IV. The Preparation of the Preacher
V. Types of Sermons
VI. The Technique of the Sermon
VII. Sermons to Children
VIII. Classes and Instructions
IX. Preparation for Confirmation
X. Quiet Days and Retreats
WHAT a sermon is depends on what the man who preaches it is. The preacher necessarily speaks out of his own accumulated experience. The handicap of the young preacher is therefore the limitation of his experience. It is commonly assumed that any bright man can preach; that is not true: any bright man can talk--but that is quite a different thing.
For what is a sermon? It is a partial presentation of the Christian religion, of some fact or truth of it, with a view to leading the listeners to action. A successful sermon is one that induces men to act; it may be as learned or as clever as you like, but if it does not lead men to action it is a failure. Practical Christianity is the Christian creed translated into terms of the Christian life. It is obvious that a sermon that does not flow out of experience will have small possibility of bringing about this translation. There, in fact, lies one of the great secrets of successful preaching--to be able to move to action, to apply a stimulus to the will. It is comparatively easy to move people sentimentally, and too often that is what is aimed at, the accomplishment of which seems success. If the preacher can stir the emotions, can move to applause or tears, he is likely to be considered a great preacher and what is fatal, is likely to think himself one. "What a wonderful sermon that was" the departing lady says at the church door; most likely it was not a wonderful sermon at all. The wonderful sermon is one that sends the congregation away thoughtful and silent. No doubt the appeal to the emotions is perfectly legitimate as a means to an end; it is illegitimate as an end in itself. The soul whose emotions are constantly stirred and then discharged otherwise than through action is almost certain to fall into an unhealthy state. The preacher who understands this will be careful to limit his emotional appeals, and will not be tempted to do otherwise by the fact that the sermons which appeal to the emotions uniformly call out more praise than others. "We are all human enough to like praise; but it is as well if growing experience brings with it a slightly cynical attitude towards its value.
I do not think that I exaggerate if I say that a really successful preacher is a preacher all the time. I do not mean that he is always preaching--far from it; but that he is looking at all things with a view to what I may call their homiletical value. His own direct experience is limited and needs to be supplemented by what he can learn of the experience of others. He sees life from one angle, but through the eyes of others he can learn how it looks from other angles. He reads a book--any book--with mind open and alert to the possibility of seeing a new presentation of some truth, a new and forcible way of putting some old problem. He calls on the family of a working man, or he talks with a man at a club, and he is getting points of view, estimating difficulties, looking for roads of approach. This homiletic attitude of mind, this steady pressure of his vocation, is not only the justification of his wide reading but the thing that makes it necessary. All branches of knowledge bring grist to the preacher's mill; and the novel and the poem often help him where the book he expected to gain help from fails.
For the successful preacher preaches out of a full mind, and that his mind may be full there is need of the most varied reading. I am not now speaking of intensive study, the study that insures that a priest shall be properly educated for his calling--I have already spoken of that. I am now speaking of what is called general reading. Such reading should be as wide as possible--the specialist is rarely an effective preacher. Naturally, I do not mean that such reading should be at haphazard; as time is limited there must be choice. I am convinced that the preacher needs to read fiction widely, but it should be fiction chosen with a view to the understanding of the passing currents of thought. Nothing better reflects the popular mind than the novel and the play. Whatever is uppermost in contemporary thought is soon reflected there. Whether or not the problem novel and play have come to stay, they are very much here at present and have great interpretative value. Through them, better than through the newspaper, we learn what men and women are thinking about and get "the modern point of view." It is impossible to estimate the effect of novel and play on the mind of the people, but certainly it is immense. The soul that has no very firm grip on dogmatic faith is subjected to a constant series of suggestions, as that creeds are played out, that Christians are narrow-minded and behind the times, that priests are ignorant of modern thought, that moral strictness is puritanical, and so on. This constant stress of suggestion from many angles ends by destroying the faith of multitudes. If the preacher is to do anything to counteract this pressure of suggestion he must first of all understand it and its prevalence. He must, when he speaks, speak as one who knows.
There is always the danger of the preacher becoming a back number through his neglect of changing moods of popular thought. He may fall into the attitude of the fundamentalist and preach sermons which belong to another century--if they ever belonged anywhere. At this time of day there is nothing but loss of time in preaching against evolution or Old Testament criticism. There was a time when the religious thought of the world was frightened by these bogies and spent much breath in ardently denouncing them. That time has passed. The conservative mind has its value, but it is too timid and frightened by the new, not because of what it contains but because of what it is afraid that it may contain. It begins by denying everything in order to be on the safe side. That is foolish but there seems no way of avoiding it. When religious thought has had time to study and assimilate what is true in the new--then the preacher ought to know that and not go on railing at accepted truths or opinions. It is never a good or wise thing to denounce any movement of thought because we find certain elements of it objectionable. Probably the greatest intellectual nuisance of modern times is the psychologist. He is a most objectionable person in his cocksure assertiveness in subject matter in which there is as yet no certainty. But it would be stupid to make sweeping denunciations of psychology, a science (if it be such) which has already made valuable contributions to our knowledge and will undoubtedly make more in the future. The danger of the preacher is lest he denounce without knowledge, or lest he praise on the basis of some one book he has lately read. There is perhaps no person less helpful than the man who has read one book and imagines that he knows the subject.
An essential power of the preacher is what I may perhaps call the power of translation. It is not enough for the preacher to know, he must also know how to impart. The young priest comes to his new work with a considerable accumulation of knowledge, but with no training as to expression and no experience in dealing with concrete cases. If he be intelligent and zealous he will understand his limitations and set himself to remove them. In his preparation of sermons and addresses he will give much thought to the manner of conveying truth. This is not at all the same thing as clearness of expression--most fairly educated persons, if they set themselves to it, can produce an intelligible expression of what they want to say. But the preacher is never preaching to an abstract set of people; he is addressing a congregation of persons of a certain sort and his statements must be shaped in reference to them--must be intelligible and forcible not to the teacher but to the taught. As one reads the sermons of the "Caroline Divines" one wonders what these learned essays interspersed with Hebrew and Greek and Latin could have meant, for example, to the crowd of courtiers who gathered in the King's chapel. And one reads some of the most wonderful sermons of the last generation, for example those of Dean Church, and wonders if they "got across."
To translate the Christian religion into terms of contemporary thought is the preacher's task. That does not mean "translating the creed into terms of the modern mind" in the current meaning of that phrase; that is, to substitue the "conclusions of modern thought" for the creed. What is meant is that every generation has its own language and mode of expression and that religion to be intelligible has to be put into these terms, otherwise men cannot think about it at all. Eternal truths do not have to be changed in this process of translation: the equivalent of them has to be found. We do not give up the essential truth of the divine Authorship of the universe when we pass from a belief in immediate creation to a belief in evolution; nor shall we when we have in the course of time to pass from evolution to some other scientific formula. We do not abandon the essential truth of the Ascension when we cease to think of heaven as above us. Translation is not contradiction but a new form of expression to make religion intelligible. This requires skill and practice; and it requires that the preacher understand modern modes of thought. Failing that, he will remain largely unintelligible to others and they to him. And furthermore he must understand that this process of translation is his job, for the disciples and exponents of the modern mind have not the slightest intention of making an effort to understand religion. Most of the attacks that are to-day made on religion demonstrate that not the very slightest effort has been made to understand the thing attacked. Most of the opponents of the Catholic religion in the United States, those who are undermining the faith of the young in our universities, seem to have learned all they know of religion in Protestant Sunday Schools. They assume on the basis of that that they have a competent knowledge of religion and are able intelligently to criticize it. I presume that they would not assume that anyone has the right to set himself up as a critic of biology or psychology on the basis of a high school course. Naturally the utterances of the average college tutor in matters of religion are grotesque.
The preacher therefore not only needs the background of technical education but the background of general culture. He may seem to many people to be wasting his time as he sits by his study fire reading a volume of poetry, let us say of Vachel Lindsay or Carl Sandburg. There are no doubt parishioners and others who would be ready to say that he would much better be out making calls than wasting his time in this way. But would he? I am speaking now purely of the preacher and am assuming that he has not in fact neglected any branch of his parish work. There by the fire he is getting into contact with certain expressions of contemporary thought--very forceful and vivid expressions. If he is reading for the primary purpose of understanding the time--this time--in which God has placed him and given him work to do, I think that there by the fire he is doing very well indeed, is doing very effective parish work. In fact, I would go further, and say that he is doing more effective work than he would be if he were sitting by Mrs. X's fire and listening to her tale of the tribulations incident on the character of the modern cook, or in Mr. Z's room listening to him discourse on the disasters that will overtake the world if the capitalistic system be overthrown. There is work that seems parish work but is in fact mere waste of time; and there is that which seems mere waste of time and is valuable work. The priest must know how to select.
Not, however, that I would underrate the contribution of an evening spent in listening to the iniquities of Mrs. X's cook or Mr. Z's fears of social change. They too are human beings, and familiarity with human nature in all its divagations is one of the priest's most valuable assets. It is what enables him to make his sermon a living thing as distinguished from an academic discourse. No one can be a really effective preacher unless he can understand the intricacies of human motive, the innumerable ways in which the human person succeeds in hiding from himself the true grounds of his action. The average human person is probably not dishonest, but he is an adept in the art of self-deception. He thinks that he stays away from Mass because he is tired; he thinks that he plays golf on Sunday because he needs exercise; he thinks that he does not pledge for church support because he does not want to bind himself; he thinks that he does not go to confession because he does not believe in it. In these and in many other ways he quite succeeds in deceiving himself and is quite honest in explaining his action to his rector when he calls. But there is no need that the rector be deceived. He can listen to this exhibition of vapid humanity and console himself for the momentary boredom by the thought that he is learning to understand homo sapiens. He need be no more taken in when his female parishioner says: "Really, Henry works so hard all the week that I have not the heart to wake him up Sunday morning", or, "Charles is so much better after a Sunday motor trip that I feel that I must go with him: it really is my duty, isn't it?" There are always reasons for doing what one wants to do, and the member of the Church is rare who will frankly say that he is not much interested in religion and prefers to have a good time on Sunday to going to Mass. Intercourse with such people ought to save the priest the trouble of preparing learned discourses on the relations of religion and science or the corruption of the Papal Curia during the Middle Ages. The power of the Old Testament prophets which still thrills us as we read their words after all these centuries and in an utterly different environment, lies in the fact that they were addressing their words to living human beings whose faults and virtues they understood. Their message prefaced with "thus saith the Lord" cut sharply into the lives of those who listened--so sharply in fact that the result was that the prophets "had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented."
To understand human nature in the large we need not only to see it for ourselves but to see it through the eyes of others. No matter how keen observers we may be there will always be much that will escape us, angles of vision that we have not taken. Here is where the novelist and the dramatist help us. To be successful in either field a man must be a keen student of humanity, otherwise he will fail to interest us and will be of no use to us. That is our touchstone in selecting our reading--does the man know? Is he presenting us with impossible puppets or with observed characters? Can we learn from him I Many people are tempted to lay down the psychological novel as being tedious and dealing often with disagreeable people. From the point of view of the student of human nature that is a vast mistake. The great novelists of the immediate past--Henry James, Hardy, Meredith, Dostoevsky, Bourget, France, to mention but a few of the greatest--have much to tell us because they have observed with keener insight than we manage to do, and their art enables them to formulate their knowledge in characters which make it available for us.
From this point of view the teaching of the novelist is supplemented by the vast literature of biography and autobiography. There you have the human document spread out before you with a minimum of concealment. What a field that is for the study of human nature! Especially so, I think, from the homiletic point of view. There are so many opportunities to study religious experiences directly at first hand. Where better can you study the problem that is always confronting and perplexing the priest--the case of the boy or girl who after religious training abandons religion and lapses into sin or indifference or atheism? We meet over and over again the young man who goes to the university with the purpose of fitting himself for orders, and in a year or two has not only abandoned that purpose but has thrown over all religion. The more light we can get on the influence of irreligious companionship and anti-christian teaching the better, for it is a problem we have to deal with almost daily. There is small use in talking to the boy or girl from our point of view; we must master their point of view and the nature of the influences that are forming them.
All that I have been saying amounts to this, which I started by saying, that a sermon to be effective must be the outcome of experience. Of course any one experience is limited, and unless we are to preach one-sidedly we must often go beyond our own experience. But we can keep as close to it as possible and never venture into pure theory. There are types of experience which are not actually ours which yet we come to understand as we study the experience of others. One is sometimes told rather sharply, "You do not really understand what you are talking about when you, a celibate, undertake to give advice to married people and to tell mothers how to raise their children." But one does not always have to have experience to understand it: one has to study it. A priest who has studied children, observed how the child mind works, has had experience in instructing them and hearing their confessions, will be in a position to give advice much in advance of that of the average parent. And as to understanding what is involved in the marriage relation, the celibate priest has at least understood it well enough to keep out of it.
