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The Second Annual Catholic Congress: Essays and Papers

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 12, 13, 14, 1926

New York: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1926.

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

[86] The Catholic Religion and the Younger Generation
Dean of St. Matthew's Cathedral, Dallas, Texas

I VENTURE to congratulate the Committee which had charge of the preparations for this Congress on what I believe to be a great and significant advance upon all previous Congresses, both in England and in this country, the fact that Religious Education and the Church's responsibility for the younger generation have been given a definite place on the program. When one remembers the eager rush for the open air, or for the smoking room, participated in by Bishops, priests and lay deputies, at the joint session on Religious Education at New Orleans, and when one thinks of many diocesan conventions, one is compelled to admire their courage and to marvel at it. But even "The American Mercury" admits the courage of Father Hughson.

The younger generation are much with us at present. Their doings are causing widespread concern, but it is very unfortunate that the limelight should be turned only upon their more flagrant breaches of conventional morality and decency; I should perhaps say upon the minority, be [86/87] it large or small, who are making strange uses of a new and unprecedented freedom from restraint of every kind.

We cannot but regret that the secular magazine press should exploit these doings, but we have no reason to expect anything else from that quarter. If, however, any section of the Church press should feel the issue to be a grave one, as I do, then care should be taken to show both sides of the picture. If it is true that all of us should be concerned and alarmed when we hear of certain tendencies abroad among our youth today, tendencies which can better be studied in serious publications, like G. A. Coe's "What Ails Our Youth," or Judge Ben B. Lindsey's "Revolt of Youth," than in any magazine article (they are almost inevitably superficial if they escape being sensational), if all that is true, still it is equally true that at no time in the last hundred years has there been more genuine cause for encouragement. No one who has followed the growth and progress of the Student Volunteer Movement and similar organizations, the response of our own students to the recent pastoral efforts of our own Church, the amazing growth in attendance, and the fine seriousness of purpose of our young people at Summer Conferences can feel downhearted for one moment regarding the youth of the Church. Vocations to the Sacred Ministry are being discovered there with increasing frequence and vocations to the Religious Life will come also.

It is quite wrong, I submit, to broadcast a general condemnation of the youth of today. It is equally wrong to assert with a superficial optimism that all is well with them. It is a day of extremes, but the ancient, the inevitable decisions are being made. Those who fall before the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil are giving startling and amazingly frank exhibitions of the results of their choice. Those who choose to follow Our Blessed Lord, [87/88] and dedicate their lives to Him, cannot any longer hide the fact. They are known by their way of life. It is different.

The Catholic Church in all the ages has accepted responsibility for training up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This has never been a side issue with the Church. What that responsibility involves, however, is something that varies with each succeeding age, and I take it that the whole subject requires fresh and careful study at the present time. In regard to our responsibility for children, perhaps no single saying is more often quoted than that of the Jesuit, "Give me for the Church the first seven or eight years of a child's life, and I care not what follows." That was a wise saying, but it is not an infallible pronouncement of the Pope, and, in any case, it is not binding upon Anglo-Catholics. Moreover, it was made long before the days of the American public school and compulsory universal education. Romanists may act upon it in Spain or Mexico. They go far beyond it in these United States.

Let us try to consider our responsibility as Catholics in the light of the vast amount of new knowledge which has been brought to bear upon the life of the child in the last fifty years, and the conditions in which we find ourselves working today.

Three factors stand out in bold relief as exercising a tremendous influence on the lives of our boys and girls during the entire formative period:

1. The fresh realization today by all who are interested in education of the overwhelming character of the influence of the parents upon the developing personality of the child. This is a direct result of the immense amount of study given to the whole subject of child psychology during the last half century. Until recently it has been [88/89] tacitly assumed, and largely neglected by educators. Now it is one of the foremost questions of the day. I need only call your attention to the recently published symposium on Modern Parenthood; to such books as the "Child, the Clinic and the Court"; to the Child Guidance Clinics springing up everywhere, first as an auxiliary to Juvenile Courts, but now almost entirely separated from them, and increasingly utilized by parents and school authorities.

We must also watch and study the experiments that are being made with the care of children in what is known as the pre-school age, in an entirely new type of educational institution. We are directly concerned with the claims being made by the earnest and devoted women who are doing this work, claims that great improvement results in home conditions, and even in the relationship between mother and child in homes of the very highest type. It relieves the mother, we are told, of a responsibility that was at all times too heavy, and improves the character of her personal influence on the child. That is claimed, although there are those who fear it will tend to decrease a parental responsibility already gravely weakened. It is asserted that it will make possible a new and better type of home life, where home life is desired, and that where it is not desired, where the parents are indifferent, or where worse conditions prevail, the child is assured a much happier childhood than is possible now.

