holiness to
Though Mass and holy communion are the primary purpose of this mystery,
and it was only gradually that worship of the reserved sacrament grew
up in the Church, we can appreciate today the opportunity which the
continual presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament offers us, so
that we may develop our personal devotion to him, manifest our
gratitude, and come to a better understanding of his love for us.
The mystery of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed
Eucharist consists in this, that through the power of God what was
bread or wine is changed into Jesus Christ, while all that our senses
could perceive of the bread or wine is maintained by God just as it
was. The reality of a thing, what makes it what it really is, is
something our intellect deals with. The way in which it manifests
itself to us is dealt with by our senses.
Common sense makes a distinction between the appearance of a thing and
the reality which has this appearance. Nature or art may vary the
appearance of a person's face, but it is still the same face. When you
grow bigger you are not a different person because of your increase in
size. You are the same being, the same reality, whether you are ill or
in good health, hot or cold, wise or foolish, virtuous or the opposite.
On the other hand, twins may be identical in appearance, but they are
not the same human being.
Change of the Reality
What we regard as the reality of a thing, as distinct from its
appearance, can be changed, either naturally or by miracle. There is a
natural change when bread and butter became our flesh and blood, or
when water is resolved into oxygen and hydrogen, or when radio-active
elements change ultimately into lead, or when chlorine (a poisonous
gas) and sodium (a metal which may ignite when thrown into water) are
combined chemically to become common salt. A miraculous change took
place when Christ changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana.
This last change gives us a parallel - though not an exact one - for
the change which takes place when the bread and wine are changed into
Christ himself. In this case the change is only in the reality, and God
maintains the shape, colour, taste, and anything in the bread and wine
which could be perceived by our senses, exactly as they were before.
This being understood, there can be no reasonable quarrel with the
statement of the Council of Trent, and the Church ever since, that the
change worked by God "is suitably and properly called
But we must not think that setting it forth in this way explains the
mystery. It remains as much a mystery as ever. We must not expect to
understand it; much less must we allow our imagination to deal with the
mode of Christ's presence, which is something imagination cannot cope
with and reason cannot understand.
Admittedly this is a great mystery, but so is the Incarnation itself.
We cannot understand how the second Person of the Blessed Trinity,
remaining absolutely unchanged in his divine nature, took to himself a
human nature, so that he became truly man. God's power, like his love,
has no limits and exceeds our comprehension. But we must have good
reason for accepting the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, and here we
are on sure ground; we have the word of God.
We are familiar with the words our Lord used when he instituted the
Blessed Eucharist, "This is my body", "This is my blood". We might well
wonder if these words alone would have been sufficient to reveal to the
apostles this momentous truth in its fullness. But a year before, at
the previous Pasch, they had been prepared.
At Capernaum many of Christ's hearers had grumbled because he had said
that he was the bread that had come down from heaven, something better
than the manna of old. To their objections he replied: "I am the bread
of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert and they are
dead. I am speaking of the bread that comes down from heaven, which a
man may eat and never die . . . Moreover, the bread which I will give
is my own flesh; I give it for the life of the world".
This led to a fresh outburst of opposition. "How can this man give us
his flesh to eat?" But Jesus refused to withdraw or modify what he had
said. Instead, he repeated it over and over again in stronger and, to
his listeners, more offensive terms: "In truth, in very truth I tell
you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you
can have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
possesses eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My
flesh is real food; my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and
drinks my blood dwells continually in me and I dwell in him." (John 6: 53-56).
As a result, many of those who heard him gave up following him and
listening to his teaching. He let them go. This was a truth about which
there could be no compromise. Long before St. John wrote these words
St. Paul had told the Corinthians: "Any one who eats the bread or
drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of desecrating the
body and blood of the Lord" (I Cor.
St. Ignatius, bishop of
Antioch and martyr, belonged to the century in which our Lord and his
apostles lived. He has left us seven letters, written to different
christian communities. In that sent to the Christians of Smyrna he
alludes to an early heretical sect which maintained that our Lord's
human nature was not real, but only an appearance which he assumed.
