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The Catholic Life

Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Fourth Annual Catholic Conference
New York City, November 13th to 15th, 1928.

Auspices of the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests.

Milwaukee: Morehouse
London: A. R. Mowbray, 1929.

V. The Catholic and His Neighbor

Rector of Trinity Church, Easton, Pa.

OUR TOPIC covers an important and practical branch of the general subject of the Congress. Indeed it involves one-half the entire field of the Catholic life. For the Catholic life, as our Catechism teaches us, involves a two-fold relationship, a duty toward God and a duty toward our neighbor. This paper is to discuss briefly the second of these two relationships.

The expression of a duty toward our neighbor will be one of the chief consequences of our relationship with God. Our life in God should bear a double fruit, namely, holiness and righteousness. Holiness is the spirit of godliness. A holy man is a God-like man. Holiness implies a type of personal character in which the character of God is reflected. Righteousness, on the other hand, is the quality of right-dealing with our fellow-men. It is not sufficient that a Catholic live a holy life, his mind and heart the image of the mind and heart of God. He must also live a righteous life. Indeed, righteousness is the inevitable result of true holiness. His contact with his neighbor must be such that in all his dealings with his fellow-men he will reflect the attitude of God toward mankind. The Catholic is to carry out the will of God with regard to his neighbor.

And what is the will of God? Holy Scripture tells us. It says that Almighty God created this world for the greater extension of His Kingdom, and He placed living souls here, that the overflow of His love might crown them with blessings. But man was slow to comprehend. He found himself so entranced by the splendor of the world that he failed to see the infinitely greater splendor of the world's Creator. He wandered off into by-ways and fell into the power of a great enemy, who led him deeper and deeper into the darkness. He needed to be rescued. And so the Son of God went forth on a glorious and thrilling quest, to reestablish the human portion of His Kingdom. The rest of the story we Catholics know well, and we never cease to rejoice and thank God for His boundless mercies through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But now, having provided the means for the redemption of souls, by the Cross and by its application through the Holy Sacraments, it remains to find these souls, one by one, and to bring them the joys and the privileges of His Kingdom. And so He comes again on another quest, this time not to establish a basis for our salvation, for that is accomplished forever, but to seek these precious individual souls and to incorporate them into the Kingdom. And whereas before He chose for His conveyance the Incarnate Body of the Virgin-born, now He makes His Body, the Church, the instrument of His presence. In each and every member He is here.

In our subject, The Catholic and His Neighbor, we are now ready to consider the first half of the title—the Catholic. A Catholic is a human soul in whom Christ lives. He is a member of Christ by virtue of his baptism. Technically speaking, a Catholic is a soul who is conscious of this membership in Christ, who believes that the Sacrament of Baptism was the means whereby he was born into Christ, and who is consequently united with all other baptized souls in a single life, which is Christ. He believes that the Church, then, is an extension of the Incarnation, that Christ dwells within her and within every member of her, and therefore within himself. He has something in common with Saint Christopher: he, too, is a Christ-bearer. Wherever he goes, there Christ is present—not only in the cosmic sense that He is omnipresent because He is God, but in the specific sense that Christ is present in him, for the Christ-life is within him. He believes that this is what our Lord meant when He said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Saint Paul calls it "Christ in us the hope of glory." He says again, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."

Therefore, because we are utterly dead, and Christ our Lord has put a new life, His own Life, within us, all that we are and all that we have are His. Our whole mind and heart and will belong to Him. We are armed with His grace, in order that we may be completely at His command. We are to be like an instrument in the hands of an artisan, perfectly obedient to His wishes. We are to be like a ship in the hands of its pilot—a mere conveyance for the Lord who dwells within us. The ship matters but little, if the great Traveller reaches His goal. Our own convenience or comfort must be of no concern. It is the mind of the Master-Mariner that matters. He has chosen us to be the vehicle of His coming.

So completely does He identify His presence in the world with you and me, that apart from us He is utterly paralyzed. Humanly speaking, it is impossible for Him to be revealed to our fellow-men except through the instrumentality of those in whom He lives. They have no means of knowing Him, or even knowing about Him, but by the agency of those who can tell them. He is running the greatest risk in the history of salvation. He has made the rescue of our brothers contingent on our letting Him use us as His instruments.

"Christ has no hands but our hands,
To do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet,
To lead men in His way;
He has no tongues but our tongues,
To tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help,
To bring them to His side."

So great is His confidence in our willing surrender to Him that He counts the risk but small. So great is His love for us that He wants us to share His joy in winning souls to His Kingdom!

In plain English, then, we are here in this world, first, to become members of Christ, then, to be the instruments by which He can win still others to be members of His Body. Observe that it is He who is to win them, and we are the mere tools with which He is to work. The task and the responsibility are primarily His, and His will be the glory and the honor and the victory and the majesty. His success will be more difficult if the tools are blunt and rusty. The goal of His journey will be reached more rapidly if the vessel that He uses is truly ship-shape.

