1. God requires of us that we should make outward profession of our faith.
Christ says, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. v. 16).
We are bound in our words and actions to let men know that we are Christians and Catholics. It is by the open profession of our faith that we help others (as we see from the above words of Our Lord), to know God better and to honor Him more. We also thereby lead them to imitate our good deeds; for men are like sheep, which though lazy in themselves and unwilling to move, will follow where one of them leads the way. The open profession of our faith also strengthens us in all that is good, for “practice makes perfect.” Unhappily men are too often cowards. For fear of being laughed at by those around them, or through the dread of suffering some injury in their business, or some disadvantage in their worldly affairs or interests, they have not the courage openly to profess their faith, or to defend their religion when it is attacked; they laugh at indecent or profane stories, join in immodest conversation, or in talk against the Church, priests, and religious, eat meat on Friday in order to escape the jests of their companions, and miss Mass on Sunday without excuse. They forget that those who laugh them out of doing what is right only despise them in their hearts, and would respect and honor them if they stood firm. They forget, too, that at the Day of Judgment the tables will be turned, and that those who now mock at them will be full of terror and of shame, and those who have been loyal to their religion will be the objects of the envy and admiration of their persecutors, who will bitterly lament their folly and wickedness (Wisd. i. 1-5). Among the splendid instances of those who were faithful to their religion and fearlessly made confession of their faith, were the three young men who refused to adore the golden image set up by Nabuchodonosor (Dan. ii.); the holy Tobias, who alone of all his kindred refused to go to the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, and went up every year to the Temple in Jerusalem (Tob. i. 5, 6); Eleazar, who preferred death to even appearing to eat swine’s flesh (2 Mach. vi. 18 seq.); St. Ignatius the martyr, St. Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Maurice and the Theban legion, and countless other Christian martyrs and confessors. It is by way of an open profession of her faith that holy Church has instituted processions like those of Corpus Christi, processions of Our Lady, etc.
We are only bound openly to confess our faith when our omission to do so would bring religion into contempt, or do some injury to our neighbor, or when we are in some way challenged to declare and make profession of our religion.
We are not bound always and on all occasions to confess our faith, but only when the honor due to God, or the edification due to our neighbor requires it. If officious people question us about our faith, we are not bound to answer them; we can refuse to answer, or turn away. But if we are questioned by some one who possesses legitimate authority to do so, we are bound to confess our faith, even though it should cost us our lives, as Our Lord did when questioned before Caiphas, and as thousands of the early Christians did when called upon to sacrifice to the idols. In such cases the words of Our Lord apply, “Fear not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. x. 28). To fear man more than God is to bring down on us His anger. We also should try and avoid all wrangling discussions and controversies about religion, which generally do harm and embitter men against the truth. Our faith is so holy a thing that it must be spoken of with great discretion and prudence.
2. Our Lord has promised eternal life to him who fearlessly makes profession of his faith.
For He has said “Every one that confesseth Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. x. 32).
St. Peter made a bold profession of his faith before his fellow apostles, and Our Lord made him at once the head of the apostles, and the foundation of His Church (Matt. xvi. 18). The three young men in Babylon confessed their belief in the true God, and God delivered them from the fiery furnace, and caused them to be raised to high honor. Daniel confessed his faith by disobeying the king’s edict and continuing his prayers in the sight of all men, and God saved him from the lions.
A great reward in heaven will be given to those who suffer persecution or death for the sake of their religion.
