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RT. REV. RICHARD H. NELSON, D.D.
approaching a subject which is fundamental to a true idea of the Church's life and mission, it may be assumed that sincere Christians will accept the following propositions. First, it is desirable that all mankind should be united in obedience to the will of God. Second, the central verities of the Christian Faith, handed down from Apostolic times, and the operations of God's grace which have been tested by centuries of human experience, must furnish the foundations of the spiritual building in which the family of God may gather. The Catholic Religion and the Catholic Church must be in harmony with the mind of God, and must supply the spiritual needs of men.
Reverence and a sense of our human limitations lead us to speak with hesitation concerning the mind of God. A great bishop and teacher once remarked that "anyone who ventures to explain the mind of God betrays an abysmal degree of infatuated impertinence." Recognizing the danger of such presumption, it may nevertheless be permitted to set forth, as a basis of argument, whatever God has revealed explicitly concerning His purpose toward mankind, and the beginning of this revelation appears in the inspired story of creation. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him." It is difficult to assign a precise meaning to these words, but we reach firm ground when we consider their explanation in the Gospel of the Incarnation. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that "God hath spoken unto us by His Son," who is "the express image of His person," and St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians (chapter four), sets forth as the ultimate purpose of the
"one Body and one Spirit" that we should "come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, under the measure of his stature of the fulness of Christ."
It would be well if everyone who desires the progress of the Catholic Religion would study this fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians as a treatise on Catholic character. It declares that they who would "grow up into Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ" must not "walk as other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind." They are not to give themselves over unto lasciviousness and uncleanness, but are to put off the corruption of the old man and to be renewed in the spirit of their mind. They are to overcome the temptation to anger. They must not steal, but must labor honestly and diligently. No corrupt communication may proceed from their lips. Bitterness, wrath, anger and clamor are to be put away from them with all malice. They must be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another even as God, for Christ's sake hath forgiven them. In short, Catholic character is the imitation of Christ, who is the express image of the Father's Person.
Closely related to this obvious but frequently neglected truth is the fact that Catholic character was a powerful instrument in the hand of God in winning the world from pagan culture to the Christian Religion. The Word of God spoke to such as were willing to receive Him, and, in many cases, these were persuaded to accept the Gospel because they perceived the fruits of the divine Spirit in the lives of His followers. It is not presumptuous to say that the mind and will of God toward the inhabitants of the earth today is that they should be united by the Holy Spirit in the knowledge of that truth which develops the image of God in men and causes them to grow into Catholic character. As, on the Day of Pentecost, representatives
of many nations heard the Word of God, each in the tongue wherein he was born, so, in the unity for which we pray, every man shall hear and speak the universal language of the true life, growing with others "unto an holy temple in the Lord."
First then we are to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." This does not mean that we are merely to hold the faith as necessary to salvation, nor does it mean that we are to be of a contentious spirit, condemning all who reject the Gospel or who fail to perceive its life-giving power. We are to contend for the faith as a vitalizing force which propels men toward the image of God. The Creed is something more than a symbol of the truth, it is the chart and compass of the Catholic life. It is a summary of God's dealings with men in the processes of Creation, Redemption and Sanctification, setting forth by implication what man must do to bring himself into harmony with the purposes of God. It is “a form of sound words," and it is also an incentive to spiritual effort. For this reason it has its rightful place in every act of worship, and notably in the Holy Eucharist, which is the divine drama of our life in and toward God. When the Creed is recited by the congregation, it is not merely a statement of objective truth, but it is also an "act of faith" which involves the dedication of ourselves to the purpose for which God made us, redeemed us through Christ, and strives to sanctify us by His Holy Spirit. In a very true sense, it represents our "marching orders." We who believe must act according to our belief. We must go forth from the house of God and let our light so shine before men that they may behold our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. The test of reality in our belief and worship is found in its influence upon our character. The Catholic Faith must be a dynamic force, transforming our lives according to the everlasting
purpose of Him who made us in His image.
As we thus contend for the faith, so do we hold fast to that idea of the Sacred Ministry which we believe to be in accordance with the mind and will of God. A duly authenticated priesthood is essential to the unity of the Church, and we are justified in guarding that which has been committed to our stewardship, but we must not forget that the ideal of priesthood is inseparable from personal character. God's priests must be clothed with righteousness if His saints are to sing with joyfulness, and their white garments must symbolize the character which they seek as representatives of a priestly people. Our High Priest is "holy, harmless, undefiled," and they who act for Him must model their lives upon His.
One of the saddest facts in the history of religion is the lapse from priestly character on the part of those who have been ordained to uphold it before the people. In the days of Eli, a corrupt priesthood marked and hastened the moral decline which led to national disaster. So, too, when our Lord came to His temple, they who held the highest places in the hierarchy were the leaders of opposition to Him. "Woe unto the world because of offences, for it must needs be that offences come, but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh." The priest should remember the solemn words which were addressed to him at his ordination: "The Church and congregation whom you must serve is His Spouse and His Body. And if it shall happen that any member thereof do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue." May there not be an allusion to this danger in the eighth chapter of the Book of Revelation at verses ten and eleven? "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers,
and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
There is considerable prejudice today against the name and idea of priesthood, and this may be due in large measure to abuses of the sacred office in former times; but we dare not blind our eyes to the possibility of similar evil in our own generation. At times the world condemns thoughtlessly or in ignorance; but, on the whole, its judgments are fair, and the priest who represents the spirit of his Lord in his personal life and in his relations to others seldom fails to win confidence and respect. If he is an example of Catholic character, he becomes a power for righteousness, and wins men to the faith whose fruit they see in his life.
In like manner the Sacraments have for their main object the production of Catholic character. They were ordained to impart and to sustain the God-life in man, which is merely a way of saying that they are designed to transform men into the image of God.
"Baptism doth represent unto us our profession, which is to follow the example of our Saviour Christ and to be made like unto Him."
In the Holy Eucharist we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice in union with the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, desiring and seeking to be conformed to His likeness. We make our communion in order "that He may dwell in us and we in Him." This cannot mean that we are merely to find rest in Him. It means that we are to work in Him and He in us toward the "prize of our high calling," and the goal to which we press is the character of which He is the one perfect example.
Here it seems proper to say a few words about the devotional value and the effective power of the Reserved