The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers
Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927
Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.
Saints in the Making
THE REVEREND CHARLES TOWNSEND
Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pa.
IN THE midst of our enthusiasm for the spread of the Faith, it is well to bring ourselves abruptly face to face with the fact that "in the last resort the truth of the Catholic Religion for us men, depends on its demonstrated capacity to produce the Christ-like character," that is to make saints.
All external and objective authorities and, of course, there are such, Church, Tradition, Holy Scripture and Creeds, gain their validity each in its own way as expressions of this fact. Hence it behooves us to see that we are at work making saints, beginning with that most difficult of all material—ourselves. And what is a saint? One who is whole-heartedly devoted to Christ; one who in his whole self—body, heart, mind and will—is in union with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Do we, you and I, want to be saints? Perhaps. Have we the will to be saints? I think for the most part, No! And here I think we uncover something that needs to be brought to the surface. The remark of a Church-woman upon bringing her daughters to a priest to be prepared for Confirmation is typical of the average Episcopalian. "I want them to be good Christian girls, but mind, I don't want them to be too good." Alas, a very familiar attitude, [152/153] but how amazing when you stop to think of it! Why this prevalent indifference to perfection in persons, in men, women, boys and girls, when we unfailingly demand it in things, automobiles, airplanes, ships? "There must be no chance here for capricious action. Engines and propeller blades must be perfect. There must be no defect in any part of the structure. The gasoline must be tested by all the methods of refinement. The oil must be absolutely pure, free of every suspicion of grit. But when we turn from automobiles and airplanes to persons, it is different." [Paraphrase of Rufus Jones, Spiritual Energies in Daily Life.] Why?
It is of vital importance, I believe, to think out the reason for this suspicion concerning the goal of the Christian life. The nature of this suspicion and its cause may be more clearly seen if you will allow me to put to you these questions. Do you here and now want to be well? Do you want to be healthy? Do you want to be whole? Everyone will say enthusiastically, Yes! But if I ask you, Do you here and now want to be sanctified? Do you want to be perfect? Do you want to be holy? Am I wrong in believing that at least some honest ones among you will perhaps demur? And why? Because of the haunting fear that if we give up ourselves wholeheartedly and unreservedly to our Lord, we will inevitably lose something of the joy of life. We will narrow ourselves. We will become to some extent dehumanized. Saintliness, holiness, would appear to be manhood plus or minus something else, namely a vague angelic quality, and frankly, we do not want, at least not yet, to be angels. So we put on the brakes! Theoretically we may perceive the root of this attitude in a subtle Calvinism. Practically, as Catholic Christians, what we need to do, and this is the first step toward becoming saints, is to [153/154] make a wholehearted Act of Faith in the Sacred Humanity of our Blessed Lord, as the perfection and fount of full and true manhood. "He verily took not on Him the nature of angels, but took on Him the seed of Abraham." "He was made Man." "He came not to destroy but to fulfill." It is this fear-complex of the unnaturalness of the Christian ideal of sainthood, with its inhibition of progress which we need to liberate; re-associating our instinctive emotions and giving our wills to our Lord Christ as Perfect Man. In other words we need the conviction that "health" in the fullest meaning of the word is synonymous with "holiness," which means "wholeness," that the closer our union with our Lord, the more wholly human do we become. With all the desires and longings of our nature, then, we throw ourselves upon our Lord first of all in this Act of Faith. The Catholic Life is the royal human way to the goal of human perfection, individual and social. Let us then first of all root ourselves deep in this conviction of faith.
If we want to be saints then, that is if we will to be saints, we have also the power to become saints.
The real enemy of our spiritual life is despair, the absence of an energizing hope, because of this basic attitude of suspicion which I have noted. How it pervades our typical eleven o'clock Sunday morning congregation!—the familiar listless atmosphere of settled contentment with a dull commonplace religion of routine observance, expressive of the secret conviction that the enthusiasm of the martyrs was after all a bit extravagant and vulgar, conduct, of course, somewhat abnormal; a great body of Church people who manifest no desire whatsoever for advance in the life of prayer and devotion, whose reaction on a Sunday morning to the notices of daily mass and [154/155] holy-days is about as evident as though one were to say, "Next Friday is the Mohammedan Feast of Ramadan!"; believers in "moderation" in religion, like the man who, objecting to the frequent services in a Catholic parish, remarked: "Moderation is my principle, in drink, in amusements, and in religion! As Fr. Rawlinson once aptly put it: "A moderate Christian! One might as well be satisfied with a moderately good egg or a moderately virtuous woman." Let us be frank to recognize these familiar traits of, not all but much, Protestant Episcopal behaviour for what they are: conscious or unconscious efforts to "rationalize" the absence of faith in the Incarnation. The practice of kneeling at the Incarnatus originated, I believe, as a spontaneous act of dramatic witness to the truth of the Incarnation in an age of doubt. Was, then, the practice ever more meaningful than today?