"They abstain," he writes, "from the Eucharist because they do not
admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our saviour, Jesus Christ,
that suffered for us."
St. Justin Martyr lived in the
early part of the next century and wrote two defences of Christianity.
About the Eucharist he writes: "This food is called by us Eucharist and
no one is permitted to partake of it unless he believes that our
teaching is true, and has received the washing for the forgiveness of
sins and for the new birth (baptism), and lives according to the
teaching of Christ. For we do not receive it as ordinary bread or
ordinary drink, but . . . we have been taught that the food consecrated
by the word of prayer coming from Jesus Christ . . . is the flesh and
blood of that Jesus who was made flesh".
St. Irenaeus, in the same
century, tells us that in his youth he had associated with St. Polycarp, who had known St.
John the apostle, "and with others who had seen the Lord". One
quotation from him will suffice: "Wine and bread are by the word of God
changed into the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ".
There is no need to go on with a list of testimonies throughout the
history of the Church for we are dealing with a doctrine which is one
of those most firmly held at all times and most clearly and explicitly
defined by the Church.
The Church! That is where we rest. We are Catholics precisely because
we accept the teaching of Christ's Church as the teaching of Christ
himself. When many had turned away from him at Capernaum, (John 6: 67-71), because they would
not accept his teaching, our Lord put this question to his apostles,
"Do you also want to leave me?" Peter answered him for us all, "Lord,
to whom shall we go? Your words are words of eternal life."
WHO HEARS THE CHURCH
In all the records which we have of God's dealing with men we find that
it was through men that he delivered his message. We are told that God
sent Moses as "ruler and deliverer", and that he led his people "by the
hand of Moses and Aaron".
He spoke to them through the prophets, through whom the people received
"the oracles of God." Our Lord told the people to obey those who sat
"in the chair of Moses"; and the high priest, we are told, spoke more
truly than he knew because of the position he occupied. (John 11: 51)
But all that happened under the old dispensation was only a preparation
for what was to come. God had spoken through the prophets and made
known his revelation progressively but incompletely; finally he was to
speak to us through his Son. "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
It was noticed at once by his hearers that Christ spoke with an
authority that was new among the Jews. He claimed to possess universal
power on earth and a royal dignity. He said he had come down from
heaven, and that his teaching was only what had been learned in the
intimate life of the Blessed Trinity.
The message of Jesus was, in consequence, the message of the Father,
whose ambassador he was. When people listened to Jesus they were
listening to the Father, and when they refused to listen it was the
Father's word that they refused to accept. This was the final and
complete revelation of God to his people.
But when we examine the records of the life of the Redeemer in this
world we are at once struck by an extraordinary feature of it. He spent
only two or three years in his public ministry and he never went much
outside a very small country, situated on the confines of the Roman
The Redeemer came for all mankind and for all generations; how was this
brief appearance on earth and this teaching of a handful of people to
have an influence on future generations throughout the wide world? When
Christ had left the earth, as far as his visible presence was
concerned, he had accomplished little.
We read that after his resurrection he appeared on one occasion to 500
of his disciples at once, and it would almost seem that this number
would represent about all who - at least in Galilee - had been won over
to belief in him.
But one thing we do notice is that Christ associated other men with him
in his work. We read of 72 disciples sent out in pairs to prepare the
way for him. Moreover, there was a special band of twelve, individually
chosen, who became his constant associates and were carefully
instructed and trained in a way that others were not. He even shared
with them his divine powers of healing, and later of granting the
forgiveness of sins through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Mission of the Apostles
Gradually it became clear that they were destined for a more important
role than that of mere helpers; they were to take the Redeemer's place
and carry on his work, a work which he would only inaugurate. They
would occupy the same position in regard to him as he occupied in
regard to his Father: "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you."
