Bishop Baraga's pastoral letter
|Bishop Baraga's pastoral letter to the faithful of his vicariate-apostolic announcing his elevation to the episcopal dignity
"Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present wicked world, according to the will of God and our Father."
And the will of God, our heavenly Father, is our sanctification, our eternal happiness; that we should love him and serve him in this world, and be happy with him forever in the next. And there is no true happiness but with him and in him. God Almighty has created us for happiness; and he could not create us for anything else, because he is Charity, and all his designs and ways are charity and mercy. He has created all things for us, but he has created us for himself. And if we, nevertheless, see how much misery and unhappiness there is among us in this world, and are taught that innumerable souls are in eternal sufferings in the next world, we must acknowledge that the cause of all that, is not the will of God, but our own wickedness, our want of obedient submission to the most holy and merciful will of God Almighty. Our Savior and our God is infinitely faithful to his promises. He promised us solemnly that whosoever shall fulfill the will of his Father, and our Father, that is in heaven, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and be there eternally happy with God. We see, then plainly before us the way to happiness ; it is : The fulfilling of the will of God, the fulfilling of our duties towards him.
Dearly beloved, as I wish your eternal happiness with the same heartfelt desire as I do my own, I entreat you with all my heart, be faithful in the fulfilling of your duties toward God, and God will reward you for it in his heavenly kingdom.
I will now explain to you our, principal and most sacred duties, towards God, that you may mind them, and with the help of God fulfill them faithfully. Read these instructions with attention ; not only once and then throw them away and forget them, but read them repeatedly, and endeavor to practise them. This is the first time I speak to you, through these lines, as your principal Pastor and Bishop. Let. these words enter into your hearts as they come out of my heart. This heart has ever loved you, my dear children, but never so paternally as now.
I. Our first essential duty towards God is the duty of Faith, which consists in the believing of every word that God has revealed to us, without rejecting a single point of revealed faith. Some truths of our religion are so sublime that we cannot comprehend them with our feeble and limited reason. These truths we also must believe on the authority of God who never can err, never deceive nor be deceived. That there are in our holy religion some truths so sublime that we cannot comprehend them shows the divine character of it and admonishes us of the necessity, of the absolute submission of our limited reason to the infallible authority of God. To reject a single point would be to destroy the whole ; because if God could err or deceive only in one point, his authority would be no better than human.
This duty of faith is essential and the fulfilling of it necessary for salvation, because without faith it is impossible to please God. And Christ said very expressly; "He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believes not, shall be condemned." But we must not think that faith alone will save us, as many believe who do not belong to the true church of God. We have the infallible authority of the word of God for it, that faith without good works is dead ; and a dead faith will certainly not procure us life everlasting. The devils also believe and tremble, but they remain devils, because their faith is fruitless, and ever was so. Our faith must be a living faith ; and a living faith only will give, us life everlasting in heaven. In order to have a living faith, we must show it in our life and behavior; we must live by our faith according to the principles of our holy religion ; we must make it our rule of life. If we have, and preserve until death, the true faith, and do not live according to its precepts, we shall be cast out into exterior darkness on the day of judgment, like that slothful servant, who received a precious talent at the hands of his master, and merely preserved it, but made no profit on it. Our holy Catholic faith is a most precious and immense treasure, infinitely more precious than all the gold and silver of the universe. This is that precious talent which our heavenly Lord and Master entrusted to us, His servant?, that we may deal in it, and make all possible profit by it, against the day of account. He that merely preserves this talent, and makes no profit of it, will certainly be cast out into that horrid darkness of eternal damnation.
Examine yourselves, beloved children, whether your faith is living and profitable, or dead and fruitless. How unhappy is the negligent Catholic who possesses that precious talent, the true faith, revealed by the Son of God, and does not profit by it ! Oh, how those unfortunate victims of the justice of God regret that they did not make a better use of their religion when it was time ! Would they be allowed to return to this world, oh ! how faithful would they be in fulfilling all Christian duties ! They will never more be allowed to return to this world ; but you, my dearest children, are yet in this world. But your time will soon pass away forever. Profit by it ; it will be for your everlasting happiness. You have an immense treasure in your hands, you can buy heaven with it. How unfortunate would you be if you profit not by such an opportunity !