The young priest at least will be under the necessity of teaching and preaching many things of which his experience is elementary, of which there are members of his parish who know more than he does. He will, unless he be very unfortunate, find people with a prayer and sacramental experience that is far beyond his own. Yet he must speak of these things--speak with modesty and reserve. It is perfectly true, as some one has said, that the business of a priest is to preach, not to practice. That is to say, the priest as priest has to set forth the whole Christian theory and practice whether he himself has advanced very far in practice or not. His practice is the practice of a private Christian; his teaching is the teaching of a commissioned representative of Christ--and woe to him if he teach not the Gospel and the whole of it. He is to teach what the Catholic Church teaches--not so much of that teaching as he has succeeded in putting into practice. He is not a hypocrite in so doing, though the gap between his preaching and practice will often cause him a twinge of pain. He is not a hypocrite because he is teaching what the Church sends him to teach and not something that he has found to be true. If in fact he has discovered it to be true, so much the better, for there will be lacking in his teaching a certain note of reality and conviction as long as he is transmitting a message that he has not verified.
Because sermons to be effective must be so largely the personal utterances of a certain man and the reflection of his experience it is easy to understand how ineffective the "got up" sermon of necessity is. To pick out a subject at the last possible moment, to dig into a commentary or some other book for material to help us out, is the way to produce a sermon that will have no value. No doubt a preacher with what we call "a flow of words" can so prepare himself to speak for twenty minutes, but if there is any one in the congregation capable of thought he will see through the futile performance. The priest's excuse that he had not time to get up a sermon properly is of course merely silly and an attempt to mask his sloth and lack of discipline. Accidents will happen, no doubt, but as a rule failure to prepare a sermon properly is due to misuse of time. The priest is bound by the conditions of his life and work to allot the proper amount of time to the preparation of his sermons, and it is an insult to his people and a contempt of his office to do otherwise. He is bound to give the best he can even if he is talking to a group of half a dozen chidren.
In regard to the form of the sermon opinions may legitimately differ. I will state my own opinion founded on years of experience that the spoken sermon (other things being equal) is far more effective than the written. I know that there have been great preachers who have read their sermons--but it takes a great preacher to do it: and I am still of the opinion that that same great preacher would have been greater still if he had spoken his sermon. And whatever may have been the case in the past, in the present and in the United States the effect on the hearers of the spoken word is much greater than that of the written. Mode of delivery, no doubt, has something to do with it, and an effective method of delivery of the written sermon is possible. I have heard effective preachers who read their sermons--the late Dr. Vibbert was one; but there will always be something lacking in effectiveness for the ordinary audience. The psychological effect is not the same either on the congregation or on the preacher himself. Beading at the best is the delivery of an essay--the man is reading the production of some other man, the man of yesterday at least. He cannot get the same sort of spontaneity and verve into his address, he cannot get the same sort of contact with his hearers; he cannot react from them as the extemporary speaker can. The man who is speaking without notes can react continually from his congregation and can create and play upon their moods.
Naturally, the extemporary sermon is not less, but more, prepared. It is an easy business to write out a twenty minute address compared with the work of getting fixed in one's mind a well thought out outline which is never completely fixed but is continually modified as one goes along. The effective preacher without notes has a hard job but it is one that pays.
The greatest danger of the preacher is that of sloth, which prevents him adequately from preparing his sermon. He is apt to presume upon his fluency or his experience or even upon his reputation. We have all known distinguished preachers who failed badly on occasion, obviously because they had not worked. The next greatest danger is, no doubt, the desire for popularity and success. To draw a crowd is not necessarily success. Anyone with a small amount of brains can get a crowd for a time at least--witness the success of certain recent attempts in that line. The late Bishop Williams of Connecticut used to tell us that any of us could easily crowd our church on a Sunday morning by sitting on the edge of the pulpit attired in a suit of red underclothes. There is no virtue in a crowd as such. It gives you an opportunity? But if you make use of the opportunity to present the Catholic faith you will sadly disappoint the crowd and they will not come again.
But aside from crowd seeking, the priest may seek popularity by preaching what the people want and not what they need. To play to the gallery, to avoid unpopular doctrines, to speak on harmless topics of the day, to align oneself with popular movements, is no doubt the road to a certain sort of popularity, but it is also to prostitute one's office and to turn away from the work one was ordained to do. We were ordained to preach the Catholic religion and the Catholic religion always has been and always will be an unpopular religion. It makes vast demands on men; demands for obedience and sacrifices of all sorts; and men do not readily give themselves to these things. It is a stern religion requiring of the preacher plain speaking on matters which cut into men's daily lives. It is easy to speak plainly of the faults of Jacob and of the infidelity of the Children of Israel; but it is less easy to speak of gambling when you know what went on at Mrs. X's party, or of the iniquities which take place at the country club. It is easy to lapse into generalities and platitudes. But to what end is colorless preaching? It would be better to omit the sermon altogether. "That sort of preaching," the warden said, "will end by driving all the rich out of the parish." Well, one cannot afford to sell one's soul to the devil even to keep up the finances of a parish.
In the end the priest can only say with the Apostles: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard."
As the priest works out his experience as a preacher he will gradually settle upon the form of the presentation of his subject that he finds most suitable to him. I do not think that anyone can teach him this, for a sermon of any worth is a mode of self-expression. There are certain ways in which I can put truth forcibly which are natural to me: this I must find out. I may,.to be sure, just speak naturally in the way best for me without having reflected upon the matter; but more commonly it will be true that I need to reflect and study. A sermon is neither an essay nor an oration but a distinct mode of intellectual expression; it is the presentation of some fact or truth or practice of the Christian religion in terms of the preacher's experience. It will therefore be a wholly personal mode of expression, will be colored by the personality of the preacher. Instructors in homi-letics often insist that the preacher shall study to eliminate from his mode of address personal peculiarities. That, I think, is mistaken advice. No doubt he will do well to eliminate merely queer tricks and odd actions; but it will be a mistake to adopt a standardized mode of delivery and gesture. One's gestures, for example, should be perfectly natural and not studied, not the product of the theories of elocution teachers. There is a story of someone's finding a manuscript of a sermon that a preacher had left in a car (let us hope after he had used it). In it were carefully introduced instructions as to the gestures to be used; something of this sort in the way of rubrics--"Here pause and wave the right hand in a gesture of despair"; "At this point look about with an expression of contempt." That sort of thing is not preaching the Christian religion. It may very well be that one's gestures are awkward, but if they are one's own they are likely to be more expressive than if they are studied and artificial gestures. So, too, every man has a way of saying what he has to say that is natural to him; he had better stick to that way. A congregation soon gets used to a natural mode of expression however unusual, and feels that it expresses the man. Of course if they do not respect the man and what he says, the form of his expression, however perfect, will not help the situation.
In his process of finding himself as a preacher the young priest will do well to study the sermons of other preachers. I do not mean that he should take up the history of homiletics, for the preaching of one century, however effective in its time, will not be effective in another. From a literary point of view preaching reached its high-water mark in the seventeenth century. Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon in France; Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, South and Tillotson in England, were masters of the art. But it is a form of art that is now antique. Dr. South preaching three hours is inconceivable to-day; nor can we imagine a modern preacher at the end of an hour holding up an exhausted hour glass, and being greeted with cries of "go on, go on," and then turning the glass over for another hour of preaching. And yet their sermons are masterpieces of what was once called "pulpit eloquence." They are without doubt better sermons than most of those preached to-day and well repay careful study; naturally, not with a view to copying the method, but to understand how truth may be developed and effectively presented. The rhetoric of Bossuet, the learning of Andrewes, even the matchless style of Taylor would to-day be thrown away, and yet the preacher of to-day can learn much from the masters of the past.
Still, unless he is making a profound study of the art, the preacher will gain more help from the preachers of his own time. Our intellectual environment changes very rapidly and our modes of effective expression and presentation of truth vary with it. I am inclined to think that even so recent preachers as Newman and Liddon have passed as effective models. I remember a priest telling me that he had preached every one of Liddon's sermons, and feeling rather glad that I had not had to listen to him. So far as my own experience in the study of sermons goes I should have no hesitation in saying that by far the most effective preacher of the last generation was Scott Holland. For depth of understanding, for keenness of thought, for originality and effectiveness of expression, I do not know of anyone who can approach him. His sermons have this advantage for the study of the young priest, that while they are vastly stimulating to thought they are quite impossible of imitation.
Speaking of imitation raises the question--What is plagiarism? How great a sin, or if not a sin, an offence against the proprieties, is it? It is no doubt quite ill-advised (to put it mildly) to read another man's sermon and leave the congregation with the impression that it is one's own. I remember one young man who achieved a great reputation as a preacher by the process of memorizing the sermons of Bishop Brooks and delivering them without any explanation as to their origin. That was no doubt wrong; but it might be said in partial defence that he must have worked harder to get up the sermons than the average preacher does to get up original ones. We are not all geniuses, and perhaps it would be a relief to some congregations if a priest were to say frankly that he was going to use any homiletic material that he thought effective, and having thus cleared his conscience, go on to use the sermons of others. If he can do this effectively beyond what he himself can do, this might very well be excused. Indeed I am inclined to recommend such a method to the young priest who has to preach twice a day on Sundays. I have a vague memory of some learned and pessimistic persons who said that a scholar could write one sermon a week and a fool two. I wonder what would have been his judgment on the work of a priest who has to produce six or eight addresses of some sort in the course of seven days.
I do not believe that the borrowing of thought or illustration from others can be considered plagiarism. Very few people have original thoughts: all our thoughts are borrowed. What is called original thought is only a new combination of old thoughts; and the whole process of education is a process of the accumulation and assimilation of other men's thoughts. After we have accumulated them we can go on to work them over and newly combine them for our own immediate use. We study books to find out what others have thought and we call them our masters. We study the Bible to assimilate the teachings of inspired writers. We study the works of theologians and spiritual writers to "make their thoughts our own." Just where are we to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate borrowing? There is, in fact, no such line. I feel that I have made a thought my own if I have in such wise mastered it that I do not merely quote it but reproduce it in my own terms. It seems to me legitimate to take a starting point from other men's sermons and then to work out on my own lines.
As I have indicated, there are various types of sermons one or the other of which will in the end be found congenial to the individual preacher. I do not mean that after experiment he will confine himself to that type, but that it will be the type that he will habitually use. A type which was much in favor in the past, but which, I imagine, is less so at present, is the expository sermon--the sermon which concerns itself with elaborate exposition of a single passage of Scripture. A large collection of such sermons, some of them very wonderful indeed, is found in the Expositor's Bible and also in the Pulpit Commentary, both of which had a large circulation a generation ago, and I fancy are still in wide use. Such sermons are formal expositions of the Bible. Historically, this is the meaning of the sermon. It was an exposition of the Eucharistic Scriptures. Its place in the Mass still indicates this; and I think that there is no formal direction for a sermon other than in connection with the Mass. That the sermon was primarily an exposition is further evidenced by the surviving custom of "taking a text" though the sermon that follows may have no vital connection with it.
To-day, I think, the strictly expository sermon is becoming unusual, in the Anglican Communion, at least. In that blessed era when the people were interested in a sermon as such, and spontaneously kept awake during it, a formal exposition of Scripture might be used with success. But to-day, I fear, there are very few of us who are skilled enough expositors to hold the attention of a congregation. For one thing the interest in and reverence for Scripture has greatly declined. We listen with little of the awe and reverence with which one receives a divine message. The person who listens to the Bible as the Word of God and is therefore eager to know what it means is rare. One consequence of our changed attitude is that our exposition of Scripture has largely degenerated into a defence of Scripture--into apologetics, in other words. To the modern American congregation, "Thus saith the Lord," has ceased to carry conviction. It is not so much that they disbelieve as that they are indifferent--the authority of the Bible, like all other authority, has passed out of their horizon. I do not mean that the expository sermon has become impossible, but that because of the changed intellectual atmosphere it has become difficult as an art. Add to this that the clergy are trained in Biblical criticism rather than in Biblical religion, trained to approach Scripture as critics rather than as expositors, and you have the problem still further complicated. I confess that the expository sermon has never "found" me. 1 have known only one really good expositor--the late Bishop Graf ton. Under present conditions I am inclined to think that pure exposition is best relegated to the Bible class.
Is it also true, as is so often and so positively asserted, that the dogmatic sermon belongs to the past, and is at present an ineffective instrument more likely to empty a church than to fill it? It is no doubt true that the revolt against authority of all sorts which has been increasing for the last century has been directed in a special way against authority in religion. Dogmatism and authority have been so persistently denounced by those who have voted themselves into the position of our intellectual guides that the popular mind has become thoroughly saturated with anti-dogmatic terminology. To-day, freedom of thought does not mean freedom to think if you are able to think, which no one can or ever has been able to prevent, but it is taken to mean freedom to teach any sort of doctrine that you like without reference to the consequences. The logical outcome of course is the anarchistic one--freedom to act as you like. If any one may teach anything he likes it is certainly involved in this freedom that any one may practice what is taught, and indeed may practice anything that he thinks is desirable. I do not see why the graduates of a University where freedom of teaching is proclaimed and demanded by the faculty should be criticized for acting in any way they see fit. But however that may be, the upshot of the theory of freedom of which we to-day are the victims is that dogma and dogmatism have got a bad name, and there is an instinctive revolt from the mention of dogmatic teaching. However, this is really not very deep so far as the mass of the people is concerned. They have caught the intellectual pose and highbrow slang about dogma, but they do not mean anything by it. They have no real objection to dogmatic preaching--in fact they rather like it. It is still true of the average man that when he goes to church he wants to hear about religion. Of course there are exceptions. I remember a man who went pretty regularly to a certain church on Sunday evenings who, when a friend expressed surprise at seeing him there, said: "O, I like to hear Mr. X preach. He is not always preaching about his religion." But that, I fancy, was exceptional. People still go to church to hear about religion. They will, to be sure, go to hear attacks upon religion, but they will not long go to hear the same sort of attack. Entertainments of a sort and attacks on religion may have a certain succès de scandale, but only the positive will hold the same congregation. And the positive is the dogmatic. People may not believe what you believe, but they expect you to believe something and they respect you if you do. At bottom people have only contempt for a man who is continually attacking the Church to which he belongs. They enjoy a straight-out statement of doctrine. What liberalism has done is not to take away the taste for dogma but to implant the conviction that no one is under obligation to believe it. To-day the man in the pew--or the child for that matter--feels perfectly competent to say, "I do not believe that," or "I do not at all agree with what the preacher said." Children are brought up with that conception of self-determination. I recall a small boy who was sent to me to be prepared for confirmation whoso mother told him: "It is all right for the rector to teach you these things, but of course you do not have to do them." We get quite used to the man who has spent no time in the study of a subject over which we have spent years, and who knows more about it than we do. Yet I suppose the same man would deny the doctrine of inspiration.
