Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chapter 4 of The Way Back Home. Why All Men Should Practice Religion

Photo:  German Konrad Adenauer praying on election day, 1953.
Location:  Heppenheim, Germany
Photographer:  Ralph Crane

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There are many people in this world who, though they practice religion to some extent, are not much concerned whether the religion they practice is the true religion or not. There are others who have strayed so far from the notion of religion or the practice of religion that they will ask: "Why should I embrace any particular faith or practice any religion? What's the good of it? Why is it necessary?" In answering these questions I shall be forced to make this chapter a little longer than those preceding.

"The proper study of man," says the great Grecian philosopher Aristotle, "is man." In other words after the study of God Himself, there is no study so usful, so important as the study of man. It is useful to try to understand the nature of trees, of rocks, of animals and of the forces of nature, but it is more useful and far more necessary for man to understand man himself.  And in the study of man there is no consideration more profitable than the study of man's eternal destiny. From the beginning of the world, nothing has occupied man's attention more than this. Where did I come from? Why am I here on this earth? Whither am I going? These three questions have troubled the minds of men since the very beginning of human history. Taken together they form the mighty problem of what is called the riddle of existence. That riddle must be solved if man's life upon this earth is to have a solid, worthwhile purpose, if man's religion is to be reasonable.


Let us suppose that instead of the millions of men that live upon earth, there were but one. Suppose that that one, upon being ushered into existence, should as it were, find himself in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean with nothing but water all around him stretching to the horizon. The rowboat seems to be headed in some direction, but East, West, North or South, the rower knows not. If you were that man, sooner or later, probably sooner, you would ask yourself these questions:  from what port did I set out? Why am I traveling at all? To what port am I headed? If you could give yourself no answer, you would most likely quit rowing. If I do not know for what port, if any, I am headed, why row? If I don't know, why I am rowing, why row? The oars seem to have been given to me for a purpose the boat seems to be made to carry me somewhere: the water itself seems to have been intended to sustain the boat.  But if with all this I am going nowhere in particular, I am embarked upon a ridiculous journey.  


Yet that is your position and the position of every man that ever lived upon this earth. Out of the womb of eternity when you existed not, you came and, with the speed of the fastest airplane that ever winged its way across the sky, you are traveling forward toward another eternity. What am I supposed to do while I am on this momentous journey? Is the journey after all worth taking seriously? Should I try to direct my way or should I just let myself drift? Storms will come in this journey through life as they would come to the rower upon the ocean. Storms will come in the shape of trials and disappointments, sickness, and, at times, the loss of fortune and friends and in the end, death. If there is no purpose in life other than to live, why should I try to bear up under such disappointments and trials? Why should I endeavor to rein in my passions or curb my selfish interests?  Or is there possibly a port toward which I am headed, for which it would be worth while steering a straight course and suffering the buffets of this life to reach?


There is such a port. Its existence gives awful significance to this life. The rower was given a pair of oars to row with;  you were given your reason to find out the direction in which you should steer your boat, the port toward which you should tend, in other words to know the grand purpose of life.  For unless you were put here by God, to live a short time on probation, to prove yourself amid the trials and temptations of this life as worthy of the life to come, then your lot is sand indeed. All through this life your heart will be yearning for happiness. You will go through life so wistfully enjoying a bit of it here, a bit of it there.  In the end your heart will still be yearning. It will never be completely satisfied. This is the testimony of every man that ever lived. Solomon, supposed to be the wisest and the richest of the kings of earth, surrounded with all the honors and the pleasures of life, in the end testified that it was all in vain. "Vanity of vanities," he exclaimed, "and all is vanity." Useless, worthless, dissatisfying, empty.


And at the moment of death, you will be unwilling to die. You will want more life. Your whole being will be crying out for eternal life. Yet you with your human heart, you wonderful intellect, your magnificent will, your marvelous imagination, you, the masterpiece of creation will be the greatest disappointment, the saddest wreck, the one great blunder in all the universe unless you honestly admit what your reason tells you: I was created by God, I am destined for God, and only the possession of God can one day fill my heart to overflowing with all happiness. Riches and honors and earthly enjoyments all pass away. Only God and eternal life remain forever. The great St. Augustine was a man who in his life tasted most of the pleasures that this life affords. In the end however like Solomon, he turns away from them with emptiness in his heart, exclaiming: "Thou has made me for Thyself, O Lord, and my heart will not rest unless it rest in Thee."


This then is the sole purpose of life, so to live as to prove ourselves worthy of God. It answers the question what is the good of religion, why it is necessary for me to embrace any religion and to enter any church. God creates the soul of each man who enters this world.  He infuses that soul into the body. Because of that soul man becomes a human personality with the dignity of having been created by the hand of God and in God's own image. Man then possesses this dignity but he also possesses a destiny equal to his dignity. That destiny is one day to possess God and to live happily with God throughout all eternity. But to merit eternal life with God, man must fulfill certain conditions. Man in this life then is on a short probation. For God intends that man shall obtain his salvation by living up to God's commandments with the divine assistance. This present life is but a sojourn upon earth. We have not here a lasting dwelling place, for heaven is man's true home. The great purpose of life then, and the great good and necessity of worshipping God in the true religion is to achieve the salvation of one's immortal soul. This is the fundamental reason for entering the Catholic Church, the only Church established by Jesus Christ. Why then should you be concerned about religion? Why?  Because God demands it of you and because the salvation of your immortal soul is at stake. The greatest evil that can ever befall you is the loss of your immortal soul. The late World War, or a war a hundred times more destructive, is of no consequence compared to the loss of your soul.  "What doth it profit a man," says Holy Writ, "if he gain the whole world, yet suffer the loss of his soul."





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