II. Another great duty of a Christian towards his God is the duty of Adoration. As soon as we believe in God and believe in His revealed word, we will easily understand how great our duty is to adore Him and Him alone. "The Lord thy God thou shalt adore and serve Him alone." We are often accused by our adversaries of adoring creatures equally with the Creator. Let them say what they please. Every Catholic child knows that we adore only God Almighty, and no other being. But we pray to the saints in heaven that they may pray with us and for us to God Almighty.
The duty of praying is a great and holy duty. We are expressly commanded to pray continually and never to cease. Not only the word of our Savior, but also His holy example teaches us the duty of praying ; He was continually praying and spent whole nights in prayer.
Never neglect your prayers, beloved children. A Christian without prayer is like a soldier without arms; exposed to every attack of his enemies, and easily overcome. We are soldiers of Christ ; our whole life is a kind of warfare against our enemies, visible and invisible; and our strongest weapon is prayer. If you throw away that weapon, how will you be able to withstand the violent and repeated attacks of your enemies? Remember the warning of our Savior, that we must watch and pray ; or else the enemy will soon overcome us.
Although we have always to pray and never to cease, still there are some periods of time in which we are more strictly obliged to pray. These are especially the beginning and the end of every day; therefore every faithful Christian ought, invariably, to perform his morning and evening prayer. And if he does not, he neglects a decided, and sacred duty towards God, and deprives himself of many graces; because prayer is the principal channel through which the grace of God flows into our hearts.
Dearly beloved children, be faithful in the fulfilling of this holy duty; and never say, I have no time to pray. Consider how ungrateful this is. God Almighty gives you twenty-four hours every day for your works and wants. And out of these twenty-four hours you cannot give a few minutes to God for the fulfilling of a great duty? Fear the reproaches of God on the day of judgment! It requires only a good will and a firm resolution to fulfill this duty, and you will find means and time to do it. And don't think, my dear children, that in remote places you are not very strictly obliged to perform your prayers. This is a pernicious illusion. God is everywhere, and must be served everywhere. Our Savior says plainly that the true adorers and servants of God will adore Him everywhere in spirit and in truth.
Be especially faithful in fulfilling the duty of praying on the day of Our Lord, on Sunday, which is set apart by God Almighty for His special service. We read in Holy Scripture how severely God has punished Sabbath-breakers in ancient times. If He does not punish them always now in this, world, He certainly will in the next. It is a melancholy fact (but, nevertheless, very true, and it came a thousand times within my experience) that many Christians living in remote places neglect more their duty of praying and commit more sins on Sunday than on any other day in the week. How horrid this is! And what a responsibility on the day of judgment ! Be careful, dear children, and fear the judgment of God. It may fall upon you on a sudden and unexpectedly. Watch and pray. Perform your prayers every morning and every evening, and during the day frequently remember God ; and so you will fulfill that precept of our Savior : "Pray continually and never cease."
III. The third of our principal and most essential duties towards God is the duty of Respect; that we ought to respect God more than any person on earth. This duty seems to be plainly understood, and it seems to be a matter of course that God be more respected than any person on earth, because He is the most Perfect Being. And still there is hardly any other duty towards God that is so often transgressed, especially by many classes of people, than this very duty of respect.