But to return to my point: people do not object to dogma; they at times object to the manner in which it is presented. The preacher will therefore do well to pay careful attention to the time and mode of dogmatic teaching. He has not to decide between dogma and no dogma, but to study as to timeliness and manner of presentation. As to timeliness, our impulse is to say, "the sooner the better; if a doctrine is a doctrine of the Church, go ahead and teach it." That is however an immature attitude. On the other extreme we have what we might perhaps characterize as the over-ripe attitude--the attitude of the man who spends his life preparing for something he never does. "I don't think my people are yet ready for that," he says. One never likes to ask: "When will they be?"
What I mean by the preparation of a parish for certain teaching is the making sure that they have so far assimilated preceding teaching that prepares the way for the new step, that one can profitably go on. I say profitably, not safely, for I am not advocating a safety first religion. There are doctrines in religion that are fundamental, and others that rise on them as their foundation. Obviously, the doctrine of the Trinity has to be assimilated before the doctrine of the Incarnation can be taken in. It is only when the Incarnation has become fixed in the mind that the extension of the Incarnation in the Church and sacraments can be understood. It is on the dogmatic structure of the creed that the further extensions of dogmatic theology can be made. The young priest who in a Middle West parish where dogmatic Christianity was unknown began his teaching with the Immaculate Conception, quite naturally failed to make a favorable impression. A young priest will first of all find out how much he can take for granted in the religion of his parish; how much teaching of the fundamentals of the creeds they need; and if they are fairly well instructed in these matters he can go on to more developed teaching in matters of doctrine and practice. There is a logical order in Catholic dogmatics and it is as well to follow this closely, for then the full acceptance of Catholic dogmatics is greatly facilitated.
Also a congregation's acceptance is greatly facilitated by the mode of the presentation of a subject. A dogmatic sermon will do well to avoid as far as possible a dogmatic manner. The two do not necessarily go together. There are dogmatic preachers who have the manner of cramming dogmas down our throat in a raw state--who seem to say: "This is the Catholic religion, accept it or go to hell." That may be the alternative, but it is not the best way to put it. The average American likes to be treated as a rational being; possibly he is mistaken about himself, but it is not worth while to raise the issue. State dogmatic truth in the form of an easily followed argument and give the man the impression that he is being appealed to as an intellectual being, and his prejudices will be removed and there will be no obstacle to his going on to the desired end. Be as simple as the subject permits; be perfectly clear; start as far as may be from a point of agreement; and there will be little difficulty in carrying a congregation with you.
What one needs to feel is that one has no choice but to teach dogma. The Catholic religion is a dogmatic religion and we have no choice but to teach it in its full meaning. No consideration of popularity or difficulty can hold us back from our necessary work. The only questions are those raised above--the questions of when and how. To fulfil our duty properly we need to study with great care methods of presentation. What would seem to me the vital point in method is the ability to carry dogma on into life. What people mean by a "barren dogma" is one of which they see no use--no application to the daily life. Much dogmatic preaching leaves the dogma hanging in the air, and the hearer goes away with the feeling that he has learned "nothing practical." That feeling is quite legitimate under the circumstances: he ought to have learned something practical, he ought to have learned how belief--this special belief that he has been hearing about--affects life. The intent of any sermon is to teach men action--to move them to do something. If they cannot find it in a sermon it is because they have not been listening to a sermon but an essay of some sort. The Catholic religion is not a philosophy, but a map of life, a guide to action.
What I have said about dogmatic teaching covers dogmatic morals as well as dogmatic theology. From a certain angle perhaps dogmatic morals is as much needed today as dogmatic theology. People have so little conception of obligatory morals. It is a strange comment on the result of some centuries of practical abandonment of dogmatic theology in any full sense by the pulpit, and the supposed concentration on conduct in preaching, that the conception of an obligatory conduct has slipped through our fingers. Probably the instincts of the natural man are keener than his brains, and while he has been told that he does not need dogma in order to have a true and effective religion, he was quietly making the inference that if he could believe what he liked and still be a good Christian, the same principle must apply to conduct. At any rate he has acted as though he had made the inference, and has selected his morals as he was told that he might select his creed.
Therefore the dogmatic preacher will not neglect to make it plain to his hearer that there flows from the Christian system a certain type of conduct which in many respects differs from the hereditary customs and group-morals which to him have represented right conduct. He must be made to understand that the meaning of moral conduct as he has understood it is constantly changing with the changing conditions of society. If he is a man of middle life or more he will easily see that the moral standards which prevailed when he was educated have to-day largely given place to others. And he must be taught that there are certain moral principles which belong to the Christian religion and are therefore fixed, and that the application of those principles to life results in the formation of a character of a distinct type--the Christian type. To make men understand and act upon this is vastly more difficult than to get them to accept Catholic dogma. But I repeat, the two things must be built up, their interdependence shown. It must be made perfectly clear that the Catholic Christian is not a man who believes certain things, but a man who because he believes certain things acts in a certain way as the outcome of that belief.
There is another type of sermon which I am inclined to dismiss rather briefly--the hortatory sermon. In the ordinary acceptance of that term it is a sermon that consists of exhortation to be good. I should be inclined to call it the hot-air type. It is largely compounded of commonplaces and platitudes--a maximum of noise and sentimentality with a minimum of meaning. A whole sermon given to exhortation seems to me pointless. A successful sermon will always have a greater or less hortatory element, but the exhortation will grow out of the dogmatic content and will be the application of that to life. In this sense the hortatory element in a sermon is indispensable and may be as vivid as you please. It is a direct appeal to the emotions--the element in our nature that stirs the will to action. A man may very well be convinced of the Tightness of action implied in a given dogmatic teaching, and that he personally ought to act in a certain way--and yet not act. Many no doubt are convinced by dogmatic teaching of the priest's power to forgive sin, and of the desirableness of their going to confession; but they do not go. That they should go there needs beside the intellectual conviction the emotional impulse. This the hortatory element in a sermon should give; and a sermon on the doctrine of confession ought to contain just that emotional element which will bring a man to repentence and confession, will bring him to his knees before his Redeemer. Exhortation is to action, and you cannot profitably exhort people to action unless you have given them adequate grounds for action, and these of a quite definite sort.
There is what may be distinguished as a separate type of sermon though I do not find it noted as such. I should call it the spiritually constructive sermon. The life of the Christian is not just the ordinary life of the world with the addition of certain special beliefs and certain habits which are peculiar to the Christian. Critics of Christianity say: "I do not see but you Christians are just like other people." That is a very severe criticism, and if it be true that there is nothing distinctive about a Christian but that he attends certain services there must be something radically wrong with Ms religion. Certainly our Lord did not live and die to produce so banal a result as that. The Christian is a supernatural person living a supernatural life which is based on certain quite definite principles ultimately derived from the teaching of our Lord. In theory this life which is begun in baptism goes on to expand into the life of sanctity. A Christian then is a person of growing sanctity. The process of this growth is governed by certain laws, the laws of the spiritual life; and much of the preaching and instruction of the Catholic parish needs to be directed to the exposition of those laws of spiritual growth. Such preaching has back of it the dogmatic system of the Church; it has in view the ordering of the moral action of the Christian; but it is especially concerned with the forwarding of the spiritual development of the individual. Its emphasis is therefore on the details of spiritual living, taking rather for granted a right belief and correct moral living. It will emphasize positive action--prayer in its various forms, the sacraments and their place in life, the nature and value of self-discipline, the means of sanctification.
Here is a very wide field for preaching and a very rich one. I think I may add that if it is tilled with competent knowledge it is the most attractive one. People are in fact drawn to a religion of positive action which asks them not only to think about something and to avoid certain things, but puts them on the road to accomplishment. They love the varied life of a Catholic parish, with its continual round of services supplemented by its varied devotions. It is a natural human desire to want to take part in a devotion and not to be a mere looker on: participation gives outlet to energy. People feel suppressed if they are just spectators. Hence the preaching which opens the way to action is attractive. It is needless to say that such preaching must be followed by abundant provision for action.
The sermon that is spiritually constructive is concerned with the progress of the soul in the way of salvation. It insists on a growing life. It may not--probably, except under special circumstances, it will not--concern itself with the technicalities of the threefold way. But the preacher will have those technicalities in mind and they will control the matter of his preaching. He understands that spiritual progress is as orderly as any other progress and that there are no short cuts to sanctity. Whether a soul has ever heard of the threefold way or not, it must in fact follow it if it is to arrive at sanctity. And the end of our preaching is to direct souls to sanctity. Men are called to be saints, and not to be some colorless compromise--some amalgam of religion and worldliness. The preacher cannot permit that they forget this. The average Christian would be content with a very small modicum of religion mixed with a very large amount of worldliness. It must not be permitted that that pass for the religion of Christ. Too long have we suffered from compromises and reduced Christianity--so far reduced that it needs a chemical analysis to find it. It is infidelity to our mission, to our Saviour, to be assenting to such a degradation of the Christian ideal. We must hold high the standard of the Christian life and insist that the consistent Christian is the one who is faring forward toward the goal. We must get rid of the ideals of mere human goodness and respectability, and hold to the ideal of holiness--of that holiness without which no man can see the Lord.
A GOOD sermon is a sermon which accomplishes its end, whatever may be its defects from an ideal point of view. Yet it is no doubt true that the structure of a sermon, other things being equal, contributes to its success. I do not discuss the written sermon, because I do not believe that the written sermon, except in rare instances, can hope for much success in influencing an American congregation. A written sermon may be a very perfect composition from the literary point of view, and yet not produce the effect that will be produced by an ill-arranged and badly connected talk which is driven home by the earnestness of the speaker. In reality it is the man who impresses, and his personality is more powerful than his words, or rather his words get their driving force from his personality.
However, I am not pleading for disorder in a sermon as superior to order, or for a disregard of technique. There are certain simple rules which help to make the sermon successful, and which while they are not to be regarded as laws which it is a sin to depart from, the preacher would do well to observe. It is a decided step towards success if the sermon makes a good start. I do not mean a sensational start. The trouble with all sorts of sensationalism is that it speedily loses its force. It will not stand repetition. As someone has said, "If you beat one drum to-day to get a crowd, you will have to beat two tomorrow." The struggles of the sensational Protestant minister in trying to find a new attraction are rather futile. Even a new heresy has but a limited driving power. By a good start, therefore, I do not mean a start that will startle, but one that will catch the attention. This can be done occasionally by the novelty of the text, but this again is a novelty that easily passes into a weariness. If the congregation gets to thinking what queer text they will have to-day, their interest will soon be limited to the text unless there is unusual power in following it up.
The opening paragraph of a sermon should be brief and calculated to catch the attention, not so much for itself as for the promise of something to follow. The first sentence should catch the attention. The sort of sermon that starts with a long exposition of the text has a very good chance of failing to grasp the attention, and after the attention has once been lost it is difficult to get hold of it.
The young preacher is apt to fall back upon his seminary studies, especially if he be something of a student, and to indulge himself in some remarks on the meaning of "the original," or the sketch of some Biblical situation. This will be a peculiar danger. If he has been led to study the sermons of the great English preachers of the last generation he will forget that their sermons were written and approached their subject with a sense of literary form and of leisurely production. They are not seemingly an attempt to drive home in twenty minutes a practical human lesson that moves men to action. We may admire their method, but it will not do for us. We may study them to advantage because their matter will prove educative and suggestive. But for ourselves we will do better to get into our subject right away, with as few words of introduction as possible, and those chosen with a view to arousing the interest of a group of people who after all have, most of them, come to church this morning because they feel it is their duty to do so and not because they are terribly interested in what the preacher is going to say.
That is a fact that the preacher has always to take into consideration, that his ordinary morning and evening congregations do not come in a state of expectancy to listen to him. They are there for a variety of reasons: habit, sense of duty, social convention, to hear the music, and so forth. Those who are more devout have come to offer an act of worship to Almighty God and to make intercession for themselves and others. Rarely have they come with any eager looking forward to spiritual instruction or inspiration. It is somewhat different in the case of congregations gathered together on special days and for special occasions. Then the priest can assume an interest in the meaning of the day and service and can speak on a different note. But ordinarily he must assume that it is his business to create and sustain interest and must construct his sermon with that end in view. In the preparation and shaping of his sermon he must see a given congregation and given circumstances. He is not writing an essay which aims at literary perfection, or stating a subject for himself to see if his thought upon it is clear. He is aiming to convey certain instruction to a miscellaneous gathering of people, and to convey it in such ways that they will be stirred to action. He is aiming not only to enlighten the understanding, but to stimulate the will.
