Project Canterbury

The Catholic Faith and the Religious Situation

New York: The Churchmen's Alliance, 1921.

6. The Duty of Catholics To-day
Frederick Spies Penfold, D.D.,

St. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I.

OUR title intends us, of course, to set forth in general terms what Catholics ought to do for the best interests of the Catholic Church, considering what it is that the Catholic Church needs today, and in exclusive reference, naturally, to that part of the Catholic Church in which God has placed us and for the good estate of which we are more nearly responsible. Any such statement must preface itself with some sort of attempt to realize what is the state of the Church and what problems grow out of that state and what duties out of those problems.

Doubtless thoughtful churchmen in every age of the Church have supposed their time to be the most difficult the Church has ever seen. It is a constant temptation to think so, and wholesome withal, if it leads to greater concentration of attention and effort and more entire consecration of life and energy to the church's good. Probably it is not possible to determine which of various periods in the Church's history has been most difficult for the generation then in being. The period in which we live provides feeling and emotion and the element of personal contact, and of course it is impossible to gather these things from the dry pages of history. We cannot put ourselves entirely in the place of bygone generations. Howbeit in so far as the suspicion that our time is the most difficult of all times makes us take the problems of our time with the maximum of seriousness, we may welcome the idea and, indeed, help to promote it.

We find ourselves, then, in what seems at first sight to be a quiet back-water of the Church's life, where there is peace and immense exercise of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Catholics are not bothered any more. We have apparently demonstrated our right to practice our religion with complete satisfaction to ourselves. Whereas once we were persecuted now we are allowed to go our own way. So far as it goes this is a matter of congratulation. But not so much so as it would be were it not for the fact that everyone else is allowed to go his own way also. It is not only true that Catholics may do what they please, in reason, but that radical protestants may do as they please also. Consequently we are tempted to assume that we are in the midst of an era of toleration. But here again we must be more exact. The phenomenon we notice proves, on examination, to be not so much a sign of the establishment of a spirit of toleration as a sign of the utter decay of discipline. Catholics are not coerced and radical protestants are not coerced and for the reason that no one can be coerced. The machinery of discipline exists as always; the statutes are clear, the rules are plain. But there is not behind them that thing which alone can vitalize them. They are not backed up by the moral force of united belief and uniform opinion. There is radical disagreement as to what formularies mean. There would be, without doubt, heresy trials and disciplinary action incepted because of other alleged malfeasance save for the evident fact that it would be harder and take longer to secure agreement regarding the binding force and meaning of a given formulary than to determine the guilt or innocence of a person accused under it. And here we come to a genuine and very serious crux—to enforce discipline would be to compel the American Church, in her corporate capacity, to decide something. The expression "deciding something" must be understood to mean taking sides in a controverted matter of doctrine or practice. It is easy for either side in a controversy to claim to be in the right and fully and accurately to represent the mind of the Church, so long as the Church refrains,, by the exercise of proper authority, from interpreting her own formulas and allows interpretations already made to fall into desuetude. Obviously the longer this state of things lasts the more securely does each side become settled in what is known in law as "notorious and adverse possession." Consequently to reaffirm a decision or to make a new one is to align, the Church officially with one or another well denned position. Now deciding anything, under these circumstances, is considered by the timorous to be too dangerous a proceeding. Our status quo is so delicately balanced that no one dare tread heavily for fear of upsetting it. And the status quo is the basis upon which the corporate activities of the Church as to external policies is absolutely dependent. Only by the constant pretense that the Church is at unity in itself, and that churchmen are at one, is it possible to inaugurate far reaching efforts to finance missionary work, and other corporate enterprises, the burden of whose upkeep must be distributed over a wide area of the rank and file of the Church, taken as they come, and without regard to intelligence, consistency or diversity of Church theory. Pretense is the only word that fits the situation; save that one must distinguish and make plain that no scintilla of deceit or indirection inheres in the word as here applied. For the reason that pretense is only actual when it deceives someone. In this case no one is deceived. It is the fashion to look at the yawning chasms in the Church and not see them. People act, so far as is possible, as if the chasms were not there. In passing it is to be observed that the final effect of this practice cannot fail to be thoroughly bad. It breeds the notion that many matters of desperate importance do not matter a all: that churchmen only disagree about details: that the theory of Christianity is not of serious moment. These are presages of a calamitous situation which will grow out of the present condition and confront the next generation. Our present trouble is that, so long as for any reason, and particularly the one here named, it is the policy to ignore the doctrinal and practical diversity in the church, the disregard of her venerable laws and of the force of those doctrinal theses to which she is committed; and so long as the popular attitude toward all this is to try to act as if it did not exist: and the official treatment is to relax all discipline: just so long shall we have what we now have.

