The Sacrament of Duty, by Father Joseph McSorley

cover of the ebook 'The Sacrament of Duty', by Father Joseph McSorley


The following pages are intended as a reminder of certain ideals which the writer and many others who have come under his observation are ever, to their own great hurt, forgetting. We wish to attain higher levels; we begin the ascent bravely; but in the iron shackles of habit we make painfully slow progress; and soon, strained by temptations little and great, we tire of the struggle and fall back dispirited into commonplace ways. Repeated failures force on us the misgiving that we shall idle our whole lives away in playing at being heroes like silly Peer Gynt; and of such a misgiving bitterness is quickly begotten. We begin to question the worth of ideals never realized and aspirations never fulfilled. Remembering the picture of the Bandar-Log, we sneer at ourselves

“Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,
All complete, in a minute or two –
Something noble and grand and good,
Won by merely wishing we could.”

To be cheerful, humble, honest, brave, constant, reverent; to wage ceaseless war against the myriad forms of selfishness which obstruct the path to the higher life; to care fervently for the Blessed Christ and seek an ever closer – communion with the indwelling Divine Spirit; these are aims and endeavors which the soul indeed recognizes as its finest opportunities, but which the flesh quickly grows weary of pursuing.

Such is our common experience. But a man cannot afford to accept defeat thus easily and content himself forevermore with being sordidly practical. He must reach for more than he is yet able to grasp. He must keep on incessantly striving for the invisible and in great measure unattainable gifts of the spirit, or else he will sink lower and lower until he loses even the homely blessings which practical people enjoy. As Plato puts it: “The paths of darkness under the earth must never again be trodden by him who has once set foot upon the heavenly road.”

In a world where the struggle for daily bread absorbs an ever-increasing share of our best thought and activity, the effort to retain belief in spiritual values, the ambition to grow in reverence and hope and unselfishness, becomes for many of us almost impossible. Often the resolve to keep our birthright of idealism costs tears; often it calls for the shedding of blood. Those, therefore, who are faring along hopefully should, as occasion offers, speak a helping word to others sore beset with doubt and temptation. It is no small blessing to the weak, in the darkness and din of battle, to hear an encouraging cry from some friendly voice, to receive assurance that the fight is really worth while.

This office of encouragement, the present volume would in a small way perform. It is addressed to all who, forgetting the things that are behind, reach forth unto the things that are before – namely, the prizes and trophies awaiting the triumphant spirit at the goal, but never grasped this side of the grave. Assuming that certain spiritual facts give forth “the master light of all our seeing,” it argues that attention to these facts is the necessary condition of a life of true usefulness and happiness. It professes allegiance to principles which have been the root and prop of the fairest growth in human history, recalls the memory of sublime truths partly disregarded, and points to the sure turning of the tide of courage almost ebbed away. It insists that behind great ideals, sometimes dimly shining, sometimes almost revealed, is God – a Power which makes them realities, a Beauty which renders them life’s one unfading joy. The book, of course, can have little significance unless, as the author believes, God’s care for man is the basis of all valid idealism, and the Lord Christ its best exponent.

The Sacrament of Duty

Do willingly what lies in thee,
According to the best of thy ability
And the best of thy understanding. – A Kempis

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! . . . I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from this hour. – Wordsworth

The longer on this earth we live,
And weigh the various qualities of men,
The more we feel the high, stern-featured paauly
Of plain devotedness to duty,
Steadfast and still, nor paid with mortal praise,
But finding amplest recompense
In work done squarely and unwasted days. – Lowell

The word “Sacrament” has rather an interesting history. In early Roman Law, it denoted a pledge which the loser of a suit forfeited to religious purposes; later it signified the oath which bound the legionary to his standard; then, after having undergone other changes, it came in Christian times to mean the solemn rites and mysteries of the New Dispensation. To the influence of scholastic theology is due a further and at first sight arbitrary narrowing of the word; for modern Catholic usage restricts the application of it to those seven institutions by means of which the Church conveys to the believer the seven great and peculiar graces that Christ entrusted to her keeping. This group, indeed, as the noblest and most efficacious of all systems of external rites, does with good reason appropriate a name which etymology and the older custom would extend to everything that symbolizes and imparts the blessing of God to the soul of man. Meanwhile, a relic of the more ancient usage is still discoverable in the title applied to “The Sacramentals” – a class of objects and actions recognized by the Church as beneficent to all who use them reverently. It is with an eye to this older and less definite sense of the term that we venture to speak of duty as a sacrament.

By “duty” is here meant all that conscience commands – the whole content of the moral imperative pronounced in the soul of any human being. Man may differ from man in his notion; of what he is bound to do or to endure; and, in fact, each conscience must include some matters which are personal and distinctive, some obligations arising out of the particular circumstances in which the individual lot is cast. But to all, the inner voice speaks with the same imperiousness; each one must do its bidding or suffer its condemnation. At present, let us be reminded that this imperiousness is an echo of the supreme authority of God; and that His sanction is placed upon whatever conscience may dictate.

Persons speak sometimes – especially, it may be, in these latter days – as if duty were separable from God; as if the significance and the authority of conscience could be discovered within the limits of the visible human order; as if no necessary relation existed between the admonitions of the inner voice and an eternal law transcending time and space; in a word, as if one might do all one’s duty without ever taking account of the Creator. This is denying what we here affirm – the sacramental character of duty.

Duty is a sacrament, because it is an expression of the will of God and a means of entering into communion with Him. Under a visible shell and envelope, it bears a holy significance and secret power; it is a channel of heavenly grace; it is the meeting-place and marriage-chamber of the human will and the divine. Not because it is in harmony with man’s nature, not because it ensures comfort or progress or culture or physical salvation to the race: for none of these reasons does the bidding of conscience attain its supreme and sacrosanct dignity, but rather because it is the medium of God’s message to man and of man’s response to God.

Not only is the foregoing interpretation of duty true; it is also effective in the order of practical conduct, as no other interpretation has ever been. The moral systems which eliminate God make fair promises; but in actual accomplishment they have never surpassed, never even equalled, Christianity. In the face of history, to predict that the world will grow better when once it has succeeded in emancipating itself from the old idea of an overruling God is rash, to say the least. All that has been done up to the present – be it little or great – has been done by, or with the help of, Christianity; whereas the achievements of independent morality exist only, in promise – and a promise which is without either bond or guarantee.

Although the conception of duty as independent of God might, with reason, be called an irreligious conception, it unfortunately receives some sanction from the speech and action of persons who are popularly understood to be religious. At times they set the claims of religion over against the claims of duty, as if the former were clothed with a higher dignity and under the shadow of a diviner sanction. This results in a lowering of religion in the opinion of men who are shocked at hearing that the good-pleasure of God can be divorced from the fulfilment of human obligations, or that life has a divine interest apart from the perfecting of human souls. To these men religion, when contrasted with ethics, wears an inhuman, it not an unholy, aspect; and they would substitute a more practical system for this fanciful transcendentalism. They make a strong attack upon the Church in the name of the neglected moral interest; and they regard it as a telling. objection if a Christian prefers orthodoxy to virtue, if religious “practice” and moral achievement are not in direct proportion among individuals or among communities, or if “piety” and indifference to natural virtues go hand in hand.

Now any divorcing of religion and natural obligations – in so far as it does actually exist – must be traceable to the failure to appreciate duty as a sacrament. That which we face in the concrete, that which we touch and see and deliberate about – the action, or submission, or course of conduct, prescribed by the inner voice – should be to every Christian the shell and envelope of the divine will. It is not an ultimate, but a medium; it finds its significance, as it finds its sufficient sanction, in its power to affect the relation of the soul to God. Like every sacrament, duty presents most prominently an outward and visible element; and by the superficial observer this alone may be noticed. But, like every sacrament, it has a more precious element hidden within; and to train the spirit in the discernment and use of this inward, divine element, is one of the highest functions of religion. In the discharge of this function the Christian Church must retain a certain pre-eminence or be without a sufficient reason for existing. The true Christian is bound to be more, not less, dutiful than other men. It would be a fatal concession to admit that outside the fold a higher standard or a more exact observance of natural virtue may generally obtain. Grace lends itself to nature for the perfecting of natural powers; and the system of Christian sacraments is arranged with a view to the sharpening and the strengthening of every moral faculty native to the soul of man. That any other conception of the relation between the supernatural and the natural should prevail, would be a great misfortune.

It would be equally unfortunate if Christians were to offend primary ethical instincts by investing the external requirements of religion with such dignity as to overshadow and obscure the inner divine realities: were they to exalt positive precepts above the indispensable dictates of the natural law; were they to magnify the need of explicitly knowing the full truth and, by contrast, to minimize the need of doing the full right. Now, although these distortions of Christian teaching are not openly proclaimed by us, nor even perhaps consciously implied, they do suggest themselves to the mind of the critical observer who observes us putting charity below conformity and expediency above the truth; who sees church-goers attending service from motives of vanity, curiosity, or fear, worshippers hurrying through prayers with a mechanical habit of body and an inattentive drift of mind, and communicants approaching sacraments under the pressure of human respect, national custom, or mercenary desire. To the critic it looks as if, according to Christian standards, the husk is more valued than the kernel, as if mental processes are made more precious than the action of the will, and the interests of the organization distinguished from the interests of God.