If despair is the real enemy of the spiritual life, then it follows that an indomitable hope grounded in faith is its quickening power. "We are able." These words embroidered on the priest's vestment in the old dispensation must be our ringing motto! "Called to be Saints." "This is the will of God, even your sanctification," says the Apostle. Let us face it. Our sanctification! God's will for you and for me, and, because God wills, we are "called." The deepest truth about ourselves is that it is God's will that we shall be "whole," completely harmonized, integrated personalities, free from interior conflicts, victorious, holy, "perfect and entire, lacking in nothing!" God's will for you and for me, and because God's will, capable by His help of realization! "He that hath begun a good work in you (in your Baptism, Confirmation, First Confession and Communion) will complete it." "We have the earnest of the Spirit" in our Baptism, the first "payment down," as it were, on the pledge of our attainment. We who call ourselves Catholic Christians need to make [155/156] much more than we do—and here we link ourselves in understanding with many of our Protestant brethren—of the good old Evangelical truth of Assurance, the keynote of true Evangelicalism without which there can be no true Catholicism; the conviction of "justification by faith," the Christian secret of incalculable power for the moral reformation of a life. "We are saved by hope, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast which entereth into that within the veil." Yes, that is where the ground of our assurance lies, "within the veil." Ours is a Faith with supernatural sanctions, rooted in the spiritual world; for it is only the supernatural world that can give meaning to this. And hope is a supernatural, not a natural, virtue.
Yet it is important for us as Catholics to realize that in this our day, our Lord is ratifying and confirming His promises of old-time by His revelations on the natural plane in the science of psychology. We are learning today that our actions are determined not so much by our self-conscious efforts of will, as by the imagination, the world of our dormant thoughts; that this all important imagination is controlled and determined by the suggestions, which we allow to enter our minds from our environment and from within our own hearts; that these all powerful suggestions, once they are accepted by us, work themselves out into action, as it were, automatically. Apart from our conscious effort the thing is done. We tend inevitably to become like what we worship. "Wilt thou be made whole? said our Lord to the paralytic. "Be it unto thee according to thy faith."
Quite literally we are saved, come to our true selves, made saints, made whole by Hope which is grounded in Faith.
Granted that in union with our Blessed Lord and in Him alone is to be found the fullness of true manhood and true womanhood—this is our Faith. Granted that in union with Him, and in union with Him alone, we have the power to become "perfect and entire, lacking nothing"—this is our Hope. But how are we to attain this union?
Just here, I believe, it is helpful to point out that the characteristic note of American religion would appear to be sentimentality, which means a proneness to indulge in the luxury of emotional states as ends in themselves, with a failure to harness them up to the will in moral effort. Our daily lives are for the most part prosaic and matter of fact, affording little outlet for the emotions that surge within. We must discover a vent somewhere, so we find it, along with the movies, in our Sunday religion. We forget that the spiritual life is a science, and like every science has its laws. We forget also that it is an art, and like every art has its method, its technique. Obey the laws of the spiritual life, be faithful to its method, its technique, and without any question or uncertainty whatsoever we will attain. This, I believe, needs to be said with emphasis. Progress in holiness, therefore, is not a hit or miss affair depending on the ups and downs of our emotional states, but is based upon laws which must be translated into the daily-ordered business of religion. "I must be about my Father's business," said our Lord; and business means ordered method. "Pray, repent, worship, be good, and you will be happy!" With such like exhortations Sunday after Sunday the faithful laity are more than familiar and in their bewildered hearts they respond,, "Yes, but how? How? How?" Am I speaking truth [157/158] when I say, too many of them go unenlightened. Is it any wonder that we are not producing saints?
