Project Canterbury

The First Annual Catholic Congress: Essays and Papers

New Haven, Connecticut, November 3-5, 1925

Published by the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests, 1926.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Congress Sermon

Coadjutor Bishop of Milwaukee

"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night;
There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying,
'Come over into Macedonia and help us'."—Acts 16:9.

WE see St. Paul and his companion journeying through Asia Minor and working along the highway to the sea on the west. As they crossed the chief roads leading to the older and better known cities and villages to the north and to the south of the highway they are tempted to turn aside to visit those fields which promised to be so fertile for the seed they desired to sow.

In each of these places were synagogues and congregations of people who knew their language, whose intellectual, spiritual, economic, historical and ecclesiastical backgrounds were similar to their own. St. Paul and those with him desire therefore to go first to these towns, but are prevented by the Holy Ghost, and are impelled on until they come to the seacoast, where the reason for their being urged forward is revealed in a vision,—the man of Macedonia on the opposite shore praying, "Come over and help us."

[14] Macedonia was not the attractive field Asia Minor was. It was not an alluring call which thus came to the Apostle. In the first place it lacked the romantic attraction of a call to a people, none of whom had any of the background which might be used as a setting for this new development of the religious life.

The first people in Macedonia to whom the new revelation was preached were Jews, by the side of a river, where Jews were accustomed to meet when they had no synagogues. The first convert was a Jewess, Lydia. Here was nothing new, just the same situation the missionary would have had in Asia Minor, none of the romance and the enthusiastic zeal which comes with an opportunity to present the love of Jesus to those who know nothing of God.

Again Macedonia was a land where pagan philosophies and heathen religions were firmly entrenched. To be sure even these were in corrupt form, and in a decaying condition, but they had behind them all the force and weight of tradition and familiar custom, they constituted the foundations for the habitual and daily contacts and methods of life.

And so St. Paul was going to a people, part of whom professed to know God already, professed to know Him sufficiently, as their forefathers for generations had known Him, with all the impetus, and yet with all the inertia which had come from long centuries of established customs and habits; with the Sacred Scriptures and the records and the traditions of the fathers to prove St. Paul an arrogant upstart and a fanatical disturber of the good ways, the proven ways of life.

And those others, who knew not God, had in their pagan philosophies or their heathen religions that which satisfied them. They were not, for the most part, [14/15] at least, conscious of any lack, and thus it was necessary, first, to show the inadequacy of their present possessions, before they could be given the better.

Do you grasp the difficulties in the situation, the indifference to the thing St. Paul had to give, and the resultant apathy? All the weight of political, economic and social custom was against him. He was considered a strange sort of person. Later on he was known to be dangerous, and was persecuted, but early in his Macedonian ministry he received only good-natured tolerance. Neither an easy nor an attractive field, I think you will agree.

The call to be a Christian, a Catholic, in these United States to-day, is a call to live, to preach, and to testify, in an analogous situation, for we are living under similar conditions.

We are nominally a Christian country. We call ourselves Christians, we think of our civilization and our government as being based upon Christian revelation; and yet, according to our last census, only about one-half of our population even call themselves Christians of any kind.

And we can demonstrate mathematically, if we so desire, that of this one-half a very small proportion is actively Christian. For Christianity consists, in part at least of public worship. Suppose, for a moment, that all who call themselves Christians were to attempt to go to the houses of Christian worship at the same time. No city has houses of worship sufficient to accommodate them; and yet, almost none of these is ever, unless it be upon some special occasion, more than partially filled.

The work of every form of organized religion in this land to-day is staggering and faltering. They all need [15/16] men and money to carry on the pitifully small work they are attempting to do. We know there are great lands and multitudes of people awaiting the religion of Jesus Christ, and we cannot adequately give it to them because of the apathy at home, because of the lack of support in men and money, in prayers and sacraments.

And here at home! If this half of our people who call themselves by the name of Christ are thus indifferent and apathetic, what of the other half? These are the people we meet day by day in our various contacts. We meet them in the streets, and pass the time of day with them. We do business with them. We take our pleasures and recreations with them. We live with them in our own homes. We know them intimately. They look as we look, they speak the same language we speak, they do most of the same things we do, and we come to accept them as being as we are.

But all these apparent similarities are superficial, and some crisis in life shows the real condition of affairs. They lack poise and peace and purpose because life for them is without any ultimate direction or objective. They live from event to event, from day to day. They are without God, their lives are without foundation, though many of them would be surprised if you told them so. If you need evidence of all this, witness the sordidness of the lives of so called respectable people, witness the crime, the divorce, the suicide records.

As a result, and because the thing feeds upon its own growth, our whole social system is disrupted, our civilization disorganized until many despair of it. We have lost faith and confidence in governments, city, [16/17] state, or national. We smile and tolerate, as though of no moment, as though part of the system and to be expected, malfeasance in office, deliberate perversion of justice, graft and dishonesty. We have turned over for the most part to professionals of low type the administration of the affairs of our lives as members of society. In our relations with other peoples of the world we have come to accept a situation of dickering and maneuvering in which each endeavors to get the better of the other, until diplomacy almost means chicanery.

