Why Men Need Church

Why Men Need Church
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In today's fast-paced, secular world, the notion of men stepping away from their religious duties and the worship of God seems like a recent development. However, this is far from a new phenomenon. Over a century ago, Archbishop John Ireland addressed this very issue with compelling urgency. His words, delivered on September 19, 1912, during the dedication of the Cathedral of Wichita, Kansas, resonate deeply with the challenges we face today.

Archbishop Ireland emphasized that worship is man's first and supreme duty. He warned that neglecting this duty leads to a fatal deficiency in the ethics of justice and moral goodness. According to him, no matter what else a man accomplishes, failing to worship God leaves his life in chaos and ruin. These powerful words remind us that the call to worship is timeless, transcending generations. Ireland's insights serve as a potent reminder that the challenges we perceive as contemporary have been part of our spiritual journey for much longer. By revisiting his message, we can find inspiration and guidance to reignite our commitment to worship in a world that constantly tempts us towards indifference.

Men Do Not Go to Church

Ireland was not afraid to acknowledge the glories and achievements of his age, but he also spoke candidly about its misfortunes and mistakes, aiming to correct them and mitigate their hidden perils. Reflecting on whether the world was improving or deteriorating, he highlighted the stark contrast between material progress and spiritual decline. The true measure of humanity's progress lies in its spiritual and ethical life, which determines the ultimate value of human existence.

In his discourse, Ireland referenced an article from The Atlantic Monthly, titled "Should Smith Go to Church?" It portrayed the typical modern man, Smith, who has abandoned church for other activities, despite being a respectable, diligent, and kind individual. This shift from regular church attendance to indifference was becoming increasingly common, as Ireland observed.

Ireland noted that in the past, it was socially unacceptable to miss church services, but now, staying away from church had become fashionable. Men who once would have been embarrassed to admit they had not attended church now feel no shame. This trend, he warned, was not limited to men alone—over time, women and children would follow their example, leading to a widespread decline in church attendance.

The Evil Is Indifference toward God

"I take the evil as it is: God is not denied: He is forgotten, left aside, exiled, so far as men may exile Him, from the world of human thought and action."

Ireland observed that atheism was not the prevalent vice in America. Instead, the more insidious evil was the forgetfulness of God. People did not outright deny God's existence; rather, they relegated Him to the peripheries of their lives. When questioned, most people still acknowledged a higher power, a creator, and a source of truth, beauty, and goodness. They recognized the order and purpose in creation as evidence of an all-powerful, all-wise, and eternal God.

However, this acknowledgment did not translate into active worship or a meaningful relationship with God. Instead, people confined Him to the distant realms of eternity, barring Him from influencing their daily lives. This forgetfulness and sense of independence from God led to a dangerous detachment from the divine source of life and morality. The real threat was not outright atheism but the erosion of the sense of dependency on and need for God.

Duty of Divine Worship

Men do not go to church: they have lost the idea and sentiment of Divine worship. Yet, Divine worship is man's first and supreme duty. Justice and gratitude demand that we make acts of worship before the eternal and almighty God. To God, the First Cause, we owe what we are and what we have.

"The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of His hands." "All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made."

Among these creations is man, the masterpiece, fashioned a little less than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, God's own image and likeness. Man, knowing this, with every fiber of his being sustained by the life given by God, surrounded by the majesty of creation, refuses to acknowledge his dependency and God's sovereignty. He remains silent, heart unmoved, lips closed, not offering a single word of adoration or gratitude.

This refusal to worship is a mystery of blindness and hardness of heart. Man, who receives life and motion from God, who benefits from the earth's bounty and the heavens' beauty, does not lift his voice in praise. The Psalmist's call, "Come, let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully sing to God, our Saviour," falls on deaf ears.

Were the sun, moon, and stars given consciousness, they would immediately honor their Creator. Yet man, with his unique gift of consciousness, often remains silent, failing to recognize the divine source of his existence.

Man readily acknowledges justice and gratitude towards fellow humans. A child smiles at its parents, friends greet each other, and citizens honor their nation. Yet God, the supreme benefactor, remains unrecognized and un-honored. This neglect of divine worship is the ultimate blindness and hardness of heart.

Above all creatures is the Creator: above all other duties is the duty of Divine worship. "Master," said a doctor of the law, "which is the great commandment of the law?" And Jesus answered "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first Commandment." Other Commandments there are but the greatest and the first Commandment is that which bids us worship God: other duties fall into a secondary place. Indeed, the greatest and the first duty thrown to the winds, the foundation crumbles beneath other duties. Why, we may logically ask, the observance of secondary duties, when the chief duty is deemed undeserving of attention.

