The Basis of Our Traditional Personal Faith
In writing about strong personal faith and inner peace, Thomas à Kempis in his masterpiece, The Imitation of Christ, relates to us:
One of the maxims of the spiritual life is that we must make progress in order not to fall behind. This is, unfortunately, more easily said than done. As Thomas à Kempis says of many of us, "we were better and more pure at the beginning of our conversion than we were many years after we were converted." We might find it profitable to give thought to why this is so often true.
To begin with, there is a sort of "missionary zeal" in all of us when we first come to think of the Faith as all important. Particularly in modern times, it has been possible for the newly convicted Catholic to see his own role in apocalyptic terms: "The Church (the Mass) (Christian culture) (the nation) (our society) (my family) must be saved from the forces of the devil -- and, through the grace of God, this salvation depends upon my behavior and my efforts on behalf of (pick one or more)." Many of us came to be "true believers" only after being convinced that we were at the end of St. Malachy's string of popes -- that Pope John XXIII surely was "Pastor et Nauta" -- and that the end of the world was soon at hand. Some saw the "great apostasy" in the leftward lurch of the religious orders, as it, incredibly, made former communist victims into communist advocates. Others were infused with zeal while contemplating the possibility of losing the Mass, Sacraments, and Priesthood amid the heterodox foolishness of the "New Order" reformers.
All too few become enthusiastic about the Faith simply because it leads men to Jesus Christ. They find it far more interesting to enlist in the "loyal resistance," pouncing eagerly on the latest edition of the underground's tabloid, than to think of themselves as Christians, finding delight in the good news of the Gospel. Virtue comes, somehow, to consist solely in finding new and bolder bad things to say about "them." In this we are little different from the liberals -- those who become excited about the "similarities" of Jesus and Chairman Mao, or who clamor for "Christian" class warfare on behalf of rent controlled tenants. Fear plus hate are said to yield power -- and, even if the power level is very low, the excitement often runs quite high.
The problem with all of this, even when the accepted premises are correct, is that no enduring faith can be built on fear and hatred. Even if we continue (correctly) to hate the sin, we are likely to mellow with time, coming to love the sinner, or at least to excuse him because he is such a fool. Except among the psychotic, the "siege mentality" is moderated when it is noted that the world has not yet come to an end, that we have with some effort managed to preserve the Mass, Sacraments, and Priesthood, and that the Russians have not yet taken over any major American city. If nothing else, we get tired of waiting for Armageddon. Those that do manage to maintain their "state of siege" usually do so by creating around themselves a sort of "private purgatory," fashioned from half truths about the "enemy," and filled with impossible conditions imposed upon their own response.
Of course, the real damage is done, not by the failure of the world to end -- but by the loss of faith we are likely to suffer when we, one day, realize the trivial nature of its basis. As long as we continue to battle the great menace it is relatively easy to remain virtuous; valiant knights in the cause must be heroic in their honor, chastity, perseverance, and so on. But when we come to understand that the world does not depend upon each breath we draw, we are much more likely to relax these noble ideals. If our faith is based on pride or hatred, some day we will lose it. As à Kempis says, "If we place the end and perfection of our religion in outward observances, our devotion will soon be ended."
What then is the enduring basis for the Catholic Faith? It is, first of all to be found not in us, but in our Lord Jesus Christ. We will not "save" the Church, our nation, or even ourselves if our faith is based on anything other than He. Our theological, political, social, economic, or artistic convictions may be correct, but by themselves are utterly inadequate. We can, and should, hold such convictions -- but they must be a small part of our faith, relative to the great love which we must have for our Redeemer.
The zeal which we possess at first, must not be directed toward maintaining a knightly image in the eyes of men, but rather toward developing habits of virtue because these are pleasing, in themselves, to Jesus Christ. The means must not be confused with the end. The good things which we are motivated to do by conviction are useful only if they bring us closer to holiness and union with God. (It is taken for granted that we will not try to justify bad things, even if done for a good end.)
We may still call attention to Liberal errors, but we must do so with a pure intention to thereby protect innocent souls, and not with a hunger for fame as writers, debaters, and polemicists. If it is necessary to "save" anyone or anything, it cannot be for personal or institutional glory, but, rather, because God desires souls to be saved for happiness with Him in heaven.
"Blessed be true, simple, and humble people, for they shall have a great plenitude of peace."