Project Canterbury

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

Thursday Evening, October 14th

The Catholic and Foreign

[138] The Catholic and Foreign Missions
Of the Church of the Redeemer, Chicago

THE Catholic is not only committed to the idea of missions. He is in theory, at least, the exponent of it. That God's sway over every realm of human living and every place of human living be recognized, is his program. And in practice he has an honorable history. In England today one of the chief complaints against the Catholic priest is that he is doing such good work among the poorest of the people and is so much loved of them. By some that is attributed to that diabolical ingenuity with which we always endow our enemies so that we may the more complacently measure the strength of our opposition. To others it is simply the natural expression of the religion which rejoices in the Catholic name. But whatever be the motive, the Catholic is commonly conceded a missionary spirit, even where no great value is attached to the intelligence with which that spirit has at times been manifested. And if I may be understood as talking in terms of spiritual concern and not necessarily in terms of money, recruits or eloquence, it seems an obvious thing to say that the Catholic who does not "believe in missions" is a defective Catholic. "He is," as Mr. Chesterton once said of Mr. Shaw, "like the Venus of Milo; all that there is of him is admirable."

So our subject naturally opens out into two lines of thought: first, the necessity of the missionary spirit to [138/139] any religious movement that calls itself Catholic, and, secondly, the manner in which that spirit should express itself. The first of these is surely to be found among the fruits of a deepened spirituality. The conquest of a heart by the love of God must mean an ardent desire that all others who can be so conquered should be so conquered. It must mean the belief that there can be no human being incapable of being won by the love of God. It must mean that prayers will rise and strength be spent and money be offered in the achievement of that desire. The money may be a trifle in amount, the strength slight, but the offering of prayer and sacrifice will always be rich and genuine. Wherever we find a Catholic who is "non-missionary" in the sense that he has no desire to pray for, or work for, or give to the extension of the knowledge of our Blessed Lord among those who know Him not, then we may be sure that it is not the Catholic religion which is lacking in fulness, but the individual who is lacking in capacity to hold it.

And here let us face for a moment that most insidious of all temptations, the urge to let the expression of our religion be determined by some theoretical state of local health. The argument there runs, "Of course, we are committed to the extension of the Catholic faith throughout the world, but we must first strengthen our position where we are." Inasmuch as our strength must ultimately consist in souls consecrated to the service of God, it is difficult to understand how teaching those souls to postpone their responsibilities is going to add to our strength. I hold no brief for sentimentality. I am glad to agree that in view of local circumstances there may be a fair question as to whether I should send to China more money than I keep for the work of the parish. That is a question to be decided on the basis of the facts. But I cannot with equanimity contemplate the failure to teach our people [139/140] that the responsibility for extending our religion begins with entrance into the Christian life and not with entrance into affluence, be it personal or parochial. The size of the effort put forth to discharge that responsibility is one thing; the presence of the effort in some proportion is something entirely different. And nothing can de-Catholicize a Christian life more thoroughly than the teaching that its responsibility for souls as such can be divided into priorities and ranged in an order of importance that is based on geographical remoteness. To say that I cannot afford to pay anything for the extension of the Faith outside my own town is to imply that for the same reason I can offer no intercessions for it and make no intentions for it; or else to concede that those are comparatively unimportant contributions which one can give at random with no reference to what then becomes the significant participation, namely, the sharing of the financial cost. If we can only pray one prayer, make one intention that all men everywhere may look unto Him and be saved, then we can do something with our hands or our pennies to bring it to pass. The amount has nothing to do with it. There must be an amount, if we have to do our bookkeeping in roubles, to express it. As a child of God, in covenanted relationship with Him, I cannot be true to that relationship and at the same time be content to leave the spread of His Gospel in a perishing world to some future moment when I shall have superfluous time or energy or money. To postpone that task is to deny it an integral place in my profession.

There are other stimuli on which there is no time to expatiate here: our pride in being bearers of the truth in a form that is divinely adapted to the assimilation of the peoples of the world; our strategic position in being citizens of a nation that is like a city set upon a hill, our pity for whole peoples that sit in darkness of poverty, of [140/141] ignorance, of superstition, of disease, of unconsciousness of redemption; our sensitiveness to a justice that demands our taking to the non-Christian peoples our spiritual assets with an eagerness that approximates the haste with which we rush to them with Western civilization. These incentives and many more could be adduced in detail to quicken us, but our desire to be about our business must rest fundamentally upon the way in which we conceive of our own relationship to God, and there I propose to let it rest.

But there is one question of expediency that crosses the trail and I believe we must frankly face and answer it. It can be stated in various ways. "I cannot allow my people to give their money in the support of Protestant teaching," is one form of it. "When the missionary authorities recognize that the Church is Catholic, they can count on me," is another and milder form. It simply means, What is our relationship to the National Council, or, perhaps more concretely, to the body legally known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America? If I am a "Catholic" priest in the Church known by that elaborate name, either I am an anomaly, a sort of biological "sport," and do not really belong there, or else, as I would wish to maintain, every other priest in that body has the same status, however unwilling some of the others may be to recognize it. I am not engaged in an effort to make the Protestant Episcopal Church into a Catholic Church; I am part of an endeavor to vindicate the Catholicity of the Protestant Episcopal Church. I assume that that is primarily the objective of the movement which has crystallized in this annual Congress.

And inasmuch as the truth in so many places is buried under a heavy incrustation of ignorance, prejudice and spiritual apathy, not to mention the bewilderment and resentment aroused by Catholic ardor, distinguished more [141/142] for valor than for discretion, it would seem that I can hope for success along the line of conciliation and attraction rather than in the assumption of a tolerant superiority that waits for stupidity to come to its senses. In other words, the Church as a whole, so far astray in some particulars from the norm, must look upon the activities of the Catholic and respect them, and because it respects them, learn the why and the how of them. Moreover, if the Catholic is going to put his emphasis where it will count, in the Church of which he is a member, he must earn the right to that position of strategical importance to his cause. If this be the path of wisdom, I am not treading it when I allow those who misunderstand or will not understand my position to say of me, "He is an individualist. He does not play the game. He will not take his share of the burden, but wants leadership as the condition of his participation."

Meanwhile, as we speak, the list of the departed grows and the mere contemplation of it recalls us to our task. If we are concerned with the ultimate evangelization of the world, we may sit still and do nothing, for no failure on our part can stop the irresistible progress of the Kingdom of God. The world will be evangelized, whether we help or not, but ultimately! And before that "ultimately," thousands, nay, millions, will have died, of whom some are passing now, without so much as knowing if there be a Faith. If the Faith means life to us, we cannot sit idly by while they die without it through our neglect. The ultimate issues we can rest confident in. It is the immediate present we are concerned with. And the immediate present, in the foreign field, is full of souls who will not know their Saviour, save through the efforts that you and I make now.

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