It is a scandal if such exaggerations ever take place; yet they will not seem so strange, when we recall that, to some extent, misunderstanding and abuse occur with regard to all sacramental institutions – with regard to the physical humanity in which God appeared among men, since the Magdalen’s demonstrative affection for it had to be checked by an admonition from Christ Himself; with regard to the visible Church, whose temporal prosperity has sometimes been ranked as an object of more pressing importance than the fulfilment of Christ’s own commands; with regard to the whole external system of worship, since the Most High God, in subordinating Himself to human service, often encounters a vain superstition which attends less to His presence than to the worthless and senseless things created by His hands. These instances indicate how readily man abuses the gracious dispensation by which creatures are converted into channels of the grace of God. In the measure that we grow quick to discern the divine significance of all duty, however, we shall be the less likely to limit our interest to the outward aspect of any religious observance, and we shall be the better able to appreciate at their true value the divine elements which lie hid within.

The habit of frequenting the sacrament of duty is not only an effective way of attaining to God, but the only way. Religion is true and actual only when it avails to strengthen the soul in the performance of its duties, to urge it toward keener watchfulness and mightier effort. Divorced from duty, religion becomes the merest phantom, a sham, a worthless fiction. We speak of certain religious obligations as necessary, in the sense that the law of God imposes them; of others again as necessary, in the sense that no one who willfully neglects them can ever attain to heaven. In a higher and more exclusive sense we may speak of the fulfillment of duty as a prerequisite for admission to the presence of God. Fidelity to duty without formal religion, we might conceive of; religion without duty, never. The performance of duty includes, of course, the fulfillment of supernatural, as well as of human, obligations: prayer, public worship, ecclesiastical obedience, the established means of grace, must be made use of in the measure that our light and our opportunities allow. The failure to consider these as grave obligations of the conscience makes the error of the indifferentist. But an error less worthy of being condoned is that of contemning commonplace duties, as if lack of fidelity in regard of them might be compensated for by intense application to supernatural activities. That the supernatural elements of life should loom large is right and just; but there is an essential defect in the conception which exalts them at the expense of the natural. A deep meaning underlies those old stories which come down to us from the very oldest records of organized striving after perfection, and which show the just man winning God’s favor by relinquishing the enjoyment of special divine favors for the sake of fulfilling the commonplace duties of his daily rule.

We prove that we have grown in the spiritual order, when we develop a keener appreciation of the hitherto neglected opportunities of grace in our everyday routine. The young enthusiasm of inexperience would drive us abroad in search of some chance tide of destiny, some sudden windfall; but as we grow in wisdom we are less attracted by the prospect of adventure, and we aim rather to reap the harvest of our fields at home. With the years that go by we meet ever new evidence that perfection lies for us in enduring the unpleasant pressure and meeting the exacting demands of our homely lot. Gradually our powers of vision are enlarged; each of us learns, as in another order humanity at large has learned, the worth of the infinitely little:

“The old way’s altered somewhat since,
And the world wears another aspect now:
Somebody turns our spyglass round, or else
Puts a new lens in it: grass, worm, fly grow big:
We find great things are made of little things,
And little things go lessening, till at last
Comes God behind them.”

Is it too much to say that the longer one lives and the better acquainted one becomes with the various achievements, trials, and disappointments of men and women, the more thoroughly is one convinced that by no other means than by the appreciation of duty as a sacrament can the soul attain to lasting happiness and imperturbable peace? We encounter people who are hopelessly entangled in the toils of poverty, or disgrace, or unrequited service, or unanswered affection; we meet them struggling wearily along under a sense of wasted years and undeveloped opportunities; we see them tortured by fears of the future, by loss of loved ones, by physical pain, by never-ending temptation; and as our experience widens and our discernment becomes more penetrating, we clearly perceive that to each one the sense of duty may be made the vehicle of eternal and divine goods, that it alone can be relied upon to save the great mass of humanity from the pitfalls of pessimism and despair. This sense saves men, because it makes clear the worth of unsuccessful striving and tells the enduring. triumph which shall be the issue of every blameless defeat. Gradually it unfolds the momentous truth that ethical values are the only realities in the life of the soul, and brings home the conviction that all else is going to matter comparatively little if to its own sense of duty the conscience shall remain unshakenly loyal. Under the inspiration of such a conviction discouragement, hardness, and unfaith are obvious impossibilities. Enthusiasm, perhaps, will not be given us; money and the fruit it bears, comfort, luxury, leisure, we may never have; in no earthly shrine of fame will posterity read the names of us who are born to die obscure. But of the peace which surpasseth understanding we shall possess abundant measure; grace will be poured forth in the land where we abide; souls will conquer the temptation of selfishness by the aid of our example; and the great designs of the God who made us will be realized in our lives. Few who ponder these truths will turn aside to seek the rewards of selfishness and infidelity. The mind which meditates on the rewards of duty will learn to see beauty, holiness, and eternal worth in lives of patient suffering and honest toil, to rank vocations noble in proportion to the selflessness for which they call, to discern the possibilities of divine perfection in the monotonous round of a man’s daily duties, and to regard the soul’s everlasting struggle with temptation as the true building up of the kingdom of God. To be charitable, sympathetic, helpful, forgiving towards our neighbor; to be tender and generous with wife, or husband, or sister, or brother; to be just and truthful and ungrasping in our business relations; to be conscientious in the discharge of our whole responsibility as citizens: these are among the high ideals which the cultivating of a finer sense of duty will help us to make our own.

Thus to be faithful despite every trial, and to rise triumphantly beyond the reach of enticing pleasure and menacing pain, implies, of course, perfection; and to this result will the sacrament of duty unfailingly conduct its recipient. Something of the peace of the contemplative soul will be given the man who is in constant communion with God through the medium of suffering bravely borne and deeds nobly done; and many who might never rise so high through the routine of the cloister will be brought wonderfully near to God by the discharge of the humble duties of a secular life. One strong act of the will is worth many lofty thoughts; the former rather than the latter is of universal obligation. After all it is the saint not the theologian who knows God best and embraces him most closely; for in this life God is, as has been said, an object of the will more than of the intellect.

He that keepeth the commandments is the true lover, Christ tells us. So we cannot help believing that there must be many children of His adoption who have not learned to recognize His features or to invoke His Name. In the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and many a commonplace deed of duty, they have ministered to Him unawares. Thus, by the free choice of their wills, they have been bound and indentured to His service and become the bondsmen of a Master whom they do not formally own. Theologians unfold the implications of the human sense of right and wrong, and show that the man who is trying to do right is implicitly recognizing and obeying God. Very little power of analysis is needed to perceive that faith and hope and love are necessarily involved in the conduct of those who follow the natural light of conscience to the very limit of its leadings. Of the many, therefore, who at different times and in diverse ways have gone. forth to die as martyrs to duty – sometimes even with unconscious blasphemy upon their lips – not one has been displeasing to the Most Holy, granted that he was not sinning and had not sinned against the inner light. But this same comfortable teaching, – which makes for the peace of the honest-hearted, strikes fatally at the soul which is sluggish, or cowardly, or consumed by selfishness in any of its many other forms. Even though such a craven be numbered among the children of the promise, he shall hardly be the equal of those who lay down possessions and life as a sacrifice to the Unknown God; for the command of the great Father and Lover of men, spoken to all the race, is obeyed unto merit, even though the heavenly voice be mistaken for the promptings of mere human instinct. Hence we believe that right conduct will be rewarded with the ultimate gift of faith, in so far as faith is necessary for the entering of the kingdom of heaven. For the doer of the word is justified more than the hearer. As reverence is shown less by profession than by obedience; as patriotism is measured better by a man’s willingness to die than by his eloquence; so, too, the struggle undertaken to fulfil duty and to resist temptation is the surest test of love, and the keeping of the commandments is the firmest bond between the soul and its Maker.

No one will deny that perfect loyalty to conscience makes stern demands upon us, that it constitutes a high ideal. Yet there is consolation in the thought that we are never bound to impossibilities, that duty is, so to say, automatically regulated: when it becomes impossible it ceases to be duty. We are never held responsible except for the issues which we can control. Knowledge, ability, and freedom must be ours, or no shortcoming can be charged against us; and meanwhile every new difficulty of a task inevitably heightens its moral value.

It is needlessly, therefore, that we are troubled by the phantom of duties we are unable to perform. The will to do right can effectually cast out all such fear. Perfect peace is the privilege of every soul that is determined not to be driven off the course of duty by the turbulence of any passion, nor to be frightened away by the darkness of any trial.

To the development of a finer sense of duty, then, and to the training of the will in the habit of obeying conscience perfectly, much time and energy must be devoted by all who seek peace upon earth or enduring success in eternity. The lesson is easy to learn. It could not be simpler or more evidently true. It leaves unanswered no problem which man is called upon to solve. Nothing can take its place. School carefully, therefore, your vision and your will; and when there occurs a struggle in the choosing between what is painful and what is wrong, set your will resolutely to the receiving of the sacrament of duty.