Addressing his Father, he said: "The words which you have given me I
have given to them." "Go into the whole world and preach the good news
to all mankind," was their commission. He gave them the name of
"apostle" which, before it acquired its technical sense, meant simply
"messenger", "one sent". He said that whoever welcomed one whom he sent
would be welcoming him, and that would be the same as welcoming his
Father. On the other hand, rejection of his messengers was rejection of
We find the apostles, thus instructed by their master, carrying their
message abroad with a sense of authority. Theirs was no gospel of man;
it was not learned from man, but by revelation from Jesus Christ.
If the revelation of the Old Law carried with it such grave obligation
to listen and obey, how much more guilty would they be who rejected the
fuller message of salvation now offered, "delivered in the first
instance by the Lord himself, and guaranteed to us by those who heard
it from his own lips, with God adding his testimony by signs and
wonders" (Hebrews 2:3).
"By what authority and in whose name have you done this?" was the first
challenge to the apostles from those who opposed them (Acts 4: 7). They
had no doubt about the answer; it was always "by the authority of the
Lord Jesus"; they were obeying God and not man.
This authority of God, committed to his representatives, made the
Church an hierarchical body from the beginning. The revelation was not
made directly to all men, but to "witnesses chosen beforehand by God"
(Acts 10:40), "Christ's ambassadors" (2 Cor. 5:20), ministers through
whom faith is received (1. Cor. 3: 5).
Whatever spiritual gifts the Corinthians deemed themselves to have,
Paul insisted that they should recognize in his teaching "the
commandment of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). Every man is accursed who
preaches any other gospel than that which comes with the authority of
the apostles (Galatians 1: 9). The duty of Christ's messengers was not
simply to put before people certain doctrines and rites for their
consideration, to be accepted only by those who approved of them, but
to teach Christ's doctrine and demand obedience and faith.
We read that they found fault with unauthorized persons who disturbed
the Christians with their private views on a disputed question,
"without any instructions from us" (Acts 15:24).
Teaching with Authority
All through the latter part of the New Testament we find the greatest
insistence laid on the necessity of holding fast to the truth delivered
once and for all to God's chosen ones (Jude 3). Paul invokes a curse on
himself, and extends it to an angel from heaven, if he should attempt
to teach any other faith than that already preached. (See Gal. 1: 8)
The divine plan of salvation rests on acceptance of God's teaching, and
St. Paul tells Timothy to see that certain men do not teach another
doctrine, as opposed to the "sound doctrine" of his gospel. By
abandoning this "some have made shipwreck of their faith." (See 1 Tim
1: 11 & 19; 6; 3; 2 Tim 1: 13; 4: 3) He advises the Romans (16: 17)
to avoid those who cause dissensions and depart from the teaching they
When a man has received one or two warnings, he tells Titus (3: 10), he
is to be avoided if he still keeps obstinately to his own opinions. St.
John is even stronger: if a man comes with false doctrine the believer
should not receive him into his house, or even greet him (2 John 10).
But the activity of the apostles, though wider in sphere and more
extended in time than that of Christ, would still be very limited. It
would not be long before most of them found their work ended by a
violent death; yet countless generations of men who had not heard their
message were still to be born, and salvation was for all.
Christ had died, not for the Jewish people alone, but that he "might
gather into one the scattered children of God" (John 11:52). The
Kingdom was to be preached, so the master said, throughout the world
"for a witness to all nations". Though the preaching of repentance and
forgiveness of sin was to begin in Jerusalem, it was in Christ's plan
to be carried over the whole earth.
The Apostolic College
The apostolic college was established, not as a group that would in
time disappear, but as a corporation which would last. This appears
plainly from Christ's words to his apostles before he left them: "I
shall be with you all days till the end of the world." (See Mt. 28: 20)
Another Counsellor would take his place, the Spirit of Truth; and he
would be with them "for ever." (John 14: 16).
It was what had already been proclaimed at the dawn of the new era: the
promise was for Abraham and for his children "for ever" (Luke 1: 55).
That was why Christ said that he was building his Church on rock, so
that it might never be destroyed by the forces of evil.
