Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating The Catholic Catechism – On the End of Man

Q. Who made the world?

A. God made the world.

The Astronomer and the Globe

The world did not come into existence spontaneously. The celebrated astronomer Athanasius Kirchner had a friend who did not believe in the existence of God, and frequently asserted that the orbs of heaven were self-existent. One day, when this friend visited the astronomer, he noticed in one corner of the room a globe which displayed the hand of a skillful workman. “Who made that globe?” he inquired. “No one made it,” Kirchner answered, “it is self-made.” And when his friend seemed angry at this answer being given him, he added: “If the immense orbs of heaven are self-existent, why not this insignificant little globe?” The unbeliever looked thoughtful, and presently acknowledged that he now saw that his principles were false.

Q. Who is God?

A. God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things.

The Godless Innkeeper

Those who deny God often speak against their own conviction. Two travelers one evening arrived at an inn, the landlord of which was a professed atheist. Having taken rooms for the night, after dinner they sat at the open window, contemplating the starry vault of heaven and admiring the omnipotence of the Creator and the beauty of His works. The innkeeper, overhearing their conversation, laughed at them as a couple of fools, declaring there was no God; all was evolved in the course of nature. Soon afterward the travelers retired to rest, and the landlord was not long in following their example. In the dead of the night a fire broke out in an adjoining house; our host was awakened by the barking of dogs and the glare of the conflagration. Hurrying out, he was seen to throw up his arms, and, looking up to heaven, he cried, “O merciful God, spare my house; do not let it be burned down!” By this time the travelers also were awake, and, hearing him, they called out: “Yesterday you declared there was no God; now you are imploring His help. It is not likely that He will grant your prayer; on the contrary. He will punish you for your impious denial of Him.” So it came to pass, for very shortly afterward the inn, too, was in flames. Even atheists call upon God when they are in trouble.

Q. What is man?

A. Man is a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God.

The Soul and the Understanding

Without a soul we should have no understanding. Every man has a soul, although the soul cannot be seen. Among a company of friends the conversation turned upon the soul of man. While this subject was under discussion one of those present said to his neighbor: “You have no soul.” The one thus addressed asked, “Why do you say I have no soul?” His interlocutor rejoined: “Because I cannot see it.” “If that is so,” the other replied, “you have no intellect.” “I have no intellect! What makes you say that?” his friend inquired, in a surprised, almost angry tone. “Because I cannot see your intellect,” was the answer, “and certainly you give no proof of understanding if you deny the existence of your soul.”

Q. Is this likeness in the body or in the soul?

A. This likeness is chiefly in the soul.

The Martyr’s Last Word

The life of the soul cannot be destroyed. A holy martyr, named Philemon, who suffered death for the faith of Christ during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, gave the pagan judge who condemned him an explanation of Our Lord’s words: “Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul,” in the following manner: Philemon, together with several other Christians, had been arrested by order of the governor of a town in Egypt, and brought before the judge, who threatened to put them to terrible torture if they would not renounce the faith and deny Christ. Thereupon Philemon begged the judge to give him permission to speak; he had an important communication to make to him. Having received permission, he further asked that a large brass vessel might be brought, and a little child also. This being done, he placed the child in the vessel, and closed the lid; he then requested some archers to discharge their arrows at the vessel. All the arrows naturally rebounded from it, and fell to the ground. Immediately Philemon removed the lid and lifted out the child. “See,” he said, “this child is unharmed by all the arrows aimed at him. So it is with us Christians. Our body is like this brass vessel; the soul is contained within it, as the child was in the vessel. You may, O judge, torture and kill our body, but you cannot injure, much less destroy, the soul.” The Christian hero was forthwith led out to death with his co-religionists.