The Ideal Man

It is a solemn moment when the soul awakens to a sense of its spiritual possibilities. Something of awe attends every beginning – whether the launching of a ship about to venture forth amid the measureless dangers of unknown seas; or the first shot of battle, warning men that mighty interests and precious lives have been destined for sacrifice; or the faint little cry of a new-born infant setting out on that most perilous of all adventures called “life.” And whatever suggestion of sublimity there is in any of these beginnings, it recurs – in intense degree – at the solemn hour of a soul’s moral awakening, in the moments

“Sure though seldom,
When the spirit’s true endowments
Stand out plainly from its false ones,
And apprise it, if pursuing
Or the right way or the wrong way,
To its triumph or undoing.”

These, indeed, are the awful moments of life; they are fraught with terrible dangers and immense responsibilities; they determine whether God’s image in a man shall be made or marred.

Whatever the occasion may be, therefore – the turning of an unbeliever toward the God he has denied, or the entrance of a convert into the Church he has ignored, or the first strong, new resolve in the heart of one on whom the true ideals of life are at last commencing to dawn – whatever the occasion be, it is a solemn crisis when we heed the trumpet-call, gird ourselves, and step forth to the making of a God-like man.

It would truly be a hard fate, had we to carve out the pathway of progress alone, and to guess unaided at God’s ideal; or had we only ordinary men and women to reveal to us the high possibilities of human nature. Every creature we meet falls short of that perfection which the least of us is justified in striving for; from no man do we get the full measure of inspiration that we need. But God has given us in Christ a model about whom all agree – One without defect. Every noble life is a needle pointing to Him; every pure soul an image of His; every good deed a gem that gleams and sparkles in the shining of-His light. Our homes are radiant with the glow of a beauty He created; His peace is in our hearts; His holiness is beaming from our innocent children’s eyes. He is God; He is perfect as God; and still behind His forehead throbs a human brain, and a human-heart is beating in His bosom. In each impulse of ours He can recognize some emotion of His own; deep in His heart there echoes a response to every noble aspiration of mankind. Yes; if it be possible to receive what we looked and hoped for, if it be, indeed, the plan of Providence to “come and lead us Godward,” our hearts assure us that Jesus Christ is God’s Ideal of a Man.

Very striking in the life of Christ is the vivid contrast between the Jews’ anticipations and the reality. The chosen people had learned to cherish a vision of physical majesty as the picture of the Messias. Purple and cloth of gold and jewels and fine linen would adorn His person. He would ride forth to battle at the head of an army of kings and conquer all the earth, beating down the nations under His horse’s hoofs and blinding them with the glory of His brightness; He would reign from sea to sea, so that the dwellers of the wilderness would bow low before Him and all peoples serve Him; He would rule over the nations with an iron scepter, and dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel; He would restore Israel’s greatness and give heavenly splendor to a new Jerusalem, the mistress of the world. Neither for Him nor for His people would there be weakness or tribulation any more.

With this expectation contrast the fact. Christ brought no material comforts, no adornments, and steadily refused to secure or to accept them. Though faint with fasting, he scorned to supply Himself with food. Homeless, penniless, rigidly austere, He laid the heavy burden of absolute self-denial on every one who wished to follow in His footsteps. He would win no mind by the display of magnificence; he would teach men that the kingdoms of all the world were but a petty end of ambition when set over against the fulfilling of the will of the Father. The only cause He strove for was that of the Kingdom of God within the soul. Wearing no crown and holding no scepter, he received spittle by way of homage and thorns in place of a diadem. His triumphal procession was a weary march under His own cross up the hill of Calvary; his retinue was not the legions of Michael, but the mocking soldiers of brutal Rome. When His foes came upon Him, there was no miraculous crushing of their battalions; there was simply submission to insult and scourging and death.

The contrast was intensified by the fact that Christ evidently possessed a secret divine power. He himself said that He had but to ask, and whatsoever He desired would be granted Him. Already, as was clear, the resources of nature lay at His command. From a few loaves He gave food to five thousand; with a word He stilled the tempest; at will He burst the bars of death and brought forth the buried from the tomb. So striking, indeed, was the contrast of expectation and reality in Christ’s life, that did we not know John the Baptist better, we would almost be led to fancy we could detect an echo of the popular disappointment in the blunt question his messengers put to Jesus: “Art Thou He that art to come; or look we for another?” But while that question did not express the disappointment of John, it did furnish the providential opportunity for an answer which was a key to the enigma of Christ’s life, and the solution of the problem already beginning to puzzle earnest minds among the Jews: “Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”

When men heard this, they could understand the mission of the Savior as never before: He had come in human form that they might have a visible image of the gracious God to study and love and fashion themselves upon. He revealed the divine perfection in an aspect and with a clearness which rendered mistake impossible; which made it plain that to be like God, man must, first of all, love his fellow-man – neighbor, beggar, stranger, enemy. “Love your enemies,” He said, “that you may be the children of your Father whois in heaven.” Those who were closest to Him during life caught that lesson and gave it forth again as the distinguishing mark of the Gospel message:

“Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the widow and the orphan and to keep oneself unspotted from this world.”

“If we love not our brethren, whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?”

“If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.”

What did it all mean? What but this – that as we must be religious before being Christian, so we must love man before we can love God! Who will venture to state such a principle? Who will dare affirm that a man offering his gift at the altar and remembering that his brother has something against him, should leave there his gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled with his brother, and then come and offer his gift? Who will dare say that? Who, indeed, but the Lord Christ? Upon His lips the words are found. O Man! force your way into the treasure-house, with its locks of brass and bars of triple steel; storm a modern fortress, with its mines and entrenchments and monster guns; defy and overcome the very laws of nature if you can; but never suppose that the love of God can be driven into a heart where the love of man does not dwell. O Priest! preach the need of intellectual training and external forms; but remember that he who loves his neighbor is not far from the kingdom of heaven, not altogether unlike God’s ideal of a man. The heart and center of religion, the heart and center of humanity, is love. God is love. And man can resemble God only when his life is a life of love.

Wondrous pictures of such love do we receive from Christ! When shall time dim the beauty of the scenes He stamped so deeply on the memory of the human race! – The Good Shepherd traversing hill and dale in search of the lost sheep and carrying it home in His arms; the Good Samaritan, lifting up the helpless traveler that Priest and Levite had passed by, binding his wounds and caring for him at the inn; the Father of the Prodigal Son, receiving back again the reckless boy whose health and youth and fortune had been wasted in the ways of sin, welcoming him home with a loving kiss, killing for him the fatted calf, robing him in splendid vestments, and circling his finger with the ring of peace and joy.

When shall the human heart cease to thrill at the echo of the words Christ spoke to those who listened for His revelation of the ideal!

“Blessed are the poor!”

“Unto these least!”‘

“As one that serveth!”

“Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

“Receive ye the Kingdom of God as a little child.”

Have we forgotten – can we ever forget – the story of the Magdalen and of those who spurned her? Men had pointed the finger of scorn as she passed through the market-place; women had swept by with a rustle of skirts, then as now loathing the sin and the sinner! Ah! the grace and the tenderness of Him who went to this creature, and made of her a glorious saint of God! And then, the thing He did and the words He said when, at another day, they set Him up to judge a woman taken in adultery! See His face shine as He is kissed by the traitor Judas! Bring back to mind the pardon He gave the penitent thief in the hour when His own body was shattered and His soul wrung with torture! Hear Him whisper a prayer for His executioners. In truth, it is one long, uninterrupted lesson of love for man that we learn from the whole story of His goings out and His comings in; His healings and His cleansings; His comfortings and His pardonings. O Christ! if Thou art indeed He Who is to come, and Thy name is indeed Messias, then truly art Thou the strangest king that ever reigned – and the hardest to dethrone. Thou savest others; Thyself Thou wilt not save. From Thee we learn that to live and die for another is always nobler than to live and die for self. To do things tor men; to do hard things; to serve the worst and the meanest of humanity – this is the burden of Thy message, the bidding of Thy example. Service unremitting and unto death – this is Thy measure of nobleness. This then, is God’s ideal of the relation between man and man.

It is almost needless to say that such an ideal could scarcely have found a lodging place in the breasts of the Israelites of olden time, whose conduct offers so strong a contrast to that of Christian saints. The records of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their contemporaries, leave us, if not puzzled and dismayed, at least convinced that such men could not easily have assimilated Christian ideals. Their conception of duty toward neighbor and wife and brother and fellow-townsmen, and especially their view of the attitude to be adopted toward stranger and enemy, indicate the great development that had to precede their acceptance of the standard of Christ. As we go along through the centuries we see, like occasional gleams of light, intimations that this growth is taking place. The days of the Philistine wars give place to the sympathetic relations of the captivity and the restoration; the savage necessities of early settlement-life to the high ideals prevailing in the schools of the prophets. Ruth and Tobias and Elias and Eleazar appear like glimmering rays that precede the dawn. As the whims of the wandering tribes fade into oblivion, we have the noble conceptions of Job and the Psalms and the last chapters of Isaias. The road was a long one and hard to travel; many fell by the wayside during the march, and not a few forgot the new lessons soon after learning them. Selfishness and sensuality worked against the leaven wherewith God was leavening the mass. But in the end the leaven prevailed. When the time was ripe, and the people ready, the heart of the Jew was made into the heart of the Christian, and the zealots of the law became the vessels of election of Christ.

