12 March, 2021

Lenten Pastoral of Archbishop Polding : 1859

Archbishop Polding

Dearly Beloved,

There are two parties which our Divine Lord declares no one serve : God and the world - corrupt nature and grace. Yet to accomplish this impossibility appears to be the aim of very many Christians; and thus they spend their lives foolishly, fruitlessly, and therefore criminally. The name and profession belong to one; the real service is given to the other. 

This is a most important subject for self-examination. We call ourselves Christians, members of the true Church of Christ. Is our vocation made manifest in our lives? If not, our faith will aggravate our condemnation, and whilst exteriorly we belong to the body of the Faithful, we may be – by reason of our interior disposition - as if we were not. Following then, the advice of Saint James,  [1]  I would exhort you by the practice of good works, to give proof to your faith and to be convinced that by the neglect of good works your faith will decay, and it may be destroyed. 

For faith is not a mere speculative belief in certain articles of doctrine; it is not a mere habit of the soul, by which the understanding yields its assent in matters which are beyond its comprehension. Saint James intimates very distinctly that, unless faith exercises a more extensive influence over us, it is dead. Faith, without good works is dead. Consequently, the practice of good works, in giving proof the existence of faith, invigorates it. We know that the body and its limbs require constant exercise; that without it they become inert and unfitted for their purposes. In like manner, without good works, our faith -our profession of Christian life - in losing its character of activity, becomes a mere form. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without good works is dead.


Blessed be God for his goodness towards us; we must acknowledge our unfaithfulness, must acknowledge that the world has well-nigh taken possession of our affection, yet still not beyond recovery; and as by the neglect of good works faith goes on from decay to utter extinction, so it is by the accomplishment of good works it is to be restored under the divine grace to its fullness of life. Let us meditate on the example of the Centurion mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. (10:I) Here is a man immersed in the errors of the pagan world, surrounded by its corrupting examples; nevertheless he was a man who feared God and taught his household to fear him, a man who distributed generously his wealth to the poor, and a man who was assiduous and fervent prayer. Wherefore, we are informed that this man saw an Angel of the Lord coming to him manifestly, saying unto him “Cornelius”, and he beholding him, being seized with fear, said “What is it Lord?” And he said to him “thy prayer and thy alms have ascended as an offering in the sight of God, and now send men to Joppe, and call here one Simon who is called Peter; he will tell thee what thou must do.” 

Meditate on this example, Christian of the world, who by your love of the world and of its pleasures, by your eagerness after its applause and its wealth have well-nigh forgotten that you are Christians. Meditate on this example, you who have been seeking and seeking the truth, unwilling to forsake that form which birth, friendship and fashion may endear to you, but in which your souls find not that rest which is of God. Had Cornelius neglected his duty of prayer, if with a large heart and a liberal hand, he had not distributed his substance according to his means; pagan born, in paganism he would have died.

Like Cornelius, be fervent in prayer, be bountiful in your charity, let your heart feel for the spiritual and temporal wants of the hundreds amongst whom you live; be zealous in all that appertains to the service of God, and faith will be resuscitated or receive its birth within you. Peter will be sent to tell you what you are to do. Divine grace will accomplish the good work. Fear not, only let your prayers and alms ascend as an offering before God, and an Angel will descend from heaven to guide you rather than that you should perish. 

Dearly Beloved, we have tried in vain to serve two masters. From the world, we have met with disappointment. Permit us, O God, even now to turn towards you. Alas what are we? We acknowledge our creator, our Redeemer, and we have passed days without one act of homage, one acknowledgement of your mercy in our regard. We have squandered away our time, our means on self. What have we done for God, for eternity? Even in appearing to serve others, we have made ourselves idols. 

That spark of faith which still remains, do thou, O God, enable us to cherish. Refuse us not, O Lord, your saving grace. Save us or we perish. May we now return to you, our God and our all! May we desire to serve you and you alone, that by good works we may make our calling and election sure, so that an entrance may be ministered unto us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Excerpts from Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1856 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.



1.  The Archbishop is referring to the Epistle of Saint James.

The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

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