HOW FAITH MAY BE LOST
IT is part of our belief that no man can lose his faith without mortal
sin. The conscious rejection of all or any religious truth once
embraced and forming a part of Christian belief, or the deliberate
questioning of a single article thereof, is a sin, a sin against God's
light and God's grace. It is a deliberate turning away from God. The
moral culpability of such an act is great in the extreme, while its
consequences cannot be weighed or measured by any human norm or rule.
No faith was ever wrecked in a day; it takes time to come to such a
pass; it is by easy stages of infidelity, by a slow process of
half-denials, a constant fostering of habits of ignorance, that one
undermines, little by little, one's spiritual constitution. Taking
advantage of this state of debility, the microbe of unbelief creeps in,
eats its way to the soul and finally sucks out the very vitals of
faith. Nor is this growth of evil an unconscious one; and there lies
the malice and guilt. Ignorant pride, neglect of prayer and religious
worship, disorders, etc., these are evils the culprit knows of and
wills. He cannot help feeling the ravages being wrought in his soul; he
cannot help knowing that these are deadly perils to his treasure of
faith. He complacently allows them to run their course; and he wakes up
one fine morning to find his faith gone, lost, dead--and a chasm
yawning between him and his God that only a miracle can bridge over.
We mentioned ignorance: this it is that attacks the underpinning of
faith, its rational basis, by which it is made intelligent and
reasonable, without which there can be no faith.
Ignorance is, of course, a relative term; there are different degrees
and different kinds. An ignorant man is not an unlettered or uncultured
one, but one who does not know what his religion means, what he
believes or is supposed to believe, and has no reason to give for his
belief. He may know a great many other things, may be chock full of
worldly learning, but if he ignores these matters that pertain to the
soul, we shall label him an ignoramus for the elementary truths of
human knowledge are, always have been, and always shall be, the
solution of the problems of the why, the whence and the whither of life
here below. Great learning frequently goes hand in hand with dense
ignorance. The Sunday-school child knows better than the atheist
philosopher the answer to these important questions. There is more
wisdom in the first page of the Catechism than in all the learned books
of sceptics and infidels.
Knowledge, of course, a thorough knowledge of all theological science
will not make faith, any more than wheels will make a cart. But a
certain knowledge is essential, and its absence is fatal to faith.
There are the simple ignorant who have forgotten their Catechism and
leave the church before the instruction, for fear they might learn
something; who never read anything pertaining to religion, who would be
ashamed to be detected with a religious book or paper in their hands.
Then, there are the learned ignorant, such as our public schools turn
out in great numbers each year; who, either are above mere religious
knowledge-seeking and disdain all that smacks of church and faith; or,
knowing little or nothing at all, imagine they possess a world of
theological lore and know all that is knowable. These latter are the
more to be pitied, their ignorance doubling back upon itself, as it
were. When a man does not realize his own ignorance, his case is well
If learning cannot give faith, neither can it alone preserve it.
Learned men, pillars of the Church have fallen away. Pride, you will
say. Yes, of course, pride is the cause of all evil. But we have all
our share of it. If it works less havoc in some than in others, that is
because pride is or is not kept within bounds. It is necessarily fatal
to faith only when it is not controlled by prayer and the helps of
practical religion. God alone can preserve our faith. He will do it
only at our solicitation.
If, therefore, some have not succeeded in keeping the demon of pride
under restraint, it is because they refused to consider their faith a
pure gift of God that cannot be safely guarded without God's grace; or
they forgot that God's grace is assured to no man who does not pray.
The man who thinks he is all-sufficient unto himself in matters of
religion, as in all other matters, is in danger of being brought to a
sense of his own nothingness in a manner not calculated to be
agreeable. No man who practised humble prayer ever lost hi& faith, or
ever can; for to him grace is assured.
And since faith is nothing if not practical, since it is a habit, it
follows that irreligion, neglect to practise what we believe will
destroy that habit. People who neglect their duty often complain that
they have no taste for religion, cannot get interested, find no
consolation therein. This justifies further neglect. They make a
pretence to seek the cause. The cause is lack of faith; the fires of
God's grace are burning low in their souls. They will soon go out
unless they are furnished with fuel in the shape of good, solid,
practical religion. That is their only salvation. Ignorance,
supplemented by lack of prayer and practice, goes a long way in the
destruction of faith in any soul, for two essentials are deficient.
Disorder, too, is responsible for the loss of much faith. Luther and
Henry might have retained their faith in spite of their pride, but they
were lewd, and avaricious; and there is small indulgence for such
within the Church. Not but that we are all human, and sinners are the
objects of the Church's greatest solicitude; but within her pale no
man, be he king or genius, can sit down and feast his passions and
expect her to wink at it and call it by another name than its own. The
law of God and of the Church is a thorn in the flesh of the vicious
man. The authority of the Church is a sword of Damocles held
perpetually over his head--until it is removed. Many a one denies God
in a moment of sin in order to take the sting of remorse out of it. One
gets tired of the importunities of religion that tell us not to sin, to
confess if we do sin.