The first step, then, is to gain the attention at the outset and to gain it for the subject in hand. A mere oddity or eccentricity at the start will not do this, unless it be relevant to what follows. If a startling opening is followed by a dull development then interest speedily evaporates. I do not think it is superfluous to say here that in order to sustain interest in any subject the preacher himself must be interested. I fancy it is rather a common experience to listen to sermons in which the preacher seems at least to be uninterested--to be in fact horribly bored; the inevitable consequence is that he is boring his hearers. This may be due to the lack of any vocation to preach, or it may be due to imperfect preparation. Whatever it is due to, the fact is only too obvious, in many cases.
Let us assume, then, that the attention is caught and that one is going on to unfold one's subject. It must be unfolded in constant contact with the minds whose attention is aroused. I do not at all mean by that that the truths which it is sought to impart must be lowered to the level of the average understanding of the congregation. Unless the preacher is seeking to carry his congregation on there is no point to his preaching. This is the failure of charlatanism and sensationalism alike; they produce a momentary excitement without either intellectual enlightenment or stimulus to the will. A sermon should appeal first of all to the intelligence, and to do this effectively it must present truth so that it may be intellectually grasped. This can be done with any truth. The most abstruse dogmas can be so presented that an intellectual hold of them--I do not say and exhaustive understanding of them--can be obtained by a child. This of course means clearness and simplicity of statement, with direct and practical application. It is fatal for the preacher to confine himself to what people know. His business is to educate.
Taking into account the intellectual attainments of the average congregation one should not hesitate to repeat a good deal. To state a difficult truth over in a number of ways in the course of one's exposition is not at all a bad thing. One may think that one is repeating oneself, but there will be few in the congregation who will note it unless it is very awkwardly done. It is necessary, too, to explain terms which seem to us plain and commonplace. We have to do with men and women who for the most part have had only a common school education. Even if they have had a college education it is fairly safe to assume that they are utterly ignorant of the vocabulary of Christianity. Neither is it safe to assume--though one need not be vocal about this--that one's predecessors in the pulpit have trained the minds of the congregation to an appreciation of the meaning of Christian terminology. One is sometimes astounded to find out that even those who have been constant attendants at church from childhood have never understood the commonest words in the Christian vocabulary. I recall that some years ago I employed as a stenographer a young woman who had a High School education and from childhood had been regular in her attendance in Sunday School and at Mass in a High Church parish. I was astounded to find when she returned the manuscript at my dictation that even such common words as Incarnation and Atonement had never had any meaning attached to them, or if they had it was an entirely alien meaning. An ordinary stenographer is quite helpless before a religious address; witness the weird reports of sermons which appear in the newspapers. I once employed a court stenographer to take down the meditations of a Retreat I was giving. He gave up after the first meditation. I asked if my speed were too great. "No, not at all, it was quite easy"--but he could not make anything out of what I said.
It is a common mistake to attempt too much with one sermon. I am quite certain that my first sermon was a condensed presentation of the whole Christian religion. I never heard that it produced much effect. A sermon which attempts too much will most likely either lack clearness or will be merely sketchy. In either case it produces no effect. With twenty minutes, or at most half an hour at one's disposal, if one succeed in clear detailed development of a single truth with proper illustration and application, one will have done very well. The subjects are big: yes, and therefore they have to be taken piecemeal. One sermon has to supplement and complete another. You cannot treat the subject of the Eucharist or the Holy Spirit in a single sermon. Define, therefore, what aspect of truth you are going to deal with and make at least that aspect clear and useful.
To the effective presentation of truth illustration is a great help. Effective illustration is a fine art. It is quite easy to overdo the matter, for one thing. There are styles that are so filled with illustration, allusions, analogies and the like that the thread and continuity of the thought are broken and obscured. One cannot see the wood for the trees. The mere interjection of a story may relieve the strain and recall the attention of a bored congregation for a moment, but the telling of stories is rather a hazardous business from the point of view of the ultimate aim of the sermon. It is not always and everywhere that one can find a story that has homiletic effectiveness. The most useless books on my library shelves are the dictionaries of anecdotes. It is very difficult to inject an anecdote into a sermon in such wise that it seems to grow out of the subject. Commonly it has the appearance of a splash of crude paint on a surface of another color, or a patch of new cloth on an old garment. A story to be worth telling must be worth it, not in itself, but in the particular place where it is told.
Yet the story which is in place is extremely effective. You have only to study our Lord's method of illustration to understand how effective. Our Lord knew how and where to tell a story. One may perhaps know when but not know how. It is no easy matter to tell a story effectively. Even in private life a good story teller is rare. How often do we listen to someone trying to tell a really good story and utterly ruining its point and effect by the manner of telling! Often, too, no doubt, we have heard a preacher attempt an illustration and fail of his effect through sheer inability to handle his matter. A long story or illustration in particular requires great skill in presentation.
I am not saying all this from any opposition or dislike of stories and illustrations. On the contrary, I feel that commonly we make too little use of them. I am only warning of certain sorts of dangers. In fact, I think we give in the preparation of sermons too little attention to effective illustration, perhaps just because we find illustrations so difficult to handle. We think out what we have to say and pay attention to its effective arrangement, but when it comes to illustration nothing occurs to us and we have too much experience of the futility of hunting through books for help to encourage us to try again. If nothing spontaneously occurs to us we do not bother.
But as a sermon is at once a work of art and an attempt at the persuasive presentation of truth, it is worth while to bother. We are under obligation to take all the pains we can in our sermon construction. If we do not feel obliged to be the best preachers we can be we ought not to preach at all. We cannot well practice an art that we have not studied and do not constantly study. The whole matter of illustration therefore is not a matter of small importance, but one that demands our best attention. It requires time, no doubt, but it is time rightly required of us as priests. It is not of the essence of our vocation to be scout masters or entertainers at afternoon tea; it is of the essence that we preach the Gospel effectively.
I am inclined to start from this, that an illustration to be effective must be effective to me. I must feel its effectiveness. If it does not affect me it is unlikely that it will affect anyone through me. It may be a good illustration for someone else to use, but I cannot well use it. Therefore I should say that instead of buying dictionaries of anecdotes or subscribing for homiletic reviews I should set to work to make a collection of illustrations, illustrations that I have gathered because they are effective to me.
The keeping of note-books is an essential part of the business of teacher and preacher. Sir William Osier, one of the leading lights of the medical profession of the last generation, was wont to insist strongly on the indispensable work of taking notes. He says, "Given the sacred hunger and proper preliminary training, the student-practitioner requires at least three things with which to stimulate and maintain his education: a note book, a library and a quinquennial brain-dusting. I wish I had time to speak of the value of note-taking; you can do nothing as a student in practice without it." What Osier preached he practiced, and what is of value to the medical student in this matter is of fully as much value to the preacher and teacher. A great element making for his success will be to read with a note book at hand into which are constantly noted down thoughts, illustrations and suggestions which promise to be of later use. We note these illustrations because they throw light upon this or that theme, help us to make clear our thought upon it. Such illustrations roughly jotted down can later be classified and indexed.
What seems to me the best way of keeping all notes accessible is to index them in a loose-leaf system so that what has been used can be removed and thus our indexes are prevented from getting clogged. Unless carefully indexed our accumulated material will soon get so out of hand that the work of finding what we want will exceed the use of it when found, and we shall abandon it altogether. On the other hand, a carefully kept set of notes condenses our reading and keeps it available. Desultory reading is rather a brain clog than a brain stimulus. I am tempted to quote again from Sir William Osier: "For the general practitioner a well used library is one of the few correctives of the premature senility which is so apt to overtake him. Self-centered, self-taught, he leads a solitary life and unless his everyday experience is controlled by careful reading ....... it soon ceases to be of the slightest value, and becomes a mere accretion of isolated facts without correlation."
What I am recommending is not the mere collection of anecdotes, but a broader thing--the collection of illustrative material. It is only occasionally that the story will be of use. But there are many other methods of illustration. Illustrations drawn from the natural world are of great use in enforcing moral and spiritual lessons, and a priests' reading should be broad enough to enable him frequently to draw his illustrations from this source. A verse of poetry will often put a truth picturesquely and forcibly and will sum up in a few words what one has been expounding. A character in a novel or a play can often be used to illustrate a principle. If the novel or the play be well known to one's hearers so much the better.
The injection of an element of humor into the sermon is often a saving element. The average human being is not a good listener and he is not terribly interested in spiritual matters. He assumes that he has a soul, and that his soul is immortal, and that these facts ought to carry with them a certain interest in the future and in spiritual things here and now. But he has a hard time in arousing himself to any enthusiasm about the matter. He is convinced that he ought to go through a certain routine which the Church recommends, but he does not go about it very zealously. He listens to sermons, but the interest he has in them is languid, and if obviously the interest of the preacher in what he is saying is also languid, the end is mutual boredom. If, on the other hand, the preacher is interested he will interest his hearer. His enthusiasm will be, as we say, catching. And if he has the gift of humor, if he is wise he will let it appear in his presentation of his subject. It will wake up and interest the auditor. It also will dispel his frequent notion that religion is at best rather a dull and dreary matter that one submits to as an insurance against hell. One pays so much of one's income a year as an insurance against the consequences of physical death. It is sensible to invest some--not very much, to be sure--of one's income and one's time against spiritual death. If it can be made clear that religion is not really intended to take the joy out of life the man in the pew will brighten up considerably. If he finds that the representative of religion has not lost all sense of humor as a consequence of receiving Holy Orders he will be more likely to accept the possibility of more advanced religious practice for himself. According to the old saying, "A saint that's sad is a sad saint"; and if there is no joy of life visible in us we shall fail to commend our religion as a happy thing. Has religion made you happy? Do you find the living of the Christian life an experience of joy and beauty? If that is your experience joy and beauty will flow out into your expression of religion. There are delightful touches of humor in our Lord's teaching, mostly of the ironic sort. The parable of the friend at midnight is keenly humorous, and the advice to the Pharisee as to taking the lowest seat implies a slight quiver of the lips as it is given. Even so grave a person as St. James must have seen the humor as well as the tragedy of the situation when he describes the rich man at the worship of the Christians. The situation is eternal, and to-day in reading St. James we can see the senior warden effusively conducting the distinguished and wealthy visitor up the aisle to a favorable seat under the pulpit.
The opening of the sermon is important from the point of view of catching the wandering attention of the congregation under difficult circumstances. The congregation is really interested in getting comfortably settled for the ensuing twenty minutes or half hour. Those fortunate individuals who have, perhaps with some breach of good manners of which they would not have been guilty elsewhere, achieved possession of end seats, are adjusting themselves to an easy position. Others are disposing of coats and cloaks and hats in the confined circumstances of the pews; others are looking about to see who is in church this morning, and it may be are struck with a novelty in the way of a hat or dress. Into this disturbed mental atmosphere the preacher is attempting to inject a spiritual thought. His success is most likely going to depend on his first few sentences. Assuming success here he will, if his matter and manner are worth it, probably hold the attention fairly well for twenty minutes. Beyond that, with a congregation of Church people who have already gone through a service of considerable length and who have the greater part of the Mass to come, he will find difficulty in going. If he goes on successfully it will be because he has words quite worth while to say. The old rule of having said what he has to say, he should stop, is not altogether an easy thing successfully to do.
There is more art than appears at first sight in ending a sermon. How many sermons we have listened to quite attentively for fifteen minutes or so and then felt that the end had been successfully reached. "He is going to stop there," we think, and get ready to rise for the ascription. But he does not; he passes the obvious stopping point; he says, "and then," or "one thing more," or "another point," and goes on. He reaches one more obvious conclusion and we automatically shut up our interest. But again he goes on. This sort of thing is tiring. The preacher ought to know--to study form until he does know--how to bring his sermon to an interesting climax and then stop. He should leave it with a vigorously struck note that will stick in the minds of the listeners. It is fatal if the end of the sermon bring a sigh of relief to the congregation. The congregation should be left with the feeling, "I am sorry he finished so quickly, I could have listened longer; half an hour, was it? I had no idea it was so long." Wind up to a climax and stop. Remember that every sentence after the climax is exhausting the interest.
AFTER the administration of the sacraments the most important work that the priest has to do, and by far the most delightful, is the instruction and spiritual training of the children committed to his care. At the same time it is a very trying work, and one that makes great demands on the priest. There is no clearer indication of our incompetence in the teaching of religion than our Sunday Schools and our assumption that any good-natured person who is willing to give the time will do for a teacher for the young. I should be inclined to go a long way in the opposite direction and contend that the ability to deal with children successfully is the work of genius. In any event I am quite certain that a priest who is a success with children has the essential elements of general success as a parish priest.