No Natural Virtues Take the Place of Duty to God

Archbishop Ireland emphasizes that no matter how commendable a person's natural virtues may be, they cannot replace the fundamental duty of worshipping God. This is a key point in understanding the broader implications of religious indifference.

Even if a man, like Smith, is diligent in his work, a loving husband and father, and a patriotic citizen, he fails in the essential duty if he neglects to worship God. The virtues and good deeds that Smith may possess are significant, but they do not substitute the primary duty of acknowledging and worshipping the Creator. Ireland argues that while acts of benevolence, high-minded patriotism, and other virtues are noble and worthy of praise, they are secondary to the duty of divine worship.

The modern trend of substituting the service of humanity for divine worship is, according to Ireland, fundamentally flawed. While serving humanity is important and commendable, it must not replace the worship of God. The service of humanity should be seen as a secondary duty, following the greatest commandment to love and worship God. When humanity is placed above God, it becomes a form of idolatry, a rejection of the divine mandate, "I am the Lord thy God… Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me."

The rising trend of prioritizing human service over divine worship mirrors the very challenge of indifference that Ireland warned against. In today's context, this manifests in the various ways people prioritize worldly achievements and social contributions over spiritual duties. This misalignment underscores a critical lesson for the modern Church and its followers: the need to restore the primacy of divine worship in our lives.

Other Attractions, Besides Divine Worship, Out of Place

Archbishop Ireland critiques the notion that churches should transform into social hubs to attract attendees. The writer in the Atlantic Monthly suggests that churches could draw people by becoming centers of social betterment, hosting popular events, and engaging in community uplift. This approach, while well-meaning, risks overshadowing the primary purpose of the church: the worship of God.

Ireland acknowledges the importance of serving humanity, which is indeed linked to worshipping God. Acts of benevolence and human uplift are commendable and necessary, but they are secondary to the worship of the Almighty. The love of one's neighbor, as vital as it is, cannot replace the love and adoration owed to God. The second commandment to love one's neighbor follows the first commandment to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind.

Furthermore, Ireland does not dismiss the use of subsidiary methods to attract people to church, as long as these methods align with the primary goal of divine worship. However, he warns that it is futile to bring people to church if the essence of worship—adoration, thanksgiving, and the profound recognition of God's grandeur—is absent. The core purpose of attending church is to adore and serve God, as stated in the law of eternal righteousness: "The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve."

To address the challenge of declining church attendance, Ireland asserts that the focus must be on instilling a sense of duty to God within people's souls. The true way to bring men to church is not through entertainment or social programs but by awakening their consciousness to their dependency on God and their obligation to worship Him. The realization of God's sovereignty and the duty of divine worship are what will ultimately draw and retain men in the church.

Result of Indifference — The Withering of Conscience

Archbishop Ireland vividly illustrates the dire consequences of religious indifference on individual and societal levels. When men do not go to church, neglecting their duty to worship God, they drift towards a world without God—a world akin to a planet deprived of the sun's life-giving light and warmth. This spiritual and moral decay may not be immediately apparent, much like a tree that remains upright and green while its roots are being gnawed away by poisons. Over time, however, the decay spreads, leading to inevitable collapse.

Without God, conscience withers and dies. Conscience, the sense of righteousness instilled by the moral Master of the universe, is the holiest and noblest aspect of humanity. It differentiates humans from brutes driven solely by selfish instinct and pleasure. Conscience liberates individuals from the slavery of passion and protects the social organism from degradation.

The necessity of conscience is universally acknowledged. Yet, the nurturing and preservation of conscience come from religion, from the acknowledgment of man's subjection to God. When God is dismissed, the focus shifts to material rewards and punishments. Life's purpose becomes the accumulation and enjoyment of material wealth, leading to a state where might is right, pleasure is the ultimate goal, and the loss of pleasure brings despair.

Philosophers advocating for a godless world propose various theories of righteousness, but these theories are impotent in preventing the moral collapse they seek to address. They extol the beauty of virtue but fail to provide the strength needed to resist the hurricane of passion. They emphasize the welfare of future humanity, but in the face of temptation, individuals prioritize their immediate desires over societal welfare.