To fulfill this duty, we ought never to forget the presence of God, but continually to remember, as we are taught by our faith, that God Almighty is everywhere present, that He knows our thoughts, hears our words, and sees our actions ; and then to behave as it becomes the awful presence of God. When a believing Christian (as they commonly are) is in the presence of a respected and worthy clergyman, he behaves decently; not a single word will escape his lips that could offend the respected person; not a single action or gesture will take place that could hurt the feelings of the person of that respectable character. But consider the same Christian when he is in his ordinary common society, amongst persons whom he does not particularly respect. He will behave quite differently, he will use bad language, he will curse, swear, blaspheme, and pronounce impure, obscene words. And all this in the very presence of God, the Most Holy, the Most High. What a want of respect ! And what a perversity ! He respects the presence of a man, and does not respect the awful presence of his God ! And transgresses horribly the sacred duty of respect towards God. If God Almighty would require of us only as much respect for His Most Holy Majesty as we use towards respectable persons on earth, every believing Christian would say that this would not be enough. And indeed it would not be enough, because there is no comparison between the respectability of the highest person in this world and the Most Holy Majesty of God! And still — to the shame of the majority of Christians we must acknowledge it — there is less respect among Christians for God Almighty than for respectable persons in this world.
Consider this, dearly beloved children, and reflect seriously how often you have transgressed this sacred duty towards God; how often you have spoken words and committed actions in the presence of God which you never would do in the presence of a clergyman or other respectable person. Repent of it, beloved children, and make a firm resolution never to forget the presence of God to look at Him constantly with the eyes of faith, and to behave in His presence as it becomes a believing Christian, who knows that God, his future judge, everywhere sees him, and hears all his words.
IV. The fourth principal duty of a Christian towards his God is, the duty of Obedience. We have strict duties of obedience even to certain persons in this world. Thus children are strictly obliged to be obedient to their parents; and servants are commanded by the word of God to be obedient to their masters in all things that are not against the law of God; and to be obedient even to wicked and peevish masters. But far greater is our duty of obedience towards God, who is our heavenly Father, and the best of Fathers, our Supreme Lord and Master, and the kindest of Masters.
To be obedient means, to fulfill the will of a superior. To be obedient to God means, then, to fulfill His holy will. When a master wants his servant to do something for him, he will tell him what he has to do, and the servant will know the will of his master. But how can we know what God, our heavenly Lord and Master, wants us to do ? God has established several means by which we may understand what is His will, in order to fulfill it. The voice of conscience is one of these means by which God gives us to understand His will. The voice of your conscience is the voice of God. Pay attention to the voice of your conscience and you will understand that. When you propose to do wrong, or are in danger of committing sin, your conscience will immediately warn you not to do evil, to avoid it by all means. On the contrary, when you propose to do good, and find opportunity to do so, your conscience will encourage you to do all good you can. See here the plain will of God. To avoid evil and do good, this is for us invariably the will of God. So, then, beloved children, in order to fulfill the holy will of God Almighty, listen to your conscience and follow its dictates, avoiding what it forbids and doing what it commands you ; and by so doing you will fulfill the sacred duty of obedience to God.
Another means by which God Almighty makes us know His holy will is the "word of God," which is written in the Holy Scriptures and other good religious books, and is announced to us by the pastors of His church. Their instructions have been called the "word of God" from the first times of Christendom, as we see in Holy Scripture (I Thee, ii, 13). And our Savior commands us expressly to listen to the pastors of His church with the same respect and submission as to Himself. He commands them to preach His doctrine to the whole world, and assures us that we hear Himself when we hear them. Dearly beloved children, in order to be obedient to God, your heavenly Father and Supreme Master, be faithful in the fulfilling of the precepts and instructions of your good pastors and confessors. Be thankful to God that He makes you know His holy will by these means and profit by them. Remember what an awful responsibility awaits you on the day of judgment if you do not profit by such means of salvation.
V. The fifth principal duty we have towards God, is the duty of Love; that we ought to love God above all. This is a most holy duty of every Christian ; but, unfortunately, much neglected, and very rarely fulfilled as it ought to be. How strict and important this our duty is, we may understand by the express command of our Savior to love God, and by his minute description of the character of our love towards God. Not only did he say that we must love God, but he explained that we must love the Lord our God "with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole mind and with our whole strength." The ancient Fathers of the church wondered that it was necessary to give to Christians an express commandment to love God. "Is it not natural," they say, "to the heart of a Christian, who is a child of God, to love his heavenly Father above all? Was it necessary to command it, to prescribe it?" Oh, certainly, it was! And notwithstanding this express commandment and the detailed description of it, very few Christians love God according to this description of our Savior.