Of course by success with children I do not mean success as an entertainer. Anyone who is willing to give the time can gather a group of boys, take them on "hikes" and to ball games and so achieve popularity. That however is not to be successful as a pastor of the flock. By success in dealing with children I mean success as a teacher and spiritual guide, success in awakening them to the actual practice of religion. In dealing with children such a priest will no doubt take into account the fact that he is dealing with children and will give in his relation with them its proper place to play. But he will not make the blunder of assuming that because he has a successful baseball club or enthusiastic troup of Girl Scouts, he is a success as a pastor, and that his duties are fulfilled.
The child is a being peculiarly susceptible to spiritual impressions. The "soul naturally Christian" is very evident in him. He understands religion in a way that is very wonderful. This I suppose is because the pure soul has placed no obstacles to the working of the Holy Spirit and the child mind is neither corrupted by the world nor preoccupied by its manifold interests. The fundamental conceptions of religion, relation to God and responsibility to Him, prayer and sacramental action, are taken in and assimilated in a very wonderful way. The fact that spiritual conceptions are obscured or lost later on is no evidence that they had at an early time no reality. In fact, I doubt very much if the well instructed child ever loses entire hold on the instruction he has received. His spiritual faculties may be dulled by sin or atrophied by neglect of practice, but the concepts of spiritual religion are there and one is sometimes surprised in hearing a man who has abandoned religious practices vigorously defend religion when it is attacked. The hold of the primary instruction is also evidenced by the constant experience of the confessional in the wanderers' return after years of neglect, not because they have been "converted" by some new experience of sin or failure, but because of the impulse of their early training and the pull of convictions that have never been silenced.
The parish priest in dealing with his children, has to put this before him as his primary duty, that he has to make them instructed Christians, Christians who to the fullest extent are intelligent in the practice of their religion. It will help him tremendously if he will get rid of the notion, if he unfortunately has it, that a child is blocked from full religious practice because it "does not understand." The fact in this case is that the priest does not understand. Understanding in these mattery does not come with age but openness of soul. I venture to say that if a priest has to prepare for confirmation a child of eight and his father of thirty he will have less difficulty in inducing in the child an intelligent perception of the sacraments than in the father. The child's soul is eager and open; the father's is preoccupied and is filled with inhibitions. That the child is unstable goes without saying, and it is that instability which will later on constitute his chief danger when he experiences a wider contact with the world.
The special instrument of spiritual education (this phrase is much to be preferred to religious education) is the sermon. As I look back over my own experience, preaching to children has had a joy that I have never derived from any other preaching, and I feel that it was the most valuable element in my training as a preacher. When I left the seminary I went as curate to the rector of a large city parish. I found there established a morning service for children. The service-routine of the parish was an early celebration, then at 9:30 a children's service which was alternately Matins or Litany. This was followed later on by Matins or Litany in alternation in the children's service and once a month by a late Mass. There was a good sized group of children at the 9:30 service. There was a junior boys' choir and a considerable number of adults in attendance. It fell to my lot to take most of the preaching at this children's service. What I know about preaching I largely learned in the two years' experience at that service. I do not know what impression I made on the children, but I know that they were immensely helpful to me. For a young man without experience and without much self-confidence to be obliged to start in and preach without notes to such a congregation was as fine an experience as could be wished.
It was obvious from the start that I had to prepare myself so thoroughly that I could speak easily and freely, without hesitation. To hesitate and stammer and grope for a word would be fatal in talking to children. I was seeking to hold a very unstable attention. You have before you a certain element of mischief that will be alert to catch you at a disadvantage if it can. You have yourself to be alert to that element. I may as well digress here and say that I have always found that the most effective method of dealing with that element is to bring it at once into the sermon and use it as an illustration. To say, for instance, that in order to understand a point I am making close attention is needed and to enlarge a little on attention, and then say, "Now, Johnny Jones has been whispering for some time. What is the result? He has lost the point that I have been trying to make and has got no good from this sermon." There is nothing that will wilt Johnny more quickly, because it makes him the thing he dislikes above all others, an object of ridicule to his fellows. At the same time, because you have shown no irritation you have gained in respect.
But to return. An easy, fluent manner of address is of the first importance. Therefore one must have perfect clearness in one's own mind as to the point one is to make. There can be no fumbling, no seeking to arrive at a conclusion, one does not know just where. These wide awake people are ready to be interested; they expect to be interested. Well, if you don't at once interest them something else will. Their world is full of interest. You are only one competitor for their attention and therefore you must speak a language they understand. I do not mean that you must speak their dialect of slang, though it does no harm to drop into the vernacular occasionally. I mean you must speak a language intelligible to a boy or girl to-day. Don't talk to "dear children" or "my little friends" or "little men and women." Much better--if that is the only alternative--:to say, "you kids." That at any rate will seem real and the others do not. Don't sentimentalize, but be direct, brutally frank, call spades, spades. When you are talking about sins don't assume ignorance on their part. Don't be taken in by those expressionless faces and innocent eyes. Drive your point home with direct speech.
Clearness is absolutely essential. A child will not follow an elaborate argument but soon gets bored with it. He always has something else to think about which is more interesting. We have to be sure, therefore, that we have our subject so completely in hand that we know the end and the road to it. An adult congregation may be interested enough to pick their way through a confused argument or exposition, but children, not at all. Don't wander off on side issues but keep to the path. And we have to remember that what is clear to us may not make the impression on the child's mind that we expect it will. The child mind is often confused with the complexities of the English language even when the child is well on in his teens. I recall once asking an intelligent boy of fifteen or sixteen, who was Elisha? and was answered without a moment's hesitation that he was a house prophet. That was too much for me, and I asked what he meant. He meant, again without any hesitation, that Elisha stayed in his room and prophesied. The absolute certainty of the boy made me think there was something the matter with my understanding of the Scriptures. I looked up the lesson and found that at the removal of Elijah the Lord appointed Elisha to be a prophet in his room! It was less surprising to be told by a small girl that Lydia "lived in a purple cellar." An examination on the history of the Reformation in England elicited from a High School girl the surprising information that the ecclesiastical suits were "the clothes that the priests used to wear." The moral is that we cannot be too careful in defining when we are dealing with two such extraordinary instruments as the English language and the child mind.
The holding of attention requires rapid and clear enunciation. The imparting of the truth we are concerned with requires it to be presented over and over from all possible angles; to give it a grip upon the immature mind it needs to be well illustrated. The illustration may be cruder than in the sermon to adults. Form is not of so much value; driving force is what we are after, and for help we will do well to study the large literature of sermons to children. A great deal of attention has been paid in the last fifty years to this branch of religious literature, and it may be studied with profit, especially from the point of view of illustration. The object lesson sermon may easily be overdone. One would not commend the example of the bishop who said, "Children, I can do something that you cannot," and thereupon removed his false teeth. Misunderstanding is also possible here. A curate at St. Mary's, directing the acolyte at children's Mass to take in a mouse trap, elicited the question, "Are you going to bless it, Father?" Judgment is always necessary in the matter of illustration--and sometimes mercy.
Here, too, as I held in a former chapter, it is necessary to the effectiveness of the illustration that I should make it mine. If it is a story it must be my story. I must tell it with fervor and interest, as thought it were a personal experience of my own. If it is a scene I must make it vivid by personal touches, so that the children can see it. If it is a person they must feel him; he must become utterly real to them. To tell a story effectively is a work of art. It is so much more than stating certain facts.
Every sermon to children should be a definite instruction, preferably an instruction in a single truth, and that truth should by no means be left hanging in the air. The ineffectiveness of much Sunday School instruction is that it limits itself to the teaching of catechisms of one sort or another. One looks over a Sunday School and one sees a number of well intentioned but not very well informed men and women trying to keep in order groups of restless children, at best hearing them recite the answers to questions that they do not understand; and one is possessed by a feeling of the hopelessness of the method. Or one listens to a sermon to children that is an instruction on a point of doctrine, which, however clear and definite as exposition does not penetrate into the life of the child, and one has an equal feeling of hopelessness.
The present tendency of Sunday School development to approximate to the public school system with its grades and promotions--all, in fact, that is indicated by the name, "Church School"--while no doubt an advance on the lack of order and system of the old Sunday School, is destined to as great a failure religiously speaking, because the ideals are ideals of information rather than ideals of religion. System would be valuable if it could be introduced into a daily school curriculum, but when introduced into the Sunday School it deflects the short time at its disposal from its proper end. The available balance to this is to be found in the sermon; but this the system does not always permit.
It is possible where children can be and are gathered together at Mass before Sunday School and listen to a sermon there. The weak place here is that the sermon will commonly have no relation to the Sunday School lesson which is to follow. To me the ideal place for a sermon to children is at the close of the Sunday School when the priest can take the central point of the lesson and apply it to the actual experience of the children. This I know usually presents a number of difficulties in parish life, but I myself have not found them insuperable. They are rather easy of adjustment in a small parish where the order may easily be, Sunday School, sermon to children, and the late Mass. The children would have been to the early Mass or would remain to the late. Children are really not bored by the services of the Church and especially not by the Mass, unless it has been suggested to them that they will be. Sentimental people are always saying, "How tired Willie and Mary must be by the long service!" This of course tends to make them tired--and other people as well.
In planning a sermon to children the preacher must keep in view a definite end. He is not only going to present a truth; he is going to present it in terms of life--of the life of the children to whom he is to speak.
A truth which has no application, which the child cannot in some way use, is useless if presented at that time. If I am preaching about God I must present my teaching in terms of worship, dependence, responsibility, and so on. If I am preaching about our Lord's life, I must bring each fact as it is presented into relation to the child's life. The child has no use for the abstract. He is not a philosopher. He lives in the concrete. The best sermon is one that leads to concrete acts. In some cases it may with advantage lead to concrete acts then and there. A sermon may very well end by teaching an act of faith, then having the children make it together. A sermon on thanksgiving may be followed by an act of thanksgiving, which has been carefully arranged beforehand with reference to the immediate circumstances of the child's life. Sermons on moral topics should find application in daily experience. The object of all preaching to children is the conversion of the child--that is to say, the passage of the child from theory to practice. Anyone who has dealt at all intimately with children can have no doubt at all of the depth and reality of their spiritual experience. It would be strange if this were not so. It would almost amount to a disproof of the Christian theory of the sacramental life. The child who has been made a member of Christ and has become a temple of the Holy Spirit we should certainly expect to respond readily to the action of the Spirit, especially to His sacramental action. And this we know to be the fact. The child receives grace and responds to grace. But it has to be taught how to use the grace it has; it has to be taught, that is, the principles of the spiritual life. It has to be shown how each article of the creed can be translated into action.
To show this, to direct the child to the formation of spiritual habits, is the business of the preacher. And he must realize that this is a positive work. It is positive action that the child must learn to take. It is quite possible to spend altogether too much time on negatives. It is one of the misfortunes of child life that so much of its training in religion is purely negative. From the dawn of its intelligence it is surrounded in its home by a system of tabus. It is constantly warned off this and that, and when it comes to religion the same thing takes place. Its training is largely in regard to sin. Its moral life is based on the Ten Commandments. Thus the child naturally grows up to look upon religion as primarily interference, and to look on adult life as freedom from interference. Bishop Seymour used to tell a story of a family discussion on an Easter morning as to whether father was to go to church, (which he ordinarily did once a year) being interrupted by a small boy breaking in with the remark, which was the ripe result of some years of observation, "Men and dogs do not go to church. I am not going when I get big." The effects of the tabu system could not better be illustrated.
As I say, this system is carried largely into the education in religion which the child gets in church by constant insistence upon sin. Naturally, sin exists and has to be dealt with. But there are various ways of dealing with it, and there are other things which need to be dealt with. The old saying about the devil findings work for idle hands to do is but an application of the wisdom of our Lord's parable of the empty house. You may drive out all the devils there are, but unless you get a tenant for the house they will inevitably come back. Unless you can employ human powers profitably they will be employed unprofitably. Every human being is going to act in some way and no human being can be taught to put in all his time dodging devils.
The aim therefore of the teacher is to build up positive habits of piety, to lead children to the daily practice of the Christian life. Not the Ten Commandments but the positive virtues must be the subject of the teachings. Aim to fill his life with concrete, positive action. Let there be an ideal of building something and let it be put in such a way that it will interest the child. Sermons that accomplish this are good sermons.
THE obligation of the priest thoroughly to instruct all the people committed to his care is indisputable. The great difficulty of fulfilling this obligation is also indisputable. The priest may be as competent as you like and as eager as you like, but he can accomplish nothing in the way of instruction without eagerness and cooperation on the part of his people. The complaint that members of the Church are ignorant of most elementary matters is well founded, but it does not follow that it is the fault of the clergy. I fancy that most young priests start their parochial life with an ideal of instructing their people. They speedily find that people badly need instruction. They are apt to criticize the neglect of their predecessors in this matter, but after a few attempts they abandon their effort to teach, discouraged and disappointed. The problem of the parish is not to find a priest who can instruct, but to find people who will listen.
Because of this universal state of things, it is essential, as I have already pointed out, that the sermon should always contain an element of instruction. Here, at least, the fundamental truths of the creed and the sacraments can be clearly and definitely set out. It is in many cases possible to use a second service, afternoon or evening, for instruction; and this is decidedly to be recommended in parishes where the two congregations are made up of predominantly the same people. In this case an afternoon or evening course of instructions, brief--not more than fifteen minutes--clear, and pointed will often be popular.