We find, accordingly, that the apostles chose others, just as they
themselves had been chosen, to take their place and carry on their
work. At the very beginning Peter decided that the place of Judas
should be filled, and God was asked to make known which of two
disciples he chose for the ministry and apostleship from which the
traitor had fallen.
During the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas priests were
appointed "in every church" (Acts 14:23). Paul asked Timothy to hand on
the doctrine received from him to trustworthy men who could teach
others in their turn (2 Tim. 2: 2).
In Ephesus Paul had committed the care of the faithful to a group of
priests, and he exhorted them to pay attention to the flock of which
the Holy Spirit had given them charge, as shepherds of the Church of
God (Acts 20: 28).
St. Peter gave the same charge to priests to be true shepherds of the
flock of God, recalling the supreme Shepherd to whom they were
responsible (1 Peter 5: 2). We have, of course, no guarantee that all
the members of the Church will remain faithful to her teaching. Our
Lord himself warned us against "false prophets", who would look as
harmless as sheep, but would be in reality as dangerous as wolves.
The apostles themselves had experience of this. When Paul urged the
priests of Ephesus to be good shepherds, he foretold that after his
departure fierce wolves would make an attack on the flock, and that
some of the shepherds themselves would go astray and draw a number of
the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30). There are many other such
warnings in the New Testament.
But we can have unshaken trust in Christ's Church. "The Holy Spirit," the pope writes
in the Credo which we are
studying, "unfailingly assists her
in her charge of guarding, teaching, explaining, and spreading that
truth which was foreshadowed in the prophets and which God fully and
completely revealed to men in the Lord Jesus."
If, even under the Old Law, the teaching of the prophets could be
trusted, because their word was God's word, how much surer can we be
now that Christ has come with the complete and final revelation of God
and has sent us his accredited messengers. He said that we must listen
to his Church, because in listening to his Church we are listening to
With good reason, then, did St. Paul write that the Church of God is
"the pillar and support on which the truth rests" (1 Tim. 3: 15). How
blessed we are to be guided by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, ever
living in his Church!
IS NOT OF THIS WORLD"
"Thy Kingdom come!" These are the words which are often on our lips;
what do we mean by them? We pray that the sovereignty of God may be
established over all mankind. We may also take Kingdom in a more
material sense, as the collection of all those redeemed by Christ, a
work which is constantly going on.
When this work of redemption is finally completed (in so far as men
will accept it) then the man Christ, our ruler, will offer himself with
us to his Father, "and God will rule completely over all" (1 Cor. 15,
The Kingdom is a supernatural one. Its citizens receive a new life,
which is a marvellous sharing by creatures in the divine life. It calls
for a constant striving towards God in faith, hope and love. It could
never be acquired by the powers of human nature, but can come from God
This does not mean, of course, that it is not a life lived by men on
earth, with duties that concern this world. But it is truly a divine
life, and every part of it is derived from God and directed towards
him. In particular, our love of God must manifest itself in love of all
his children for his sake. Such charity has always been characteristic
of the Church.
Many Catholic Charities
It would astonish most Catholics if they had before them a list of all
the works of charity carried out by Catholics, lay and religious, in
the home lands and in the missions all the world over. Think of the
work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in every part of Australia
and elsewhere. Think of the work of so many religious and others
tending lepers and the sick of every kind.
How many young people receive under Catholic care a loving attention
they could find nowhere else! How many aged people receive the charity
of Christ in homes such as those under the care of the Little Sisters
of the Poor or the Sisters of Nazareth!
How many children are taught their religion and prepared for it by
devoted catholic teachers! How many lay people give generous help to
charitable works, both by money and personal service! Increasing
numbers of lay persons are devoting their services to the missions.
However, we must never be satisfied; it is desirable that this interest
in our fellow-men should become wider and deeper. Our love for God can
be truly measured only by our love for his children on earth.
But it is unfortunate that a great danger has arisen in what is one of
the great glories of the Church. It is that our concern for our
fellow-men should drift away from its true centre, which is God, and
descend to the level of mere humanitarianism. It is part of the loss of
the supernatural spirit, which leads men - and even Catholics - to
regard created beings as the centre of everything instead of God.