That slow process of growth showed how incapable gross, sensual minds must ever be of appreciating the teachings of Christ; and the same incapability holds now among us. Never is a selfish soul the fit material to make a Christian. The nobler a soul, the fitter it is to receive and to develop the seed of the Gospel message. The religion of Jesus Christ strikes root only in a heart harrowed by self-denial, worked over by slow, painful attempts that dig up and loosen the hard soil of the natural man. He who would be a Christian must be no slave of food and drink, but the master of all sensual passion; he must be energetic and vigilant, and industrious and brave; his soul must be weeded free of the love of money, the root of all evil. As the man begins to be Christ-like, the ape and the tiger die; the wild beasts that prowled about within him are tamed, if need be, even with fire. The neophyte learns that though all creatures are for man’s enjoyment, yet the temperate use of them is a precept of the moral law. He goes through an education similar to that by which the race has been taught the necessity of sternly prohibiting the coarser forms of self-indulgence, of basing the higher social institutions upon the restraint of primal appetites. As the wild excesses of youth, the first mad fling of freedom, must settle down into the grave carriage and sane speech of the mature man ere one will be trusted by his fellows, so must the heart be purified before it can become the dwelling-place of God. All in all, it seems we can truly say that the interval between animal standards and human laws is hardly so great as that which separates the Christian from the pagan.

But who shall deny that we men of today are still children in selfishness, still savages in cruelty; that we must grow much before we can in very truth be Christians? Must not a sense of shame sweep over us as we review the incidents of each day’s history in this age of exultant worldliness; as we read the sins listed in our daily press; as we pass by the homes of our city poor; as we observe frequent instances of cynical hardness and monstrous oppression too plain to disbelieve. Let us not forget that we are members of the society that commits or tolerates these misdeeds. We are not aliens to the civilization in which we live; we are its beneficiaries on the one hand, its supporters on the other. And each man of us has his own share of eternal responsibility for its every crime. God’s ideal of a man – the selfless Christ! How strange and far away from it are we; and how deeply we feel this in the moments when our better nature is stirred. The head of the nation is shot down by an assassin and expires with a prayer on his lips; the fire demon leaps forth in a crowded theater and, while men are hurrying to the rescue, five hundred die – an awful holocaust; an excursion steamer, with its freight of singing children and light-hearted parents, meets with a sudden mishap, and a thousand perish miserably under the very eyes of the mother city out of whose womb they all came forth. These things shock us into being Christian. Great pity chokes a man; the tears well up; the human heart asserts itself in the worst of us. We go so far as, for a moment, to suspend our business, to devote our goods recklessly, to forego opportunities of gain, to risk our very lives. For one divine instant we sound the note of charity; the music of Christ’s love reechoes in our souls as the dead are cared for or the moaning victims are carried by. It is good for us thus to be moved, even though at such dreadful cost. It tells us what we could be, what we ought to be. It remains a help to us all our lives, even though, after a day or two, the lesson seems to be forgotten. We shall do well to recall such experiences, to multiply the moments which make us feel as we felt then, to extend something of the same spirit into the smaller and more frequent events of life; for just as truly as a surrender to our brutal instincts is a checking of Christianity’s progress, so surely, to be pitiful, sympathetic, kindly, is to bring the spirit of Christ among men, and to strengthen His presence in souls. To turn away from an inviting opportunity for evil-doing, to relinquish the chance of sinful pleasure, to resist a seductive temptation, though with a pain at the heart and a groan on the lips; and to do all this because we are unwilling to hurt neighbor, countryman, enemy, any fellow-creature, born or unborn – this is to begin to be for the moment, and in some little measure, like Christ’s Ideal of a Man.

Yes; the love of mankind is a preparation, a necessary preparation, for Christianity. It is a sentiment which measures by its development all growth of the soul; which, by its increasing purity, reveals each advance from the selfish passion of youth to the matchless sacrifice of a mother’s love; which registered the progress of the Israelites from the beginning to the end of sacred history; which has marked every stage of man’s evolution from sin to sanctity, from savagery to civilization. It is a sentiment which must, at least in some degree, always be present in order that a soul may obtain even the first weak grasp of Christianity; and it must grow strong and deep before any real and hearty assimilation of Christ’s spirit can take place.

What would the prevalence of such love among us not imply? At its coming dishonesty and corruption would disappear, and unjust trials and unfair legislation as well. The systematic and legal oppression of the poor would cease; so too, the crime of the betrayer who purchases a moment of pleasure at the cost of a woman’s soul, and the selfishness that degrades marriage into a mere means of sensual satisfaction. At its coming would flower forth the spirit which calls it wicked to save oneself at the cost of another, and lays upon the best of men the obligation to die for the sake of the meanest and weakest – the spirit, so essentially Christian, which has kept pace with the progress of Christianity, grown with its growth, strengthened with its strength, and taught us that the measure of a nation’s advance from barbarism, is its acceptance of the law that women and children must be looked after first in fire or shipwreck, before the great ones, most valuable to humanity, dare even think of saving themselves.

We may not say that the study of the spirit of Christ will at once render us able to pursue all these ideals faithfully and successfully, nor may we say that any one of us alone can do much toward making them prevail; but this is true, that only in proportion as men earnestly strive after these ideals can they hope to be fashioned into the image of God and-recognized by Christ as the children of His inspiration.

But all this will interfere with our comfort, says some one, Why of course it will interfere – undoubtedly and most seriously. And therefore Christ gave us not only an ideal of service, but an example of renunciation. He taught us that the Christian ideal can be attempted only by those who are willing to deny themselves. He made us understand that Christianity can easily be lost by souls not tempered like fine steel in the furnace of renunciation. To do all Christ bids us do, we must be as children, indeed, but we must have more than the strength of children; for to be a Christian is a great life-work, no mere child’s play. It isa crown to be won by effort, a pearl to be bought with a great price. Much physical comfort must be renounced by him who strives for an ideal which is divine. We should never forget the disappointment and failure of the materialistic Jews, brought face to face with our Lord, but having nothing in their selfish souls wherewith to lay hold of the treasure He proffered them. The same opportunity, the same danger, is always ours. We can have Mammon it we wish – that is many of us can, and for a time at least – but we cannot have God and Mammon. The bread of angels will not be savory to him who has been feeding on the husks of swine.

Every nation has its symbol: England, its Lion and Unicorn; Russia, its Great Bear; France, its Fair Lilies; America, its Bird of Freedom. ‘The symbol of Christianity has ever been the Cross. It is no longer a sign of shame to be hidden and concealed. In the life of every day it meets us again and again; it jingles at the wrist of fashion, it dangles from the golden watch-chain of wealth, it hangs upon the bosom of young-hearted beauty, it stands clear-cut against the sky as it crowns the spire under which people meet to kneel and pray. But unless it be branded into the mind and seared into the heart, then has the soul not yet begun to be Christian.

We must remember this as we seek to grow in the knowledge of Christ; as we pray for the grace to assimilate His spirit and to imitate His conduct. ‘The true symbol of Christianity is the Cross. And the figure that hangs upon it, naked and suffering for the sins of others, is God’s Ideal of a Man.


Domine, ut videam.

Physiologists, in reporting their experiments, tell of a curious phenomenon called psychic blindness, which occurs when a certain portion of a living animal’s brain has been extirpated. The animal in this condition, although it sees, walks, or swims with perfect mechanical precision, appears to have lost its normal power of discernment. It makes no attempt to seize food placed within easy reach, and, if confronted by one of its natural enemies, manifests not a single sign of fear – a pigeon, for instance, walks into the very jaws of a cat without the slightest hesitation. In short, the activity displayed is merely reflex and unintelligent. The animal, although a good automaton, is nothing more. Though it can see, it is utterly unable to recognize or interpret. The objects within its field of vision present no familiar aspect, and hence convey no significance, to its dulled intelligence.

Now, something analogous to this phenomenon may be observed in human beings. The facts which suggest the analogy are all the more remarkable, moreover, because not induced by external interference with normal faculties. ‘They occur in persons whose senses have been perfectly intact from birth. In other words, many of us are lamentably deficient in the power of intelligently interpreting objects thrust upon our notice; and, further, the very sense-powers we do possess are, to a considerable extent, deadened by disuse. What the human eye and ear are capable of, the red Indian has taught us; and the blind daily give us a wonderful object lesson on the powers latent in our fingers. Nay, without going to any alien or abnormal type, we may obtain as strong a contrast as we need by merely comparing an average citizen with one whose capabilities have been highly developed by training – with a watchmaker, for instance, or a gardener, or a pianist. There is no reason whatever for doubting – indeed, there is every possible reason for believing – that ordinary every-day persons are perfectly capable of acquiring what we have grown accustomed to consider the peculiar skill of the classes named.