Consider often, beloved children, these four marks of the true love of God, and examine yourselves whether your love has these marks. And do not think that only a few chosen and extraordinary souls are obliged to love God thus. No ! we are all obliged so to love Him !
The first mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole heart; that is, that we do not divide our heart between God and the world, between the Creator and the creature. God is a jealous God, as we see in Holy Scripture; He suffers no other lover besides, Him, much less above Him. He wants your whole heart, or nothing. If you love anything more than God, or as much as God, you have not the true love of God. And if you are not earnestly ready to part with anything in the world for the love of God, if He requires it of you through the mouth of a pastor of His church, you do not love Him with all your heart ; your heart is divided, and consequently not accepted by God at all. But understand well, beloved children, when we are commanded to love God with our whole heart, this means not that we must not love anything but God. We may love, and we are commanded to love, our parents, our relatives, our benefactors, our friends, even our enemies. But we must love all in God, according to the will of God, and for God's sake ; and God in all and above all. And so we will love Him with our whole heart.
The second mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole soul. This is a Scriptural expression. We often find in Holy Scripture the word "soul" instead of "life" So, for instance, our Savior says that whosoever shall lose his "soul" in this world for His sake, shall find it in the next; that is, whosoever shall, lose his "life"? for his Savior's sake in this world, shall find true life in the next. To love God with our whole soul, signifies that we ought to love Him more than our own life, and be firmly resolved to lose our life rather than to, lose Him, through sin. It ought to be our firm and earnest resolution rather to die than to offend God. But, alas ! how often will the Christian commit sin, even a mortal sin, not to save his life, but for a mere trifle, for the pleasure of a moment, for a small lucre, for the vapor of a worldly honor, for the sake of a worldly friend, and so forth. What would he not do if his life were at stake ! And still we are called upon — all of us — to lose rather our life than to offend God with a single sin ! This is the meaning of the solemn appeal of Christ : "Love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul !"
The third mark of the true love of God is, to love Him with our whole mind; that is, that we should occupy our mind and our thoughts continually, or at least frequently, with the presence of God. It is natural to a loving heart to remember often the object of its affection. Imagine, a good loving child who lives at a distance from his kind and loving father. That child will almost continually think of his father, and will long after the happy moment of his reunion with the beloved object of his filial affections. So ought every Christian to do, because he has the happiness to be a child of the best of Fathers. And so he will do if he loves God with his whole mind. He will think continually of his heavenly Father, and never forget His holy presence. And happy, infinitely happy, is the Christian who never forgets the presence of his God and Father. He will behave decently, and will carefully avoid all that could offend his beloved Father in thoughts and words and actions ; and will lead a holy life in the love of God.
The fourth mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole strength. The true love of God is the greatest happiness and the most precious privilege of a Christian. It is that splendid wedding-garment in which he will be admitted to the happiness and eternal joy of the "Lamb's nuptials." Nothing in the world can be obtained without endeavors and labor; and the more precious the object and the greater the fortune aimed at, the more serious the efforts to obtain it. As the true love of God is decidedly the most precious treasure of a Christian, so also our efforts to obtain and possess it ought to be extreme. But when we consider Christians as they commonly are, we will see how earnestly and perseveringly they endeavor to obtain riches and honors and pleasures, and all the comforts of this perishable life. And the love of God? This is commonly crowded out entirely, or, sought after as a by-thing, not as the "One Thing Necessary." Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus! With all the eagerness and solicitude of a loving father's heart I entreat you, in the name of God, whose Holy Providence has now committed you to my spiritual care, be faithful in the fulfilling of these principal and most essential duties towards God our heavenly Father. Especially endeavor to have the true love of God, which is the very foundation of all Christianity, and the glorious mark of a happy predestination. If you love God sincerely and above all, you will easily fulfill all other duties towards Him. Nothing is difficult, nothing tedious, to a loving heart."
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen." +
FREDERIC, Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Upper Michigan.