But oh! what a leaky boat He has chosen! We are always in danger of foundering. We are quite unable to sail a straight course. The poor old ship is full of whims and cranks and devious ways. Every sailor knows how difficult an ill-built vessel is to manage. It does not react as a well-appointed boat will do. We have a most aggravating way of heading up into the wind and stalling, just when the occasion requires full speed ahead. We constantly need the dry-dock for repairs. Our chains are ever rusting, our sails tearing, our steering gear getting out of plumb. Alas, it is that steering gear especially that needs attention! Why will it not respond more readily to the pull of the Pilot? What patience the Master-Mariner must use, to keep this poor old hulk on the seas at all! Were it not for the affection of the Captain for His ship, He would long ago have junked us entirely. But these captains have a strange sentiment for the vessels they have sailed: and never had a commander such an abiding love for his boat as the Captain of our Salvation has for us!

Think how the great Master has honored us! Why should so wonderful a Captain sail in such a cockle-boat? Certainly none other than a great sailing-master could manage such a ship at all! And for what an exalted purpose He is traveling in us! He is sailing to His Kingdom. He is seeking His new subjects. He is hunting them out, that He might bestow on them the privileges of citizenship in the greatest of nations. He is coming to bless them with His gracious presence. And this is the kind of craft in which He sails! How greatly we must handicap Him! How much faster He might travel, if only we were a good ship and a true! It is indeed humiliating to realize that we are often hindering far more than helping Him. And yet He uses us! How unspeakably He has honored us! Our hearts should glow with loving pride, and with deepest thankfulness.

Yes, and every atom of self-respect will rouse us to respond in our best way to His need of us, that we may be worthy of this high honor. A sailor sometimes apostrophizes his ship, as though it is a living thing, capable of intelligent response. So we may carry the figure a little further. We must combat these strange idiosyncrasies of our waywardness. We must try to be amenable to His command. We must stop this ceaseless creaking of the joints. How can our dear Captain's nerves endure it?—this fretting and whining and complaining! We must try to ride the waves more easily, and not fall so heavily into the trough of the sea like an old waterlogged tub. That is to say, we must adapt ourselves more readily to the exigencies of life, and not flounder helplessly before every difficulty and sink into despair at every disappointment. We must keep more steadily to our course, and not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine, every fleeting impulse, every worldly fancy that sways us from our goal. Above all, we must reply more quickly to the Pilot's touch, obey His command more readily, more completely, more joyously. At His slightest gesture we must spring to position like a racing yacht.

But leaving these flights of fancy and coming back to practical prose, we are indeed humbled at the thought of our complete unworthiness of this task of ours. It ought to be a thrilling, fascinating vocation to win a human soul, to turn it away from emptiness and worldliness and to fire it with a burning zeal for the Christ we love. Sometimes we find fellow Christians who feel indeed the thrill of doing this. It is a perfect joy to them to speak very frankly about their Lord and what He means in their lives. Most of us fail to find pleasure in this. We are petrified at the prospect of undertaking it. This is partly, perhaps, because we are sadly conscious of the thinness and shallowness of our own spiritual life. We feel that we have very little of which we can boast, and that it is almost hypocrisy to pose as an ardent lover of our Lord, when so frequently we betray Him by our indifference. It is partly, too, because of timidity and diffidence. Indeed, when we do experience the joy of surrender to our Lord, we feel that it is one of those things that are too precious for conversation. We have all had sacred experiences which are cheapened and profaned by undue publicity. All the deepest affections of the human heart partake of this unspeakableness. So, for these or other reasons, we hesitate to undertake this solemn and holy task of winning souls.

But we must remember that where our human gifts are inadequate for this work, we have our Lord's own life within us, and His grace is sufficient unto us. He has a remarkable way of breaking down difficulties. Saint Peter found that the iron door of the jail opened of its own accord. Poor untrained fishermen and publicans became a great power for the Kingdom, when they let their Master use them. He has the most amazing way of doing through us what we should never have dreamed of doing ourselves. A strange thing happens when we let Him take command. Our poor faint heart finds a new courage and no longer shrinks from the hard task. Our befuddled brain becomes keenly alert and alive to a particular opportunity. Our weak will is seized with sudden inspiration and rejoices to exercise new powers that simply were not there before. Our Master proves to be a skillful pilot in keeping the ship to its course.

So much for the Catholic. Now what about his neighbor? In the first place, who is this neighbor? It all depends. Perhaps he is a mentally and physically starved creature from the backwash of civilization. Perhaps he is an overfed parasite, sated with life's pleasures. He may be a moron with the intellect of a ten-year-old. He may be a highly educated and perhaps cynical product of a modern university, who smiles with condescension at our juvenile mind. He may be a hard-boiled worldling who has tasted what he thinks are the thrills of life and found them insipid. He may be a little youngster with all the hopes and joys of the world before him. He may rank in our eyes as a Catholic, Anglican, Roman, or Greek. In each case the problem is different. Moreover, there are weak Catholics, ignorant Catholics, timid and wavering Catholics, lapsed Catholics, fallen Catholics. Perhaps he is a Jew or an avowed heathen. More probably in this country he is a Protestant or a skeptic—alas, too often he is both of these combined! This is the neighbor who is to be brought to our Lord.