This, if we stop to reflect upon it, will be found to imply such mortifying admissions that, for very shame’s sake, we feel inclined to declare either that the gardener is more than normal or that we are less. For, from the undeniable truth that the average boy can become an average craftsman, we draw the evident implication of amazing dullness and idleness on the part of persons who are helpless as babes the moment there is question of fine observation or dexterous work. Universal possibility of sense-development, if it be true, argues the common man to be fairly saturated with unrealized potencies and inert faculties; and, though this may not appeal to us with any great force while we are adverting only to the question of manual skill, we experience considerable regret when we go on to reflect that probably we are perceiving but half of what God gave us power to see, and realizing only a trivial portion of what He wished us to know. If the eye was made for seeing and the mind for understanding, then certain faculties must have atrophied in the case of the many who go through life so unfamiliar with the beauty and truth and goodness which God created in order to lead men nearer to Himself. Shall we escape all penalty if we spend our days blinking out upon life, like great stupid owls that stare sleepily at things of deepest import to themselves? Evidently not; since even though we are not forced to answer for all our ignorance as for an avoidable and therefore imputable defect, yet we shall at least be punished thus far, that our souls will ever remain less perfect than God planned them to be.

True, it would be unreasonable to contend that a lesser good may not be forsaken in the interest of a greater; nor can it be reckoned a fault if beings of limited capacity pick out and choose from among many possible activities certain ones which are to be cultivated at the expense of others. Forest-rambling on gay spring mornings and meditation beside a starlit mountain-lake may become impossible exercises for innumerable souls enmeshed in the complexities of civilization. Yet even though their choice has been wisely made; and even though a greater has been substituted for a less; it still holds true that a lesser good has been foregone and that some unrealized possibility has to be lamented. Greater symmetry of development would have fulfilled the divine purpose more thoroughly, and would more truly have resembled the type eternally abiding in the Creator’s mind; since, other things being equal, the man whose faculties are most perfectly cultivated must be the man most pleasing to God.

That this may be the more evident, let us direct our attention to activities intimately connected with the attainment of human nature’s noblest aim, the knowing and loving of God. So many of us drift along the current, unconscious of the scenes we pass, that at least some measure of soul-blindness may be anticipated in almost every one. Few, if any, use senses, mind and will in the way and to the extent intended by the Divine Artificer Who, creating the human soul to know and to love Himself, gave it a body and an earthly life as helps in the fulfilment of this supreme commission. The world around us was made, be it remembered, to display the glory of God. In the shining of the stars He showed forth the light of His countenance, and He hinted at the ardor of His love through the blazing noonday sun. Far out in the dark abyss of endless space the testimonies of His omnipotence were flung, and His thought realized itself in the ordered movement of the myriad spheres. Light and color, harmony and form, issued from Him as rumors and shadowings of things beyond man’s power to understand. In morning’s sweet approach and evening’s solemn close, in the glad return of springtime and the saddening change of autumn, men have learned something about their Maker. The radiant woods of October, the livelier plumaged birds of May, and the giant roses of June, each catch and reflect a single ray of His surpassing beauty. “Flock and herd and human face divine,” clothed with mystery since first life stirred upon the face of the deep, in all the intervening ages have discoursed marvellously of God to those who care to listen. Yet how few consider the birds of the air or the grass of the field; how few inquire of these concerning Him who made them! How few, like Saint Francis, praise God to the dumb creatures, or commune, like Saint Augustine, with the stars of midnight while they speak of God! Who runs with weary feet and panting bosom in quest of holy truth, examining, sifting, comparing, striving to see if haply he may find more of God? And where is the constant soul that exercises heart and will in loving, as God loves, both man and bird and beast. Yet:

“He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.”

Let us confess it; soul-blindness hangs over us like an impenetrable cloud. And, because we are blind, much of the time we are unthinking and. unloving too – dull, cold creatures with the flame of life trimmed low and the waters ever at an ebb.

A walk through the fields with a botanist would perhaps arouse any one of us to a painful consciousness of limitation and ignorance. He sees so many things where we see so few; and in each of them he finds so much more than we could find. Myrtle and honeysuckle whisper shy confidences to him in a tongue unintelligible to us; sweet fragrance is breathed into his very soul and wafts him away to the land of dreams and poetry, where the flowers unfold life-histories before him like chapters from a creation-old romance. Meanwhile we ordinary mortals feel strangely awkward at the proximity of the new world thus suddenly brought to mind; and we begin vainly to lament that our eyes have been so poorly trained and that our soul is so helpless to see or to praise these wonderful works of God. In another way, the same truth comes home again, when we stand beside the astronomer as his telescope sweeps the jewelled night, revealing a whole universe of beauty and mystery unfamiliar to us; and again, when for the first time we look at the myriad life in the water-drop mounted beneath the biologist’s magic lens. Over and over, we are borne down by the sense of our narrowness – being irresistibly impelled to contrast our own apathy with the keen delight of the artist before a line of paintings, of the violinist listening to the symphony, of the poet as he threads the forest or stands at the water’s edge, lifted up in spirit by the amber beauty of the evening sky. Manifestly these lives are nobler than ours.

A far deeper reverence is awakened when we encounter souls who are sensitive not only to the beauty of Nature but to the personal presence of Nature’s God. Such lives as these persons lead appear to be passed outside the limits of our world, up on the heights where essential goodness and truth and beauty dwell. For them, though called by many names, the great Reality underlying each partial manifestation, each individual appearance, is God and only God. His and His alone is the peace, compelling dawn and the blaze of sunset glory, the softened colors of twilight and the throbbing evening star; the tones of His voice echo in the wood-bird’s song, in the river’s chanting, in the music of ocean-wave; the dew is from Him, like the early and the later rain, like the snow enshrouding the lifeless fields, like the darker green upon the winter cedars, like the budding leaves that obey the impulse of returning spring; from Him are life and strength and love and length of days; from Him come penitence and hope and holiness and the glad assurance of eternal rest. ‘There are some who keep mindful of all this; who are steadily sensitive to the sights and sounds that recall it; who go about through the livelong day without ever losing their consciousness of a divine presence, or forgetting the relationship of God to man. “Deus meus et omnia” rings in these souls like a ceaseless refrain chiming in harmony with the rhythm of heart-beat and respiration. Heaven’s choirs are nearly audible to them; the glory of God is shining round about them; they are loving with a mighty love strong as death and deep as hell. Each created thing they meet brings them some new message concerning its source; brook and flower and star and stone and soul of man seem to have burst into this existence fresh from an upper world, not in utter nakedness, but “trailing clouds of glory.” Meanwhile, within is a constant touch, like the reassuring pressure of a gentle hand, telling of One Friend who will never leave nor forsake His own. It is His mind that has planned, His will that has fashioned all. ‘The senses perceive the moon’s chaste light and the violet’s fragrance, the falling waters, the lark that soars and sings; and at once the mind recalls how each of these shows forth the measureless goodness and love of God, for by grace divine it has succeeded in linking the thought of Him with every common object and every experience of daily life. By this means has the curse of blindness been charmed away; God has been brought again to reign visibly in His heaven; and all has been made right with the world.

In the secular branches of knowledge called science and art, progress is insured the moment men learn that their defects are remediable. It remains to be proved that men will display similar energy in regard to matters spiritual. One fears lest those who are striving so diligently to perfect their powers ot observation and appreciation, may be less enthusiastic about the corresponding development of spiritual sense and religious feeling; or, to take another point of view, one fears lest cultured minds – even it Catholic – that have been trained to fine mental accuracy may be content to remain very dull indeed with regard to things of divine import. The varying lessons of the liturgy may continue to pass unheeded; Prayer and Gospel and Introit, with their heart-stirring messages of resistless inspiration, may remain unfamiliar still; the majestic harmonies in which during long centuries the Church has chanted forth to God the strains of human plaint and human praise may swell and sink unnoticed. Methods of training will possibly have been perfected long years before attention will be turned to this spiritual aspect of life’s opportunities. Only the few will know the suggestive symbolism of rite and ceremony; only the few will remember the history of God’s saints; only the few will thrill with a sense of the deep meaning of the Morning Sacrifice – although in very truth a vigilant soul might mount heavenward up these steps like the visioned angels upon Jacob’s ladder. But the ‘blind ” never see the rays of glory that are streaming in through sanctuary pane; nor watch the flickering altar-light rise and fall as it sighs out its life there in the dusk so near to God; nor read the divine romance writ on the faces beside the entrance of the dim confessional; nor feel hot tears well up as the white-robed little ones pass by on their way to learn for the first time how truly and tenderly Jesus Christ has loved them.

Life would be so infinitely richer to us did we but cultivate a keener sense of spiritual and religious beauty. Like the ceaseless play of solar light upon a planet, like the ever heaving central sea, God’s love is pressing steadily on mind and heart and will at every moment, could we but realize it. Around us lies a whole world of creatures clothed with divine suggestiveness, appealing to us constantly, yet almost in vain, to draw from their measureless stores of love and wisdom and enrich our own. How different our days would be were we thus made wise, were God’s ennobling shadow thus thrown across the swift-flowing current of thoughts and sensations on whose surface we are floating our lives away. As to the difficulty of so living, we may be sure it is not insuperable; a mind might embrace all this varied content and yet reserve sufficient energy for necessary practical affairs. The skilled pianist achieves an almost equal feat in his faultless execution of a thousand mechanical niceties while his attention is centered exclusively upon expression and technique. At the beginning of spiritual growth, we cannot measure the extent of our possibilities any more than the pianist could during the scale-practising period of development; yet we may very reasonably believe that our minds are going to prove equal to the task of performing what they were originally destined for and are now invited to win. Though not, like Adam, in possession of all the powers and privileges of integral humanity, still we are essentially sound and nothing needed for the attainment of spiritual excellence will be wanting to us.