When you meet a pervert who, with a glib tongue, protests that his
conscience drove him from the Church, that his enslaved intelligence
needed deliverance, search him and you will find a skeleton in his
closet; and if you do not find it, it is there just the same. A
renegade priest some years ago, held forth before a gaping audience, at
great length, on the reasons of his leaving the Church. A farmer
sitting on the last bench listened patiently to his profound
argumentation. When the lecturer was in the middle of his twelfthly,
the other arose and shouted to him across the hall: "Cut it short, and
say you wanted a wife." The heart has reasons which the reason does not
Not always, but frequently, ignorance, neglect and vice come to this.
The young, the weak and the proud have to guard themselves against
these dangers, hey work slowly, imperceptibly, but surely. Two things
increase the peril and tend to precipitate matters; reading and
companionship. The ignorant are often anxious to know the other side,
when they do not know their own. The consequence is that they will not
understand fully the question; and if they do, will not be able to
resolve the difficulty. They are handicapped by their ignorance and can
only make a mess out of it. The result is that they are caught by
sophistries like a fly in a web.
The company of those who believe differently, or not at all, is also
pernicious to unenlightened and weak faith. The example in itself is
potent for evil. The Catholic is usually not a persona grata as a
Catholic but for some quality he possesses. Consequently, he must hide
his religion under the bushel for fear of offending. Then a sneer, a
gibe, a taunt are unpleasant things, and will be avoided even at the
price of what at other times would look like being ashamed of one's
faith. If ignorant, he will be silent; if he has not prayed, he will be
weak; if vicious, he will be predisposed to fall.
If we would guard the precious deposit of faith secure against any
possible emergency, we must enlighten it, we must strengthen it, we
must live up to it.
THE First Commandment bids us hope as well as believe in God. Our trust
and confidence in His mercy to give us eternal life and the means to
obtain it,--this is our hope, founded on our belief that God is what He
reveals Himself to us, able and willing to do by us as we would have
Him do. Hope is the flower of our faith; faith is the substance of the
things we hope for.
To desire and to hope are not one and the same thing. We may long for
what is impossible of obtaining, while hope always supposes this
possibility, better, a probability, nay, even a moral certitude. This
expectation remains hope until it comes to the fruition of the things
The desire of general happiness is anchored in the human heart, deep
down in the very essence of our being. We all desire to be happy, We
may be free in many things; in this we are not free. We must have
happiness, greater than the present, happiness of one kind or another,
real or apparent. We may have different notions of this happiness; we
desire it according to our notions. Life itself is one, long, painful,
When that desire is centered in God and the soul's salvation, it
incontinently becomes hope, for then we have real beatitude before us,
and all may obtain it. It can be true hope only when founded on faith.
Not only is hope easy, natural, necessary, but it is essential to life.
It is the mainspring of all activity. It keeps all things moving, and
without it life would not be worth living. If men did not think they
could get what they are striving after, they would sit down, fold their
arms, let the world move, but they wouldn't.
Especially is Christian hope absolutely necessary for the leading of a
Christian life, and no man would take upon himself that burden, if he
did not confidently expect a crown of glory beyond, sufficient to repay
him for all the things endured here below for conscience's sake. Hope
is a star that beckons us on to renewed effort, a vision of the goal
that animates and invigorates us; it is also a soothing balm to the
wounds we receive in the struggle.
To be without this hope is the lowest level to which man may descend.
St. Paul uses the term "men without hope" as the most stinging reproach
he could inflict upon the dissolute pagans.
To have abandoned hope is a terrible misfortune--despair. This must not
be confounded with an involuntary perturbation, a mere instinctive
dread, a phantasmagoric illusion that involves no part of the will. It
is not even an excessive fear that goes by the name of pusillanimity.
It is a cool judgment like that of Cain: "My sin is too great that I
should expect forgiveness."
He who despairs, loses sight of God's mercy and sees only His stern,
rigorous justice. After hatred of God, this is perhaps the greatest
injury man can do to his Master, who is Love. There has always been
more of mercy than of justice in His dealings with men. We might say of
Him that He is all mercy in this world, to be all justice in the next.
Therefore while there is life, there is hope.
The next abomination is to hope, but to place our supreme happiness in
that which should not be the object of our hope. Men live for
pleasures, riches, and honors, as though these things were worthy of
our highest aspirations, as though they could satisfy the unappeasable
appetite of man for happiness. Greater folly than this can no man be
guilty of. He takes the dross for the pure gold, the phantom for the
reality. Few men theoretically belong to this class; practically it has
the vast majority.
The presumptuous are those who hope to obtain the prize and do nothing
to deserve it. He who would hope to fly without wings, to walk without
feet, to live without air or food would be less a fool than he who
hopes to save his soul without fulfiling the conditions laid down by
Him who made us. There is no wages without service, no reward without
merit, no crown without a cross.
This fellow's mistake is to bank too much on God's mercy, leaving His
justice out of the bargain altogether. Yet God is one as well as the
other, and both equally. The offense to God consists in making Him a
being without any backbone, so to speak, a soft, incapable judge, whose
pity degenerates into weakness. And certainly it is a serious offense.
No, hope should be sensible and reasonable. It must keep the middle
between two extremes. The measure of our hope should reasonably be the
measure of our efforts, for he who wishes the end wishes the means. Of
course God will make due allowances for our frailties, but that is His
business, not ours; and we have no right to say just how far that mercy
will go. Even though we lead the lives of saints, we shall stand in
need of much mercy. Prudence tells us to do all things as though it all
depended upon us alone; then God will make up for the deficiencies.
Next: LOVE OF GOD