This neighbor, first of all, is to be loved by us. Because our Master loves this soul, we, too, are to love him. Sometimes we find it difficult to do so—but never because of the failings of the neighbor, for the motive of our love is not the neighbor's attractiveness, and therefore the difficulty of loving him is not due to the absence of attractions. The cause of our love lies elsewhere. It is centered in our Lord. Because He lives in us, we are looking through the eyes of Jesus, and with our Master's eyes we can see something in this neighbor that, unaided, human eyes cannot see. And that something is unspeakably worth while. We see there a potential son of God. We see a soul that is capable of becoming a member of Christ. Above all, we see one who is so dear to Jesus that He saw fit to die for him. Therefore not primarily for the neighbor's sake, but for Jesus' sake, we shall love this neighbor and long to bring him to his own Lord. The only reason we ever find it difficult to love him is because all too frequently we forget to look through the eyes of Christ. We try to revive our own dead self and to see him from a human point of view. Then there is often nothing attractive there to love. But the love of the Catholic Christian must be not a human love, but a superhuman, actuated by the living Christ within him. The neighbor must be seen through the heavenly eyes of Jesus.

And what are we to do for this neighbor? Obviously, bring him into the Kingdom and share our own joys with him. Or if he is already a member of Christ, we are to stir up within him the gift that is latent. But this introduces an interesting complex, for the reason that every human individual has a personality of his own. It is quite impossible to prescribe a recipe that will fit all cases. We have here not inanimate and stable material, but living, wriggling, dynamic souls. It is precisely this that makes our game the most intensely interesting in all the world. It never grows dull. We shall never have to suffer from a sense of sameness. Is it any wonder that our Lord has warned us to cultivate the serpent's wisdom? Do we need to be reminded that we shall have to depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Let us never forget that all our efforts will be quite sterile unless they are enlivened by the grace of our Lord. And since it is He who really does the work, our own efforts will never equal in potency the effect of persistent intercession in their behalf.

In considering methods, experience teaches us that we are not going to win the average Protestant or skeptic by mere argument. Argument puts him immediately on his mettle, and he makes it a point of honor not to let himself be refuted. We have put him in a frame of mind which makes conversion improbable. If we think ourself equipped to out-argue him, even though this may be true, we are wise not to attempt it. Only the man with sincere doubts about his own position or eager to learn the Catholic faith will profit by technical theological discourse. Unfortunately these men are rare.

After all, our Lord never said, "Ye shall be a debating society for Me unto the uttermost parts of the earth." No, we are to be witnesses. A witness is not a lawyer. It is not his function to argue. He is to bear witness. And how are we to bear witness to our Lord? By the manner of our life. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Here is the glorious opportunity of the ordinary humble Catholic. He is not trained to talk theology. He is too shy to bare the precious secrets of his soul. But by the very nature of things he must live his life before the eyes of other men. And there is no better proof of the value of a religion than the characters it produces. If the Catholic faith is true, and more completely and beautifully true than the type of religion that is familiar to our country, then it should be able to display this fact before the world. No Christian argument can be so convincing to the heathen as a Christian life. No Catholic doctrine can be made so cogent to a Protestant as a saintly Catholic life. Our faith can create not only occasional great saints, but a general level of spiritual attainment in the rank and file which an unbeliever is bound to recognize and honor.

Is our Catholic religion making us more Christ-like, more sweet and tolerant and kindly? Is it putting fulness of joy in our hearts, and peace and gladness and serenity and strength on our faces? These are arguments that your practical Protestant can respect. He is not impressed by your puzzling ceremonies, your silly vestments, your childish candles, your mystifying genuflections, your frequent communions and confessions. Every prejudice of inheritance and training cries out against them. But if he sees that all these things have somehow brought a beautiful something into your life, a romance, a poetry, an inspiration, a joy, some precious thing that Protestantism has denied him—then he will tolerate your absurdities, and even come occasionally and look wistfully on, and will find himself willing to investigate more deeply a religion that can produce such fruits. On the day he starts to do that he is won! He has touched the fire, and he shall never again forget the warmth it brought into his poor cold soul.

If the Kingdom of our Lord is ever to come, it is we who must bring it. And I think He must look down sometimes with hungering eyes and cry, "How long, my children, how long before you really and seriously begin?" Week by week and day by day He pours His gift of strength upon us, through prayer and sacrament and in countless other ways. He has stored up in us a great reserve of power and grace from heaven. The supplies are bursting from the magazines. The army of the Lord has long been ready for the march. The great command has gone out for us to advance. Yet we linger timidly in camp. We are paralyzed with hesitation. The world accuses us Catholics of ceaseless storing up of spiritual energy, and of failing to employ it. We are ever going back to the depot for fresh supplies. When under God are we going to use them? The Catholic life is not a dress parade. It is a long and uphill march, with a deadly battle all the way. Is it not high time to get the army moving? Shoulder arms, fellow Catholics, and forward march!

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