To live for the next world for eternity is to live for Jesus Christ. To live for this world is to neglect, forget and contemn Him. It will always be a hard and anxious task for a man or woman to keep pure from the world whilst they live in the world. The difficulty lies partly in not knowing precisely what to think of the world, and partly in the strong attractiveness of the world. Let us say a few words, therefore, on Worldliness from both these points of view.
In what sense, then, is the world bad and dangerous? St. Paul calls the world a kingdom of darkness ruled by the devil. (Ephesians 6:12). St. James urges Christians to keep themselves "unspotted from the world." (1:27) St. John cries out to us to "love not the world nor the things of the world." (1 John 2:15) Our Blessed Lord Himself, in more than one place, speaks of the world as a force that is always hating and opposing Himself and His servants.
In these passages, the "world" cannot mean the material universe, which was created by a good God, and constituted good and true to His designs. Physically speaking, the material universe is good, because God made it. Morally speaking, it is neither good nor bad, because it is without free-will, and therefore without responsibility. Neither the earth, therefore, nor its contents is evil in itself. Neither its gold nor its iron is bad by its own nature. None of those material things out of which pleasure is extracted or pride is created is an evil thing. The things of the earth, the sea, the air and the heavens may not seldom assume the character of temptation; nay, they may be, and doubtless are, in a certain degree under the malignant influence of evil spirits and of man's original fall. But in the adequate sense of the word they are not evil. It is not against them that our Lord inveighs, and the Apostles warn mankind.
The World - the evil, wicked, dangerous World - is a creation that owes its existence to the perverse minds and evil will of men. It is what the sinner does, and has done, that makes the World. The World is the result of the words and deeds of a thousand generations of sinful men; a result that is real, substantial and tangible at this very moment, in that human multitude who, now as heretofore, are making the "world," and keeping it up, as they in their turn have been made what they are by the "world." Had there been only one generation of sinners, there would have been the World. Had there been sinners only in one region of the globe, there would have been the World. As so many ages have impregnated the very earth with sin, and as in the very age in which we live there is sin everywhere, therefore the World has always been, and the World is everywhere at this day. Pride, sensuality and selfishness have united to form and organise this dark kingdom which we call the World. Every man that has spoken or acted against God and the moral law has contributed a stone to build it up. Human language has embodied it, customs and fashions are its form and shape, communities witness in their history to its power, law has been captured by it, books uphold it, philosophies expound it, and men are found in every generation to be its sinister apostles. The many yield themselves up to it; whilst a smaller number, leaders in sin, devote them selves to strengthening its foundations and increasing its power.
Into this World came Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to save men from its snares and perils. His power and His word had preceded Him. Always from the beginning had there been witnesses to God, followers of His holy law, lifting their voices against wickedness, resisting evil principles and evil deeds, and ready to give up life itself rather than be unfaithful to their Creator. The beginnings of history had their Abel and their Enoch; the licence that preceded the flood had its faithful Noe; there were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the holy patriarchs of a later time. In Jewish history we read of Judges, Prophets, Kings, and Saints, from Moses to the martyred Machabees. All these were on God's side, against the World. Their beliefs, aspirations, principles, and lives were formed and inspired by the word and the spirit of God. And at length Jesus Christ our Saviour was revealed. At first, as St. John says, the "world knew Him not" (1:10). Gradually, His light and truth made itself felt even by the scorner, the sensualist, and the sinner. The World began to see that there was a new leader in the field; the army of God was filled with a new courage and then began that long and bitter war, never to cease whilst time goes on, between worldly wisdom and worldly practice, and that which we call, since Christ came, the spirit of the Gospel.
The principal marks or characteristics of the worldly spirit can be very easily stated. Perhaps the first and most obvious is that Indifference to God and their souls which turns men to the cultivation of this mortal life. With some, it means complete unbelief. With others, it means feebleness of faith, absence of thought, preoccupation with business, contentedness with the poor satisfactions offered by the senses, by social intercourse, by art or by culture. Indifference is a seed sown in the minds and hearts of children.
The young who are not educated in their religion never know enough about their religion to care for it. The young who are not taught to look to eternity, grow up hardly believing in eternity. In more mature life, men and women read everything except that which tells them of the world to come; they occupy themselves with everything except their immortal souls; they follow every one and listen to every one except the teachers of divine and supernatural truth. As a result, they live without adverting to things that are out of sight. They strive and they play in the market place but the doors of the temples are shut, and they have forgotten what there is within. This worldly spirit of Indifference, the God fearing Christian must recognise as a practical and pressing danger to himself.
No man can live among the indifferent and not run the risk of growing indifferent himself. The children of this world seek the things of this world. There is no way of being children of God except by resisting this fatal tendency, and arousing one's will and heart to seek the things of God. If a man study his religion, learn how sweet and lovely is God, how attractive is the Incarnation, how noble and fitting is all that relates to the Church and the Sacraments, that man may save himself from the epidemic of Indifference. If a man keep himself steady to his altar, and fail not in making a practical use of the religion that Christ has left, he may hope to escape the blight of worldly Indifference. But if he is slack in practical Catholicism, he may call himself what he pleases, but he will be a worldly man. The creed he learnt in his childhood, the name he bears, and the faith of which, perhaps, he boasts, will not save him from living in neglect of his God and dying in danger of eternal damnation.
The second mark of the worldly spirit may be said to be Pride. Ever since the wicked angels fell, Pride has been the curse of spiritual and rational beings, and has turned them from their God. Pride means conceit, vainglory, disobedience, and rebellion. These evil dispositions characterise the world as we know it at this moment. Men will tell you they believe in a God; but they will reject with scorn the idea of obeying God's commands or those of His Church. They will tell you that what pass for God's commandments are probably nothing more than the ideas of men. They will protest that neither Church nor priest nor book has any title to command them; and they will declare that they intend to be free in thought, word and deed, so far as they do not interfere with civil society.