And what we now have is a condition in which, while, and maybe because, people may do more or less what they please there is grave peril of the spirit of Congregationalism. Each herds with his own kind, each kind draws farther and farther into its own shell and the sense of the Church in its corporate capacity, which has responsibilities toward individuals and parishes, and toward which individuals and parishes have duties, is largely lost. And yet in this situation the sense of corporate life does exist and is present; only in its most harmful and distressing phase. All religion, any religion, must in its nature make an appeal to universality. Teachers and disciples must always act and speak as those to whom the real truth has been revealed. In our present situation this leads, privately, to that miserable sense of being compromised and stultified, each side by the other, through the open and frank disavowal by some person of what any person submits as the teaching and practice and law of the American Church: and in its public form it issues in blast and counter blast of- denunciation and denial by professors of our religion in the secular press and a more or less constant and persistent barrage of heated and intemperate polemic, spread out in the exact place where no contest can be decided, and where the issue seems to be with the class least able to know or decide anything. It is agonizing to the clergy but it must be ghastly for the laity.

In passing it is to be said that bad as it is, it is all in the days work of the Church's life. It doesn't show the Church to be impossible: it does not in the least indicate that uniformity of faith and practice are obsolete, passé or unfitted to the modern mind. Nor is it an unworkable situation. It is simply that form in which the life of this part of the Church exhibits itself in this age. It is the kind of church with which those of us now living are called upon by God to work. It may be more or less difficult than other periods. The causes may be this or that. The fact remains that it is a Catholic Church to work with and that devoted labor and consecrated thought under these conditions will yield results as in any other age.

This then is the condition of the Church and our query is—how to cure it. There are two things possible: one is to split the Church and the other is to convert the Church. A situation which would make it humanly impossible for widely different and more or less antagonistic elements to dwell under one roof, even by ignoring one another, is not difficult to imagine. The means of bringing it about are probably discoverable and it might be done. But to what end? One feels that no Catholic can do this or anything analagous to it and still love the Church. No situation in the Church can be imagined which would be intolerable so long as there exists freedom to practice our religion. There have been anxious moments in the changing fortunes of the Church, and doubtless will be again, when zealous, if somewhat nervous, persons have felt that life was becoming too difficult in the American Church and that a parting of the ways was not only imminent but ought to be hurried. Everyone should ask himself in such circumstances questions like these—Am I prevented from the practice of my religion or hindered in the enjoyment of it? Is not the unrest I feel almost entirely due to the embarrassment I endure at the compromising of my position by co-religionists whom neither I nor anyone seems able to control? Is any material compromise forced upon me either in the realm of doctrine or practice? Unless some or all of these questions can honestly be answered unfavorably then the American Church, which must still have in it the power to save in life and death, has merely allotted to us a part in a glorious work of salvage. To have a hand, however small, in rescuing a national church is a splendid adventure. Salvation fulfils itself in various ways, which ways depend upon what opportunities are given men by God. No one can help our Lord save by assisting Him in what He happens to be doing at the moment when one is given opportunity to help. What our Lord is doing at this moment is calling upon the American Church to awake to what she is, to realize herself, to make herself plain to men propria persona. He offers her magnificent opportunities for the saving of men if she will prepare herself to go before them in her true character. We rise to our own true stature, then, in raising the church to hers. We address ourselves therefore to this task, with the prudent exercise of caution and sense.

