The Heart of Our Religion: An Address Delivered before the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, New Haven, May 30, 1918.
By Chauncey Brewster Tinker.
New Haven: Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, 1918.
THERE are certain positive spiritual advantages in living, as we do, in the midst of a crumbling world. For the Christian there should be nothing especially unusual in the realization that the world is falling in ruins about his feet. Our Lord, who Himself wept over a crumbling civilization, promised nothing whatever to the children of this world, but consistently taught that, renouncing this doomed and fleeting world, His disciples were to conceive of themselves as citizens of another and a spiritual Kingdom whose walls were serenely rising, far from the red ruin of earth, into the eternal beauty of the City of God. Our citizenship is in heaven. So long as the Church was true to the spirit of her founder, she deliberately inculcated a contempt of the world, Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus. It is only in her Babylonian captivity to modern science and paganism that the Church has tried to effect a truce with the children of this world, and has permitted men to believe; and certain of her priests to teach, that her chief business is with humanitarianism, broadmindedness, and material progress—ideals which were tried and found wanting thousands of years ago.
And now, when the cup of trembling is pressed to the lips of the nations, the cry is raised that Christianity has failed. The charge has been heard from scientist and priest, agnostic and mystic. A whirlwind of answers and explanations has raged in fury. It has been asserted that it is not Christianity that has failed, but civilization, democracy, socialism, diplomacy, protestantism, “progress,” science. It is clear, in the face of the present crisis, that just everything has failed. But in the persistent charge that it is Christianity that has failed, there is, I find, something peculiarly interesting and even inspiring. It is something to have been accused of failure. One was not expected, then, to fail? This is the surprising thing. For a century the world has heaped contempt upon the Church.
She has been accused of obscurantism, worldliness, and all manner of spiritual deadness. She might, one would think, have been expected to fail. But now, in the hour of need, the critics of Christianity have yielded the whole point at issue, and have revealed what they really expected. I am stunned, not by the magnitude of the charge which is made against the faith, but at the fact that the charge is made. The scoffing world had, then, expected to be saved by Christianity, after all?
I do not propose to waste time in discussing the fairness of the charge. God knows that the Church has failed to rise to, or even to realize, her opportunities. But the important question for us now is how to discover a remedy, how to minister to a world lost in spiritual despair. Where is the healing power to be found? I am not indulging in a mere trick of rhetoric when I say that I believe that the panacea is to be found here within these walls. If there should be anyone here who thinks this statement slightly tinged with the enthusiasm of madness, it is because he has never risen to a conception of the function of the Confraternity that meets here this evening or of that holy sacrament, to the honor and exaltation of which the Confraternity was founded. If the world feels today that at the heart of its tragedy is the failure of religion, then it is clear that in the heart of a true Christianity is the solution of the whole terrible problem. I take the heart of a true religion to be the proper conception, worship, and use of the Blessed Sacrament. Hence I am compelled to believe and to assert that a proper realization of the function of this Confraternity and a proper conception of sacramental religion is just the most important matter with which anyone can busy himself in this crazed and agonizing age. Sin, in all its manifold aspects of greed, hatred, and utter worldliness, has brought us to this pass, and the Blessed Sacrament is the cure for sin.
Now we Catholics have heard all this set forth in its fulness for generations. Precisely the most difficult thing is making an address such as this is that there is nothing new to say. There is no news but the old news, no Gospel but the old Gospel. We have heard it all so often that we have grown lethargic to its glory; our ears are stopped, not only by an inborn, unregenerate nature, but by a sort of stupidity, or what athletes call “staleness.” We are just apathetic. It is as though we had recited the multiplication-table so long as to paralyze our minds and to be incapable of its practical application. There is enough glory in one paragraph of the Mass to lift one out of the silly world altogether and plunge him face downward before the throne of God with angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven, if only he could practically believe what he is talking about. But the fact is that we are completely surrounded by people who do not believe anything worth speaking of, and we are blighted and blasted by their indifference and unbelief, for the simple reason that we have not force enough to attack it, or clear-headedness enough to speak out and tell the deluded world that it is missing the most essential thing in life. The hour for telling it so has arrived, for the world appears to be in a mood to admit that it has been somehow or other deluded—a fact so obvious now that even the world cannot miss it. But we go on in our dear old stupid fashion, listening to the music of our incomparable liturgy, and failing to apply the soul of that liturgy so as to make music in our lives. I tell you, my friends, the whole problem before us is not to find some new thing, but simply to learn to use what we have. Let me illustrate. Some weeks ago we all listened to these words:
But chiefly are we bound to praise thee for the glorious resurrection of thy son Jesus Christ bur Lord; for he is the very Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life.
