The Divine Life in Man
BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD
BY FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY
CHAPTER 6, RELIGION: HAPPINESS
IN THE SERVICE OF GOD
GOD HAS CREATED MAN. He is therefore man's beginning. He has created man for Himself. He is therefore man's final goal. The proper order of the universe demands that men recognize these two facts and act accordingly. Men must give God His due,
just as they must give each other what is due. Since God is the source of man's
existence, life and action, it is clear that man can never fully repay God for all that God has done for him. Man can never fully repay God because all that he gives to God already belongs to God. But man must give to God, as the source and final goal of his existence, all that he can give Him, the full service of his body and soul. Religion is the virtue by which man gives to God the service and the honor which are due to God.
MEN PAY HONOR TO GOD not for God's sake, but for their own sake. Since God is absolutely perfect and perfectly happy in Himself, the honor men pay Him in religion adds nothing to the perfection or happiness of God. But it does bring happiness to men because it places them in their proper relationship to God. It gives men their proper place in the universe. A fruit tree exists to bear fruit, and it achieves its true destiny when it actually bears fruit. Man exists as the spokesman of the universe. It is his function in the world to recognize God's dominion over all creation, to adore God as the Creator and the goal of all creation. When man recognizes God's dominion and adores God's majesty, he achieves his true destiny and so he finds happiness.
THROUGH REASON man recognizes God's dominion over man and over the universe. Through free will man voluntarily submits himself to God's sovereign dominion. Religion is, then, chiefly an affair of the mind and heart of man. External actions alone are not the essence of religion. The religious man worships God in his mind and heart.
NEVERTHELESS THE EXTERNAL ACTIONS OF MAN, his gestures of reverence such as genuflections or prostrations, his vocal prayers or hymns, his external sacrifices---all these visible and audible actions are necessary and useful to the virtue of religion. Man is not simply a spirit. He is also a body. His soul and body are a unit---the unit which is the whole man. Man's body, just as well as his soul, is subject to the Divine dominion. Moreover, as all reasonable men know, even man's spirit cannot rise to the contemplation of God without the assistance of his body. A man can conceive in himself an intense spiritual love for a woman, but not until he has seen her, or heard her voice, or read her letters. If he does not know her at all through his senses, he cannot love her at all. In the same way, man rises to the thought of God through his knowledge of God's power and goodness as they are manifested to him in the visible world of creation. Again, any intense action in man's soul tends to manifest itself in the gestures or attitude of his body. We can tell that a man loves a woman by the way he looks at her, or the sound of his voice when he speaks to her, or by the things he does for her. So, too, when a man loves God and wishes to serve Him, he will express his internal religious acts in the external attitude, gestures or actions of his body.
MAN'S NATURAL TENDENCY to express the acts of his soul in the actions of his body accounts for the externals of religion, for churches and statues, for paintings and stained-glass windows, for altars and crucifixes, for priestly vestments and for sacrifices. All these externals of religion are meant, not to draw men away from God, but to enable them to approach, God more easily. But it is still true that these external actions of religion are secondary. They must be subordinated to those acts of reason and will by which men subject themselves to God as His rational creatures.
BECAUSE RELIGION IS ESSENTIALLY a virtue of the spirit of man, the first act of religion, the heart of all other acts of religion, is devotion. Devotion is the will to do readily whatever concerns the service of God. The religious man is always ready to do whatever is necessary or useful for the worship of God. Of course this readiness of will, like all the attitudes or acts of the will, is based on man's recognition of his obligation to surrender himself to God. In this sense we say that devotion to God is based on meditation or contemplation. By meditation man perceives that he can find his true place in the universe and his real happiness only through the surrender of himself to God. In meditation man perceives the goodness and the kindness of God to himself, and this begets love which is the cause of devotion. Through meditation man also perceives his shortcomings and unworthiness, which leads him to lean on the strength of God for his salvation, and so to submit himself to God. The knowledge of his own defects may make a man sad, but the knowledge of God's goodness gives him joy. This is the explanation of the joy of truly religious people. Their minds and hearts are firmly anchored in the goodness and strength of God, and no difficulty or disaster can shake their souls from this firm foundation on which they stand.