But apart from the question of acquiring an adequate grasp upon the supreme realities, at least some sort of attention to the invisible world is as indispensable to spiritual fullness of stature as food is to bodily health. Life, in whatever form, must always be nourishing and renewing itself. When we have trained our senses to observe and our minds to interpret the thousand gleaming fragments that reflect God into our lives so frequently, then only shall we be capable of keeping the divine fires aglow within us. This purpose the whole world of matter has been created to subserve; and the whole wide realm of scientific truth as well; and the fruits of speculation and the conclusions of experience also; and the teachings of religion likewise – these last, of course, being by far the most proper and necessary nourishment of aspiring souls. By using them we shall grow in eternal life, in the knowledge of God and of His Christ – having learned loving sympathy for all things made, and acquired a habit of spontaneous and unselfish affection for whatever approaches within range of our observation and shows itself to be related to God. Thus we shall come to employ an entirely new scale of values, to interpret appearances as sensual men can never interpret them, to know the world to some extent as God knows it; and, at least in part, we shall finally win back man’s primeval power, and set creation right again by putting it beneath the feet of Him who hath restored it all.

Why should such a habit of mind seem too much to ask or hope for? Surely faculties were given to be developed and exercised, and in their exercise to lead us Godward; surely truth is given to be made fruitful and not to be hidden in a napkin; and the very fact that our souls respond instinctively to this sublime ideal is sufficient proof that the means to attain it will not be wanting, that its pursuit is an obligation rather than an impossibility.

Inspiring hope! Passed through this magic change, all things become stepping-stones to God – as from the beginning, indeed, they were intended to be. For the ultimate end of all the various elements of this great universe is the same. Through the whole world, from worm to star-dust, one controlling purpose runs. The “flower in the crannied wall” holds the secrets of God and furthers His ends no less truly than the storm-lightning which flashes across the heavens to lose itself in extra-stellar space; and the deepest significance of each is in the message it bears concerning its Source, from Whom every being, created or uncreated, sprang. All truth again, whether imparted by the simplest statement of the smaller Catechism or by the sublimest doctrines of the Summa Theologica and The Ascent of Mount Carmel, has the same generic end – it is a means of divine union and it is intended to be studied, pondered, lived. Never will creatures fully effect their ultimate purpose until, swinging the soul of man out beyond the stress of finite longings into the calm haven of rest, they bring it to safe anchorage at last in the deep, peaceful truth of God.

It may be noted here, that most of us should attend far more than we do to the spiritual significance of revealed doctrine. On the portals” of our mind beat steadily the great dogmatic teachings of the Faith – the Eucharistic presence, the Commemoration of Calvary, the Communion of Saints, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit – and what do they not suggest? Yet commonly we give little heed while they cry out; and we see naught though they flash wonderful visions before our eyes. Almost at any point we could strike away from the common walks into the thick clustered truths, with the certainty of coming upon paths that lead to rich and pleasant pastures. Once this fact has been brought to our attention, once the stimulus that dogma gives has been carried up over the threshold of consciousness, a new world will be revealed, and there, according to individual taste and need and ability, each man can wander at will.

An instance of these precious opportunities is our chance to become familiar with the person of our Blessed Savior by means of painstaking study of His life. Ordinarily verse and chapter that have been falling on our ears since childhood remain quite empty of significance for us, or recall only hazy allusions to far away and faintly pictured events. A relatively trifling amount of care would change this state of things altogether and put us in possession of a spiritual treasure. Had we an accurate idea of the general sequence of the lite of Christ and a little knowledge of Judea and Galilee, so that at will we could reproduce the Gospel story in a rich and suggestive setting, the words and things encountered from hour to hour would recall sacred memories; white-walled town and blue lake-water, grassy plain and stony wilderness and roadside-well, palm and fig-tree and thorn-bush and field of corn, would bring holy thoughts to mind. Imagination would leap up at the very mention of Thabor or Genesareth, Capharnaum, Bethsaida, or the Mountain of Temptation. When dull at times of prayer, we could retrace the steps of Christ’s pilgrimage, going over again in spirit whatever has been recorded concerning Him. So, for example, we could spend a fruitful hour musing upon the first year of His ministry: how in January He was baptized, and after the Temptation returned to Galilee to do ” great things” at Capharnaum and to change water into wine at Cana; how at Jerusalem, during the Passover, He drove the hucksters from the Temple, and comforted Nicodemus, and preached in the southland for many months; how, later, He journeyed north, meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and after His repulse from Nazareth went to Capharnaum to live near the ‘ruler’ son He had raised up; and then, how in the months preceding the Pasch, He traveled about, calling disciples, freeing the possessed, healing the fever-stricken woman, aiding the disheartened fishermen, curing the sick man, the paralytic, the leper. Fill in these rough outlines, and how gloriously suggestive a series of pictures we obtain! Similarly the two following years provide a store of spiritual nourishment for a lifetime.

If we have never yet attempted any exercise of this sort, then we lack a very precious aid to holy living. On our lips, the blind man’s prayer might find fitting place – Domine, ut videam! Lord, that I may see – that my senses may become keen, my mind open, my heart aflame; that I may be alive to the deep meaning of all that comes from God; that Christ may be a familiar figure to my imagination; that I may live over again with Him the scenes of His earthly life; that His consoling words may re-echo in my ears and His teachings penetrate my soul!

After all, what is “meditation” but just such an intent study of Christ’s life and teaching carried on methodically and directed to the immediate awakening of the soul’s deepest emotions? What is “affection” but the steady upward flight to God of fire-tipped arrows of human longing? What is “contemplation” but the absorbed attention of a lover who has forgotten self in the vision of the Beloved? If in the natural order faculties can be developed by persistent striving, why not likewise in the spiritual? Truly there is no bar to our indulging in such an aspiration. Beyond a doubt we can grow delicately sensitive to the impact of God’s being upon ours; we can thrill with a lasting consciousness of the indwelling Holy Ghost; we can nourish eyes and soul upon this wondrous world that the Father has created and the Son of Man reconsecrated by His bodily presence. The glowing rainbow, the sheen of starry waters, the gorgeous skies of summer, the neutral tints of autumn, the field of fragrant blossoms and the blue above the trees can move us to prayerful mood; the swelling of ocean-tide and the menacing rush of angry storm-clouds can recall the majesty of God; the smiling lips of innocent childhood, and the graver beauty of maturer age alike, can arouse within us new reverence for the great Unseen that we have learned to look upon as very close and very dear. “Domine, ut et ego videam”; for then will life resemble what it might have been had not the first man sinned and cast away his race’s splendid birthright.

If it be given the pure of heart to see God, conversely it is true that those who see much of God will be pure. Fineness of spiritual discernment and nobility of conduct are reagents. The spirit always throbbing with love and faith and admiration, can scarcely stray far from the heights where alone a satisfying view of beauty and truth and holiness is obtained. So, too, the contrite soul, swept by consuming fires of shame, is likely to discover that its once commonplace world has become radiant with hitherto unsuspected splendor, and to be moved to cry out: “This only I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” So again in the desolation of an awful grief the suffering soul perceives that the pain is but “the shade of His hand outstretched caressingly”; and understands that comforting words have been spoken from heaven, though to the bystanders it seems only to have thundered. For whosoever is used to the sight of God is enabled to dispense in part with the tedious processes of logic and to exchange cumbersome demonstration for intuitive perceptions which distinguish easily between good and evil, truth and falsehood, light and darkness. Amid the saddest gloom such a mind discerns that the hand which strikes is a divine one, and that the words of chiding have been uttered by the dear voice of God. Therefore he presses on unerringly while others pursue their devious ways unenlightened, having heard a noise indeed, but having comprehended nothing and seen no man. And if paradoxically it happens that the pure of heart themselves do sometimes turn away from God’s revelation, we have only to investigate and we shall surely find that the truth from which they shrink has in some way been distorted, or made unlovely, or shorn of those accompaniments of graciousness and holiness which belong to it by right divine.

Since the possibility of sense cultivation has been realized whole races of men are rising up, trained to do what previously only genius could attempt. Mayhap in the spiritual order likewise, education is destined to achieve startling results. People are coming to appreciate so truly and to regret so keenly the missed, opportunities of life, and educators especially are growing so vehement in their denunciation of neglect, that a general reawakening seems not far off; and when it comes, conditions may be so largely amended that only in rare cases here and there will it be true that human lives are but half lived. With the application of scientific methods, individuals will be studied more accurately and latent powers developed more carefully, so that the child – thus runs our hope – will develop abilities far beyond what has been possible in the past. In the coming age, therefore, the race should be more capable and more worthy of lifting its song of praise to God; for surely, acquaintance with visible things must draw men on to thought and knowledge of invisible things; and surely, other conditions being equal, none can be so pleasing to God as the man of perfect culture.