“Blessed are they,” says Our Lord, “that suffer persecution for justice sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you untruly, for My sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven” (Matt. v. 11-13). Those who suffer great persecutions for the sake of their faith are called confessors; those who are put to death for their faith are called martyrs. A martyr goes straight to heaven at his death, without passing through purgatory. “We should be doing injustice to a martyr,” says Pope Innocent III., “if we were to pray for him.” A martyr possesses the love of God in the highest degree, since he despises life, the greatest of all earthly goods, for God’s sake. Every martyr is a conqueror, and is therefore depicted with a palm in his hand, since the palm is the mark of victory. Yet no one is bound purposely to seek after persecution or a martyr’s death. Any one who does so without an express inspiration from almighty God, is almost sure to yield to the persecutors. Nor is it forbidden to flee from persecution. “When they shall persecute you in one city,” says Our Lord (Matt. x. 23), “flee into another.” Our Lord Himself fled before persecution (John xi. 53-54). So did the apostles and many of the saints, e.g., St. Cyprian and St. Athanasius. Yet the pastors of souls must not fly when the good of the faithful requires their presence. “The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling,” says Our Lord, “and careth not for the sheep” (John x. 13). Yet they may fly if their presence is not required, or if it seems likely to give rise to fresh persecutions. The heretic who dies for his heresy is no true martyr, for St. Paul tells us that if we give our body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits us nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 3). John Huss, who was burned at Prague in 1415, rather than give up his heresy, was no martyr, nor were Cranmer, Ridley, nor Latimer, who were burned at Oxford in the reign of Queen Mary. A man is a true martyr who receives a grievous wound for the sake of the faith and afterwards dies from the effects of it. So, too, are those who suffer imprisonment for life for their faith, or who die in defence of some Christian virtue or some law of the Church. Thus St. John Nepomucene, who was put to death because he would not violate the seal of confession, and St. John the Baptist, whose death was the result of his defence of the law of purity, were true martyrs. The whole number of the martyrs has been estimated at sixteen millions.
The man who denies his religion through fear or shame, or apostatizes from the faith, is under sentence of eternal damnation, for Christ says, “He that shall deny Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. x. 33), and again, “He that shall be ashamed of Me and of My word, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when He cometh in His majesty and that of His Father and the holy angels” (Luke ix. 26).
He who denies the faith denies Christ Himself. In the times of persecution there were many who denied their faith. Even now there are some who, through fear of worldly loss or of being dismissed from their employment, deny their religion. Others from the same motives, though they do not explicitly deny that they are Catholics, yet do so implicitly by attending and taking part in the services of a false religion, or by being married in a Protestant church, or by a merely civil marriage, or by taking Protestants for the godfathers or godmothers of their children, or by allowing their children to be brought up in a false religion. (But there is no sin in attending a Protestant funeral or marriage out of courtesy, so long as no part is taken in the service.) Others again, though they do not deny their* religion, are ashamed of it, because in many countries it is the religion of the poor, or because Catholics are not allowed to believe what they like. Those who deny or conceal their religion out of human respect are only despised by non-Catholics. The Emperor Constantius, father of Constantine the Great, once ordered all those of his servants whom he knew were Christians to sacrifice to the false gods. Those who obeyed he dismissed from his service, those who refused he promoted to the places of those he sent away. He who apostatizes from the faith is even worse than he who denies it from worldly motives. Solomon, whom God had filled with divine wisdom, in his old age was persuaded by his heathen wives to apostatize from the true religion and to worship their false gods. The Emperor Julian the Apostate fell away from the Christian religion and became a cruel persecutor. In the present day it too often hap pens that Catholics give up their faith through motives of worldly interest, or because they want to marry a Protestant, or sometimes because they quarrel with the priest. A vicious and sinful life often prepares the way for an apostasy. No good man, from the time of Our Lord fill now, has ever fallen away from the Catholic faith. The tree must be rotten within before it is blown down by the wind; the wind does not scatter the grains of corn, but the empty husks. He who apostatizes crucifies the Son of God afresh. He commits a sin almost unpardonable; he ceases to belong to the Church, and can no longer call God his Father, for as St. Cyprian says, “He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church as his Mother.” The Catholic must therefore keep far away from all occasions which could endanger his faith, for “he who loses his goods loses much; he who loses his life loses more; but he who loses his faith loses all.”
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IX. THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
This article, VIII. ON THE DUTY OF CONFESSING OUR FAITH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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