I am convinced that our basic error, and it is a very practical thing, is the false antithesis we make between spiritual and natural, between spiritual and material. And may I be permitted to say in passing that the popular confusion of mind on this subject is emphatically not being dissipated in the Episcopal thunderings and lightnings of the electrical storm now centered over Birmingham, England. We tend to identify spiritual with the unnatural, the unusual, the mysterious, the catastrophic, the chance happening. Because an Old Testament miracle is "explained," as we say, in natural terms, we think that to this extent God is pushed out of the Bible. Because the how of man's origin is "explained" by evolution, some of us still think that God is pushed out of His creation. Because psychologists are attempting to "explain" religious faith in terms of such catch words as "projection," "suggestion" and "sublimation," and with no little success, many devout souls are in mortal fear that God is thereby being explained away. No! No! A thousand times, No! How many of our practical problems of faith would be answered if we would only remember that what is true of ourselves as persons in our efforts of self-expression must likewise be true of Personal God if He too were to express Himself in this our world. "He cannot be alive and not give evidence of that life and not have channels through which that life reaches and touches us." [Scott Holland, Intro., The Resurrection and the Life.] To quote Charles C. Josey in his Psychology of Religion, "If God would manifest Himself in our world of time and space He must express Himself in ways that can be mechanically described. . . . If God is to mean anything to us He [158/159] must be found within our experience, and, therefore, no discovery of the uniformity of our experience can reasonably serve as a basis of disbelief in God or for pushing Him farther and farther from us. We have much to learn here from the Greeks who taught that certain impulses and mental processes in man are divine. If God is to affect human life He must do so in definite ways which will submit themselves to description and that can be related to other experiences." In other words, God must meet us where we live. God is not only transcendent above nature, He is immanent in nature. "In Him we live and move and have our being." The dualism of spirit and matter is false. Matter exists to be the vehicle of spirit. The purpose of Christianity is to spiritualize the material world and all its relationships. "Christianity," it has been well said, "is the most materialistic of all religions." It is not afraid of matter. It does not run away from it. It comes with power to spiritualize it.
You see the practical bearing of this upon our theme. It is the glorious opportunity of the Catholic religion, the opportunity of a century, to claim the revelations of God in the science of psychology for our Lord and His Church, and to rescue it from the realm of mechanistic theory; the opportunity joyfully to welcome its confirmation of age-long Catholic principles and practices; and, chief of all, to baptize this freshly discovered truth into the service of our Lord that it may illumine our feet as with renewed confidence we tread the old paths of the Faith.
The Catholic Church has always, I would remind you, manifested an extraordinary assimilative power, a capacity to digest seemly alien thought, beliefs and practices. Whether it be the thought of Aristotle or the Stoics, the [159/160] mystery cults of the early Christian centuries, or the scientific discoveries of a later day, she transforms baser things into the gold of the Spirit for the service of her Lord who is the Lord of all life.
Let me, finally, illustrate this in the divine-human process, that which is the Will of God for us—our sanctification.
We are being told today that the deepest urge in the human heart is the "urge to completeness," in other words, wholeness, holiness. Educationalists are practically agreed that the vital essential for character development is the possession of an "adequate ideal." That is what parents are being told when they go to lectures on the subject of child training today. To quote a representative psychologist, Professor J. A. Hadfield, "There is, amongst the million possible ideals, an ideal which is the ideal for man's soul, which is capable of producing the greatest happiness. What this ultimate ideal actually is has not yet been determined, or generally agreed upon by all men. But that there is such an ideal seems scientifically probable. For in all nature there is no need but has the means to its satisfaction. . . . As there is food for hunger and as the sense of sight presupposes light, so there must be an ideal the attainment of which brings fulfillment and happiness to the soul." [Psychology and Morals, p. 127.] And we Catholic Christians in this day voicing the continuous corporate experience of the ages believe we have the answer to this recognized need: "This is Life Eternal to know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent." "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will [160/161] be added unto you." The Church's opportunity in meeting the present widely expressed desire for completeness is, to quote the words of a secular psychologist, "her ability to present a personal ideal by which alone the individual can be completely synthesized," that is, surrender to the Person of our Lord; an ability not only "to present the ideal" but to impart the power for its realization. How thrilling then is the opportunity! And first of all it must surely drive us Catholics to a deep searching of heart as to our own personal wholehearted conversion to Jesus Christ.
We are told that sublimation is the secret of release from the seemingly hopeless conflict of warring instincts and emotions; the lifting up and focusing of these natural impulses upon an "adequate ideal." Yes, "the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things that we would." With St. Paul we know the conflict and with St. Paul we know the solution, "I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord." With what renewed fervor this truth, both old and new, must send us back to the practice of systematic prayer and meditation; for what is prayer but the lifting up of the soul, the whole personality, to God, with all its thoughts, desires and impulses, that, lifted up into Christ, we may be "a new creation."