Apart from these instructions associated with the Sunday services, most must be given in week-day classes of one sort or another. The priest must make up his mind that such classes are not going to draw crowds and that the best he can do is to instruct a minority of the parish, and those, at that, who are least in need of instruction; but, if he have any faculty as a teacher, he can gather a few people who want to learn and can educate them in the theory and practice of the Catholic religion. He can feel a certain satisfaction in this--that he has accomplished something which will be permanent and bear fruit.
As the revelation of God made in Holy Scripture is the basis of our religion, the Bible class is an important instrument of instruction. Probably there is no subject in which definite and intelligent instruction is more needed to-day than the Bible. The information that niters down into the popular mind as to the "results of criticism," as to what "scholarship has achieved," or as to "the assured conclusions of modern knowledge" produces, I presume, and is intended to produce a sense of uncertainty and unsettlement as to the very foundations of religion. On the other hand, both unbelief and liberal religion have, it would seem deliberately, identified the Catholic teaching with what is known as Fundamentalism and have produced the impression either that one must take an attitude of opposition to all modern knowledge or that one must reduce one's creed to something that is undistinguishable from Unitarianism. To clear up the misunderstandings that are involved in the present situation is a vital matter. To make it clear that the Catholic can accept all the actual conclusions of science and the true results of criticism, as distinguished in both cases from mere ill-based theory and guess-work, is of great moment. Our people may know nothing about the questions at issue, but they know that there is an issue; and, as all they read in the daily and weekly press is pretty uniformly on the side of destructive criticism and unbelief, they may be excused if they get the impression that orthodox Christianity has very little to say for itself.
Hence the need of Bible classes. To meet the present issues the best sort of Bible class is one that frankly takes up the questions raised by criticism and sets out the Catholic position. That position is fully defensible, it is in no wise to be confounded with Fundamentalism, it accepts actual results of criticism without hesitation, and is able to defend itself against extreme positions held by small and shifting groups of critics.
My own opinion is, as the outcome of considerable experience, that the best type of Bible class to meet these questions is one that is detached from the church. 1 would recommend a class held in a private house. Get some one who has large rooms to place a house at your disposal once a week. The hour will be determined by local conditions. Issue invitations to the capacity of your rooms; select your people and, if there is room, go outside your congregation. The semi-social atmosphere of the affair, the fact that it is by invitation, has a drawing value. It enables you also to get hold of people who would not come to a class in church. It also gives freedom for questions and discussion which is never felt in quite the same way in the church. A dozen lectures directed to fundamental problems ought to clear the situation adequately.
In doing this you have reached a set of people who will, at least, not be victims hereafter of ordinary newspaper misrepresentation. Not that the newspaper intends to misrepresent, but it seems to be the settled policy of most newspapers never to assign to report on a matter that concerns religion any one who would recognize the Christian religion if he met it in the street. It was said some years ago of an eminent novelist that his ignorance must have been acquired, as no one could possibly have been born so ignorant. The same might be said of the ignorance which prevails in newspaper circles of even the commonest words in the Christian vocabulary. The man who reported that the procession was closed by the Bishop wearing the reredos might surely be many times paralleled.
There is another type of Bible class, one that is intended for more intensive study of Bible teaching. This usually confines itself to the study of particular books of the Bible in more or less detailed exposition. To interest a class in a running commentary on a book of the Bible is rather difficult and requires a good deal of preparation and cannot be successfully done unless the lesson has been prepared in detail. It is apt to fail in interest through too much attention to detailed exposition--the thing which renders the ordinary commentary so hopelessly dull.
A Bible class intended to bring out the spiritual and practical teaching of the New Testament will do well to take one of two forms: either the form of a life of our Lord in which His ministry is followed step by step, which, if done in detail, would take at least two years. This is most profitable and there is abundant material. Or it may take the form of a study of St. Paul's or St. John's presentation of Christianity. Careful study of St. Paul's works is of course essential to the theologian, and he can make practical use of such study in the Bible class. [Note: Any one who reads French will find a splendid and exhaustive treatment of St. Paul's teaching in Prat, "La Theologie de St. Paul," 2 vols., Paris, Beauchesne.]
Bible class work with the young will best take the form of the Bible story. The history can be followed as a series of episodes without going into detail. This enables one to present the early part of the Old Testament for what it actually is--a set of stories going back to Semitic folklore, but recast in the form in which we have them for the purpose of inculcating special spiritual teaching. One can thus treat the story naturally as the vehicle of spiritual or moral lessons, without laying any importance on its historical character. This starts the child on the right road in Bible study--fixes the attention, that is, on what is taught rather than upon the medium of the teaching.
It is, of course, very different when we pass to the New Testament history of the life of our Lord and the founding of the Church. A set of lessons on the Book of the Acts may be and commonly is a pretty deadly business, but that is because of the lack of preparation on the part of the teacher. With an adequate historical and archeological background, the book may be made fascinating, especially because of the fact that it is our own spiritual ancestors and the founders of our Church that we are concerned with in this study.
It is assumed that people are not very much interested in Church history. I suppose that is true; but that it is true is due to the manner in which it is taught. When one reads in the life of Macaulay of the enormous popular appeal that his History of England had among all classes, one understands that it is possible to interest people in history. The recent success of Mr. Wells's Outline was no doubt in a certain measure a succès de scandale, but also it was due to the popular mode of presentation. The vogue of Farrar's Life of Christ, in the last generation, and of Papini's in the present, is a sufficient proof that form will carry matter.
And form will carry a class in Church history. I have known classes followed by enthusiasm and increasing numbers through the whole winter. This was because of the mode of presentation--sketchy no doubt, but vivid, grasping the essential points, emphasizing picturesque detail, bringing the narrative constantly into connection with contemporary life and thought. Even the dreariness of religious controversy, which nearly annihilates one's faith, as one reads it in such a book as Bright's Church of the Fathers can be made into a vivid narrative of experience which is illustrated from contemporary life and manners. The heretics are not all dead, by any means, and we can find the reincarnation of Arius in the Reverend Mr. X, our own contemporary. America is still inventing new religions. Men are still among us who explain to us now, for the first time, what our Lord really taught.
What is true of history is true of dogma. It is only dull because we make it so. It is perhaps difficult to gather people in a class in dogmatic theology. Let us therefore change the form, let us in the matter of theology substitute the meditation for the class instruction and recast our dogmas into their spiritual values. For teaching practical personal religion I would put the meditation as the most effective instrument. You begin by gathering a small group of people on a week-day, for an avowedly spiritual purpose. You throw them into a devotional attitude at the outset by the opening prayers and preludes. Then you sit down and talk quietly to them about a point of personal religion for half an hour or more. You may be sure that you are building up these people in the Faith.
Why do we not use the meditation more as a means of spiritual development in our parishes? I think that there are two principal reasons. The first is that so many of the clergy themselves are not trained in the use of meditation, and therefore do not appreciate its spiritual value nor understand its mechanism. If a parish priest has been for some years making a daily meditation, and if now that he faces the responsibility of parish work he is preparing himself to meet it by a daily Mass and a half-hour spent alone with our Lord in meditation, he will have passed beyond the sphere of theory and will know by experience what is the spiritual value of regular meditation. He will understand that the value derived from meditation is not a concern of priests only, but that any Christian who is in earnest about his spiritual development will derive great benefit from the practice. He will therefore want to teach people to meditate. He can, of course, and will, exhort them to do so; he can give them books of meditation as samples and guides. He will also understand that it will be vastly helpful to get a group of people together and lead them in meditation. This not only teaches them method in the best way by seeing meditation practised, but it also gives them material to work upon themselves. They are taught not only how to meditate, but what to meditate. Meditation is intellectual prayer; it is an attempt to understand the meaning of our religion in order to the more effective appreciation of it. The private meditation of the beginner is apt to be self-centered--there is too much self and not enough of God in it. We need to begin with God, with one of His thoughts, and to see the meaning of that in itself before we can get at the meaning of it in our own lives. Those who have attended for some time properly conducted meditations come to absorb the method and learn effectively to practice meditation in private.
Another reason why the meditation is not more widely used as a means of the spiritual training of a parish is that so few of the clergy have any adequate training in spiritual theology, the theory and practice of the spiritual life. Here at present is the weakest point in the training of the clergy. Spiritual theology is as distinct a branch of theological science as dogmatic theology. It is to dogmatics what practice is to theory in any branch of learning. The young priest, therefore, starts with a handicap imposed upon him by the indifference and ignorance of Church authorities, but he ought to feel the loss and set himself to make the omission good by his own private studies. There is abundant and fascinating literature available. Until he has acquainted himself with spiritual theology he is unlikely to appreciate the value of such a practice as meditation in the development of the spiritual life of his parish.
He needs carefully to study the technique of meditation, for one thing, that he may not fall into the mistake of fancying that a meditation is a sermon and lead his people to fancy so. There is a decided difference in the method of the two--the approach is different, the preliminary prayers, the composition of place, the devotional preludes all tend to produce a different psychological attitude from that produced by the sermon. The exposition, with its constant touch on personal life, its intimate dealing with spiritual problems, is intended to carry the listener into the inner places of his life, to arouse to an intense self-examination, and leave a lasting impression which will be fixed by resolution. If people can be taught (and they can) not just to listen as they listen to a sermon, but to take the substance of the meditation away with them and work it over in their own private meditations, great good will have been accomplished.
Perhaps the most neglected of all subjects in present day teaching in Sunday school or in pulpit is Christian morals. That, in view of the many sermons we hear, may seem a statement which needs a good deal of justification. Do we not at times even hear complaints that the teaching of theology has been abandoned in favor of merely moral teaching? That is true, but that moral teaching usually has very little to do with Christian morals. The morals that we hear in sermons are usually the conventions of the time and place and group. Social conventions, what everybody does in our set, have little relation to the morality of the Christian religion. Such conventions are constantly changing. A distinguished American recently said, à propos of prohibition: "I suppose that all over the country men and women of the highest moral type are breaking the Volstead Law with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than reproach." Obviously, what is meant here is the moral convention of a special group. There is no connection between the social conventions of those indicated and the Sermon on the Mount. "Morals" here means what is done by the people one knows. If we pass to another social group we find other laws violated "with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than reproach." Not long ago we read of the funeral of a gunman who died nobly, in the opinion of his fellows. That, at least, is the impression given by the fact that his friends lavished fifty thousand dollars on flowers at his funeral.
The conventions of various social groups are one thing, the morality of the Christian religion is another. They mostly touch at certain points, but they never wholly coincide. It is time that the Christian teacher got away from social convention as the basis of his teaching. Such conventions are subject to constant change. We have only to go back a very few years to note radical changes in many respects in the social conventions of America. A study of the nature of the changes indicates that the only moral basis of the average man or woman is "what everybody does." Take one or two outstanding instances. In the last fifty years the American attitude toward the observance of Sunday has undergone a profound alteration. It is not too much to say that, for the majority of Americans, Sunday is now merely another holiday. Some people, no doubt, still go to church, but of those who go to church a great many, I am inclined to think the majority, regard the time not spent in church as free time for all sorts of amusements. Almost anywhere that one goes now on a Sunday evening one finds either card playing or sewing going on. I am not expressing an opinion about these things; I am merely pointing to the change as a change in social conventions. "Don't you play cards on Sunday?" the young girl asked. "Things are changed now, every one plays."
Yes, every one plays, and a good many play for money. The increase in gambling is a notable fact to-day. There are very few places where it carries with it any social stigma. It begins with children in the shadow of the public school, the authorities of which do not interfere. It extends to all grades of society; every one does it and therefore it cannot be wrong.
One more instance is the decay of modesty. Very radical indeed is the change in the matter within the lifetime of one who has reached middle age. It is unnecessary to specify the evidence. It is just that our notion of what is modest and what is not differs from our fathers' and mothers' notion, it is said. We are not really more immodest; which, being translated, means that modesty from this point of view is merely a conventional code which is open at any time to alteration.
That is precisely what I am contending--that in these and most other things men have been actuated by social conventions and not by the morals of the Christian Church. There is Christian teaching in such matters as Sunday observance and gambling and modesty, and it is high time that those who are commissioned to teach the Christian religion emphasize it and declare unflinchingly what the Christian standard is and what it requires. This, no doubt, is not the way to popularity. I am afraid that, before setting about to teach the Christian principles of conduct, some of the clergy will have to submit to a revolution in their own lives. It is perhaps charitable to assume that they are as ignorant of Christian morals as those whom it is their duty to instruct, but to-day the work is needed if we are not to stand aside and see the world slump down into still further moral degradation.
It is a great help that classes in morals can be made very interesting. People are at least interested in the discovery that there are fundamental moral principles inherent in the religion which they profess. They are immensely interested in the discussion of moral questions because it means the discussion of the actual details of daily life. So far as they have had any notion of Christian teaching as to conduct, it has been of a very fragmentary sort and mostly of a negative character, based on the Ten Commandments. In education the Ten Commandments do probably more harm than good, at the present day. They teach people to construe life negatively and to understand morals as a set of tabus.
Constructive morals begins with our Lord's teaching of the spiritual principles guiding action. It indicates that life is to be guided by ideals and not by laws, that in Christian conduct we speedily pass beyond right and wrong, good and bad, to choice between alternatives of which the one better ministers to the production of spiritual character than the other. So long, for example, as Sunday observance is based upon a law of abstinence, it is quite unintelligible, and one can appreciate the intellectual fog that darkens the mind of the good lady who is shocked at the spectacle of boys playing ball in a field, as she rides by in her motor. No doubt she rides in her motor "with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than reproach." But then, the small boy plays ball with the same easy conscience. The question that is raised however, is not, "Is it right on Sunday to ride in a motor, or wrong to play ball?" but, "What is the actual purpose of Sunday, and are we fulfilling that?"