When we come to discuss methods for converting the church one must disavow at once any hope of suggesting anything new. The Catholic Revival, now nearing the end of its first century of recognizable history, has had the very evident guidance of the Spirit of God. It has dealt with the intelligences and wills of men. These elements remain the same throughout the ages and the method of approach to them will likely stay fixed. The progress of the Catholic Revival is a process of conversion. All conversion moves along the same lines. The work of a given leader seems to his contemporaries to be different and original. But when we look at it in the light of history we see that it is in its main elements identical with everyone's else work.

However, the situation changes from year to year in the matter of proportion. The area involved alters in extent.

Also the work is modified by the degree to which it is recognized. There is a difference between carrying on work in a field where it is unheard of and carrying on the same work where its purpose is known even if condemned and blown upon. So, perhaps, methods may be expected to differ in degree if not in kind.

For instance procedure under persecution and repression is a different matter from the policy to be pursued under freedom and toleration. Toleration once contented Catholics—now it does not. Indeed it can never do so. Catholics can not be content with a situation which is characterised by the "permissive rubric" which licenses two things and gives concrete form to at least two diverging points of view. Catholics can never settle down under the false and mischievous assumption that "comprehensiveness" is a permanent and abiding note of the Catholic Church. The terminus ad quem of the Catholic Revival must be the conversion of the Church to the point where the idea of tolerating and making lawful of two diverging forms of doctrinal expression will be abhorrent to all her people.

First, then, in the list of things which the changing scope of our work suggests as requiring revision and readjustment is the matter of concerted action among Catholics. This has been striven for constantly but the efforts have been for the most part unproductive or largely so. There are certain natural obstacles met with. One very important obstacle is the incurable individualism of some people. The Lord seems to have made one man in every so many a natural and inveterate individualist. Such people wrest to their personal purpose and tinge with their personal hue whatever they do. Probably there is no remedy for this.

But there is one obstacle to united action which has no valid standing and whose true nature must be recognized. That is the attempt to cast obloquy upon any and all idea of a party of the Church. Particularly of late have there been denunciations of the party idea which have been contemptuous not to say bitter.

One asks, why should it be taken for granted that the purpose and intent of a party in the Church is necessarily sinister? All agreed-to plans are not evil conspiracies. Every plot is not a Guy Fawkes plot. The laws against conspiracy are not intended to prevent concerted action of parties in something of beneficent intent. An agreement to mulct the public funds is an evil thing: a banding together of upright citizens to safe guard the treasury is a worthy public service. What can there be which is blame-worthy in a group, large or small, of earnest and sincere people endeavoring by united action to do the Church a good? It is of value to the Church to secure for her the reverent obedience to her laws, the true preaching of her faith and the lawful administration of her sacraments with a right understanding of all three? Certainly it is. Then it must be worthy as well as wise for those who believe in these things to combine forces to bring them about.

To the charge that party carries with it the idea of division, the reply is obvious that division exists already. To call a group of catholic people the Catholic Party makes them no more different from radical protestants than they would be, considered separately. And if it be said that the party idea makes them more conscious of that difference one simply replies, it is not so. If this division is sometime to be healed, if the controversy which gives birth to it is sometime to be settled, if the American Church is ever to be done drifting and playing opportunist, it must come about through that temperate and judgematical action which alone can be had through party activity: and this, not only because its cause will thus more insistently by presented; but because the dignity of its presentation will be that which must compel notice and demand adjudication as the acts of individuals can never do.

Also it is quite gratuitous to assume that Catholics united in a purpose are prone to look down upon their brethren whose outlook and ideals are different and, so far as possible, to "read them out of the Church." How baseless this supposition is! The whole point of Catholics in the American Church is that their brethren are Catholics also—that every one who is a member of Christ and the child of God and heir to the Kingdom is a Catholic, and their dearest desire is to bring this truth to him with all its implications. They believe that every Episcopalian should have ready and natural access to the Sacrament of Penance and that every Episcopal Minister should be allowed to fast for Mass without exciting remark. Their affliction is that their brethren do not exercise these privileges and are prevented from giving due heed to allied matters. Catholics say to these Christians with Moses, "Sirs, ye are brethren". It is incompetent for anyone to reply as the Hebrews did to Moses, "Who made thee a judge over us". For true Catholics are not judging their brethren. They are but banded together so that with more effect they may call attention to the richness and resource of that brotherhood in Christ through His Church. Let us not be misled then by this outcry against, a party. Nothing but good can come of the banding together of men with honest purpose and sincere and devout intent.