Q. How is the soul like to God?

A. The soul is like God because it is a spirit that will never die, and has understanding and free will.

The Physician’s Vision

The soul of man is immortal. Saint Augustine relates the manner in which a God-fearing physician in Carthage, named Gennadius, was divinely instructed concerning the immortality of the soul. The good man doubted whether there was a future life; he thought man’s existence ended at death. One night he had this dream. He thought he saw a youth standing before him in shining garments, who looked fixedly at him, and asked: “Are you asleep or awake?” The physician answered: “I am asleep.” “Can you see me?” his nocturnal visitor inquired. “Yes, I see you,” was the reply. “How do you see me?” was the next query; “do you see me with your eyes?” “I do not see you with my eyes; I do not know in what way I see you,” the physician answered. “Do you hear me?” the youth said. “Yes, I hear you.” “How do you hear me; do you hear me with your ears?” the youth pursued. “I do not hear you with my ears; I do not know by what means I hear you,” was the answer. “Are you speaking now?” the youth again inquired. “Yes, I am speaking.” “How are you speaking; are you speaking by your mouth?” “I am not speaking with my lips; I know not wherewith I am speaking,” replied the physician. Thereupon the angel spoke thus to him: “The action of your senses is now suspended, yet you see, hear, and speak; a time will come when your senses will be rendered totally incapable of action by the hand of death, and yet you will be able to see, to hear, to speak, and to feel.” Then the angel vanished, and the physician awoke. From that day forth he was troubled with no doubts, but firmly believed in the existence of the soul after the death of the body. The soul, in fact, is a prisoner in the body, but so unfettered that when the prison falls, the prisoner goes free.

Q. Why did God make you?

A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to nerve Him in thin worlds and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

The Fish out of Water

Without the knowledge of God the heart has no true peace. A certain fisherman one day caught a great number of fish. As he was a good sort of man, he picked out the largest fish to take as a present to his parish priest. The fish was still alive when he brought it to the presbytery and laid it on the ground. All at once it began to flap with its tail, to flounder and twist itself about incessantly. The priest made use of the occasion to draw a lesson for the bystanders. “See,” he said, “how that unfortunate creature wriggles and flounders about; it wants to return to its element, which is water. It cannot be happy unless it is in the water. So it is with us men. We are made for God, and as soon as we depart from God we are unhappy and ill at ease.” Saint Augustine says truly: “Our heart cannot rest until it rests in Thee, O God.”

The Blasphemer and the Monk

No one can be saved without exertion on his part. Some foolish people assert that no man can influence his destiny. A Franciscan monk. Duns Scotus by name, was one day walking alongside a field where a laborer was at work, cursing and swearing all the time. The monk begged him to desist, telling him if he used such bad language he would surely go to hell. The man answered: “If God has decreed that I shall go to hell, no prayers will avail me anything; if He has decreed that I shall go to heaven, I shall be saved, however much I curse and swear.”

“If so,” the priest rejoined, “I cannot understand why you are plowing this field. For if God has decreed that you shall have a good crop, you will have one although you do not cultivate your land: but if He has decreed that the harvest shall fail, all your labor will be in vain.” The peasant replied that if he did not till the ground there would certainly be no harvest. The priest smiled, and said: “There, you have just reversed your former argument.” Thus the man’s eyes were opened to the falsity of fatalism.

Q. Of which mmt we take more care, our soul or our body?

A. We must take more care of our soul than of our body.

And Then?

A student once came to Saint Philip Neri and asked him for an alms. The saint gave it to him, at the same time inquiring what he was going to be. The student replied, “I am going to be a barrister.” The saint asked: “And what then?” The young man replied: “I shall earn a good deal by my persuasive tongue.” “And then?” the saint again asked. “Why then I shall enjoy a comfortable competence in my old age.” “And then?” the saint rejoined. Thereupon the young man’s countenance clouded over, and he said sadly: “Then of course at last I must die.” “And then?” the saint once more repeated. The young man did not answer a word, but went away with downcast looks. The words, “And then?” – sounded incessantly in his ears; he could not get them out of his mind. They made a pious and virtuous man of him later on.

The Three Mirrors

There is no real beauty without virtue. A school girl, writing home, asked her mother to send her a looking-glass. Her mother, a sensible and Christian lady, when she answered the letter, said: “I am sending you a parcel by post in which are three mirrors. The first will show you to yourself as you are; the second will show you what you will be; the third will show you what you ought to be.” When the box arrived, the girl opened it with curiosity; the first thing she took out was an ordinary looking-glass; then there was the representation of a skull; below both of these was a beautiful statuette of Our Lady, Thus the pious mother sought to impress upon her daughter’s mind that personal beauty is transitory and is effaced by the hand of death; and for this reason a maiden ought to imitate the virtues of the Mother of God, since thus alone will she attain true loveliness, a beauty which does not pass away with this mortal life, the beauty of the soul, which lasts eternally. Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain, says Holy Writ. I am black but beautiful, for the beauty of the King’s daughter is from within.