God, of course, is the great reality. He is the fullness of being, and
the source of all reality outside himself, the one on whom everything
That greatest of men, as our Lord called him, John the Baptist, put the
matter quite clearly when he said, "No one can have anything unless God
gives it to him." (John 3: 27).
God's Love for Us
In his love God drew us out of nothingness; he sent his Son to be our
saviour, and gave us the incredible gift of a share in the sonship of
his only-begotten Son; he has destined us to be allowed to know him as
he really is, and actually share in the divine life, the life of the
Blessed Trinity, forever.
But of course created things appeal to us much more easily and more
forcibly than the great reality of God. This creates a constant danger
for us, and one which is specially threatening today. The Pope in the Credo we are studying stresses this
point. He writes:
"We confess that the Kingdom of God
begun here below in the Church of Christ is not of this world whose
form is passing, and that its proper growth cannot be confounded with
the progress of civilization, of science or of human technology, but
that it consists in an ever more profound knowledge of the unfathomable
riches of Christ, an ever stronger hope in eternal blessings, an ever
more ardent response to the love of God, and an ever more generous
bestowal of grace and holiness among men.
"But it is this same love which
induces the Church to concern herself constantly about the true
temporal welfare of men.
"Without ceasing to recall to her
children that they have not here a lasting dwelling, she also urges
them to contribute, each according to his vocation and his means, to
the welfare of their earthly city, to promote justice, peace and
brotherhood among men, to give their aid freely to their brothers,
especially to the poorest and most unfortunate.
"The deep solicitude of the Church,
the Spouse of Christ, for the needs of men:, for their joys and hopes,
their griefs and efforts, is therefore nothing other than her great
desire to be present to them, in order to illuminate them with the
light of Christ and to gather them all in him, their only Saviour.
"This solicitude can never mean that
the Church conform herself to the things of this world, or that she
lessen the ardour of her expectation of her Lord and of the eternal
There is a great danger that devotion to human needs, which is so noble
a work, should make us forget that there is something far more
important, union with God in supernatural life.
Our Lord makes this point clear when he puts the question whether it
would be a good bargain to win everything this world could offer, at
the cost of losing one's soul. Profit and loss; work it out.
A Tragic Mistake
It would be a tragedy, and the frustration of Christ's work on earth,
if for Christianity we substituted humanitarianism, as if our ultimate
end was prosperity and happiness in this world; as if it was man that
really mattered instead of God. A good pagan could accept all that.
Our Lord Jesus Christ went about doing good, but it was not just
material good or for material ends. "Man does not live by bread alone,"
he said. If we seek earnestly to submit ourselves to the sovereignty of
God, we shall really have nothing to worry about.
God looks after the birds of the air and the lilies of the field; he
will not neglect us. We are to be concerned with treasures in heaven
rather than treasures on earth. Our Lord went so far as to say,
"Blessed are you poor, and you who are hungry now, and you who weep
Jesus Christ did much for the suffering and sorrowing, but it was all
subordinate to his care for souls. One who was cured was warned to
avoid sin, lest some worse evil befall him. When he cured the paralysed
man he said, "Your sins are forgiven you." That was the important point.
Martha and Mary were told that there was only thing necessary. He said
that he came on earth that we might have life in all its fullness; and
he did not mean an earthly life. The life he brought us consisted in
knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ sent by him.
Greatly to be commended are the Australian Catholics who contribute so
generously to Project Compassion, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas.
But it would be a strange deficiency in their faith if they were not
more generous still in supporting the work of the missions. This is an
example of how the spirit of naturalness may creep in, so contrary to
the spirit of Christ.
Necessity of Faith
Faith and its necessity are something our Lord was constantly
stressing. It means acceptance of his teaching and his claims, and a
readiness to obey and follow him. He always demanded faith in those for
whom he worked miracles. In Nazareth St. Mark says our Lord could not
work any miracles because of want of faith in the inhabitants.
