A Gentle Rebuke 1
“ONE DAY IN CALIFORNIA I saw a cardinal walking with pomp and ceremony in front of a procession,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told an audience in Denver on October 29, 1912. “I was told that a new church had been built and the cardinal was to officially open its doors to the public.” We don’t know precisely who the cardinal was, but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretary, Mahmúd-i-Zarqání, wrote that this Catholic leader had previously singled out ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a false Christ. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá decided to juxtapose the life of this religious leader with that of Jesus.
“This show and ceremony of the cardinal is like that of Christ,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said. “However, there is a slight difference.” He began to enumerate the elements of this disparity. “Christ had a crowd following Him, but they were there to hurl contempt and abuse at Him. This cardinal had a crowd with him but they are there to help. Christ had a crown but it was made of thorns, while this cardinal wears a crown set with lustrous jewels. Christ had clothes but they were made of old, coarse cloth, while this man’s robe is made of the finest brocade of the day. Christ spent His days in sorrow, while this cardinal’s days are spent in security and comfort.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had argued to audiences across America that self-sacrifice had driven the progress of humanity down the ages. When he spoke with Bahá’ís — followers of his father’s religion — he was uncompromising in the standard of conduct that he expected from them, often holding up Jesus’s Apostles as their example. “I am expecting results from this visit,” he told a group of Bahá’ís at the Hotel Victoria in Boston on July 25, “and hope that my coming may not be fruitless. The results I expect are these: that the individual soul shall be released from self and desire.” He told them to replace “avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire” with resolute self-sacrifice.
The Journey East: Teaching on the Train 2
The friends and reporters, hearing of His arrival, thronged to the hotel. On Tuesday [October 29] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá granted a succession of interviews and spoke to gatherings at the home of Mrs. Sidney Roberts, where He had spoken on His first visit to Denver, and at the Church of the Messiah. He and His companions then returned to the hotel, packed, and caught another train that evening. Abdu’l-Bahá said, “‘We are going again toward the East. We have no more work in North America now.’”
Again He would not take pullman accommodations, even though requested by the friends, saying that they should not be dependent on bodily comforts: “‘We must be equal to the hardships of traveling like a soldier in the path of Truth and not be slaves to bodily ease and comfort.’”
Tuesday, October 29, 1912 3
When the friends were informed of the Master’s arrival, they eagerly hastened to Him to gaze once more on His face. He spoke to several newspaper reporters who had come to interview Him about the Cause and who recorded His statements for publication.
At a meeting He again spoke about the cardinal in California, saying:
“One day in California I saw a cardinal walking with pomp and ceremony in front of a procession. Inquiring about the occasion, I was told that a new church had been built and the cardinal was to officially open its doors to the public. I said, ‘This show and ceremony of the cardinal is like that of Christ. However, there is a slight difference. Christ opened the gate of heaven; this cardinal is going to open that of a church. Christ had a crowd following Him but they were there to hurl contempt and abuse at Him. This cardinal had a crowd with him but they are there to help. Christ had a crown but it was made of thorns, while this cardinal wears a crown set with lustrous jewels. Christ had clothes but they were made of old, coarse cloth, while this man’s robe is made of the finest brocade of the day. Christ spent His days in sorrow, while this cardinal’s days are spent in security and comfort. Christ’s home was a desert, while this cardinal’s home is a splendid building, like that of a king. Christ’s throne was upon a cross, while this man’s place of rest is a throne of ease and comfort. The adornment of Christ’s banquet was the blood of that beloved countenance, while the ornament of this man’s court is the goblet of colored wine. So, this cardinal’s display is similar to that of Christ, with only the slightest differences.’”
Although the Master told this story humorously in several gatherings in different words, it was always a warning to the people and the cause of their awakening.
Despite the Master’s exhaustion, He gave two public talks: one in the afternoon at the home of Mrs Roberts and the other in the evening at the Church of the Messiah. In both gatherings He spoke of the similarity of the principles of all religions as well as the revision of certain social laws to meet the needs of the time. His explanations were delivered so impressively that the audience was enlightened as well as extremely interested.
As He was leaving the church, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said farewell to all those who had gathered around Him. They pleaded with Him to stay a little longer but He said, ‘I must return soon to the East.’
Returning to the hotel, He instructed us to pack. We hastened to obey His orders and caught the first train. With a happy face, the Master said: ‘Now we are going again toward the East. We have no more work to do in America.’ He did not take a sleeper on the train this evening, saying:
“It is not a matter of our reluctance to pay one dollar but of our unwillingness to be dependent on bodily comfort. We must be equal to the hardships of traveling like a soldier in the path of truth and not be slaves to bodily ease and comfort. American trains especially are very clean and comfortable and there isn’t great distinction between the trains except for having sleepers.”
26 October 1912, Talk at Assembly Hall, Hotel Sacramento, Sacramento, California 4
Therefore, Bahá’u’lláh appeared from the horizon of the Orient and reestablished the essential foundation of the religious teachings of the world. The worn-out traditional beliefs current among men were removed. He caused fellowship and agreement to exist between the representatives of varying denominations so that love became manifest among the contending religions. He created a condition of harmony among hostile sects and upheld the banner of the oneness of the world of humanity. He established the foundation for international peace, caused the hearts of nations to be cemented together and conferred new life upon the various peoples of the East. Among those who have followed the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh no one says, “I am a Persian,” “I am a Turk,” “I am a Frenchman,” or “I am an Englishman.” No one says, “I am a Muslim, upholding the only true religion,” “I am a Christian, loyal to my traditional and inherited beliefs,” “I am a Jew, following talmudic interpretations,” or “I am a Zoroastrian and opposed to all other religions.” On the contrary, all have been rescued from religious, racial, political and patriotic prejudices and are now associating in fellowship and love to the extent that if you should attend one of their meetings you would be unable to observe any distinction between Christian and Muslim, Jew and Zoroastrian, Persian and Turk, Arab and European; for their meetings are based upon the essential foundations of religion, and real unity has been established among them. Former antagonisms have passed away; the centuries of sectarian hatred are ended; the period of aversion has gone by; the medieval conditions of ignorance have ceased to exist.
Verily, the century of radiance has dawned, minds are advancing, perceptions are broadening, realizations of human possibilities are becoming universal, susceptibilities are developing, the discovery of realities is progressing. Therefore, it is necessary that we should cast aside all the prejudices of ignorance, discard superannuated beliefs in traditions of past ages and raise aloft the banner of international agreement. Let us cooperate in love and through spiritual reciprocity enjoy eternal happiness and peace.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Commenting on the show and ceremony associated with the opening of a new church in California
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Sockett, Robert. “A Gentle Rebuke.” 239 Days in America, 29 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/29/a-gentle-rebuke/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 175. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=8#section220 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 379-380. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/27#709589813 ↩