Of course, it is not easy or simple. There are dark sins to be uprooted, brought to the light, and disowned, followed by the healing grace of Absolution and Reconciliation. The Catholic process is today recognized as sound and in some form essential. The Sacrament of Penance is, indeed, coming into its own! Let us take courage. Let us freely recognize, too, that the pathological cases do exist where the festering results of past sins lie deep below the threshold of consciousness, [161/162] beyond the farthest reach of conscious confession. Here comes in the ministry of the Christian analyst whom in such cases the priest should welcome as a fellow-worker in the task of saving souls. In this very connection I would plead with parents for the practical recognition of the great value of the Sacrament of Penance for their children. The disowning of sinful habits through Confession and Absolution in early years will go a long way to prevent their falling through, so to speak, below the border line of consciousness and thereby setting up vicious complexes with their disastrous results in later years.
Said the head of St. Paul's School, Concord, recently in an address to parents, "Assurance of absolution is our rightful heritage." The crying need is not merely to acknowledge it academically, but to put it into practice by building confessionals in our churches and using them! And it is the laity that must demand it of the clergy.
"But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." There can be no progress toward holiness except by the "King's Highway of the Holy Cross." So says the Christian Faith. So also speaks the Law of Nature. Again to quote a dictum of natural science, "The law of sacrifice is one of the oldest biological laws. We find it operating in one-celled organisms. The 'mother' cell has to sacrifice a bit of itself to live; and that sacrifice forms another individual. From these early phases to that of the highest psychological organism, the individual must constantly make sacrifices for a freer and fuller life. Sacrifice is involved in the very idea of progress. Sacrifice is the surrender of the old for the new; it is necessary to biological development and to psychological and moral progress." [Hadfield, Psychology and Morals, p. 159.]
 How wonderfully the Catholic Religion satisfies the deepest needs of humanity! With unerring instinct since the Day of Pentecost the Church has ever put sacrifice at the heart of her worship. It is the Mass that matters, always has and always will; the Mass in which week by week all of us, and day by day an increasing number of us, "offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable holy and living sacrifice" in union with the sacrificed life, of our only "adequate ideal," Jesus Christ, our Blessed Lord, for the love of God and our fellow-men consummating that offering in frequent communions. The Episcopal Church may continue to nurture respectable citizens, but she will never set to work in earnest to make saints until with the rest of the Catholic world, until in every city and hamlet, in every parish and mission, she restores the holy Sacrifice of the Altar to the central place in her worship. In the words of the Bishop of Bloemfontein, South Africa, Walter Carey, "better an almost empty church with a reality of sacrifice at the heart of it, than a church full of worldlings who cannot be bothered to go below the surface. Let the Church preach sacrifice at all sorts of services, but let her—at any cost of numbers—keep the Holy Sacrifice as her central mystery and glory." But, once again, are we doing it? And once again, as in England, the laity, you laymen, must demand it of your priests!
So it is that the Catholic Church in her task of saint-making, like the householder, brings out of her treasure things new and old; treasure, every portion of it, the expression of love in the life of the believer;—Love that gives all and holds nothing back;—Love that drives out what is unworthy by its own expulsive power,—Love that has its trysts with its Beloved in prayer, meditation and Holy Mass;—Love that is consummated in Communion;—Love that reaches out after all good things in heaven and earth and claims them for our Lord.
 Of the things that I have said, this then is the sum: When you and I are saved we are made "whole," we are "sanctified," first of all by the quickening power of an indomitable hope in our calling as the will of the loving God; a hope that is grounded in a whole-hearted faith in the Sacred Humanity of our Blessed Lord; a hope that day by day expresses itself in a self-abandoning love for God and man. Faith, Hope, Love, these three energizing powers of the soul; supernatural virtues; gifts of God by which, and by which alone, saints are made.
My thesis is this: Wholeness, Fullness of Life (which we all crave) is one with Holiness! Is anyone still unconvinced? Then listen to the Saints "who have come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb"—that great cloud of living witnesses who have blazed the way before us:
"Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?"
(That is the question we often secretly ask and agonize over.)
"Saints, Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs,
Let us then go out from this Congress with this truth ringing in our ears! The end, the purpose, the one goal of the Christian religion, the Catholic Faith, and, therefore, of the Catholic Movement, is to make Saints; to make men in the image and after the likeness of the Sacred Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ! And our conviction is that only the Catholic Faith can do it. Are we, members of this Congress, going out surrendered to Him?