2. The second factor to be considered is the increased and increasing contacts made by the child with the life of the community. The school we have always known. We have not always considered it in this aspect. Now we have the movies, the radio, the victrola, and a whole array of active agencies, from the Y. M. and the Y. W. to Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. This has brought about certain definite results. Notably this, that the outstanding [89/90] American institution capable of exerting social pressure and moral pressure upon the child is the school. It is no longer the home or the Church. This point needs no elaboration. It is very obvious. No more convincing testimony need be sought than the efforts of private schools to exercise the same control socially over their pupils, sometimes even a more powerful control.

The whole movement for Week-Day Religious Instruction in co-operation with the public schools, valuable as it is, means that the Church, perhaps unconsciously, has recognized that, as a social force in the life of the child today, it would be flattery to say that She comes next to the public school.

3. The third factor is the prevailing American conception of Christianity. This affects us all, Catholics as well as others. In ninety-nine out of one hundred Catholic parishes, the young people whom we influence come from the homes of Anglo-Catholics, Protestant Episcopalians or denominational Protestants. Children occasionally reach us who have received Baptism in the Roman Church, but usually because their parents have definitely broken away from that Church. As it is only among the lay people of the Roman and Orthodox Churches that any other conception of Christianity exists, we may take it for granted that almost all our children are constantly subjected to the influence of the prevailing American idea of what Christianity is, everywhere, that is, except in their parish churches. This idea is simply that our Lord was a good man who lived and died 1900 years ago, the best man who ever lived. His death exemplified the spirit of service, now taught by the Rotary Club and universally accepted as the ideal for progressive American young people. Inasmuch as He was the best man who ever lived, He may be said to be the revealer of God. There are many lovely stories about His birth and [90/91] resurrection and ascension, which people do not believe in any literal sense. His influence still lives. We should all follow His example and try to possess His spirit. Churches are among the best social agencies which today are helping to make His influence universal. Everyone should belong to some Church, and so ally himself with all that is best in modern American life.

Humanly speaking, there is not one chance in a thousand that the children of our Catholic parishes will escape this kind of thing. Year by year, as they grow older, at school, at play, from their companions, at social gatherings, when they are old enough to have "dates," and a pretty girl drags your boy to the Epworth League or the Christian Endeavor, instead of coming to the Young People's Service League, they cannot help encountering it, and being subjected to its influence, and no earnest Anglo-Catholic can fail to be anxious about the results, as they affect us now, and will affect us more and more in the future.

I could easily spend longer time in diagnosing the case, but I hope that what has been said is sufficient to make it plain that the situation is one that we Anglo-Catholics can no longer ignore or treat with indifference, still less attempt to solve by blind adherence to pedagogical methods of our own or our grandparents' childhood. I plead first and foremost for a frank recognition of our responsibility, a penitent and prayerful recognition. We need a commission to study the whole question, a commission of experts. Drawn from our Religious Orders, our parish clergy, Catholic teachers in parish schools, public schools, private schools and colleges, such a commission would constantly study the new movements of our day, and would study them from the viewpoint of the Catholic Faith, a thing which is not now being done. I plead for such a commission. The need is most urgent.

[92] I am a member of the Department of Religious Education, and consider my membership as an honor and a high privilege. It is an earnest and devoted body of Christian men and women, but it is helpless, fettered. Instead of "unshackling the mind of youth," it goes in chains itself. It is quite typical in that respect of the Episcopal Church. It renders much useful service. But we cannot turn to it for help. If, however, we could be as daring in education as, say, in the recovery of our Catholic heritage, and in ceremonial; if such a commission could come into existence, and be free to do its work, history would repeat itself, and with greater and more far-reaching results. The daring of the Catholic of today, in the educational field would, twenty years later, be recommended as the normal practice of the prosperous parish not given to extremes.

We cannot, however, we dare not, pass on our responsibilities to such a commission, however urgent our need for it. Nor can we afford to sit down placidly and await its findings and recommendations.

Our first task is to recapture the home for the Catholic religion. If we recognize the influence of the parent, we must know how it is exercised. The average home now is not organized so as to permit the child to practice his religion, far less to encourage him in it. This means pastoral work, classes for parents. It means a clearly understood ideal of the home that is Catholic, and that certain things will take precedence there. A Catholic home should be capable of identification as such. Pictures, books, Sunday customs, social usages should all help in telling the tale. I need not elaborate upon this. It is obvious. It can be done, but only if clergy and lay people alike take the task in hand seriously and earnestly.