This gleaming prospect, however, leaves an attendant shadow of regret in souls who seem to have learned the lesson vainly because too late. Yet indeed to none is it utterly useless, since for none is improvement altogether impossible. Although in youth we have not been trained as we now wish; although age or other circumstances make it at present impossible to recover faculties long withered away; still undoubtedly all of us can profit by the discovery of truth, no matter how tardily discovered. In some measure we can live our lives more fully; to some slight degree we can develop sensitiveness to God’s Self-manifestation in created beauty, in the reign of changeless Jaw, in the goodness ennobling all who look upon it. We can learn to contemplate Nature more reverently, and with livelier memory of its divine significance. We can pay worship – as to the things of God – to all that the genius of man has made, to all the gracious forms that vest crude matter with loveliness, to all the coloring that dazzles and the sounds that enrapture us – for all are, as it were, but so many aspects of God toned down to the measure of our capacity, their wondrous fairness revealing a faint suggestion of that ravishing Beauty whose inmost essence even for our own sakes, it would seem, must remain for all time wrapped round with light inaccessible.

On Being Cheerful

Be of good heart. – Saint Matthew
True piety is cheerful as the day. – Cowper
Be cheerful, Sir. – Shakespeare
Greet the unseen with a cheer. – Browning

We live in a world of defects and limitations, where no character is without a flaw, no life without its tempering of pain. Only on the farther side of the river of death can unalloyed bliss he hoped for. On this side, all is relative and imperfect; the bitter is mixed with the sweet, thorns hide amid the fairest roses, and, sooner or later, the coarse, seamy side of men and things will begin to chafe the most fortunate and the most patient of us.

“Medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis floribus angat.”

To be cheerful means to make little of these hardships we encounter. The good-natured man looks on the brighter, sunnier side of his surroundings, accentuates the pleasant and beautiful features of life, and smoothes over the rough places in the road. In general he is more attracted by the smiling aspect of things than by their frown. Incorrigible optimist that he is, he fixes his attention on the circumstances which give most joy and hope to the heart. In memory, as in speech, he keeps dwelling on the inspiring, encouraging elements of every situation, and on the amiable characteristics of every acquaintance. In a life, his presence is a ray of sunshine; as a friend, he is a man of men.

Few people need to be told that cheeriness is a precious treasure; that the power to overlook or to smile away some of the distressing details of existence is a necessary condition of happiness; that in each life much must be ignored, and in each personality much forgiven and forgotten. In every situation there are attendant circumstances which, if dwelt upon, are sure to impair harmony. Unless a mind is able to disengage itself from the consideration of these, it rapidly becomes morbid and unhealthy – like the mind of Swift, who is said to have developed so aggravated a cynicism that he could see nothing fair without at once adverting to its hidden elements of ugliness, could look on no beautiful face without. imagining the loathsome appearance it would present under the microscope. The man who is thus hypercritical and fault-finding soon becomes an object of dread to his acquaintances. No matter how witty his mind and interesting his conversation, we quickly learn to fear him; we run away from the sound of his approaching footstep. We prefer the less sparkling but more comfortable speech of the simple good – the people from whom we part with a renewed sense of trust in the innate worthiness and kindliness of human nature, the people who inspire conversation that leaves a good taste in the mouth. One type of this sort is described in the following quotation:

“‘I allways did say,’ remarked Aunt Mary, ‘that Henrietta Wood had a real royal memory.’

“Aunt Mary’s niece looked up curiously. ‘A royal memory?’ she repeated. ‘I don’t believe I understand. Doesn’t she ever forget anything?’

“‘That’s just the point,’ Aunt Mary responded promptly. ‘I should say she forgets full as much as she remembers – maybe more. That’s part of what I call a royal memory. There’s folks that don’t forget anything; the way you acted the day everything went wrong, hasty judgments that you repented as soon as was made, words that popped out before you knew your mouth was open – there’s folks that don’t ever forget one of them, nor let you, either. I have one of those memories in mind this minute; I always feel like flying out the back door when I see it coming in the gate.

“‘But they ain’t the only folks in the world; there’s others that never seem to remember anything except the good in people. I’ll warrant there isn’t a man or a woman in Lockport so shiftless or good-for-nothing that Henrietta wouldn’t remember some good about them. People always freshen up when she comes round. I ain’t ever heard it explained, but I have my theory. I believe it’s because she always thinks folks up instead of down, and they know it and sort of straighten up inside to meet it – that’s my theory.’

“The girl did not answer, but in her heart echoed those wonderful words: ‘Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.'”

What fitter name for such a gift than “a royal memory”? They who possess this characteristic are the best loved people in the world. And they are the most loving people in the world, too; tor we can neither attract, nor can we be attracted by, those whose faults and weaknesses we set down with all precision. Only when we see through rose-colored glass can we truly be said to love; and, if we never view a soul through this medium of fond illusion, the chances are that we do not belong to the class of those who are privileged to love. Vain is the intention to be fond and sympathetic, unless we can allow for frailties in a friend; hopeless is the attempt to develop perfection, if we faithfully record each fault of a pupil; and futile is the effort to revive a waning affection, except we are ready to forego our fancied right to reproach. A human heart cannot be won by harshness or scolded into tenderness, any more than the hard buffeted traveler, in the fabled contest between the wind and the sun, could be forced to unwrap his cloak as the blast grew fiercer. The genial warmth of fault-forgetting love will always triumph over the drastic criticism of fastidiousness hard to please. Only in the presence of the loving look and the excusing word, do we consent to stand revealed in all our weakness, to humble ourselves, and to enter upon the way of amendment. He who desires to teach, or who hopes to be loved, must indeed have something of “a royal memory.” He will find that people will gladly pardon the oversights he is guilty of when there is question of a neighbor’s faults; and that his success will in the long run be none the less for his having forgotten many of the weaknesses of men.

The foregoing implies that the difference between the cynic and the optimist is in the main a difference of mental dispositions. And so, of course, it is. A man’s sourness is to be traced less often to his actual experiences than to the view he takes of life. Other women, in the position of “Mrs. Wiggs,” would have been incorrigible grumblers, and their lives immeasurably less happy than hers. Our general view of the world and its worth, our estimate of the relative proportion of good and bad in men, our final sense of content or dissatisfaction with life, depends chiefly on our temperament, and on the habitual policy we voluntarily adopt. It is well for us to understand this, and to appreciate the large measure of subjectivity in our happiness and unhappiness. After all, pleasure and pain are necessarily relative and personal; in great measure, a thing is distressing or not, accordingly as we do or do not give in to the inclination so to regard it. What hurts the civilized man is smiled at by the savage; what depresses the child of fortune, raised in the lap of luxury, has little influence on the self-made toiler, for whom the air has never been tempered, from whom no protecting shield has warded off rude criticism, and to whom, therefore, there has come a certain degree of indifference to the ordinary blows of adversity. Again, a man’s impressions depend much on the state in which he finds himself at the moment of a given experience – on whether he is at ease, or in a condition of excitement and nervous tension. These elements all contribute to the forming of his judgment about the general pleasantness or unpleasantness of a situation or a life; and beside all these, each man has still his purely personal fund of underlying emotional consciousness tending to flow over to this side or that, at the first impulse, and to intensify his sense of content or dissatisfaction. The temperament extends a sort of standing invitation to moods of a certain type; and once the mood has come, it tends to diffuse itself, and to re-enforce the strength of the sentiment which invited it. Thus we see how at bottom much of our misery may be, or rather actually is, an effect of organic sensitiveness, a matter of nervous and muscular tissue. Hypersensitiveness to pain is thus the source first of the disproportionate attention, then of the unduly strong impression, then of the tenacious imagination, and finally of the abiding general sense of misery and unhappiness, as well as of the accompanying amazement that our ‘neighbor, who has been through similar experiences, is not as wretched as ourselves.

Unless we exert ourselves to stem the tide, and drive our wills strongly in the direction opposite to our natural bent, most of us will find that we are living at the mercy of a set of tendencies which drift us down toward an unhappy and sour view of life. We incline to lay overdue stress on unpleasant events, to paint in heavily the details which tell against a bright and cheerful general effect.

First of all, it seems plain that what is evil and threatening attracts attention more imperatively and irresistibly than what is good. Possibly this is a wise provision of Nature to secure the preservation of life in the lower stages of existence, where it is more important for man to overlook nothing harmful than to perceive all the good; since in the one case a single instance of insensitiveness would spell destruction, whereas in the other there might remain many opportunities of retrieving the error. Whether or not we thus class this tendency among Nature’s protective illusions, certain it is that men’s thoughts swing more readily toward the present evil than toward the present good. The breaking down of a single preacher is likely to impinge more sharply on the mind than many successful sermons; the one hearer who makes his exit draws more attention than the contented thousand who remain; the long series of correct constructions attracts less notice than the first grammatical slip. This is the lesson we learn by observing others. When we introspect; the story is no different. Our own hurts and dangers, like the affronts and the disappointments we experience, penetrate deeper into our consciousness, and dwell more indelibly in our memories than the strokes of good fortune and the little courtesies which, in point of fact, are neither less frequent nor less significant. It is the old tale told again – evil springs from any defect whatsoever, malum ex quocumque defectu; but good demands a situation without even a single flaw, bonum ex integra causa.

Moreover, those same things that bespeak our attention thus successfully, also loom largest in consciousness when once they have succeeded in entering. On this account, they get a disproportionate value; they keep cropping out in conversation; and so they repeat and intensify the original impression. It is hard for us to rid our minds of them; meanwhile the obscure little good is hiding away out of sight and out of mind as well.