Q. Why must we take more care of our soul than of our body?

A. We must take more care of our soul than of our body because in losing our soul we lose God and ever-lasting happiness.

Diogenes and the Three Sestertii

Man must not forget his highest and final end. Once upon a time Diogenes, the Grecian sage, set up a tent in the market-place at Athens, and wrote up outside it: “Wisdom is sold here.” A gentleman, seeing this notice, laughed heartily at it, and calling one of his servants, he gave him three sestertii (twelve cents) and said to him: “Go and ask that braggart how much wisdom he will let you have for three sestertii.” The servant went as he was desired, handed the money to Diogenes, and delivered his master’s message. Diogenes pocketed the three sestertii, and said: “Tell this to your master: ‘In all your actions look to the end.'” The gentleman approved so highly of this axiom, when it was repeated to him, that he caused it to be inscribed in letters of gold over the entrance to his house, that both he himself and every one who entered might be reminded of the end of life. Now, no one ever reminded us mortals of the highest end and aim of our existence more frequently and more forcibly than Jesus Christ did. Would that every Christian kept his eyes constantly fixed upon his final end. Everlasting happiness – our last end – should be the guiding star of our existence, the lodestone of all our affections.

The Most Beautiful Hand

Virtue renders man fair in God’s sight. A party of ladies were exhibiting and comparing their hands, questioning which among them had the most beautiful hand. They appealed to a gentleman who was sitting at table with them, to decide the momentous point. He looked at the hands of all the ladies in succession, and then declared himself unable to give judgment. “I ought to ask the poor, before giving preference to any,” he said. “The loveliest hand is the one which dispenses alms most freely; the most bountiful is the most beautiful.” There is no real beauty without virtue.

Q. What must we do to save our souls?

A. To save our souls we must worship God by faith, hope and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.

The Wise King

The inhabitants of a certain city in Greece had – the legend relates – the singular custom of electing a new king every year, and not one of their fellow-countrymen, but a foreigner who was unacquainted with their manners and customs. The people actually imagined that it would be to their advantage to have a fresh ruler every year. Almost all the kings in turn spent their year of rulership in riotous living; but as soon as the twelve months were ended, they were seized by the citizens and transferred to a barren island, where there was neither food nor shelter to be found, and where consequently they perished miserably. At length a king was elected who was far more prudent than all his predecessors on the throne. He bribed some of the people to tell him what really became of the kings who were deposed at the end of a year. On learning what was the fate that awaited him, he took care to send a good store of provisions with ships and armed men to the island. The year came to an end, and he met with the same treatment as those who reigned before him: the citizens arrested him and conveyed him by force to the island. But on landing there, he found all that he had sent on beforehand; he reembarked on the vessels, and taking the soldiers with him, set sail for the place whence he had come. On arriving he put to death the men who had arrested and banished him, and held uncontested sway over the land for many years.

Those unfortunate rulers who at the expiration of their year of regal authority perished on the barren island, represent those individuals who, during their lifetime, never think of the end of life, but only of earthly possessions and earthly pleasures. When the relentless hand of death removes them to another world, their destiny is eternal misery. Now those persons who during their lifetime obey the precepts of religion and lay up a store of good works are like the wise king; when death comes the evil enemy cannot harm them, and after death fresh joys await them.

A Day Lost

We ought to employ our time in good works. The Roman Emperor Titus deserved to be called by the Romans, “the charity and delight of humanity” on account of his great kindness of heart. Whenever this emperor, looking back, of an evening, on a day that was past, perceived that in its course he had not given anything away in alms, he said: “I have lost a day”. So we may say the day has been lost to us in which we have performed not a single good work. For this reason Christ bids us: “Work.”

An Abbot and a King in the Chase

The kingdom of heaven suffers violence. He who will be saved must exert himself to the utmost. The Abbot Zeno impressed this truth on one of the mighty ones of the earth. The abbot, who lived and served God in the desert, one day met a man whose dress betokened him to be of high rank. It was in fact the king of Macedonia; in his hand he carried a weapon. Seeing the abbot, he inquired of him what he was doing there in the wilderness. Zeno replied with another question: “What are you doing here?” The king answered: “It is the chase brings me here.” “I too,” the abbot rejoined, “am here in the chase; I seek after God, and I will not rest until I find Him and possess Him for all eternity.”

