Project Canterbury

An American Cloister

The Life and Work of the Order of the Holy Cross

By Shirley Carter Hughson, O.H.C.

West Park, New York: Holy Cross Press, 1948.

Chapter XVIII. The Need and the Vision.

IN 1881 the Order of the Holy Cross had its beginning. Just short of ten years were spent in the slums of New York; twelve years amidst the Maryland foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and since 1904, the mother-house has been at West Park on the Hudson River.

The beginning of each of these three periods marked a distinct and important epoch in the history of the Order. What will the coming years bring forth in respect to our life and our work? No man can say, but as we look out on the Church and are made to realize her needs, we cannot but crave the prayers of our friends that God may give us the means and the spirit whereby we can serve her to the utmost.

But we wish to ask something beyond their prayers. In order to do the work which all over America our brethren are importuning us to do, we must have men.

To show just how persistent this importunity is we will be pardoned if we give a leaf from the records of our correspondence. During every year that passes the Order numbers the requests that are received for missions and other similar works by hundreds. These come from almost every diocese in America. We were able, by heavily overworking every available man, to respond to perhaps one-tenth of these calls each year.

[121] We are not concerned at present to conjecture what might have been done for the spread of the gospel could, let us say, two of the brethren have spent a fortnight or more in each of these hundreds of parishes. Our concern now is with the future.

If the Church is serious in her recognition of the Religious Life, if the hundreds of requests for work that come to Religious Communities from bishops and from the parish clergy, are any index of how it is valued, then it would surely not be extraordinary if she should supply, let us say, a bare score of her devoted sons, to the Religious Life every year. As a contribution from the great mass of Church people it would be infinitesimally small. To put it in the terms of the counting-house, it would be a little less than one six-hundredth of one per cent of her communicants, a proportion so absurdly small that the mention of it can scarcely fail to provoke a laugh!

And yet what would a Religious Community receiving this increase be able to do? It would mean that every year an efficient response could be made to the hundreds of such calls as we have described as coming from our brethren.

Nor would this be all, for a wider vision unfolds itself. It would mean that every twelve months a band of trained and consecrated men--a dozen, at [121/122] least--would go forth to the harvest.

Nor would they go as labourers of a day, doing their task and leaving the shepherding of souls to chance workers who might or might not come after them; but as they settled themselves in one or another destitute region, churches and schools would spring up, chains of mission stations would extend themselves through thinly populated districts; Sacraments would be administered; children systematically instructed, the sick cared for, the dying prepared for their last passage, and, most blessed of all, the poor would have the Gospel preached to them.

As company after company went out, like swarms from the parent hive, what century-old problems would be solved in our city slums, in rural regions where the Church has never lifted up her voice, in the wide areas of our Western dioceses, and in the far recesses of the mountain ranges of the South [122/123] and West! Where darkness had reigned the light of the Gospel would shine.

But the vision does not stop here. It reaches unto those ends of the earth which have been promised to our Lord as His inheritance. For Religious count no land foreign to them where souls are waiting for the message of the Cross. They have long since heard and answered the call: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and from thy father's house unto a land that I will show thee," and they stand alert, ready for any adventure for God, requiring nothing of the Church in the way of remuneration save her sympathy and her prayers; and with not a circumstance or condition of their lives to stay them from going on an hour's notice to earth's remotest boundaries, should the call so come.

Thus going forth in their freedom, what seas could these Gospel messengers not traverse! What far hinterlands of the mission field, long the despair of devoted bishops, could they not illuminate with the torch of divine truth, and conquer for Christ. Where men had worshipped the hideous crocodile of Asia, or the horrid fetich of the African jungle, the Cross would reign, proclaiming the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.

This is no flight of an excited fancy, but a true historical picture of what has been done again and again in past ages by men whom Religion had liberated from every trammel save that of the constraining love of Christ.

[124] It can be done again, and it will be done; and the Order of the Holy Cross offers no apology for making the declaration that nothing less than this is the ideal that it sets before itself, for the consummation of which it prays day and night; and to which it dedicates whatever resources it may please the Holy Spirit to send.

But it means we must have men--men sound in mind and sound in body, and in whose hearts God has enkindled a flame of love that many waters cannot quench.

And what reward awaits those who come? We shall find the answer in a dramatic event of the last century. A great captain in the liberation war of humanity in an hour of humiliation and seeming defeat, stood amongst his shattered columns and cried:

"I offer neither quarters, nor provisions, nor wages. I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, death. Let him who loves his country with his heart, not with his lips only, follow me."

Four thousand heroes fell in behind him and theirs was the spirit that enabled Garibaldi to win for Italy her freedom from the invader's yoke.

The captain of our salvation sends forth today the same compelling summons as of old:

"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."

To those who would enlist in this enterprise He offers loneliness, sacrifice and suffering; perhaps bonds and imprisonment, even death in some savage [124/125] land for Him; but those upon whom the Spirit sets His seal will count all these things as naught for the sake of Him whom, not having seen they love, in whom they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

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