He explicitly told some of those he cured that it was their faith that
made them well. Before giving sight to two blind men, he asked them if
they believed he was able to do this. He gave special praise to two
pagans who displayed greater faith than Israelites. When the apostles
failed to work a miracle, their master told them it was because of
their want of faith. On the other hand, everything was possible for one
who had faith. Eternal life comes through faith.
We must make sure that in these troublous times our faith in Christ,
far from wavering, should become stronger and more whole-hearted. The
Son of God came to give us God's final revelation, after many and
various messages given through the prophets.
When men refused to accept his teaching he passed on and left them. He
told his apostles that if a town refused to listen to them they were to
leave it and shake off the dust of that town from their shoes. Their
main work would be to carry his doctrine of salvation all over the
world. It was the purpose, he said, for which he had come on earth, to
preach the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Over and over again he insists that his messengers have his authority,
and that rejection of them is rejection of him. It is well for us these
days to keep in mind St. Paul's warning: "Watch out for those who cause
divisions and upset people's faith, who go against the teaching you
have received" (Rom. 16: 17).
Our Lord's words, too, can easily be forgotten, that we cannot enter
the Kingdom of heaven unless we approach it in the spirit of a little
child and the higher our position will be the more childlike we become.
"Keep the Commandments"
It has been urged at times that children should not be taught to keep
the commandments of God and of his Church. Love is everything. It is
true, of course, that mere mechanical keeping of laws (going to Mass
"because I have to") can be without any spiritual value. Still we must
remember that when a good young man ("Christ looked at him and loved
him") asked our Lord the plain question, "What must I do to inherit
eternal life?" he received the equally plain answer, "Keep the
commandments." He said that anyone who did what his Father in heaven
wanted him to do would be as close to him as brother, sister, or mother.
It is hard to understand how anyone can make light of the keeping of
the law when our Lord so emphatically declared it to be the real test
and proof of love.
"You are my friends if you do what I
command you" (John 15: 14).
"Whoever loves me will obey my message . . . Whoever does not love me
does not obey my words" (John 14: 23-24).
"I do what the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that
I love the Father" (John 14: 31).
"If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have
obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15: 10).
St. John, who knew our Lord's heart so well, says much the same in his
first and second letters.
Necessity of Obedience
Obedience has fallen out of favour in some quarters, but it shines out
in the teaching and example of our one Master. The greater part of his
life is described in the Gospel simply as spent in obedience. St. Paul
exhorts us to have the spirit of Christ. When he became man he did not
claim the dignity and position due to him as Son of God; instead, he
was humble and walked the path of obedience that led him to death,
death on a cross (Phil. 2: 6-8). Can we hope to do better than Christ
when he was on earth? Here is his own description of the principle on
which his life was based:
"My food (what I live on day by day) is
to do the will of him who sent me" (John 4: 34).
"I am not trying to do what I want, but only what he who sent me wants"
(John 5: 30).
"I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of
him who sent me" (John 6: 38).
"I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29).
If, then, we turn our backs on obedience, we turn our backs on Jesus
What is Love?
We are told that love is the great thing. But what do we mean by love?
Our Lord was once asked a very important question, "What is the
greatest commandment of the law?" the one to which we should devote
most attention. The answer concerns us very deeply. "You must love the
Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all
your mind, and with all your strength."
It is true that he added a second commandment, "like the first" (the
love of God and our neighbour is really one virtue), but we must never
forget that the love of God must come first, and that if we are not
loving others for God's sake it is not a christian virtue. Our Lord's
words, "You did it to me," give us the true motive for charity.
A natural religion does not believe in self-denial, yet it is the stamp
of the religion of Christ. We must be prepared to carry a cross after
him if we are to be true to him. Some are called to leave everything
and follow him. We are told even that we must hate father and mother,
wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even our own life in
order to be his true disciples.