But our point is that at present we have no Catholic party. We have but the ingredients for making one. God leads men more or less in the same direction, who submit themselves to be led. What we have had up to now has been that leading, of individuals and of small groups. We need something which will make all Catholics in the Church known to one another, at least potentially. Something that will give to each one the comfort and support of the sense of solidarity. We have had attempts at it. The auspices under which we are met tonight is such an attempt. But they have not succeeded because we have not been willing to give up enough for them. Let us explain what we mean.

The American Church is full to the brim of guilds, confraternities, leagues and what not. Some of them began in the days when especial emphasis needed to be laid upon certain neglected doctrines and practices. Their purposes have been served—but they still exist. The average parish is heavily loaded with them. The people, who are the raw material of which they must be made, are already connected with as many of them as they feel able to assume responsibility for. Yet every new attempt to bring into being a general Catholic Society approaches a person at the very time when secular life is most complicated and exacting, and when ecclesiastical life is filled fuller than it will hold with societies which are pledged to the support of what we may call Christian specialties; approaches him with a new form of obligation and a new duty in the matter of meetings, dues and the labor that goes with petty and localized organization. It is pretty plain that all such attempts may come to naught. We must find the means of sacrificing the emphasis laid upon some societies already existing to make room for another and more general and important one. One is aware that this is a startling suggestion and would take some working out. Yet what else is there for it? The alternative is the forming of some society which imposes the simplest of exactions in the way of small duties while creating a heavy basic obligation: a society which involves little or no parochial machinery and the most modest financial requirements: which will keep in touch with the Church at large and with dispersed individual members by the activities of a central office. And when we have gotten this we may have gotten something too diaphanous to keep the sense of bond alive. It is difficult. But it is necessary.

One does not despair of a solution of the problem. For at the bottom of it lies the very thought with which we began. The right of Catholics to do this or that Catholic thing is now established beyond gainsaying. The whole problem of the Church has changed. Greater perils threaten the Church now: and to the warding of them off must be applied the power which has come to the Church through the Catholic Revival. "Who knoweth," as was said to Esther, "whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this". The enrichment of the spiritual life of the Church through the revival of her Catholic practices and privileges is for this time —for a time when great and serious things impend: when foundations are in danger. To be sure God saves the Church even in spite of men. But is it not the universal economy of God to work through His own tools and build with that which he has formed. If he has fed us and nourished us then we must constitute ourselves his support and defence. The purpose of many organizations now existing in the Church has been served: that it is well served is proven by that Catholic consciousness which has grown up in us largely by means of them. It may be time to see their single and varied intent merged into the general intent of the Church and its problems, and the note which each has supplied goes to swell a mighty volume of sound which can be heard farther and waken more souls. Spiritual units have been created and formed everywhere by many agencies. Now we need a great agency which will consolidate them into one conscious whole. So basic is this first need that one is almost justified in saying that were it supplied every other problem before us would suggest its own solution.

The advantages likely to come with a far reaching organization which would connect up all Catholics in will and purpose and sympathy are fairly obvious: yet perhaps not always valued at their true worth. Individualism is the inevitable charge brought against those who make Catholic beginnings or persist in a Catholic policy. But the danger of allowing this indictment to seem to stick to the accused is more general than local, and more harmful in its general effects than in its local affects. The harm is not so great in the parish as it is in the Church at large. Pearls are just pearls until they are strung upon a wire. Then they become a necklace and their value is in their sorting and association. Catholic clergy and laity are just individuals in the eyes of their fellows until something connects them up with other Catholics. Then they become a movement. Directly they become a movement that which they do acquires a standing which is instantly arresting and worth looking into. Two men taking salt on their porridge are merely peculiar. Two thousand men doing the same are a phenomenon. When so many do a thing there must be some reason for it. The reason may be a good one. They may have stumbled upon some startling truth about salt or porridge which everyone ought to know for his own good. Again, it is a question of avoirdupois. A single lump of coal on the side walk makes no difficulty for the pedestrian public. Some foot will kick it out of the way. A bushel of it, however, must be walked round. A ton of it holds up traffic and someone wishes to know why it is there. Catholics cannot afford to allow any Catholic work or manifestation to be ignored for the sake of the lack of association and moral support.