A careful study of Christian morals and the faithful teaching of them is to-day perhaps the greatest need of the Church, and by virtue of its novelty it will always attract attention and interest. It will do this in children, as well as in adults. The class of small boys, whose attention can be kept on subjects theological only with great difficulty, will enthusiastically discuss the questions of conduct that morals raises. The clergy who are looking about for an interesting course of instruction for their people have it ready at hand. May they have the courage to use the opportunity!
BEFORE considering the nature of the preparation required for baptism and confirmation it is well that we should recall to our minds what is the theological connection between these two sacraments.
In baptism the soul is born again of water and the Spirit, and has imparted to it three supernatural gifts or faculties, the so-called theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. These gifts enable the Christian to live a life in harmony with the will of God in his mental processes, in his volitions, and in the bestowal of his affections. Faith illumines the mind so that it can know God, Hope empowers the will to serve Him, and Charity fills the heart with love for God and for our neighbors. These faculties increase and develop with the faithful practice of our religion. Ideally, the Christian will make his pilgrimage through this world "steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity."
Confirmation is the completion of baptism. It fully equips the child of God with the armor that is necessary for an effective Christian warfare. Through the laying on of the Bishop's hands, and through the prayer of the Church, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are imparted to the soul for its further strengthening. These new gifts confirm the earlier gifts received in baptism: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Four of them are intellectual. They deepen and broaden the virtue of faith. They are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, and Knowledge. The gift of Ghostly Strength reinforces the virtue of hope by bracing up the natural weakness of the will. The gifts of Piety, or true godliness, and Holy Fear, reinvigorate the energies of Charity. Thus confirmation is a sacrament admirably adapted to guide and intensify our spiritual development.
From this point of view it is easy to determine the age at which a child should be confirmed. The gifts of God are to be desired for the soul as soon as it can make profitable use of them. A child should be confirmed as soon as he is capable of exercising faith, by intelligently repeating the creed; of exercising hope, by entertaining a conscious desire for heaven; of exercising charity, by consciously loving God and trying to obey Him. Inasmuch as he is necessarily living in the environment of a fallen world the child will at this age be capable of entertaining doubts about the faith, of seeking for lower prizes or being swayed by lower motives than the Kingdom of God, and of being disobedient to the commandments of God and selfish and unloving toward his neighbors. That is why he needs the grace of confirmation, when--as the Prayer Book expresses it--he has come to years of discretion. He knows the difference between right and wrong, he has felt the subtle power of temptation. In the normal child this would mean the age of seven or eight. At the very latest, every healthy child of nine or ten can say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, and ought to be sufficiently instructed in the other parts of the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose.
In the average child this is the age of spiritual awakening and extreme curiosity about religion, whereas the age of puberty is the time when the child's energies are being diverted from mental and spiritual concerns to physical processes. Even at school it is abundantly evident that girls of twelve and boys of fourteen are passing through a listless, fallow period when they take little interest in their studies. Quite naturally this is the age when children often become bored with religion. It is the height of folly to postpone confirmation to the age of puberty. The most rudimentary knowledge of child psychology should preserve us from that blunder. [I wish that every priest in the American Episcopal Church would read the little book by the Rev. A. H. Baverstock, When Should Children Be Confirmed? published by the Faith Press in London in 1920.] Nevertheless the tradition that twelve or fourteen is the proper age for confirmation has become so strongly imbedded in the popular mind that it will often be necessary for the priest to treat confirmation simply as one step in our spiritual progress, and to lay stress on teach ing children from seven on, through some sort of catechism, the main truths and practices of the Catholic religion, train them to say their prayers and make monthly confessions and prepare them to receive communion with penitence and devotion at least once a month. This would involve no violation of the Prayer Book rule as expressed in the rubric at the end of the Confirmation Office. These children may be admitted to communion because they are ready and desirous to be confirmed. In other words, the preparation for confirmation should be spread over five or six years, and should consist in the thorough grounding of the child not only in the faith and morals of the Church, but in the intelligent practice of the Catholic religion. As the day for confirmation approaches it might be advisable to gather the candidates into classes in which they could be given some weeks of final instruction. But if they have not been thoroughly trained long before, such instruction will be of little avail.
My contention, then, has been that children should be confirmed at the age of innocence and spiritual awakening, normally from seven to ten years. Failing that, the best plan is to wait until the awkward age of physical development has passed, and gather into our confirmation classes as many young people as possible from the ages of seventeen to twenty-one. In a country like England this postponement of confirmation would enormously reduce the number of those who are to be confirmed; but in the United States, where Protestantism is still the dominant religion, and confirmation is almost unknown and little understood, it ought to be possible for every zealous priest to get hold of many such young people. This is the age (seventeen to twenty-one) when many are converted from one form of religion to another. It is the age of intellectual development and inquiry and during these years the need of the help that religion only can give is often keenly felt. Through our young people's societies and the social entertainments given by them we should make every effort to meet young men and young women and see if we cannot interest them in religion. Young people's clubs and societies, in America at least, should be the greatest feeders for the Church.
This leads us to the subject of the preparation of adults for confirmation. It often includes the preparation for baptism as well, for we shall find that many of these adult candidates have never been baptized. To prepare an adult for confirmation is one of the highest privileges that ever comes to a parish priest. Here is an opportunity to convert a human soul, to transform and renew a human mind in accordance with the will of God for all eternity. Can any other part of the priest's work compare with this in importance! He ought to wrestle in prayer for that soul night and day. We should be constantly on the watch for such opportunities and should always have a number of such people under our instruction and in our prayers.
The best way to prepare adults for baptism and confirmation is to take them one by one. To instruct adults for confirmation in classes seems much like trying to fill a lot of bottles with water by throwing a pail of water in their general direction. A few drops may enter some of the bottles, but most of them will remain empty. It is far more sensible to take each bottle by the neck and pour the water into it until it is full. The place for this individual instruction is preferably not the priest's study nor the home of the candidate, but the church. Sisters, when a parish is so fortunate as to have them, may prepare the women for confirmation, and priests the men. There is no doubt that it will be arduous work for the clergy and sisters, and will make heavy demands on their time. But this is the kind of work for which they have been set apart. Nothing else that they can do will bring more enduring spiritual results.
We now come to the subjects for instruction and training. I stress the word training. Preparation for confirmation implies not only the comprehension by the mind of certain facts and principles, but the training of the will in definite practices and habits of prayer and devotion. In fact, the devotional approach to religion is more effective with most people than the intellectual. Instruction and training for confirmation, then, will fall under four heads: dogma, morals, worship, and the spirit of Christ.
1. The Christian is first under obligation to believe the faith of the Church as comprised mainly in the creeds. It should be explained that faith is not the same as knowledge, which can come only after years of spiritual experience. Faith is an adventure, an hypothesis which one has been encouraged to make because of the authoritative witness of the Catholic Church through nineteen centuries. We believe in God and all His Church doth teach, because He hath said it and His word is true. If a person cannot make this adventure he is not ready to be confirmed. The priest should take advantage of the occasion not only to explain the principal beliefs of the Church, but to deal frankly with any doubts or misapprehensions in the mind of the candidate. He may well recommend a course of reading on Christian doctrine adapted to the needs and intellectual capacity of the one under instruction. He may also at this time explain the practice of meditation so that a beginning may be made in this most useful art. Christians go astray not so much because they do not believe as because they do not give heed to the meaning and implications of what they believe. A course of meditations on Christian doctrine would do much to remedy this defect.
2. In giving instruction in the field of morals, in view of the well known proneness of human beings to do the very opposite of what they are commanded, it is wise to present the moral obligations of the Christian as little as possible under the form of precepts and commandments, but rather as the way revealed by God which leads to more abundant life here and hereafter. The Christian, if he be led of the Spirit, is no longer under the Law, but under grace; and the reproduction of the divine life within him ought to result ultimately in bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. It is a positive life of moral virtue that should be developed within us, and not merely a negative abstention from sin and vice. Moreover, the priest should draw out from his pupil his own moral ideas, and ascertain just what courses of action he considers right and wrong, and why. Wherever he finds mistaken or inadequate conceptions he may correct and complete them. Especially he must make clear in what respects the morals of the Gospel differ from the morals of modern society. All this instruction will lead naturally and easily to a training in the practice of self-examination and ultimately to sacramental confession.
3. Under the head of Worship the primary subject of our instruction must be the Mass. "It is the Mass that matters." Many of those whom we are preparing with a view to their first communion will have the most distorted and inchoate notions of Catholic worship; and our insistence that the Eucharist is the chief act of worship will at first mean little to them. Gradually, and particularly if they have been brought up under Protestant tutelage, the Catholic principle of sacramentalism, the seven sacraments as ministering to the deepest human needs, and especially the Blessed Sacrament as enabling us to offer the crucified Saviour to the Father as our Sacrifice and to receive Him from the Father as the sustenance of our spiritual life, will appeal to these starved souls as the most beautiful and reasonable phase of the Church's system. Here again we must endeavor to solve the difficulties and dispel the doubts of those who have been grievously misled on almost everything connected with the sacraments. In teaching them correct sacramental doctrine we must necessarily teach them much about ceremonial and Catholic practices of devotion. Most of all we must try to help them form the habit of attending Mass every Sunday and often on a week day--even long before they are ready to make their communions. This is as good a time as any to present to them private books of devotion to guide them in hearing Mass intelligently.
4. Finally, there is the fourth subject for instruction: the spirit of Christ. St. Paul said, "If any man have not the spirit of Christ he is none of his." By this he meant the mind of Christ. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." We must study the Gospels to learn what are the chief characteristics of the mind or the spirit of Christ, which is the remedy and defence against the spirit of the world with which we are only too familiar. There are at least five elements of the spirit of Christ on which we may dwell in our instructions: the spirit of prayer, the spirit of charity, the spirit of humility, the spirit of sacrifice, and the spirit of righteousness or justice. There is no space in this chapter to develop these separate ideas. They may be found amply developed and illustrated in the four Gospels. Under this heading the practical side of our teaching will deal with prayer and in general with all practices involved in the ascetic and mystical life. Here we must begin by teaching the candidate in the most rudimentary way how to pray, and urging him to use definite forms of prayer in his daily morning and evening devotions.
As in the case of young children, so with adults, we should make confirmation not the goal, but only a step on the way. We should admit them to their communions very soon after they have made their first confessions, and then encourage them to communicate frequently. After they have demonstrated that they are in earnest in trying to live the spiritual life and have given some proof that they will persevere we are justified in presenting them to the Bishop for confirmation.
ONE of the greatest benefits which came to the Church from the Oxford Movement was the institution of retreats and quiet days. The custom of making a retreat has widely spread, especially during the last twenty-five years, until to many persons it has become a regular element in their spiritual life. Beginning in the form of retreats for clergy and religious, it was extended to the laity, especially to women who were associates of religious orders. It has now extended its scope and is more and more penetrating into parochial life. Here its practice is being steadily extended until it touches all the elements of the parish.
From the beginning, individuals have been welcomed at religious houses and aided in the making of retreats there. TTiis work now bids fair to be greatly extended in the near future by the establishment of houses whose function it is to afford facilities for those who desire, for a longer or shorter time, to retire from the world and be alone with God. The pioneer work of the retreat house conducted by the Sisters of the Holy Nativity at Bay Shore, Long Island, is a notable example of what can be done in this matter and of the need for doing it. Here all the year round is a retreat house open to women who wish to make a retreat, or for a time to place themselves under religious instruction, or who, for any reason, desire the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of a religious house. It is a great need of the Church to-day that such houses of retreat be multiplied and made accessible not only for women, but for men and for children.
Such houses of retreat create their own demand. When they become available there is soon developed the perception of the need of them.
As an element in parochial life, the value of the retreat is becoming more and more recognized. From most parishes of the Catholic type a few women have been going each year to an annual retreat or a quiet day given under the auspices of one of the religious orders. It is now recognized that there are many women in a parish who would value the opportunity of a day's retreat, but who have not been brought into touch with the opportunity. What they need is opportunity and instruction. The institution of a parochial quiet day brings the opportunity and at least arouses curiosity. The teaching of the parish priest, the influence of friends who have experienced the benefits of retreats, will draw more and more to attendance. A retreat work competently carried on in a parish is bound to grow and each year reach more and more people, not only within the boundary of the parish, but beyond. '
The technique of the parochial quiet day is very simple. There must be preparation for two simple meals.
The arrangements for these should be in the hands of those who are not at all connected with the quiet day and, if possible, should be catered from the outside. The day should begin with the Mass. Here a difficulty arises: there will be a number of people who cannot, or think they cannot, get to the Mass, whether because of distance or family arrangements. Absence from Mass, though much to be regretted, may be tolerated when it seems necessary. There will be others who say that they cannot come for the whole day, but would like to come to one meditation. It is better to discourage these as an alien element. It can be explained to them that a quiet day is a devotional whole, not a series of sermons, and that it is to be confined to those who can give their whole time. To permit dropping in will prove in the end injurious to the day, because the incidental people never get into the spirit of the day, never get to learn what a retreat is; and the psychological influence of an alien element is bad for those who are trying to make the retreat. I have given quiet days which seemed to me quite profitless because of the constant shifting of attendance at meditations. The few who came early were ultimately swamped by the numbers who came in for one meditation, as they found it convenient. It should be made clear that only those are expected at the quiet day who can keep it as a whole.