Suppose that those words entered fully into our lives, what would be the result? Suppose somewhat less than that, that they entered fully into the lives of the few of us here, what would be the result? I will tell you. On the principle of the leaven and the lump, a principle given to us by the highest authority we know, it would mean a revivifying influence in the Protestant Episcopal Church such as would solve ultimately all the complex problems that confront her, and that influence, under God, might mean an ultimate renewal of the ancient and mediaeval ages Of faith—those great ages that have blossomed into heroic lives and martyrdoms and ennobling arts, and all those lovely things that are added unto such as are truly in search of the Kingdom of God. The great Christians, I take it, began their, spiritual growth at about the point where most of us leave off. S. Louis and S. Francis, I imagine, believed the faith of the Catholic Church rather literally, and the best thing for us and for our Communion, through us, would be to get back to the Catholic faith, literally accepted and faithfully lived by.
Or take another illustration, yet nearer, if possible, to our peculiar interests and endeavors. Suppose that we, as a Confraternity, were to enter fully into the meaning of the Mass, with all it implies of a loving God continually sacrificed for us, a God dwelling in our midst in the panoply of His eternal power, the living God, by whom all things were made”, and to whom all things in heaven and earth do bow, the creating power which hurled the planets into space and which dwells humbly in the loving heart of a little child. Suppose that for the next decade we lived joyously and lovingly in our faith, making the worship of Him in His sacramental presence on our altars the chief fact and interest in our little lives, do you think that there Would be any question of our becoming the greatest power in this land? If you do doubt it, then your faith is feeble, if not vain; and the power of the divine might is not promised to vain or feeble faith. However we may look at these matters, it is difficult to escape the personal responsibility that is imposed upon us unto whom have been revealed the innermost things of God. All our troubles come back to the distressing fact that we do not take seriously the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In all the controversies and quarrels and impoverished ambitions that so easily beset us, I cannot rid my mind of the suspicion that they are all to be disposed of by the simplest Christian means, means that a child may employ. Love of and prayer to the Blessed Sacrament will make an end of all of them. Consider some actual cases.
We of the Confraternity have been in the past, and we are bound to be again, the source and center of certain controversies. We have contended earnestly, and we believe with justice, for certain things which have been denied us in the practice of the Catholic faith. We have won them now; we believe that we have won them back for ever, and we dedicate our effort to their wider recognition; our presence here today has been an act of gratitude for past blessings and a consecration to renewed effort. But let us not win these things at a cost which it is probably not necessary to pay. I speak this out of a full heart; for I am by nature an impatient person. I am, by instinct, all for plunging ahead, and for a policy of ramming and cramming. I fear I am a “spike,” and I know I enjoy the baiting of Protestants. I rather enjoy seeing the fat in the fire. Yet I question whether we have, not at times stirred up a quite unnecessary amount of prejudice and hard feeling. I have, heard of parishes where the Catholic ceremonial has been introduced from quite other motives than the great and central one of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It may even be that there are those here this evening who have come to see what new audacities we shall dare to enunciate, who have come in idle (or interested) curiosity to see what we are up to now. If so, I hope that those who came in distrust of us may go away with a not unintelligent sympathy; that they may realize from our bearing, if not from our words, that all that we do or wish to do is to be inspired by a simple love of God, a God whom we believe to be, in a very precious and particular sense present among us. At least I wish that our critics—if critics there be—might go out from among us with a realization that our one great ambition is for a more vital kind of prayer, and should be willing to say, that even though they may not agree with us, our aims are primarily spiritual, not controversial nor partisan. That such a realization should be spread abroad among our people depends on the devotion that you and I show to the Blessed Sacrament, for if we do not show to the Church that we have been with God, we have, whatever practices we may regain or propagate, assuredly failed of our real duty.
