Does it matter what we believe?

by CJ Lam on November 30th, 2002
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This is one of several entries my friend CJ from Hong Kong wrote in my guestbook...
Here's another nice essay (from Gallagher again!)

We often hear it said that it does not matter much what we believe, but rather what we do. Yet what we do depends mainly on what we believe. If you believe that a bank is going to fail, you will draw out your money. If you believe that a man is dishonest, you will not invest in his enterprise. If you believe that a certain field contains oil, you will be glad to buy it at a reasonable price.

Not only individuals, but government and business shape their action by what they believe. The Monroe Doctrine has affected the policy and action of the federal government for many years and in many crises.

Merchants are guided in the management of their business by their belief in certain business principles. To uphold these principles, they at times suffer considerable loss, but they know that in the end it is more than worth while. Every merchant of standing believes that his reputation for reliability is one of his best assets. To maintain the public's belief in his integrity, he will cheerfully sustain any temporary loss.

In point of fact, life, generally, is just what our beliefs are. We may not live up to our beliefs, but certainly we never live beyond them.

An anarchist assassinates because he believes in assassination as a remedy for social ills. A Socialist aims at destroying religion because he believes or claims to believe that man has no career beyond this earth. What would shock a man of right principles glorifies a man of wrong principles.

It is true that human frailty frequently keeps one on a lower plane than one's ideals and principles, but it remains true, nevertheless, that a man ordinarily does not rise above his ideals. Ideals are nothing but highly admired beliefs. The heroes of mankind are they who, having lofty ideals, whether of patriotism, courage, or generosity, have lived up to them.

Religion has heroes as well as country. The saints are the heroes of Christianity. The saints are the knights of Christ. The saints are those followers of Christ who had as ideals Christ Himself and aimed to live worthily of Him. All Christians are followers of Christ. All Christians must be actuated by the principles of Christ, who has said: "He who is not with Me is against Me." We are with Christ when we live by His principles. We are living by His principles when our conduct is based on belief in His doctrine.

Catholic principles are the principles of Jesus Christ. Catholic principles are the directions of God to mankind on the road of mortal life to the blessed domain of immortality. Catholic principles are the guide-posts set by God Himself along the journey from time to eternity. Catholic principles are a divine leadership conducting man to a blessed destiny.

As in business and government it matters much what our beliefs are, so does it with regard to religion. Our religious belief shapes our life. If a Catholic lived up to Catholic belief he would be an ideal man. As man, father, husband, or citizen, he would be all that is best. There is not a single Catholic doctrine that has ever misled mankind. The reason is because God, who is the Author of human nature, is also the Author of Catholic belief. Whenever you hear of a Catholic who has done wrong, you may know that it was not because of Catholic belief, but against it.

Let us look at a few Catholic beliefs and see for ourselves their effect on conduct.

The Incarnation teaches me that Jesus Christ, the Son of Almighty God, became man, and suffered and died in order to save my immortal soul. Do I believe this! If I do, it means that I must hold my soul to be of very great value. It means that if Christ valued it so highly as to give His life for it, I ought certainly to value it above my life.

Hence, rather than lose my soul, I will submit to every conceivable loss. But one thing can cause me to lose my soul, sin. Therefore rather than sin, I shall, like the martyrs, sacrifice property, liberty, or life. In doing so, Christ's words will come home to me: "He who loses his life for My sake shall find it."

It was because Sir Thomas More valued his soul aright that he suffered himself to be beheaded rather than do wrong even for his king. Sir Thomas More was the most celebrated and honored man in the realm of Henry VIII. His power was next to that of the king himself. He had everything except the crown. Henry, knowing the weight of his influence with the people, hoped that if he could get the approval of More for his divorce, the whole kingdom would acquiesce. Accordingly he employed every means in his power to get his Chancellor to approve of the divorce. He heaped new honors on him, made all sorts of promises to him, and in every way possible sought to win him over. Finally, when promises and favors failed, he employed threats. He threw More into prison and threatened him with death.

But always the Chancellor remained firm. The king sent various persons to him to persuade him, but to no avail. The king himself visited him and accused him of stubbornness and ingratitude. More's reply was: "My Lord King, I have but one life; it is very dear to me, but I would gladly yield it any time for your Majesty. If I had two souls I would gladly give one for you, but as I have but one, it belongs to God, who purchased it by His passion and death. Rather than lose my soul, I am ready to lose my life. But all else, Sire, that I have is at your command."

Henry, knowing the high esteem in which More was held, hesitated to order him to the block. He tried one last device before committing official murder. More had a daughter Margaret whom he loved as seldom father loves child. Her love for him was as great as his for her. There is nothing in human annals more tender than More's love for his daughter Margaret.

