JMC : Four-Square / by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.


The one Being with whom we have relation for everything that we are, upon whom all that is in us is dependent, who has rights over us without limitation, and to whom we are bound in justice by the most stringent and constraining ties, is God our Creator. We owe Him in justice, and He claims of us in strict right, the perfect observance of His law; so that, as we have seen already, every sin against the law of God is a violation of justice in the divine regard, and perfect justice toward God would imply the full observance of that law, and the exercise of all the virtues in so far as enjoined by that law. One thing, however, God particularly insists on: that is the recognition of this our absolute dependence upon Him, and the signification of our sense of dependence by a sensible and external sign. This recognition and sensible signification of the same is called worship. Justice toward God is all summed up and specialized in the payment of religious worship. Worship, indeed, is not the observance of the whole law of God; but it is at least a recognition that we ought to observe it. Recognition of the debt is the first step to payment. The worship of God then is the matter of a special virtue of justice toward God, which is called the virtue of religion.

The word religion comes from the Latin. The Romans themselves disputed about the derivation of the word. Some derived it from religens, a word opposed to negligens, both coming from lego (I pick up). The negligent man is he who picks up nothing; while the religious man is be who picks up again and again, a scrupulous, conscientious, careful man, answering to the prophet's prescription, to walk solicitously with thy God (Mich. vi, 8). Others preferred the derivation from religare (to bind again), considering that religion binds men to God. Whichever explanation be right, both appeal to right principles. Religion is a recognition of the tie that binds us to God. Religion does make us careful to walk reverently and do obeisance in the presence of Majesty Divine. The irreligious man revels in a mistaken freedom; he is frequently a loose and reckless liver. So much for etymology.

We have put the virtue of religion under justice. Some might wish it counted a theological virtue, as having relation immediately with God. Faith, no doubt, is exercised in the Christian exercise of religion, and hope, too; still religion can not be classified with faith, hope and charity, for this, among other reasons, that the theological virtues belong to the supernatural order, whereas religion is a virtue of the natural order. That is to say, faith (and say the like of hope and charity) refers us to God as known in Christ, and is exercised by us in our capacity of Christians, borne up by the grace of Christ; whereas religion refers us to God in Himself as God, and to God as our Creator and Lord, which He is even apart from the Incarnation, and is a virtue which, man as man, in the order of reason and natural propriety, is bound to exercise. Religion then is not a theological virtue, because it is a virtue proper to human nature as such. It may be added that God is known immediately by us on earth only through revelation; in the order of nature, away from revelation, He is known mediately by process of reasoning. In the light of that mediate knowledge religion, as a natural virtue, worships Him.

Worship, to be acceptable, must come from the heart. It should be the outpouring of a heart docIle and submissive to God. Our Lord condemned the worship of the Pharisees and of the Jewish priests, with their multitudinous observances, because their hearts were far from Him whom they honored with their lips. The worship of an insincere heart is called formalism. Formalism, to be sure, is an evil thing, but that does not make forms, rites and ceremonies in religious worship, evil things, any more than food becomes evil by the abuse of food turning to indigestion. Nor is it to any purpose to allege that rites and ceremonies are of no use to God. Of course they are of no use to God. The whole of creation put together is not of the slightest use to God. When we have done all that we are commanded to do, God bids us say we are unprofitable servants (Luke xvii, 10). God has nothing to gain by us. His aims are fixed wholly beyond the category of the useful. He looks for honour, quite a different thing from utility. He need not have created either men or angels; but having created them, He looks to their paying Him honour.

But why not, to use a phrase once famous, "worship mostly of the silent sort"? Because we are men, and silence on matters that we are interested in is against our nature. What lover of country lanes in summer is silent in praise of flowers? Our work will not be mostly of the silent sort if we really care about religion. Besides, as philosophers are now discovering, religion originally springs out of the social side of human nature. Once found, God may be prayed to in solitude, but He is first found in company. In the order of nature you have first the congregation, then the priest and the altar, expressive of the common desire to adore some power above the community, to whom the community owes allegiance, the worship of whom paid by all in common is the cement of that society. In the primitive commonwealth there was one common worship. And to this day unity of worship is the ideal for a commonwealth, for lack of attainment of which ideal we citizens of modern states have many lamentable disputes about education. Religion, then, is not a growth of solitude, but of society It is a function of social man. But a social function can not be carried on in silence. I have never attended a meeting of the Society of Friends; but the members of that society, I understand, are few and select. Their procedure can not make a rule for the many. A man may sing by himself, and he may pray by himself, and should often do so. Nevertheless, nearly all great musical compositions involve the harmony of many voices and instruments; and nearly all religions have their public ritual, even though it be of the simplest, as in the case of Mohamedanism and Puritanism. with regard to which it may be debated whether their religion or their unreligiousness it is that has made their ritual so bald and plain. Yet even the Mohamedan is publicly called to frequent prayer; while the Puritan, though his chief interest lay in the sermon, spent hours in congregational singing of psalms.