Of course this has to be understood in the language in which it was
spoken. The Jews had few means of indicating shades of difference
between more and less; they did not even have a comparative or
superlative of the adjective; so things had to be expressed in a way
that must sometimes appear too blunt to us. The real meaning of this
saying of our Lord is that we must not allow the most sacred of human
ties to come between us and his service.
"My Kingdom is not of this world." We cannot change the character of
Christ's Kingdom. No one can lay any foundation, St. Paul reminds us,
other than the foundation already laid, namely, Jesus Christ. He tells
himself that no one can come to the Father except through him.
The New Testament, which is God's revelation to us, can never be out of
date. If we adopt new ideas incompatible with those of Christ, one
thing we can be certain of is that our ideas are false. If Christ walks
one way and we take another, one thing we can be certain of is that we
are on the wrong road.
WHAT WILL THE END BE?
We live a life of faith; and faith demands trust and abandonment. We
can accept the word of God with full assurance, but we must walk in
darkness while we are in this world.
The realities in which we believe remain hidden from us. That is in
keeping with what the letter to the Hebrews tells us, that faith is the
assurance of the reality of the things we hope for, and the conviction
of the truth of things we do not see.
But this life of faith is not to be our permanent state; it is only a
time of preparation. We are pilgrims on earth; but where is the holy
shrine to which we are making our way? We are wayfarers; but what is
the destination towards which we are travelling? The brief answer is,
eternal life with God. It is the assurance of reaching this end through
our faith that must encourage and sustain us till faith and hope are
swallowed up in love.
How can we describe this life, which is a sharing in the life of God
himself? We know directly only created things, and they cannot give us
a true understanding of the things of God. The words we use describe
properly only created things, and cannot truly represent divine things.
We are forced to use parallels, symbols, images, all of them imperfect
and some liable to be misleading.
An English poetess, Christina Rosetti, has put it this way:
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yes, beds for all who come.
To give any true description of the life that awaits us in eternity
would be as hard as to describe a sunset to a blind man, or to paint
the beauty of the sunlit world for one who had always lived
underground. But we have some idea of what happiness is, and from our
experience of imperfect happiness we can make some guess at what
perfect happiness will be.
Happiness involves release from painful labour. Activity is good and
the exercise of bodily or mental powers can be exhilarating. But hard
and wearisome labour is painful to human nature, and in the midst of
toil we look forward to rest as relief. In heaven there will be no more
hard work, no distatesful duties to perform; our tasks will have been
completed; we shall be at rest.
Happiness implies peace. In this world we must always be fighting if we
are to be safe. We must fight to overcome obstacles and dangers from
without, and - worse still - we must engage in unceasing warfare with
ourselves. Our worst enemies are within us.
But if we are faithful, the day of victory will surely dawn, and peace
will be our portion for ever. There will be no more fighting against
temptations from without, or against our own unruly passions.
Selfishness, pride, greed, and all our other enemies will have
disappeared; the good within us will have finally triumphed.
For complete happiness there must be the absence of everything that can
hurt. But what human being in this world is immune from pain, sorrow,
disappointment and anxiety? Who does not suffer sometimes from
unkindness, injustice, neglect and ingratitude?
But in heaven there will be nothing to trouble us; no shadow of evil
will be found in God's home. "God will wipe away all tears from their
eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness, for
the former things have passed away." (Apoc. 21: 4).
Happiness means content. No one can be at peace or rest while
discontented. And how little real content there is in this world. "We
look before and after, and pine for what is not." Our thirst for
happiness is never fully satisfied, because there is nothing on earth
that can satisfy a nature that has been made to find its end in God.
Saint Augustine's well-known words are true: "You have made us for
yourself, O Lord, and our hearts can never rest till they rest in you."
But when we reach our journey's end and find at last in God infinite
good and the source of limitless happiness, we shall be content; there
will be no desire of our hearts that will not have its complete
fulfilment. It does not mean the absence of desire; our desires will be
all the keener then, but their object will not be beyond our reach, as
so often happens on earth.