Bishop Grafton once said to the writer "When I was made a bishop I set myself a work. I had in mind what inspiration and help St. Clement's church, Philadelphia, had been to Catholics everywhere, even to those who had never seen it. I determined to make a diocese which would be, in its proportion, to the Church in America what St. Clement's had been." It is not merely that a given priest or laymen needs moral support to keep up his courage in a long and patient labor against prejudice and ignorance. It is that that which he does and teaches shall have standing in the eyes of those who look upon it with suspicion and misgiving, as being representative of a view of religion and a faith in the Church, which is held and practiced by a vast number of people. Everyone in England knows the English Church Union. Even if it be known only to be distrusted still it is known: and what is done as representative of it is not likely to be considered the crochet of some individual. A priest lately told the writer that the writer's objection to the practice of communion by intinction in which the intincted Host was placed in the hands of the faithful (the practice in the speaker's parish) was a matter of temperament. Is it possible that for all these years Catholics have worked and taught and practiced and that to this day their deep-rooted doctrinal instinct and devout practices can be regarded by any mature person in the Church as being temperamental? There has been something wrong in the way we have gone about it. We can still be seen and regarded as individuals. Something must be done to make that impossible.

There is another form of united action which is important —and that is simultaneous action. Catholics have never done things at the same time. We have never learned what everyone else has learned: the tremendous force behind a thing which is done at the same time by a great number of people in many places. Whatever object "is before the public has augmented its strength by simultaneous action. But we have been like popping corn over a fire. No one can predict which will be the next kernel to burst. We are constantly surprised to find how much progress has been made in this place and how little in that. Parishes which once led now lag behind. Parishes which once seemed lapsed forever in spiritual somnolence have waked to life. There has been no rallying to a united action all at once.

To be sure the personal equation to some extent enters here. People are not alike—neighborhoods are not alike— priests are not alike. But there must be among us some minds to plan campaigns on wide lines and enough humility among priests and people very largely to sink individuality in a great and concerted movement. And right here is a powerful argument for a strong, wide-spread and coherent union among Catholics. A good deal of the individualism, a good deal of the self-assertion, even a good deal of the sulking, on the part of single priests and laymen is due to the fact that no association so far formed has been able to make itself out even to Catholics as more than a passing movement of a group. We have not yet made the great party association which will command respect and will make individuals see that their purpose will be better served by it than by their own independent action. This possibility is certainly inherent in the Churchmen's Alliance. But to develope it we must do more for it, sacrifice more for it, propagate it more earnestly, take it more seriously, pray for it more devoutly. Whether or not we have here a germinating thing which will grow up into what we need, the need is beyond cavil. United action we ought to have, simultaneous action we greatly need, a far reaching and definite policy we must supply ourselves. Let us then set about forming, probably for the first time, the Catholic Party and see to it that its objects are plain, its purpose honest, its methods direct and its personnel as wide spread and numerous as it must be, to make possible even what we now have.

And now one other basic modification of the programme for converting the Church, which is demanded by the lapse of time, the results of experience, the progress of the Catholic Revival and the present situation. We have need of a program which will be more consistent and more logical. Let us explain.

It is a fact that the beginning, middle and end of converting the Church is education. Teaching must forever be given and constantly provided, in season and out of season. This has been recognized quite well and always. But, if one may so say, it has been too well recognized. That is, there has been and still is a vast deal of teaching without sufficient demonstration. Our policy has produced, as a by-product, the "catholic-minded priest" and the "catholic-minded layman". We have been producing these and are still doing so. The "catholic-minded" person referred to is like the scribe instructed in the kingdom of God, in that he has in his treasures things new and old. But unlike the scribe he does not bring them forth out of his treasures. He holds to a catholic position in this matter or that. But he doesn't do anything about it. If his opinion is asked he will answer straightly. If he speaks on a controverted subject he will, with restraint, sound a true note.

