EUROPE'S FAITH AND FREEDOM OUR OWN
"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matt. 16: 26.
A week ago last Friday, I sat with twenty thousand others in the great square in front of Notre Dame in Paris. The stars of heaven were our canopy. In front of us soared the noblest facade ever raised by man to the glory of God. The place is saturated in history and worship. On the site of a pagan temple, Clovis, first Christian King of France, built a chapel that later flowered into the gothic beauty that is Notre Dame de Paris. You have a model of it in this Cathedral.
Sitting there in the warm summer night, with the miracle of that lacy architecture picked out in the kind of subtle lighting that only the French seem to know how to do, the words of Willa Cather’s professor came to me:
"Sometimes he thought he would like to drive up in front of Notre Dame again and see it standing there like the Rock of Ages, with the frail generations breaking around its base."
What were we doing there? We had come to see something more ancient and more moving than Notre Dame itself, something that is its inspiration and its life. Two thousand players were representing before that incomparable back-drop and on that holy ground "Le Vrai Mystere de la Passion," the medieval mystery play of Christ's passion and our redemption--and in that vast throng that covered the square, you could have heard a pin drop.
I am glad to be able to bring back to you this recent spiritual experience from the old world. I know how exasperated and discouraged some Americas get sometimes with Europe, They wonder about its state of soul. They wonder if it is spiritually bankrupt, if it is worth the saving. They know they have taken millions of dollars out of their own pockets to put Europe on its feet and they have done just that--there is no question about it--but they still wonder if it is really a going concern.
We sometimes look for gratitude. We are shocked and disappointed when we think we don't get it. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is much more difficult to receive than to give, gracefully. We remember the story of the London cynic--He was told that somebody had no use for him. His only reply was, "I don't remember ever having done him a favor!" Gratitude is never a thing to be taken for granted. Recall our personal experiences. Gratitude is always a rare gift of the grace of God in an awakened and developed spirit. It can never be taken for granted. Many Europeans say we have done what we have done in our own self-interest--our own protection, our own trade, and of course they are partly right--But sometimes they do not know us well enough to understand the genuine openheartedness and charitableness of the American spirit at its best. I was invited with other Americans to attend a meeting in a French home the other day of Frenchmen who do know us a little. Speaker after speaker expressed affection for America and Americans, and said they wished they might know us better.
We sometimes look for enthusiasm, unity, stability, and drive--the things that make our own country hum. We are disappointed when we find what we regard as defeatism, cynical indifference, neutralism, apathy, to great moral issues.
Of our charity, let us remember this--that much of the old world is still recovering from a state of shock, from physical and psychic trauma. The way back, as we know, in these situations, personal and social, can be long and hard, and friends must muster up their greatest patience and understanding not to abandon hope and trust.
We hear most about the weakness and instability of the French. Before we condemn and dismiss, we might try a bit to put ourselves in their place. That is what Christians are supposed to do. Suppose we had been over-run, slaughtered, occupied three times within living memory. Look how long it took us to recover from our own civil war, it still having its after-effects in our own social situations. Suppose we had made a supreme and heroic effort, sacrificed the flower of our youth to repulse brutal invasion, restore peace, make the world safe for democracy, only a generation later to have our country over-run again by a worse tyranny, aided and abetted this time by cynical internal communists allied at first with Hitler. Suppose even after the third liberation in contemporary history, the blood-letting and drain of the nation’s economy that otherwise would have gone into social rehabilitation, kept gushing out from the wounded nation in a flood, first in Indo-China, and now in North Africa, the back-door to Europe, which the Communists are trying to pry open.
A former French Premiers Caillaux, was asked where the leaders were who could settle a crisis. He replied, "Alas, Monsieur, they all sleep on the field of honor."
If we think about these things, will we be so ready to condemn an old friend, who, despite anything you may have heard, still clings to us and treasures ties of comradeship and affection? Every Memorial Day, our Cathedral in Paris is packed with French who come to remember with us and to reaffirm.
But I want to take us back to that scene where we began. Who were those twenty thousand people jammed into the square in front of Notre Dame? They were all sorts and conditions, from everywhere. I saw many Americans. But the thing that struck me all of a sudden, with overpowering force--Why, all these people are Christians. They were, as it were, in common worship. Beside the central fact of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to Himself through the mystery of suffering, all pales into insignificance--That fellow soul sitting next to me, was he a Frenchman or an American, was he black or white or yellow, was he rich or a social snob, was he poor and proletarian? Before that august scene, it simply didn't matter. "All souls are mine," saith the Lord. Here was Jesus Christ by his cross and passion redeeming every man, drawing him closer to God and to his neighbor soul in the hands of God.
And suddenly, I saw that tired convalescent, bewildered and tortured old world, reasserting a common freedom that springs from a common faith. Europe has not exchanged its soul for a mess of atheistic and communistic pottage. It is still in its core Christian Europe. While the enslaved east, in exchange for its soul, is fed upon horrifying disclosures of what can happen when soul-less men get hold of things, the western world still looks unto Jesus, the author and finisher of its faith. The terrible events of our time prove that William Blake was right:
"Man must and will have some religion; if he has not the religion of Jesus he will have the religion of Satan, and will erect a synagogue of Satan."
The other day, men of the religion of Satan shot down Christian workers in the streets of Poznan, but the churches were full of their families and friends, of Christ's little ones, claiming and proclaiming rights of the spirit which will rise again long after this madness is past. A line of spiritual allegiance runs directly from this Cathedral in New York to the sister Cathedral in Paris where Dean Pike is preaching this very day. We call it a lighthouse of American faith and freedom abroad. An ancient pagan wrote to an Emperor in Rome in another world-shaking time, "Christians hold the world together."
We in Europe have heard of the remarkable upsurge of Christian interest in America. You may not have heard that there are movings of the spirit also in Europe. Daniel-Rops, the most popular writer in France, says he feels "there is a new kind of Catholic movement afoot. It's not organized, but deep." The ecumenical Services at our Cathedral in Paris unite Romans, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans as, after all, Christians, in a way it would be very hard to do even here at home. Bishop Keeler, in charge of our American churches in Europe, has just consecrated a bishop for the Spanish Reformed Church, after several years of lapse in the episcopacy of that small, but devoted and courageous group of churchmen in communion with us.
Lift up your hearts! In Christ there is no bond nor free, black or white, rich or poor, European or American, Roman, Anglican, Orthodox, or Protestant. There is only Christian, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, one human dignity as sons of God.
Europe has not sold its soul. It knows too well what it'll get in exchange. Satan shows his hand too clearly. We are Christians together, free souls yet, as we were the other night at Notre Dame, not knowing or caring what we called ourselves nationally, racially, denominationally--Christians together in a common faith, in the shadow of Christ's rebuking, forgiving, healing, unifying and restoring cross. In this sign, we shall conquer.