The king had her sent to her father in prison to prevail on him to come over to his side on the divorce. In tears Margaret pleaded with her beloved father. Only a loving parent can understand the anguish of More under this ordeal.

Finally he said to her: "Well, daughter, suppose I do go over to the King, what then?" "Oh, father," she replied, "he would restore all your honors. Again you would be the first personage in the realm." "And how long, daughter, would I enjoy these honors?" "For years and years. You are young yet. We should have many happy years together in comfort and honor." "How many, daughter?" "Twenty, forty, maybe more." "And after that, daughter?" She made no reply. Instead, tears blinded her as she sobbed, "You are right, darling father. Eternity is too great a price to pay for even the greatest worldly pleasure and honor."

The next day Sir Thomas More was led to the scaffold. Before placing his head on the block, he indulged in pleasantry with the executioner. Running his finger over the edge of the ax he said: "It's a sharp remedy, but a cure for all human ills." The next moment he calmly placed his head on the block, telling the axeman to take good aim and make a clean job of it. The ax fell, and the noblest head in England was severed from its body. The ax fell, and More beheld the countenance of Christ and heard His words of welcome to eternal life and bliss. More had confessed Christ before men. Christ now confessed him before His heavenly Father.

It does not take more than one truth of faith properly realized to make a saint. Any one of the great fundamental beliefs of Catholicity will safely guide a man along the path of life. Some of these beliefs are Judgment, Heaven, Hell, the Eucharist, the Passion of Christ, the Church as God's Voice in the world, the Sacraments.

Father De Smet, an Indian missionary, relates that it was his custom to visit the various tribes of his mission, one after the other. It usually took him two years to cover the field. After instructing a tribe, he baptized those properly prepared and the infants, and administered holy communion to the adults. On leaving he selected the one best qualified to act in his place, whose duty it was to assemble the tribe for morning and evening prayers and for special service on Sunday.

Returning to a certain tribe, after an absence of two years, he began by hearing the confessions of those who were to receive holy communion at Mass the next day. Having heard all who presented themselves he noticed that the one whom he had put in charge of the mission did not come to confession. After a time he went in search of him. Coming across him he said, "My good man, I have been waiting for you to go to confession." The Indian replied, "I am not going to confession, Father." He said this reverently, but firmly. The priest was shocked. In a distressed voice he inquired: "How is this -- you, who should set a good example, refuse to do your duty?" To which the Indian replied, "There is no need of going to confession." But, on beholding the consternation in the countenance of the missionary, he added "Did you not tell us, Father, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered a cruel death on the cross for me?" "Yes, my child, I did." "And did you not say that He suffered because of my sins?" "I did, my child." "Well, Father, if an Indian suffered stripes for me, or lost his arm for me, do you think I could do anything to hurt that Indian? And how could I commit sin, which you told us is the only thing which offends the good Jesus who died for me? I have no sins to confess, Father, and I hope I never shall have, and I will die rather than sin." The good missionary realized that he was in the presence of a saint.

The one thought, the one belief, that Christ had died for sin, was enough to make this savage a saint. Any one belief properly realized will guide a man securely to eternal life. The difference between us and the saints is that they realized the truths of faith. There is a vast difference between knowing and realizing. The purpose of religion is to enable us to have a realization of the saving truths which Christ taught, and to live by them.

St. Francis Xavier became the wonderful hero of God that he was by a realization of one truth. St. Ignatius often said to Francis in the midst of his triumphs at the University of Paris: "Francis, what does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your soul?" For a long time that saying was just so many words to Francis, but eventually it broke on him with all its meaning, with the result that he became the greatest Apostle of the Faith since the days of the Twelve.

In order to understand the effect of belief on conduct all we have to do is to look around us. Those who do not believe in hell seem to be going rapidly in the way that leads to it. The morals of today, except where religious belief prevails, are virtually pagan. Immodesty, impurity, dishonesty, dissipation, divorce, and despair meet us on all sides. Worldly people, who have discarded belief in revelation, are living as if they were a law to themselves. Their lives are the best argument against their false belief.

The Church of God teaches that we are creatures of God, and, as such, subjects of the Creator. It teaches that as subjects of God we are here to do His will, not our own. It teaches that Christ came to place us on the highway to everlasting life and blessedness, and that this highway is the way of the commandments. "If thou wilt enter into eternal life, keep My commandments."

Belief in the teaching of Christ, which is the teaching of His Church, is therefore a matter of vital importance. It makes a vast difference in life whether we believe that we are made for time or eternity. Christ proclaims that we are made for eternity. The world says our destiny is confined to this earth. Christ, Eternal Truth, is the Light of the world. Blessed are they who are guided by that Light.