Moreover, relying solely on the dissemination of knowledge as a means to instill virtue is a baseless fallacy. Knowledge alone does not lead to virtuous conduct; it merely indicates the paths one might take. Strong moral principles, reinforced by religion, are necessary to withstand temptation and maintain righteousness. Without these principles, knowledge can become a tool for greater evil, as it empowers those inclined towards vice and facilitates their pursuit of illicit gains.

Ultimately, Archbishop Ireland asserts that no combination of human theories and efforts can uphold morality without God's foundation. As Scripture states, "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it." This profound truth underscores the indispensable role of divine worship and the recognition of God's sovereignty in maintaining moral integrity in both individuals and society.

Evils Already Too Manifest in Society

Archbishop Ireland warns that as people like "Smith" stop attending church, this trend spreads throughout society, leading to a culture where God's presence and the moral teachings of religion are increasingly absent. The youth, passing through secular schools and colleges, are taught about the material world and how to manipulate it for personal gain, without any reference to their Creator or their moral duties. This secular education fosters the belief that God is irrelevant, resulting in a godless worldview where moral responsibility is dismissed as mere fantasy.

The result is a society in moral decline, evidenced by rising divorce rates, frequent suicides, and a general degradation of moral standards that would have shocked earlier generations. The very foundations of the Republic, built on reverence for law and respect for others' rights, are at risk due to increasing social unrest and lawlessness, verging on anarchy.

America, perhaps more than any other country, needs conscience, and consequently, religion, which forms the basis of conscience. The nation's unique challenge is to maintain a government that controls the passions of the people while entrusting them with significant control over that government. If conscience, rooted in religion, diminishes, so too will the effectiveness of the government. Religion becomes a mere memory of past virtues, with no real influence on current or future actions.

Despite this dire outlook, Ireland expresses hope in the commonsense and religious conviction of the American people. However, he emphasizes that the current trend towards a godless philosophy of life is dangerous and must be countered with quick and resolute action. Those who do not attend church contribute to this fatal trend through their influence and example.

Penalty of Secularism

Secularism brings its own penalties. To those who do not go to church, the present life becomes their idol. They sacrifice time and effort to this idol, claiming they have no freedom to worship God. Some even argue that worship harms the present life by promoting otherworldliness, reducing interest in the present life, and undermining efforts to improve the human condition.

Contrary to this belief, St. Paul teaches that "Godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." True godliness ensures health and prosperity in the present life and the life to come.

Ireland acknowledges the ideals of social charity, justice, and peace but argues that secularism nullifies these ideals. Only through the worship of God can these ideals be fruitfully realized.

Destruction of Social Charity

Social charity, or love and service to others, especially the poor and suffering, requires inspiration and motivation. Secularism lacks a robust source of inspiration and motive. Emotions stirred by the sight of misery are fleeting, and personal interest in the welfare of others is often minimal or non-existent. True social charity is born of religion, which inspires selfless service to others through the conviction that God commands and rewards such actions. Without religion, social charity withers, becoming a hollow and unsustainable endeavor.

Destruction of Social Justice

Social justice, a consequence of social charity, is also rooted in religion. Every human being has the right to live and to find sufficient livelihood from their labors. Inequality arises from varying talents, industry, and opportunities, leading to potential strife. Secularism cannot solve the problem of social justice because it lacks the moral authority to enforce respect for others' rights. Only the voice of God, the Creator and Lawgiver, can command respect for social justice and avert the chaos of might over right.

Destruction of Social Peace

Social peace stems from peace within the individual soul, which only religion can provide. Despite efforts to serve humanity, poverty, suffering, and death remain. Religion offers a perspective that transforms these challenges into trials to be borne with patience, promising rich rewards. It provides peace of soul, which in turn fosters peace in society. Without religion, discontent and unhappiness prevail, leading to a world devoid of true peace.

Penalties in the Life to Come

While godliness benefits the present life, it also promises rewards in the life to come. After death, every person faces judgment. Those who neglected to worship God on earth will face the consequences of their actions before the Supreme Judge. As St. Paul warns, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" when justice demands punishment for disobedience.

Ireland concludes by emphasizing the necessity of churches, where people can be inspired to purify and sanctify their lives. Commerce, industry, and education can enhance physical comfort and spread knowledge, but they cannot subdue passion or eradicate sin. Armies and navies can win wars but cannot instill self-restraint, honesty, or charity. Only religion, with its faith in the everlasting God, can provide the moral foundation necessary for a thriving society and the salvation of souls.