Q. How shall we know the things which we are to believe?

A. We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.

The Unbelieving Father at his Son’s Deathbed

The religious man is better off than the ungodly. A good boy, his father’s darling, was very ill and given over by the doctors. His father, who had often told the boy that there was nothing after death, came to his bedside as he lay dying. The boy said to him: “Tell me, father, am I to believe what you taught me, or am I to believe what mother taught me?” On hearing his son say this, the father’s eyes filled with tears. “My dear boy,” he replied, “believe what your mother taught you. What I said is not as certain as that which she told you.” The loyal child of the Church, who believes all that the Church proposes to him to be believed, enjoys far more security than the man who does not care about religion and has no beliefs.

The Atheist and the Christian

An unbeliever said once to a good and faithful Catholic; “O unhappy Christian! How terribly you will find you have been deceived, if heaven is only a fable!” The Catholic answered: “O unhappy atheist! How terribly you will find you have been deceived, when you discover that hell is no fictitious place.”

Q. Where shall we find the chief truths which the Church teaches?

A. We shall find the chief truths which the Church teaches in the Apostles’ Creed.

Saint Antony and the Imperial Missive

Holy Scripture is a letter written by God to man. Saint Antony the Hermit (died 356), who lived in the Thebaid desert in Egypt, one day received a letter from the Emperor Constantine the Great. His disciples were much struck by the honor conferred upon him by the fact that the emperor should send him an autograph letter. But the saint said: “You should rather be astonished that Our Lord God, the King of kings, has sent a letter to us poor mortals – I mean Holy Scripture.”

The Protestant’s Bible

If it were not for tradition we should not know which books of the Scripture are canonical. A Catholic and a Protestant were engaged in a disputation concerning the necessity of tradition. The Protestant maintained that the whole of divinely revealed truth was contained in Holy Scripture; thus tradition was superfluous and valueless. “Give me your Bible,” the Catholic said, “and I will prove to you that tradition cannot be dispensed with.” Thereupon the Protestant brought his Bible. The Catholic turned over the pages awhile, then he said: “I meant Holy Scripture, if you please, not this book of fables.” “Fables!” the Protestant indignantly exclaimed; “why, that is the Scripture!” “How do you know that it really is Holy Scripture?” the other inquired. “I know it from my father,” the Protestant replied, “and all my forefathers, who for eighteen centuries have venerated it as divinely inspired.” “There,” retorted the Catholic, with a smile, “after all, you are obliged to appeal to tradition, though at first you rejected its authority!” Saint Augustine remarks very justly, “I should not recognize the authenticity of Holy Scripture if respect for the Church’s authority did not require me to do so.”

Q. Say the Apostles’ Creed.

A. I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

The Would-be Godfather

No one gives what he has not. A certain man, who, as a boy, had devoted more time to mischief than to the catechism, was asked to stand godfather for a neighbor’s child. He gladly consented, and on the appointed evening arrayed himself in his best attire and brought along a rich present for the baby and a generous offering for the priest. The godmother was a little girl as bright as she was good, who but a short time before had received her first communion and confirmation. When the priest arrived at that part of the ceremony where, addressing the sponsors, he says: “Please recite the Apostles’ Creed,” the man began, stammered, hesitated, and broke down, while the little girl went through to the end. As many friends had accompanied them to the church, the would-be godfather was overwhelmed with shame, nor was his confusion lessened when the priest, turning to him, said: “My friend, in the early ages of the Church a knowledge of the Creed was the test of Christianity, and according to that test you are still a heathen. As no one can give to another what he himself does not possess, I am obliged to ask some one else to take the responsibility of this child’s religious training.” So saying, he bade the man be seated, and as no one else of the male sex was present, the priest himself acted as godfather. The godmother’s elder sister, to whom the man was engaged to be married, soon afterward broke off the engagement. From this we learn how important it is to be well grounded in Christian doctrine, for our own sake and that we may be able to transmit it to others.