Again, let us suppose that, in some particular case, it is the fervent wish of some member of this Confraternity that in his own parish church the Mass should be the chief service on Sunday. Do you know any surer way of promoting that cause than by a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament? Do you think that any intelligent rector would hesitate to make that change if he were confronted at eight o’clock every Sunday morning by a huge congregation, and at eleven o’clock matins by a sparse one? And how is the devotion ever to spread if people do not come to realize that those of us who do believe in the Mass as the great heritage of the Church have a secret source of power which is denied to others. Will you permit me to cite my own experience? In the days, not so very long ago, when I was an agnostic, the thing I could never make out about certain friends whom I was pleased to call “high Church,” was that, in spite of much that I did not understand, and many respects in which I thought them much worse than ordinary men, there was something which held them, as I knew nobody else to be held by his religion. They did not talk much about this matter, indeed, I do not recall they were ever engaged in propaganda. There was just a quiet conviction that they had got hold of the essential thing, and that there was no use in discussing doubts, and higher criticism of the Gospels, and the aesthetic charms of Buddhism, and the possible reconciliation of science and religion—all of which I was very eager to discuss, convinced that, if I could only get them to argue with me, I could soon make mince-meat of their religion. But these men were beyond the necessity of talking. And so they annoyed me. What is more to the point, they piqued my curiosity. There was, in particular, I recall, one fellow who was by no means what I should call a pious man—in fact, I do not think that, even today I should be justified in referring to him as a very religious man—and yet to him there had been revealed this one crowning fact of life, that, if there were any religion at all, it was centered in the Holy Communion, and every now and then I heard of him as assisting at its celebration. I do not think that he knows to this day that he had an influence upon me. I doubt whether he would be very much interested if he did know it. I can hear him saying, if told, “Oh, really!” But the fact remains. And so it is that since my own conversion, I have become more and more skeptical of talk about these things, and more and more convinced that it is lives of quiet and continuous devotion to the Catholic faith that do the work of the Spirit. What we need is a general curiosity, among those who do not understand us, about what it is that holds us, a curiosity that may develop into a kind of envy, which, in turn, when it is fully developed may lead to inquiries—inquiries which may enable us to say, with S. Philip, “Come and see,” in the quiet confidence that, if there is anything more to be done, the Holy Ghost will do it through the Church.
One more illustration. It may be the case with you, as it is with me, that you long to see the day when the Blessed Sacrament may manifest itself in an increasing use in our communion of the service of Benediction, that beautiful devotion in which the exaltation of our Lord present in the blessed elements is so fittingly and clearly expressed that none can be longer in doubt with regard to the doctrine of the Real Presence, as the central fact in our worship and our belief. But it would not be a happy day for us if that service became common and it had no sure foundation in a love of the incarnate life which we may receive into our own famished spirits in the Holy Communion. I can think of nothing more distressing than to have the blessed privilege of Benediction and of exposition and processions of the Blessed Sacrament in churches where there are but a handful present at the early Mass, and no life of penitence and abstinence. That it will come naturally in parishes fitted to receive it is my most earnest conviction. I do not believe that there will be restrictive legislation or episcopal condemnation of that, devotion if we are first careful to let a love of God be the reigning motive in our religious lives. I will not believe that even our bishops will discourage prayer, if only they can be made to realize that it is a more fervent and effectual prayer, towards which we are striving. If you would like to see that day, then pray for a larger faith in the sacramental presence of God.
My friends, there is no other way. If there is anything in the Christian faith, it follows that all these little matters are to be solved by the great principle of the life of Christ, and that principle is love. I have said before, and I will say again that if the people of God would for one year devote themselves to manifesting forth the virtue of joy alone, the whole world would feel the impact of our faith. What we all want is joyous lives, and joy in the Lord dwelling with us would win the whole of our communion to the Catholic faith. But joy is a secondary or derivative thing. True joy is found only in those who are in continuous communion with eternal forces; and the, eternal force with which you and I stand in sure and permanent relation is the sacramental presence of Christ in bread and wine, in the approach to which we are close to that sacred and beating heart which is the true center of this mysterious universe, and which, we stand assured, will draw all men unto it.