But he doesn't give ocular demonstration of these things. Until you question him you can't be sure where he stands. He is reliable with the inertia of a solid thing which does not move. His vote would be on the right side; only it isn't registered. He would utter sound judgment: only his opinion is never asked.

He is probably not to blame. Our system and our programme have produced him. We have placed an emphasis upon teaching which teaching unaccompanied with demonstration is too weak to bear. We have dreaded to be or to be thought to be "extreme"—that is to say, consistent and logical. We have somehow hoped that by creating an esoteric atmosphere of catholic opinion the Church would gradually convert itself without being aware of the process and that some morning the Church would wake up and find itself Catholic. We have played up much too strongly the intellectual side of men and have ignored the will and the emotions, which latter things God has put into men for use and for good use in relation to the highest things. And beside it must never be forgotten that the Catholic Religion is not merely a theory—it is also a life. It is quite absolutely necessary that people learning the theory should be beginning to live the life and that exponents of the theory should be exhibiting what the life is.

At this point it is well to ask ourselves what we mean by the word "extreme" and why so many have been afraid to be called by it. What is an extreme person but a consistent one? That is to say one who acts in accordance with a professed theory. Many people believe that the human body will float upon water under certain conditions. Its specific gravity, modified by the volume of air in the lungs and assisted by certain movements and postures will enable it to maintain itself upon the surface. This is a theory held by a countless people. But some persons are extremists and actually precipitate themselves into the water. They hold the theory and they demonstrate it to themselves. Their example inspires other theorists to venture the experiment.

In like manner many persons believe that the American Church is a true branch of the Holy Catholic Church. Some of them are extreme and act as if what they believe were true. Many Bishops believe that they are in apostolic orders. Some of them are extreme and go so far as to do the things the Apostles did. Many people believe that there is divine, supernatural power in the Sacraments of the Church. Some of them go to the length of behaving as if it were a fact. Many people hold the theory that the Catholic Church being established by Christ to be the pillar and ground of the truth has ultimate authority in faith and morals. And there are people so advanced as actually, upon this supposition, to obey her both in behavior and in belief. What is all this, but showing the fact that Christianity being a life the only valid faith in it is the faith that practices it. There has been too much complacence on the score of our catholic heritage—which has run along the same lines as a good deal of hereditary snobbery. One family may have had a signer of the Constitution for its founder—and is there by freed forever from exerting itself to uphold and defend that governmental basis. There are too many churchmen who are content to know that they are members of a true Catholic Church—they have Abraham for their father. They are "catholic minded". They are not "extreme".

What is needed in the American Church today is to have all "catholic-minded" persons suddenly become extreme: that is to say, to have all theoretical Catholics develop into logical and consistent Catholics. Let them show the Church their faith by their works. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ and by it He continues this which he began to do and to teach. What is characteristic of Christ must be characteristic of His Mystical Body. But the Mystical Body is made up of men. Its initiative is the power and wisdom of the Holy Ghost. But there is no display of initiative apart from the souls of men who make up the Mystical Body. It can only do what they will do. It can but demonstrate itself by their acts. There is no soul of the Church to which a man contributes his own mentality or disposition. The soul of the Church is God. Our problem is not how to convert the soul of the Church but how to influence the Body of Christ which is made of men. Therefore while "catholic-minded" people are waiting in hope of the coming of something unspecified, nothing is moving toward them at all. While we wait for the mere passing of time to convert the Church, secure in a gratuitous confidence that since the Church is Catholic everyone must some day know it, nothing is happening at all. The Church is not being converted, at least not so fast as it should be. We need consistency and logic. We need to put what is believed into act. We need to cease talking about things and begin to do them. Our teaching has been a good deal stultified because we have not practiced.