But happiness implies more than peace, rest, and content; it includes
the highest form of pleasure. We need not exclude bodily pleasure,
though here we must be careful. We may think of the pleasure it gives
to be in perfect health, when we say that it is good to be alive, or
the pleasure that is found in the exercise of any skill. But pleasure
belongs chiefly to the mind and will. There is pleasure in the search
for truth, in the gradual conquest of some branch of science or
philosophy, in the unravelling of problems, and the resolution of
apparent contradictions. But the efforts of our minds in this world
cannot compare with the clear and penetrating vision of truth we shall
have in the presence of God.
In heaven the easy grasp of truth and its enjoyment will not be the
privilege of a few, but the common possession of all. There is no need
to insist on the pleasure that the human mind can experience through
music, literature, and art. How, then, can we conceive the pleasure
that will be ours when we find infinite beauty?
Go through the whole universe and pick out every bit of beauty you can
find. Like a bee gathering honey, take the beauty of the skies at
night, at sunset, or at dawning; look for beauty on the earth, in the
mountain and valley, by lake and stream, the tumbling of the waves on
the sea and the rock-bound coast; gather the beauty of flower and tree,
and the beauty of the songs of birds; draw all their beauty from
literature, art, and music; take all the beauty of human character; put
it all together, and how inconceivable that beauty would be. But put it
beside the beauty of God, and it would be as noticeable as the stars in
the sky when the sun is shining. It it true of God to say, not so much
that he has beauty, but that he is beauty itself.
The chief source of happiness is love. None are so satisfied and so
thoroughly happy as those who are in love; and in proportion to the
purity of the love and the worthiness of the object loved is the
happiness love produces. Eternal life is above all a life of love.
There our hearts will be filled to overflowing with the love of the
infinite goodness of God. We shall be united with him in a union
incomparably closer than any union on earth. Our love will have none of
the pain or the limitations inseparable from love here below, though
even on earth it is the love of God that can give the truest happiness.
All things on earth are passing; but it is the crown of the happiness
of heaven that it can have no end. We cannot lose it by any fault of
our own, for no sin or imperfection will then be found in us, nor the
possibility of them. Nor can there be any other evil that can enter
God's home to spoil our happiness or bring it to an end. We can never
lose our happiness because we can never be separated from the source of
it, God, whose life we shall share for ever.
But will unending happiness not mean satiety? In this world we tire,
not of happiness, but of the objects in which we seek our happiness,
none of which are ever sufficient for all our desires. We do not tire
of the happiness of love, but we cease to love some particular object
and thus cease to enjoy the happiness which its love can give. But the
source of the happiness of love in heaven is God himself, of whose
beauty and goodness we can never tire because, being infinite, they
will always be as fresh and wonderful to us as in the first moment we
are ravished by the sight of them.
It is true that heaven is a reward for a life of faith on earth. "Be
faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life", we read in
the Apocalypse. But there is something more. We are not just children
who have to be bribed to be good by the promise of enjoyments to come.
We do not speak of the flower or the ear of corn as the reward of the
seed that was planted; it is the seed's natural growth to perfection.
So the life of eternity is the development of the life of grace in this
world; it is the perfection to which our life of faith and hope lead us.
It is rather what we shall be than what we shall receive that will
constitute the happiness of eternity. Heaven is the state in which,
having struggled painfully in this world, with the help of God's grace,
to hold fast to God's truth and carry out his will, we shall become
what the New Testament calls "the just made perfect". Our imperfect
union with God in this world will blossom into a wonderful sharing in
the life of the Blessed Trinity.
We can gather from the word of God in the New Testament a better idea
of our final destiny than can be put in merely human words. It would be
impossible to give all; but here are a few specimens of what we are
"You believed in Christ, and God put
his seal of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had
promised. The Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we
acquire possession of it" (Ephesians 1: 13-14).
"To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and
immortality God will give eternal life" (Romans 2: 7).
"I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth
comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8: 18).
"We are God's children now; it is not yet clear what we shall become,
but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see
him as he is" (I John 3: 2).
"You have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will
rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16: 22).
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