Our next task is a harder one. It is to deal with the school and community influence upon the child. If we [92/93] only would recognize him as an ally, he may be trusted to do his own fighting. He, himself, wants to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, if we would only equip him a little better. Our great asset is his marvelous loyalty to the things he belongs to, his home, his school, his class, his Church. Consider his amazed indignation when he is informed in school that Henry VIII founded the Episcopal Church. He takes the matter up in class, argues with the teacher, goes and sees the rector. He knows better, and, in any case, he is too proud of his Church to want anyone like Henry VIII connected with the founding of it. Besides, in this case, he has been taught, even in the most Protestant of parishes, that Whitsunday is the Birthday of the Church, emphasized by a special offering, and a thousand other touches. He will have none of Henry VIII.

Contrast the attitude of the same child when someone says, "You Episcopalians are just like Roman Catholics." He may deny it, but he is troubled and uneasy. He is quite uncertain as to whether that is an accusation or a joke. He has not been taught. He wants to be loyal, but is not sure of his ground. Similarly, someone talking about Early Communion, and fasting or Lenten observance, says, "You are just plain crazy. Why can't you act like other fellows? I reckon my Church is as good as yours anyway." Again, the boy wants to be loyal, but he is not sure. He knows that his father, whom he adores, never goes at all; he heard his own mother say that Father ____'s teaching about fasting communion was a mere fad, and, anyway, more than half the congregation make their communions at the eleven o'clock Service on the first Sunday in the month. He knows. He was in the choir. He wants to be loyal, but he is not sure of his ground.

[94] The remedy is clear teaching, patience, and, above all, a determination to teach the same religion to the whole Parish. The attempt to teach the whole Catholic Religion to children, and to teach adults only as much of it as they will stand, is bound to result in failure. If it is an obligation for Bobby to hear Mass every Sunday, the same obligation rest upon his father, and the chances are quite great that his father hears of it first from Bobby, if he hears of it at all, which is unfair to Bobby.

We must recognize the Community, the School, the Motion Picture. They are here. We must not overtask the child, nor ask needless observances of him; e. g., to refrain from dancing on Friday nights. We must recognize that it will take courage and loyalty for him to be "different." But if he has been trained, if he has been clearly taught, if he knows that the same truth is taught to his parents, he will stand firm and loyal to the best he knows, and it is in this way that the Catholic Religion will win its way in the playgrounds and classrooms of America.

Lastly, and keeping in mind what has already been said regarding the prevailing American idea as to what the Christian Religion is, I attribute the comparatively slow growth of the Anglican Communion in this country to the very slight influence of a definitely religious character, which we exercise upon children during their most impressionable years. Take our Sunday Schools, for, after all, it is there we touch the lives of the great majority of our children. Our numbers are quite respectable in proportion to our communicant strength, more especially when we remember how the statistics of Protestant denominations are swelled by huge organized classes. Not only are our numbers by no means disproportionate, but in organization, curriculum, teacher training, we make a [94/95] good showing. There has been a great and notable advance in recent years.

And yet, with all this, we fail. We fail unnecessarily. We place the emphasis upon knowledge, just as in former days, education was thought to be the study of certain subjects, instead of a discipline of the mind. So today we think of religious education as a curriculum rather than as a discipline and training of the whole personality. I believe in Christian Nurture and use it. Pedagogically, it is the finest recent achievement in the whole field of Religious Education. Doctrinally and devotionally, it is simply inadequate. It is quite possible for a child to grow up and take all the studies, and at the end be entirely ignorant of the difference between temptation and sin, grace and the means of grace, and, in general, of the practice of the Christian Religion. He is not taught how to pray, how to meditate, how to resist temptation, nor how to obtain forgiveness; and the hero stories of the Old Testament, the missionary heroes of the New, and studies in comparative religion, are no substitute.

Here I would plead that the child be led into a constantly growing personal experience of the love of Our Blessed Lord. He must not only be taught to pray, he must be trained in devotional habits and at the habit-forming age. There should be an elementary training in meditation at a comparatively early age. The meaning and use of the Sacrament of Penance should be taught at the time of preparation for Confirmation, not merely as something at our disposal to be used in emergencies, but as the normal and best way to bring our sins to the forgiving love of God. Parents should always be urged to be present at the class.

These things are vital. The Sunday School is at present necessary, but we have to see to it that it is a place where our boys and girls are trained in the Catholic Faith, but [95/96] not a substitute for religious experience, an amateur school, where they learn the Bible as literature, and the life of Our Lord as a great hero story.

I conclude by renewing my plea for a commission to study the whole question, from the viewpoint of Catholics in the Anglican Communion.

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