Take one notable instance of this theory—the matter of the presence of our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar. Many a parish has been taught this sound doctrine for a generation or more. It has been taught by clever men and by clumsy men: by men it liked and men it did not like; by popular men and unpopular men. And for some reason the matter has never really come home to the minds of people until they were shown how people act who believe Christ to be present. It has taken some form of devotion to the Reserved Sacrament to make the matter plain. And all at once, as fire spreads in inflammable stuff, the hearts of the theorists have come alive. And what is noteworthy is that the change has not been as if there had been revealed to them a new sort of Lord. Quite evidently they know that "this God is our God forever and ever" and Christ has made himself plain to them in the Mass as never before.

It is but a single instance. But it is typical. We have gone far in spreading knowledge. We have accomplished great things in popularizing information about the Church. And nothing proves it more than that the very terms in which catholic teachers and preachers have been wont to couch their reference to the things they hold and teach can now be used by men of all schools in a manner which will ingratiate a speaker without committing him to anything. Our slogans have become household words and serve a multiple purpose. The fact is that when one has gone as far as he can with the human intellect he has not gone very far, because there remain great areas yet untouched. Wills and emotions must also be engaged. And this can be done only by the outward and visible sign.

So we need consistency. Catholic priests and catholic laymen must begin to press harder for catholic privileges in more places. Let them not be held back by the fear that what they do or what they desire will be considered extreme. Perhaps the word is not altogether misleading because, naturally, the extremity of belief is the belief that takes form in act.

It would be a bold person who would have the effrontery to suggest, along with such counsel as this, that he has a ready-made plan for every parish priest and for every lay person. Due account will always have to be taken of local circumstances and of the personal equation. But the fact remains that the meek-spiritedness of catholic people has not led to their inheriting the earth to any noticeable extent. We have been giving way perpetually. Our faith has enabled us to sink our preferences, to hang back from insisting upon what we know to be right and good and according to the mind and genius of the Catholic Church. We have followed the line of least resistance. We have been tender-hearted to a degree with regard to the backwardness of our brethren. And all the time what our brethren have needed has been this very demonstration of what possibilities are in the Church. We have talked, we have forecast, we have looked forward. A quite needless mystery has cloaked our ambitions in the minds of our brethren. It has seemed to them that this which we want to do must be some fearfully reactionary thing, something rich in disastrous possibility, because we so hesitate to do it or ask for it. We have been so timorous that we have imparted our fear to the people who have no idea of our hope or plan. And all the time the wholesomeness and sweet reasonableness of what we desire awaits demonstration in the eyes of those whose imaginations will be touched by an act, though their minds have not been moved by a half heard and wholly misunderstood theory.

A well known English priest said a few months ago that if every parish in England should begin on a given Sunday to have for its chief service the Mass with all proper accompaniments, the Church of England would lose so few communicants that the number would not be noticed. His statement of course must be considered as generic. But his point is well taken and his judgement in all probability true. Simultaneous action, with frankness and consistency, is without doubt what is needed at this stage of the Catholic Revival. Lay folk underrate their power in the Church. Catholic privileges could be had for insistent asking in many places where they are not now enjoyed. As things are now, a well trained lay person removes from a parish in which he has had all that the Church can do for him and settles down in the parish where his worldly affairs have placed him, prepared to get along with what he finds and to make it answer. A few times in the year he is able to reach some Catholic centre where he revels, as in a luxury, in what should be the customary thing. Frequently he finds himself, under these circumstances, living in a parish where the priest is in some sort of sympathy with him, but not what could be called active sympathy. That is to say the rector admits the truth of all the layman believes but he is afraid to do anything about it. There is the general atmosphere of playing a waiting game. Let us see to it that this waiting is not a peaceful process. Let every catholic keep his desire in view. His object is a positive one—his argument is a constructive one. It is always easier to maintain and defend, than the negative point which is opposed to him. The unjust judge who is not interested in the rights of the case will yet listen to a plea which is constant and unrelenting.