Another trouble due largely to the dropper-in is the increased difficulty of keeping the rule of silence. A person coming in at the second meditation and staying to lunch naturally hasn't caught the spirit of the retreat and will quite probably disregard the rule of silence; but the success of the retreat depends largely upon the keeping of this rule. It is a vast mistake to imagine that all that is important in the retreat is the instruction--that we go simply to hear the meditations. The success of the meditations as spiritual impulse depends in great measure upon the atmosphere in which they are delivered. If this is restless and inattentive, if the mind is constantly carried off to exterior things, both the director and the retreatants spiritually feel an adverse influence. The psychological effect of the silence is great, and it should not be permitted to be relaxed in the least degree. This atmosphere the droppers-in disturb, even when they actually do not break the silence.
Their minds are not in harmony, no matter how good may be the intention.
To return to the routine of the day--Mass is followed by breakfast. If breakfast and lunch are simply and thoughtfully arranged, there will be need of almost no serving. The food can be on the table and, if care be taken, the objects which have to be passed can be provided in such numbers that they can be reached by all. It is best, if possible, to serve at small tables, in which case all that is needed is on each table and serving is unnecessary. This prevents confusion and noise. At both breakfast and lunch there should be reading aloud, which should be done by some one who knows how to read. Not any book that happens to be handy should be read, but thought should be given beforehand to the nature of the audience and the suitability of the book to it.
A workable time table fixes the Mass at half past seven or eight, and the meditations at ten, twelve, and three. This does not leave very much free time, but it leaves quite enough for beginners who are not accustomed to the use of free time. It is well that they should be taught to use this time in making an outline of the meditation they have just heard. If this is clear in their minds they can make the meditation over in terms of their own life. I am not in favor either of using the free time for miscellaneous prayers, for catching up with one's intercessions, for example. The whole attention should be, to the greatest extent possible, kept fixed on the day and not permitted to wander off. Prayer no doubt there will be, but it should be prayer that concerns the day; intensive prayer, in an attempt at the deeper grasp of the meaning of the meditation; prayer of intercession, that we may be able to understand ourselves in the light of the meditations and may have grace and strength to put them into operation in our own lives; prayer of self-oblation, where here in the divine presence we consecrate ourselves anew to Him who is our Saviour; prayer, too, of self-examination there must be, prayer for light to see ourselves in the mirror of the truths which have been presented and to apply them directly to our own lives, and to avoid the temptation of applying them to others. These and the like things retreatants need to learn, and the parish priest should take opportunity to make them plain. Many people go into a retreat without knowing what it is all about--go at the invitation of some friend, and miss much that a little instruction would have made available for them.
The time between the meditations may also be used in making self-examination, especially if confession is to follow. Otherwise it can be filled in with devotional reading. It is well, in the notification of the retreat, to suggest to the retreatants that they bring a book of private prayers and a book for devotional reading. In convents and in some parishes it is possible to supply books for the day, but this is not usual. I am not in favor of the average person attempting to take notes of the meditation as it is delivered. It is impossible for most people so to occupy themselves without losing the spiritual effect that the meditation is supposed to have and aims at producing. It is much better to jot down points that appeal to one during the free time or after one gets home.
Retreats for women have become an established element in the life of the Church and are doing much to deepen the spiritual life of its members. Retreats for men are much more rare, but enough has been done in this way to prove their possibility and helpfulness--they have passed beyond the experimental stage. I do not know why it has been so largely assumed that men as a rule are incapable of anything more than routine religion and are impervious to deep spiritual experience. Yet only the existence of some such assumption can account for the neglect to attempt to develop them spiritually. The clergy seem to assume that, while the women of their parishes can be approached on spiritual lines, can be offered the spiritual opportunity of days of intercession and quiet days, the men of their parishes are best approached through fraternal societies and country clubs. You can pray with a woman, but to influence a man you have to smoke and drink with him. That implies a radical misunderstanding of the male nature. The average man is no doubt shy and timid in spiritual matters, but that he is any less open to spiritual appeal than his wife or sister I do not in the least believe. He is deeply influenced by spiritual truth, but he is awkward in his expression of it unless he be carefully instructed. His education in the business world and his career there tend to make him materialistic, and his constant experience builds up a wall between him and religious activity; but once break down the wall, once show him the possibility of spiritual experience for him, and he is most responsive. I may have been particularly fortunate, but I have never found any lack of sincere and deep religion in men and boys in any parish in which I have worked; but I have found, I think, that men are rather afraid of the clergy and the clergy rather afraid to approach men as spiritual beings.
One means of approach is the quiet day for men, which I, like other priests, have found it quite easy to organize. I have no doubt that a wider retreat work among men can be successfully organized if means can be provided for it. By "means" I am thinking of suitable houses for retreat. At present experiment is being made in that direction, with good promise of success. The chief difficulty in the organization of the quiet day for men is the difficulty of time. Men's occupations are such that they cannot be got together on any day. The attempts that I myself have made have been to use holidays. There is, of course, a difficulty about having a retreat on a holiday, but the difficulty is not so serious as one may imagine. Men, we think, will not be willing to give up one of their holidays to go into an all-day retreat, but, as a matter of fact, they have proved in my experience to be, many of them, quite willing; not all, of course--not, especially when a holiday falls on Monday and when there are practically three holidays as a result--but I never have failed to get together a goodly number of men on Washington's Birthday. Curiously and unexpectedly, the chief obstacle arises, not from the man, as one would suppose would be the case, but, in the case of married men, from the wife. It is not unusual that the husband is unable to attend the quiet day, not because he is unwilling to give up the holiday, but because his wife is unwilling. "It is so rarely that she can have Charles for a whole day to herself."
There is no difference in the technique of the quiet day for men from that for women. The same time table serves in both cases; and there is here no difficulty about the silence or the dropping in. A man who starts to keep a retreat is very much in earnest and wants to get all he can out of it. The same meditations will hardly serve for the two retreats. The conductor must put the truths he has to expand in a masculine guise. He can make the retreat as stiff as he likes, and as straight out as he likes, and he will be sure of attention and response. He can carry his group of business men into the heart of the sacramental life, and they will follow him there without difficulty. In order to talk effectively to men it is almost essential that the conductor shall have had a good deal of experience as a confessor of men. I fancy that a great many of the blunders that priests make in dealing with men are due to the fact that they only know men in the country club, and not in the confessional.
A work almost wholly neglected among us, up to the present time, is that of retreats for children. Enough, however, has been done to demonstrate their possibility and value. Here,as in most cases in dealing with children, the obstacle is not the child but the parent. In attempting to teach children religion, the priest is sometimes almost driven to the socialistic theory of taking the child away from the parent and educating it by the state. The child is wonderful and fascinating material to deal with, but the problem is to catch the child. Soon we shall not be able to catch him even for an hour on Sunday. The motor and the week-end are penetrating deeper and deeper into society. Parents today are wailing over the anarchistic tendencies of the younger generation which they themselves have deliberately debauched. A children's retreat is usually attempted on Saturday; but then the poorer child has to work and the well-to-do child has to play or to go to the dancing class or has been promised an afternoon at the movies, and so on and so on, and there you are!
I am inclined to think that instead of placing a children's retreat on Saturday, which is inconvenient for the priest in many respects, it will be better to take some other day in the week. For one thing, you will be sure of an enthusiastic response from the child, who is always glad to do anything to get out of going to school--a very good comment, by the way, on the failure of the school to interest any one. The parents will not resist this any more than any other day, probably less. The school authorities can also be dealt with. After all, children are not yet quite chattel slaves of the state, though they are rapidly approaching that status.
The arrangements for a children's retreat are, of course, somewhat different from those for a retreat for adults. It is best to have quiet days for boys and girls separately. The age I am thinking of is from twelve to fifteen. Older boys and girls of sixteen to twenty should have days of their own. For the younger set with whom I am now concerned, I do not advise an early Mass for communions, but a Mass--preferably a sung Mass, sung, that is, by the children themselves--at say nine o 'clock. This eliminates the need for breakfast and makes lunch the only meal needed. The ordering of the day will, of course, vary with circumstances. I am suggesting one that I have found to work well.
The opening address will be at the Mass, which means that the Mass, if sung, will last about an hour. From ten-thirty to twelve it is well that the children should prepare and make their confessions. Those who are not so engaged can be read to or talked to informally. At twelve, lunch, during which there will be reading. Neale 's Stories of the Saints are admirable for this purpose. There should be quiet after lunch till one o'clock, and then it would be well to have a recreation hour. This permits relaxation and prepares the children for the afternoon. The hours from two to four are devoted to hymns and short addresses. At Saint Mary's, where we have a number of altars, we conduct during the two hours what we call a pilgrimage. The altars are dressed and lighted, and we go from one to the other about the church singing, and at each altar have short prayers and an address. This constant movement and change prevents the children from getting tired and leaves them in good spirits at the end. We close the day with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I see no reason why, in a church without more than one altar, temporary stations of some sort cannot be arranged as places for the addresses. The children, of course, sit during the addresses. As this work among children is, in this country at any rate, in an early stage, I am appending to this chapter an outline of a children's retreat which I hope may be suggestive.
The children's retreat is naturally much more difficult to handle than retreats for adults. If it is to be 'successful it needs careful working up in all its details. Children should be selected and prepared well beforehand. If it be possible to interest the parents, this should be done. Addresses should be very carefully thought out and illustrated and each one brought to a definite point of contact with child life. As one is starting a child on a new line of religious experience that may lead far if properly developed, it is of the utmost importance that there should be no failure. An impulse and direction may be given to the child's spiritual life of which he will long feel the influence. A very definite spiritual experience is possible for the child, and that possibility must be treated with all seriousness. We cannot estimate the good that can be done by the development of retreat work among children; but it must be understood that it is very difficult work which had better not be approached except by those who have tested their capacity to interest children and have prepared themselves in detail for the work.
In fact, this work of retreats, in all its aspects, presupposes carefully trained conductors. Imperfect preparation in a sermon may occasionally be pardoned, it is in fact inevitable, but imperfect preparation of a retreat is unpardonable. We have no right to invite people to give up a day or a week-end and then waste the day because of slovenly work. I have known a priest, when setting out to give a retreat, rush into the study of a friend and borrow a set of notes on which to base his talks. He was a fluent talker and no doubt bluffed it through with some success, but nevertheless it was the sort of thing that ought not to be done. I have been at retreats which obviously had not been prepared in the way of carefully worked out notes, but merely turned over in the priest's mind, in the form of a general line of thought. The result was that, while the first part of the retreat got on fairly well, as soon as the conductor became tired his mind ceased to work well and you felt the creaking of the machinery, and the result was a distinct let-down. That is disastrous because, for one reason, the retreatants are growing tired and need to be helped and not to be pulled down with the struggling mind of the leader. I am very strongly of the opinion that, no matter what facility a man may have in address, he should at least make clear outlines of his meditations to insure that he has something to say and that it is worth saying; and this is important from another angle, because it is only by such careful preparation that the priest can adequately illustrate his material.
In beginning a retreat work in a parish, one may very likely have to begin with small things. Only a few will answer our appeal, but if the work is rightly done it is sure to grow, and people will find that they can gain from a retreat what they cannot well gain elsewhere. A priest who can give effective retreats will find in them a work which brings great satisfaction and which offers him opportunities which he will with difficulty find elsewhere.
And I may once more emphasize what I have dwelt upon in other connections, the vital need of the understanding of spiritual theology by the priest who aspires to conduct retreats. Both dogmatics and morals will have their place in retreat meditations, but they will come in in subordination to the theory of the spiritual life. We are aiming at the spiritual development, the developed experience of Christians, and this can effectively be done only by those who are skilled interpreters of spiritual science. A great conductor of retreats is a spiritual artist of a high order. We cannot all hope to attain that degree of perfection; but any priest, by study and in the light of his own experience interpreting that study, ought to make himself competent in the matter. There is no more useful work to which he can devote himself.
I. The First Period. (9-10)
Sung Mass and Address.
II. The Second Period. (10-12)
Instruction by the Sisters. Rosary or Beading. Include in this period preparation for and making confessions. II. The Third Period. (12-1) Lunch and rest.
IV. The Fourth Period. (1-2)
V. The Fifth Period. (2-3:30)
A. First Station.
The Font. Baptistry trimmed with flowers. Address, hymn, renew baptismal vows.
B. Second Station.
The Lady Chapel vested in red. Hymn. Address on Confirmation. Dedication to the Holy Spirit as Spirit of purity.
C. Third Station.
S. Joseph's Chapel, vested in purple. Hymn. Address on Penance. Acts of contrition.
D. Fourth Station.
High Altar, vested in white. Hymn. Address on Eucharist. Acts of faith, hope and love.
E. Fifth Station.
Chantry vested in black. Hymn. Address on Unction. Prayer for a good death.
VI. The Sixth Period. (3:30-4)
The Lady Chapel. Vested in white. Exposition and Thanksgiving.