And again because we have no ultimate standard of values we are rapidly losing the very foundation of our civilization, the home. We profess to pay great deference to the agriculturists in this land, but we are essentially an urban society. Over half of our people live in cities, and the other half imitate the city dwellers in their habits and customs and manners of life.

And in the cities our homes are gone, and they are rapidly going in the smaller places. People are living in flats, in holes in walls, cramped quarters which have become mere lodging places, and where the activities which make a home are impossible. We have commercialized all the phases of life. The social graces of the home have become the manners of the restaurant and the public dance hall. An increasing and an already astonishingly large number of married women and mothers are in industry or business.

Where in such an economy is place found for children? In the only place possible, the care of the State. Thus it is that we are really "nationalizing" our children. The schools are taking them younger, and keeping them longer, than ever before; for more hours each day and for more months each year—in many [17/18] places for nine hours or more a day and for practically twelve months in the year.

And what are the schools doing to them? Standardizing them. What else can the schools do? It is pouring them all into the same mold, and turning out a uniform product. The result is that our children are growing up without God and religion. You cannot put God and religion into any school plan under our system, and we do not want to do so. I am not unaware of the various plans for the correlating religious with secular training, but anything as yet evolved is simply subterfuge and throwing dust into our eyes. We are raising up a Godless generation. God help us!

We have tried and are trying to remedy the situation. We are, in this land, simply obsessed with the idea that we can accomplish any and everything through legislation. And so we have had and are having, legislation galore. I suppose our Congress and various State Legislatures have in the last twenty-five years enacted more laws than the whole world together had previously known.

We have tried compulsory education. If only we could make our people literate, then would they understand each other. We have tried the Sherman and similar laws to prevent the strong from cheating and crushing the weak, to give all an equal opportunity of making a living. We are trying prohibition—to make men sober and thus enabled to live together.

In our larger relations the world has tried Arbitration Treaties, the Hague Conferences, Reduction of Armaments, The World Court and the League of Nations. And where are we with it all? The situation is confusion worse confounded. We have crystalized into individualism, individualism in nations and in [18/19] persons, each nation and each individual for himself. And this, not because we want to be that way but rather because there is no one factor in our life sufficiently big, sufficiently comprehensive to correlate and unify and objectify all our actions. We have no one common aim, purpose, objective. There is no way for all of us. We are each going his own way.

Because of all this men are in despair, and are endeavoring to take matters into their own hands and thus we have Communism and Radical Socialism, the Klu Klux Klan, the I. W. W. and similar phenomena. These of one sort. On the other side and resulting from the same causes, is that curious and phenomenal growth in the last few years in the luncheon clubs crying "service!" These are feeling after the right thing, but their service is a bare abstraction, and only another manifestation of crystalization.

And now are beginning to be heard still small voices whispering that perhaps the world needs God, needs Jesus, the Son of God, Who because He is the Son of God, and became our Brother, unites us all in one in Himself. Even that great apostle of business, Babson, has said it. And if business has said it, then the world will believe it.

Do you see that it is the world, our land, our city, our town, our immediate community, calling for a St. Paul to come over into this Macedonia and help? We must not delude ourselves. We are not going to be received with open arms and with an eagerness to throw off the habits of the past or present, and to give their lives over to Christ.

But the world is conscious that it is drifting, and begins to wonder whether or not we, the Christian Church, have the necessary anchor. We know that [19/20] we have seen this anchor hold in seas as stormy as this when all else has failed. Valdes has said, in his autobiography, that "if a nation is ever to become one happy people it must do more than speak the same language: it must murmur the same prayers."

The one cure for the ills of the world is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, a living, holy sacrifice for us men and for our salvation, the whole Christ, Incarnate, the living Christ here amongst men today and forevermore; not merely the memory of, nor the example of, or the record of, the historical Jesus. The world has tried religion based upon these for 300 years. If the Church of Jesus Christ means anything it means that Very Christ is amongst men here, now, giving us life through His life. And the world needs that life now as it never needed it before. Not an emasculated Christ, but the whole Christ, Body and Blood—the Regeneration that comes to men through incorporation into Him, the cleansing and the restoration of souls who have missed their high calling in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

Here then is this gloomy picture of the world's conditions, and yet we are not pessimists. Here is our opportunity. Here is the very reason of our being. We who call ourselves Christians, who call ourselves Catholics, do so because we try to realize the full, perfect Christ in our lives and in our religion which is our life. We know that in the full Sacramental system of the Church we are carrying on to our day and generation the living Christ, that because of the power of the Holy Ghost we can know Christ and apprehend Him even more completely than did those [20/21] with whom He came into physical contact during His earthly ministry in Palestine.

Here on the altar, there in the tribunal of Penance, everywhere in the Sacraments is God, Very God waiting upon our ministry to bring all men unto Him, and in bringing them to make them all one in Him as He is in the Father, and the Father in Him.

Macedonia is all about us, crying for us,—perhaps not knowing that it is for us that it is crying,—but crying for help, for the help the Catholic Church alone can give, that which only can bring unity and purpose and objective and direction.

A glorious opportunity is offered to share in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ,—to do the very work of God. It is a glad responsibility. God give us grace to stir up the gift that is in us!

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