And here we come to our third point. That is that no one must ever lose sight of the fact that he is concerned in something which affects the interest of the whole Church and of all people, lay and cleric. It may be my duty to sink my personal preference where it seems to run counter to the greatest good of the greatest number. But our privilege in the Catholic nature and status of the American Church is a matter only incidentally personal. There is a direct relation between the conversion of this Church and the peace of it. That relation is probably a hostile one. There is a peace which is hard to distinguish from the lethargy of something moribund. There is what Mr. Chesterton calls "a base equality and an evil peace." It is often a godly act to disrupt this sort of thing. There will never be real peace in the Church until it is converted. We simulate peace these days by keeping peace locally in parishes and usually, alas, by keeping the parishes far apart in spirit and act—so that no one shall see that what produces peace in one place is quite alien to what produces it in another. Our own parish is where our souls live and are nourished. They are intended to inspire us with what will make us alive to the needs of other men in other parishes. If we draw strength from our own altar let us regard it as given of God to help us do our part in the general reconstruction of the whole Church. A proper citizen, who has a tight roof, and enough food and fuel for his family is interested in seeing that every other man has the same. When he loses this interest he ceases to be a social unit of value. It is undeniable that many catholic people, and priests too, have lost this sense of corporate interest: or it may be that they despair of any means by which they can show this interest and bring it to bear.

We must find a way to show it—we must find a way to bring it to bear—else the catholic revival is in a fair way to deserve all the unkind things that its detractors say of it. We must see our local interests always in their relation to the general interests. Kant's universal criterion is not a bad rule for American Catholics, "Let everything that you do be such as would serve as a standard for everyone's action". There are great and broad policies of the Church which this generation must see in their relation to all local and personal effort or else nothing that it does will advance these policies and whatever of benefit accrues from this generation will be the result of drift rather than of action: and woefully insufficient.

And a last thing. Certain specific and outstanding problems confront the Church in America at this moment. The Churchmen's Alliance springs out of the need created by the present crisis. It would be easy, it might even be very interesting, to touch upon these things. But our feeling is that the sense of the nature of the Church, when it is wide-spread enough, will show to all loyal churchmen how it bears .on a given problem. There is a temper in the Church which is prone to decide questions on the ground of expediency. It is not the catholic temper. This latter believes that all problems are to be settled by inquiring what the Church ought to do in a given situation considering Who and What she is. All these problems will be answered wrongly in varying degree of disaster until the latter point of view becomes predominant.

And to make this view predominant the church must be carrying on her normal work, which is the production of sanctity in individuals. After all what do we hope to do for the Church by the more complete demonstration of her catholic character? Is it not to show all the world that the more frankly catholic she is the more she fosters and inculcates religion? That she produces, when functioning properly, a type of character and a degree of intelligence and spiritual acceptance that nothing else can produce? Whatever our policy may be at any moment, whatever tactics commend themselves to us. this thing must go on and go on furiously. It is constantly said of catholics in the Church that everyone would be better off were we to mind our own business. Amen to that. Let us mind our own business and show it the best business being done in the Church today. Let us mind it so that all may see it is the one business best worth minding. Let each show in himself that is boasting of the Church is not vain. Let every parish endeavor to show its first interest in the catholic religion, religious. Let every priest endeavor to exhibit in his own life and the lives of his people a living example of what the Church can do.

Of the disease that afflicts the Church various symptoms crop out from time to time. A rather lurching and head-long pursuit after unity is one of them. A certain malaise called 'comprehensiveness' is another. A hardening of the heart which is supposed to make necessary a writing of divorcement is another. Some sort of unwholesome obesity which makes the creed tight at the arm holes is another. There are many. But they are symptoms of a disease. The trouble is deep-seated. Like all disease the local treatment of symptoms is of less consequence than the hidden thing which is constitutionally wrong. It is the practice of our religion, and the uniting of human hearts and wills to the heart and will of our Lord that will cure these manifestations. Whatever we do, in forming a veritable party, in securing united and simultaneous action, in showing ourselves bravely consistent, let it be apparent before all things, to ourselves and to our wavering and unconvinced brethren, that we seek only to make the Church more genuinely religious and to display her in the eyes of the world as a still more efficient instrument of Salvation.

Project Canterbury