NATURALLY, THE DEVOUT MAN who recognizes both the goodness of God and his own need of God's strength will praise God and thank Him for His gifts. These acts of praise and thanksgiving are prayers of praise and thanksgiving. There is also a place in religion for the prayer of petition. In the prayer of petition man raises his mind to God to ask Him for the things he needs. The prayer of petition is a part of God's plan for man. When we say that God answers prayers, we do not mean that prayer can cause God to change His mind. God has made the whole world and governs it by His providence. Everything that occurs in the world takes place according to the plan of divine providence. But it is part of God's plan that certain gifts will be given to man only in answer to prayer. We pray, not to change God's plans, but in order to receive from God those things which He has planned to give us in answer to our prayers.
IN ANSWERING THE PRAYERS of men, God will follow the order of Divine wisdom and love. He will put first things first---first the spiritual and then the temporal needs of man. When a man prays for what is necessary for his own salvation, God will answer his prayer by giving him what he really needs for salvation. But when a man prays for temporal things---a special job, or money, or fame, and so on---God will or will not grant such gifts in so far as He sees that they are or are not good for this particular man.
CHRIST HIMSELF has given us the perfect prayer in the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father." In the Lord's Prayer we ask for all the things we may rightly desire, and we ask for them in the order in which we ought to desire them. As a rational creature, man should seek first the goal of his life, God Himself, and secondly the things which lead to this goal. In the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Hallowed be Thy name," we express our love for God in Himself. In the second petition, "Thy kingdom come," we ask to attain the goal of happiness in the kingdom of God. In the remaining petitions we ask for the things which will lead us to our goal. When we say: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," we are asking for the grace to fulfill God's will so that we may merit happiness. When we ask: "Give us this day our daily bread," we are asking for the means of meriting happiness, either the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist or the temporal necessities of life in so far as they will lead us to God. In the next petition, "Forgive us our trespasses," we plead for the forgiveness of the sins which would prevent us from reaching happiness. When we ask God: "Lead us not into temptation," we are asking Him to protect us against the future danger of sin. Lastly we pray: "Deliver us from evil," begging God to free us completely from the evil of this present world.
PRAYER MAY BE SAID aloud or in the silence of one's own soul. Individuals can pray in either way; but when a group or community prays, it is better for the prayer to be said aloud. In this way men can achieve a unity of mind and heart in their communal prayers.
IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER God answers all prayers. Even the prayers of the sinner, when he prays for repentance, will be answered through the mercy of God. But the prayers of God's friends, that is, of those who are in the state of grace and charity, are meritorious.
BESIDES THE INTERNAL religious acts of devotion and prayer there are also external acts of religion.
Man's internal religion tends to express itself externally. The external acts of religion are adoration, sacrifice, oblation, the support of God's ministers, vows, oaths, adjuration and the reverent use of God's name.
ADORATION WAS ORIGINALLY a general term which meant to pay tribute to someone's excellence. The young man who is in love says that he adores the woman of his choice. He means that he honors the virtues which she possesses. When we use the word adoration in relation to religion, the word retains this original meaning. We adore God or His Saints because of the excellence of their holiness. The adoration we give to God is called latria. Latria is the honor we pay to God as the infinitely perfect being, the Creator and Lord of the universe. The adoration we pay to the Saints, their relics or images, is called dulia. Dulia is the veneration we give to the Saints because, through the grace of God, they have achieved real holiness and union with God in Heaven. Because the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God, and because God's grace has made her the most excellent of all the Saints, we pay her the tribute of hyperdulia or superveneration. The veneration which we pay to Mary or to the Saints is ultimately an adoration of God Himself, because what we honor in Mary or the Saints is the share in the Divine life which God has generously given them.
SACRIFICE IS AN ACT of religion that is made only to God. Sacrifice is the offering to God of something that is visible and sensible. It is offered as a sign of the subjection and honor which man owes to God. It is a sign of man's inward submission to God as his Creator and final goal. In the full sense, then, sacrifice always demands these two things: the inward submission of man to God and the external action which is a sign of this submission. We can see these two elements of sacrifice in the sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross of Calvary for the salvation of all men. On the Cross, Christ was offering His human life to God as an acknowledgment of God's supreme dominion over all human life. In the shedding of His Blood, He symbolized externally His inward offering of Himself to God. In every sacrifice we must have these two elements: the inward act by which man offers himself to God and the external offering of something to God which symbolizes the inward offering.
AN OBLATION OR OFFERING is the giving of something to God. If it is offered in such wise that it is destroyed in God's honor, then the offering is a sacrifice. If it is not intended to be destroyed, but rather to be used in the worship of God or given for the use of God's ministers of religion, then it is simply an offering to God.