We cannot too clearly and definitely face the fact that this spirit of disobedience and rebellion, vainglory, and pride in all its branches, is the exact contradiction of the spirit of Jesus Christ. It is the very essential mark of what He denounced as "the world". The impulse to refuse to obey, to scorn dictation, to criticise, and to set up as our own masters in religious and moral matters - this spirit may be natural; it may be extremely human; no doubt it is so. But we have to make our choice. Either we give in to it, and then we range ourselves in the army that is opposing Christ; or we elect to be Christ's disciples, and then we must repress and resist it to the utmost.
The Gospel spirit is that of humility, childlike docility and obedience. In all that concerns religion and morality, it is most essentially the Gospel spirit to obey, not only the commandments of God, but the instructions of men whom Christ has appointed to teach. Any man who rails at the priesthood, or is indifferent to the Church, is on the world's side. Any one who, in serious matters, judges, criticises, or condemns religious authority, is on the side of the world. Catholics must recognise, in the modern and actual developments of Pride, an actual and pressing danger. They are bound to separate themselves in these matters from the common and prevailing way and practice of those around them. Otherwise, they are in extreme peril of sharing in the condemnation pronounced on "the world" by our Lord, and of sacrificing their hopes of the world to come.
Only one other mark of the world need here be mentioned. It is that of Sensuality. As to this, it would seem that surely no Christian could fail to understand that to imitate the world in its impurity, its immodesty, its sinful indulgence, is to forsake Christ. And yet there are numbers of Catholics who do persuade themselves that a kind of compromise is possible; that they may go so far with the world, and yet not turn their backs on their Saviour. The deadly sin of unchastity, in one or other of its kinds, is terribly common, as we all know; and it is not the less fatal and terrible because it is, to a certain degree, so carefully kept out of sight. To go into details here would be painful, and is perhaps needless. What pastors are bound to insist upon, is that self-restraint in this respect is absolutely essential.
Temptation, or passion, may or may not diminish and palliate guilt; but any one who deliberately gives way, or gives up resistance, or abandons himself to sinful connections or depraved habits such an one is a traitor to his Saviour. It will be no safeguard at the Judgment to say that you simply did what other people do. The "other people" whom you put forward are nothing else than that condemned "world" which Jesus Christ orders His followers to renounce. There can be no compromise.
But there is a more subtle form of this deadly peril. There are those who, while not professing the creed of the libertine, will refuse to renounce the frequentation of places, the company of persons, and the reading of books, which are, plainly and experimentally, dangerous occasions of sin. These occasions occur under pretext, sometimes of necessity, sometimes of amusement, and sometimes of friendship.
The following principles may here be laid down. If a thing is a grievous sin, we commit a grievous sin by exposing ourselves to the strong temptation of committing it. There are practically no exceptions to this rule, for the large majority of persons. Next, a thing that it is a grievous sin to do, it is a grievous sin to desire, and even to dwell upon in thought. And, finally, no excuses of friendship, relationship, or company keeping with a view to marriage, can make a thing not to be a sin which would be a sin under other circumstances.
From these principles several consequences follow which should be well understood by all who wish to escape the condemnation of "the world," and to be secure before the Judgment of Jesus Christ. It is wrong to read books and newspapers which tend to excite the passions. We all know that the World has no scruple on this head; and also that writers of books and editors of papers too often unscrupulously pander to depraved tastes, and thus, whilst they are the cause of much sinful pleasure to their readers, teach the young in particular that lustful excitement is no harm. No doubt it is very difficult, under our modern conditions, to choose what to read, and to avoid all that is objectionable. But sin is sin, in spite of such difficulty. Therefore the effort has to be made, and the self-restraint and self-denial to be practised.
Parents have a most serious duty not to allow books and newspapers indiscriminately in the house. Tradespeople are bound not to sell what is really bad. Young men and young women must be determined to avoid what is corrupting, and must absolutely give up what they find by experience has led them into sins of thought and desire. Again; there are, in every town, amusements that are productive of evil. The fact is and it cannot be stated too plainly that the World does not recognise as wrong many actions, imaginations, desires, and situations, which the Catholic Church teaches to be grievously sinful. Hence it is quite possible that in the ordinary forms of amusement such as theatricals, variety entertainments, dances, and some kinds of games there may be grievous harm. The same may be said of company keeping with or without a view to marriage. It is well known how strict an older generation was on these matters and with good reason. It is certain that no pretence of custom, of altered times, of modern ideas, can make a thing lawful which is wrong in itself.
A large number of "customs" in every generation are simply "the world"; "the world" which Jesus Christ has condemned. All professing Catholics are bound to recognise this, and to take precautions against the danger thus arising. If there be doubt or difficulty, an experienced confessor should be consulted; and every man or woman, young or old, should be prepared to renounce anything whatsoever rather than offend God.
It is a worthy way of preparing for the coming of our Lord, to enter into ourselves and to consider whether, and how far, we are living as followers of the World. Thus only can we prepare for that last and terrible "coming" when He is to divide the just from the unjust, and to smite "the world," the evil world, with His vengeance; whilst He gathers His children into that true and everlasting Kingdom which we now look forward to as "the world to come."
Let regular daily prayer, attendance at Mass, the frequentation of the Sacraments, and true Christian strictness of life, sanctify our lives and show in a practical way our sincere desire to live, not for this world but for the next in the love of Jesus Christ, and by His grace Who hath overcome the World that we too might overcome.