Traditional Catholic Teaching

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Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.

St. Luke 15: 6.

Nothing tends more to spur us on really to correct our faults than the thought of God's infinite love and mercy. If we look closely at them, we cannot resist their influence, for we have a God, a Redeemer, and a Shepherd, who seeks His lost sheep with true, unselfish love. Our being found adds nothing to His majesty and happiness, our being lost does not diminish them, and yet He desires us to attain to salvation and eternal bliss. If we hold aloof from Him, we do so to our own injury. How foolish and ungrateful it is on our part to turn a deaf ear to His voice, when He calls us to amendment of life, for love of Him and for our own welfare! We ought to be more concerned about correcting our faults than about anything else. Let us do our best to have pure hearts to offer to Him. Let us persevere in our endeavour to reach Him and to become more and more perfect. Jesus sought us and found us; by means of baptism He admitted us to His Church, and whenever we have sinned He has sought and found us again in the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. Let us hold fast to Him! A noble example of adherence to Christ is set us by the first community of Christians, who gathered round the Apostles as soon as the Holy Ghost had come down upon them. The thrilling words of St. Peter's first sermon had moved all hearts, and when they had been purified in the water of baptism, and had received the grace of God, they formed a community destined to be a model for Christians of every age. Those early Christians had recourse to the right means of preserving and increasing the grace bestowed upon them. They persevered in the outward worship of God with zealous devotion, and we read in the Acts of the Apostles the fol­lowing short but striking account of them: "They were persever­ing in the doctrine of the Apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2: 42).

These words show us that Christians have always regarded the outward worship of God as a sacred duty, and as the best means of attaining salvation. It is a disastrous mistake to suppose that it is enough to worship God in one's heart, and that it is unnecessary to take part in any public worship. Such a mistake can be made only by the lukewarm, who care nothing for the things of God, or by those who fancy themselves cultured and think that they display their superiority by refusing to join others in prayer, or by eccentric dreamers, who prefer what is imaginary to what is solid and true. It is a duty, binding upon every Christian, to take part in the public worship of God, and this duty is a great joy and privilege, for to join with others in asking favours of God and to share with others the grace that He bestows, is indeed a happiness, and at the same time each one is helped and strengthened by his neighbour’s example. By God's grace and the force of mutual example, public worship becomes a source of blessing and encouragement. Hence you should at all times take pleasure in devoutly assisting at it; may it conduce to your spiritual progress, strength and perfection, and may you be at the same time a means of edifying and encouraging your fellow worshippers. Many Christians in this world complain that their sphere of action is very limited and they cannot be of use to many people, but what a wide field of activity lies open to each of us at public worship! There it is possible for the simplest and humblest to do more for the edi­fication and encouragement of others, by unaffected piety, genuine devotion and quiet fervour, than can be affected by the most eloquent sermons. Attendance at public worship is a duty for the strong, as well as for the weak. How strong were those first Christians, the original three thousand and the others who joined them in accepting our Lord's doctrines! Yet it is of them that St. Luke says: "They were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2: 42). We have here in the history of the early Church all the essentials of public worship in the Catholic Church to this day, viz., instruction, the sacrifice of Holy Mass as Communion, and prayer. In the Acts, the most holy Sacrament of the Altar is mentioned between the instruction and prayer, for it is from Holy Mass, the sacrifice of the Altar, that both instruction and prayer derive their efficacy. Without it instruction would be given to no purpose, and our prayers would not penetrate to the height of heaven. "They were persevering...... in the communication of the breaking of bread," i. e., they broke bread in common. Even non-Catholic commentators do not deny that this refers to the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. It was so called because at its institution our Lord Himself broke the bread that He changed into His own Body. St. Paul, too, writes: "The bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?"
(1. Cor. 10: 16).

Like the first Christians, the Catholic Church still regards the holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the chief part of our worship of God, for there is no real worship without sacrifice. It betrays complete ignorance of the essence of religion to suppose that we could dis­pense with the Sacrifice of the Mass, and that it would be enough to recite some beautiful prayers either in the privacy of one's own room, or out in the open country. When we say prayers, we make use of our own feeble expressions, but at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus presents our prayers to His heavenly Father, praying for us and acting as our mediator, so that through Him our prayers, offered to the Father in and with Him, acquire infinite power of impetration. Nor can holy Mass be replaced by a sermon or by pious reading, for in both sermons and reading God speaks to us, but in holy Mass He pours out upon us His living grace.

Never in all your life let yourselves be hindered from assisting at the holy Sacrifice with true, heartfelt devotion. In every other part of our worship we seek God, but at Mass we find Him. If you know how to hear Mass as the Catholic Church would have you do, you will certainly not be lost. If you ever begin to waver you will derive fresh strength from the Mass. At the same time you should not neglect hearing instructions. The first Christians were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles; that is to say, they came eagerly to be instructed by the Apostles, and were never tired of hearing them. The zeal of a Christian should be intelligent, for if it is unenlightened it often is an obstacle to his own salvation as well as to that of others, or, at least, it prevents him from doing as much good as he would be able to effect, were he better instructed in the doctrines of faith. Hence it is of the utmost importance to every Christian to hear God's word devoutly, to impress upon his mind the teaching of the Church, and frequently to meditate upon the truths of our holy faith. The more often and the more attentively we listen to the word of God, the better shall we realize the beauty of our Lord's teaching, and the fact that beneath the mist enveloping the learning of this world there is no solid truth. We shall moreover gain power to resist the temptations by means of which the world strives to rob us of our faith, and with it of our peace of mind and everlasting salvation.

The first Christians were persevering in prayer; nothing checked their faithful practice of it, not the coldness and indifference of the world, and not their own dryness or disinclination. What blessings were won by this persevering prayer! This thought should encourage you to join together in prayer with real devotion, remembering our Lord's promise: "Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (St. Matthew 18: 20). When you pray together, think of Jesus as being in your midst, for He really is with you. He will hear your united prayer and give you His blessing, so that you may ever grow in virtue, and sin may be driven out. He will cause you to be filled with a spirit of zeal, humility and obedience; He will help you to live at peace with one another and to be united in true charity towards God and man, and then you will become like that first Christian community, which heard the good Shepherd's voice and was faithful to Him, and so could never be separated from Him. Amen.

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