MEN MAKE OFFERINGS to God as an acknowledgment of the fact that all they possess comes to them originally from God. They may offer something to be used in the worship of God, such as a chalice, a set of priestly vestments, the first-fruits of their labors, or the money to provide for a fitting worship of God. Or they may make offerings to provide a suitable livelihood for God's minister. Men must worship. God not only as individuals, but also as social beings. Hence there must be ministers of religion---priests---who will mediate between God and men, carrying the prayers of men to God and bringing God's graces down to men. But those who devote their lives and labors to God and men in the service of religion must live as other men. They need food and clothing as other men do. It is fitting, therefore, that the rest of men---for whom they labor in the service of God---should make offerings for their support. If a man loves God, he will worship God and he will see to it that the worship of God is carried out in a fitting manner. This means that he will make offerings to God for the objects used in religious worship, and for the support of the priests who act as man's representatives in the worship of God.
MEN ALSO WORSHIP GOD by vows, oaths, adjurations and by praising God. A vow is a promise by which a man binds himself to do something for God. It is the generosity of love which impels a man to vow something to God. In an oath we call upon God to witness the truth of what we say. In an adjuration we either beseech our superiors or command our inferiors to do something in the name of God. In oaths and adjurations we are, as it were, asking God to take part in our human affairs. It should be clear that man cannot ask God to do this unless there is a serious reason for so doing. It is even more obvious that man cannot---without sin---ask God to bear witness to a lie, or to aid a man to do something that is evil. Lastly, the religious man will use the name of God reverently. He will praise God openly in word and even in song. Prayers of praise and hymns are really the natural outpouring of the great love for God found in the heart of the religious man.
ON THE REVERSE SIDE of the picture, there are many sins which men commit against the virtue of religion. Basically, they may be reduced to sins of either superstition or irreligion. The superstitious man either worships a creature instead of God, or he worships God in a way that is displeasing to Him. The irreligious man really feels contempt for God or for the things of God.
THE SUPERSTITIOUS MAN may worship God, but in a way displeasing to God. In some of the old pagan religions, for example, men committed acts of impurity as acts of worship. Certainly God, Who is all holy, cannot wish men to commit sin as an act of worship. Or the superstitious man may worship a creature instead of God. He may do this by outright idolatry, the adoration of a creature, such as the sun, the stars, the moon, idols of stone or wood, the devil, the world, or other men. Again, the superstitious man may attribute to creatures perfections and powers which can be found only in God. A man who seeks to learn the uncertain future through the devils, through the examination of the entrails of animals, or through observing the flight of birds, is committing the sin of divination, the sin of attributing to creatures a knowledge of the future which God alone possesses. A man who attempts to shape life to his own purposes by the practice of black magic, a man who seeks to direct his life by the forecasts of fortune-tellers, or a man who seeks to procure good fortune or ward off bad luck by wearing charms or carrying a rabbit's foot is guilty of the sin of superstitious observances. He is attributing to creatures powers which belong to God alone.
THE IRRELIGIOUS MAN despises God or the things of God. He may tempt God to do things as a test of His power. The liar who asks God to strike him dead, if he is not telling the truth, is tempting God. The man who perjures himself after asking God to bear witness to the truth of what he testifies in court is guilty of the sin of perjury. The man who treats with irreverence persons, places or things consecrated to God is guilty of the sin of sacrilege. A man who would kill a priest just because he is a priest of God, a man who creates a disturbance in a church, a man who would wantonly destroy a consecrated chalice, or trample on the linens used in the sacrifice of the Mass, such a man is sacrilegious. The man who thinks that spiritual things can be sold, the man who sells or attempts to sell spiritual things is guilty of the sin of simony. In all these ways a man shows his contempt for God and for the power of God and he is an irreligious man.
SINS AGAINST THE VIRTUE of religion destroy man's proper subjection to God. The superstitious or the irreligious man is out of order in the universe. He is like the soldier marching out of step, or like the disgruntled and discourteous suitor at a marriage feast. Religion, on the other hand, enables man to fulfill his role in the universe. Through religion man becomes the voice of the whole world, the high priest of all creation, honoring and praising God as the Creator and goal of all creation. As justice establishes peace and order among men, so religion establishes peace and order between man and God.
HOME----------CHRIST THE KING-----------CATHOLIC CLASSICS