In the Psalms, sun, moon, stars and light, and all the irrational creation, are invited to praise God. And so they do, simply by being what they are, manifestations of God's power, wisdom and goodness. But the starry heavens are all unconscious of the praise that they render to God. Man is their mouthpiece. In his mind their unconscious witness to their Creator passes into consciousness. Man is the high priest of the material creation. He raises inferior things to the religious order. The lower animals he sacrifices to God, or used to do, while God was pleased to accept such victims. The great sacrifice of the New Law is offered from the fruits of the earth, the fruit of the vineyard and the cornfield. Man lays gold and silver plate and jewels, when he has them, upon the altar. He enshrines the altar in an edifice so majestic and glorious, that even when defaced and profaned a king's palace looks mean and vulgar by the side of it. These are the outward splendours of religion: thus matter worships God. But the most perfect work among visible and material things is not any handiwork of man; it is a work of God's own formation, the body of man. "With my body I thee worship," says bridegroom to bride in the English marriage service. "With my body I thee worship," in the higher and strictly religious sense of the word worship, every man should say to his Creator. Bowings, genuflections, processions, choral singing, "making a cheerful noise with psalms" -- all things that infidels rail at -- are part of the reasonable service (Rom. xii, i) that man pays with his body to God. I need not say how much this service is enhanced, when the body is what the body of a Christian ever should be, holy, well-pleasing to God, the living temple of the Holy Ghost, a member of Christ (Rom. ib.; I Cor. vi, 15, 19). The same men who object to bodily adoration and material adjuncts to religion also make light of Sacraments.

The method of this bodily homage should never be left to individual caprice. No man has any business to be his own master of ceremonies. "Honour the Deity after the manner of your ancestors," was a maxim with the Greeks. It is a sound rule, wherever it does not involve idolatrous rites. Where God has not positively signified the rites and ceremonies, whereby He wishes to be worshiped, as He once did through Moses, and does now through the Catholic Church, the approved custom of the country supplied a rule from which the individual worshiper should not notably deviate. In dealing with religion we must never forget that there is such a thing as religious mania, and that religious emotion, uncontrolled, especially when it seizes upon a multitude, is apt to issue in practices which are not of the spirit of God, practices in flagrant violation of morality and His commandments. A well-ordered public ritual checks these excesses.

Religion being a virtue, and virtue being a habit, and a habit being formed by repetition of acts, and that formation going on most readily when nature is most plastic, as it is in childhood and youth, it should be a main aim of the educator to form his charge to the virtue of religion. To that end they must pray regularly in private, and often take part -- not merely be lookers on, but take part in -- the public prayers and ceremonies of Holy Church. And here let us get rid of a delusion which our parliamentary orators on the education question seem often to labour under, the idea that religion is a "lesson," and may be classified as such with geography; that it is forsooth one of the subjects of a timetable. It is nothing of the kind. I grant you religious doctrine is a lesson; but religious doctrine is not religion, albeit religion can not stand without doctrine. Men thoroughly irreligious have still been doctors in theology, masters of religious doctrine. Many boys love their religion, and yet find the lesson in religious doctrine tedious. Religion is a discipline of the whole man, not of the intellect only; it converts the whole being to the worship of God. Religion is instilled by Sacraments, by Confession and Communion, by Mass, Rosary and Benediction, by holy images and the company of religious people, not by Catechism alone. Place a boy in surroundings where these things are not; you will not save his religion by giving him Catechism to learn and the Bible to read for two hours a day. So much for the acquirement of the virtue of religion, the first point in the cycle of true education, indeed the one thing necessary to be educated in at all.

Debts unpaid, and consequently due in justice to tradesmen and others, trouble the conscience of a right-minded man. Some even are found who will concern themselves to pay the debts of their predecessors, whose fortunes they have inherited. Thus good Queen Mary impoverished herself in paying the debts of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Religious duties neglected are debts unpaid to God. We are bound in justice to worship God at proper intervals. The Church's precept of Sunday Mass is no mere arbitrary imposition. It determines for us a precept of natural law. It fixes a limit beyond which we must not go without doing an act of religion. When Mass is out of our reach, the obligation still rests upon us at certain proper times to pray. We must pray with sufficient frequency to be enabled to resist temptation, and temptation for many of us is both frequent and strong. That is how it comes to be unsafe to omit to pray morning and evening. Hence the tradition of morning and evening prayers.

Man is differentiated from the lower animals by sense of religion and belief in God. Our dumb servants and pets have not the least inkling of a God. They enter in some sort into our sorrows, never into our prayers. One has but to observe their demeanor in church or at prayer time to see how utterly destitute they are of religious awe and reverence. You train them to keep quiet for the time, but so you could if you wanted the time for reading and looking over accounts. They are quiet simply out of complaisance to their human master. He stands to them in place of God. It is said that animals see ghosts; even if they did, that would not argue any apprehension of the divine. Consequently, when a man abandons all religion, he divests himself of a badge of humanity, and steps down into the order of brutes. A high and spiritual religion marks a high civilization. The decay of religion means the degradation of humanity. Of this fact the enemies of religion are continually furnishing evidence by the brutality of their language, and the brutality of their behavior. Homer said well of old, "All men need gods" (Odyssey III, 48). And David has said much better, My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God (Ps. x, 41).

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