Take for instance the impulse to turn thoughts and conversation into the channels of criticism and fault-finding. Is it not much more dominant in the average man than the interests of accuracy would dictate? Look around and observe how what is noticed first, what is talked about most, what sticks fastest in the mind, is ordinarily something in the nature of an evil, a blunder, or a fault. Note the newspapers, which are at once the stimuli and the reflectors of the public mind. Does nota casual glance at the headlines of the least sensational of them at once flash a vision of crimes and disasters before the imagination? Here and there we may, indeed, discover the record of an act of heroism, or the account of a life

“Serene and resolute and still; and calm and self-possessed.”

But who will pretend that, on the whole, the two elements – the good and the bad – are presented in anything like a fair proportion? How many a hitherto happy family is unheard of until the “interesting” moment when it ceases to be so because one of its members has gone astray? To devote equal attention to the good and the bad would, of course, not be journalism; it would not be giving men the news they want. So the press must serve up for our daily contemplation all the startling and ugly details of current history which it can ferret out; and, for the most part, happy people are let alone. The very fact that the public appetite demands pabulum of this sort proves that, antecedently, men’s minds have a predominant set toward the less cheerful aspect of things; and, undoubtedly, the nourishment they daily absorb helps along the prevalence of an untrue, because ill-proportioned, view of life.

Note again how our ordinary daily behavior confirms the judgment given above. The absence of some trifling comfort to which a man has been accustomed, excites a feeling of distress more noticeable than the joy springing from his luxuries; his ills and his aches always speak louder to him than his escapes and his lucky windfalls. And as the evils impress him more forcibly, so too they dwell longer in his memory and echo louder in his speech. All in all, then, it seems fair enough to say that the average man is accustomed to lay far less emphasis on his pleasant than on his unpleasant experiences.

Thus far we have been concerned mainly with calling attention to the fact that truer valuations would result from an effort to control, and in some measure to repress, the prevalence of impressions which naturally swarm into consciousness. There is this further consideration to be made, that the interests of action still more imperatively demand some such interference with the spontaneous drift of things. And – to waive for the moment the issue whether or not such interference brings us nearer the truth – this much is undeniably certain, that if we allow our minds to be a free pasture for ill-omens and for depressing thoughts, we shall be comparatively inactive and lifeless; the edge will be taken off our interest in life; pessimism will wax strong in us. Darwin is an observer keen enough to be trusted, and an authority good enough to be cited. He points out that of all the emotions fear is notoriously the most apt to induce trembling and helplessness, to numb activity, and to block the exercise of reason. The usual and obvious signs of fear imply organic derangement: and disturbing thoughts are the beginning of these signs. The amount of pleasure nullified by a sudden fright, or the great cost of restoring the system afterwards toa condition of equanimity, might be used as a standard for measuring these deleterious influences. In every-day affairs people practically recognize this deadening influence of cheerlessness; and, in consequence, they carefully endeavor to ward off ideas which suggest the possibility of failure. They assume as a matter-of course that discouragement implies depression, and that depression involves a diminution of power and a lessening of the chances of success. Conversely, they take it for granted that confidence is an element of victory. The athlete leads up gradually to his supreme test of strength by undertaking first the lesser tests where success is certain. In this way the physiological, as well as the psychological predispositions for a record-breaking feat are secured; and if a candidate has failed in his preparatory trial, the “coach” takes care that the real test is not attempted until confidence has been restored by a success of some sort. As for public speakers and singers, it is proverbial how carefully their attention must be diverted from every depressing or ominous incident, when they are called upon for their best work.

The reason for all this is obvious enough. Following the general law of mental representations, unpleasant images awaken corresponding emotional disturbances of a devitalizing kind; the painful idea suggests and induces depression. Like every emotion, this depression in turn reacts upon and re-enforces the kindred mental images; it attracts into the field of consciousness the unpleasant thoughts which harmonize with gloomy moods; it repels whatever is hopeful or bright. ‘Thus the general set of the mind is toward the prospect of failure, and disaster becomes a foregone conclusion. Once the mind has been thus depressed – and especially if in the first instance failure or misfortune has actually followed – the mind henceforth finds it harder, or perhaps actually impossible, to expel gloomy ideas and to calm disturbance. There ensues an almost superstitious subjection to the sovereignty of the evil and hateful elements of life. It seems useless to strive; and so one yields to the stress of circumstances, and becomes their veritable slave. Perhaps the invalid who is thus progressively losing strength may never attempt to walk again, unless there happens along a physician who will actually drive and bully him into making an effort to exercise muscles so atrophied from disuse that groans accompany their every movement.

Saint Paul tells us that “We are saved by hope”; and the spiritual teachers of the Catholic Church have always laid the strongest emphasis on the fact that cheerfulness makes for godliness. Saint Philip Neri and Saint Francis de Sales, for instance, talk of the need of being merry and glad and cheerful, as if it were an undeniable and indispensable requisite of true Christian perfection that a man should struggle against thoughts which tend to make him fearful and depressed. The Church, it is true, preaches the virtue of fear, too; but every one acquainted with the type of sanctity she holds up for the imitation of her children, and with the standards by which her religious orders determine vocations, and with the principles her ministers make use of in the guidance of souls, and with Saint Ignatius’ famous rules for the discernment of spirits, will be ready to affirm that Catholicism is as tar away from gloomy ideals as it is possible to be without falling into exaggeration at the other extreme. The highest motive of all therefore, the pursuit of the supreme ideal of spiritual perfection, impels us to the cultivation of a cheerful temper.

The common tendency to dwell upon depressing things is fortunately not dominant in every soul. We can find models for our imitation in those persons who rise above the reach of life’s ills, little and great, and are always either absorbing or giving out fragrance and music and sunshine. They know the secret which transforms evil into good, and pain into joy; and on the great mass of their experiences they exercise an influence which makes discomforting things amusing and commonplace things delightful. Possessing as it were a great surplus store of cheerfulness, they can, by a sort of divine alchemy, plate dross with gold, and transform into a pleasure what to another would have been a matter of indifference, if not of suffering. To bear thankless burdens and undertake odious responsibilities and suffer unjust reproaches, to serve the neglected and the impatient, to act as oil on the troubled waters, to be as a buffer when collisions are impending, and a breakwater when the waves run high – these are not trials, but privileges to some people; or, at least, they are duties easily and gladly performed. An inconvenience or a slight is to them, for the most part, but an occasion for the exercise of their ingenuity in discovering excuses and explanations. Apart from the fine opportunities of spiritual growth and happiness which they thus enjoy, they have this other advantage, that their reaction against the common inclination to emphasize the ills of existence, helps them to a more objective view than the average man ever attains.

It is idle, of course, to spend time or energy in wishing that we had been gifted as these souls have been, but we may hope to profit somewhat by the consideration of their behavior, They show what a determined will can do toward securing a happy disposition and perennial peace of mind. It is true that most cheerful men have been born so; but equally true is it that many have achieved cheerfulness. Not until a man realizes this, does he possess a proper sense of the opportunities which are constantly gliding by. But when the awakening comes, then, at least, it is to be hoped, he will be inspired with the firm determination to be more cheerful, more lovable, and more happy in the future than in the past; for surely no one should permit his cheerfulness to be cut down without making a determined resistance.

There is one point, more than all others, which needs to be impressed on those who, as yet, possess no power to smile away misfortune; namely, their own ability to acquire this power and, by its exercise, to brighten very considerably their own and their neighbors’ lives. It is not possible, at the present moment, to go into the whole question of the volitional development of character; neither is it necessary. Every one recognizes that persistent effort can do much to affect the habitual temper of the mind. A system voluntarily toned-up is, within certain limits, capable of throwing off the depressing influences to which, in a less buoyant mood, it would have offered an inviting entrance. To some extent, a resolute will can do by effort what a cheerful disposition effects spontaneously. Obviously this is the case, at least with our choice of topics of speech; we can avoid the unpleasant, the critical, the discouraging. It may require a little self-restraint, at first; but we can succeed if we are willing to pay the really trifling price. Then, too, we may do something by means of inhibiting the outward expression of unpleasant emotions; for it is recognized generally by physiologists that an emotion is raised or lowered in intensity, accordingly as the physical manifestation of that emotion is forbidden or allowed. It is in this way that we often restrain our emotions of anger, jealousy, vanity, and fear. The menace of pain goads the will to the conquest of an untimely exhibition of temper, by summoning up a violent emotional wave calculated to counteract the first impulse; and, in some degree, the same office may be performed by a determined suppressive volition.

The voluntary control of emotion by restraint of this last sort is, in a way, more direct than the control we exercise over emotion by means of our thoughts; yet, as it supposes the emotion to have already been aroused, it necessarily implies that the task is going to be more difficult; for to quell a mutiny is harder than to prevent its outbreak. Preventive steps can be taken by the exercise of control over the contents of the mind. We can modify, alter, quicken, or retard the current of images and ideas continually flowing through consciousness, and thus we can foster or repress the thoughts apt to beget cheerfulness. In this regard, the power of the will over ideas is threefold. First, we can interfere with the natural association of thoughts, and by sheer force shunt the mind off on another line than that which it was following; that is to say, we can deliberately swim upstream, we can sail outside the channel, we can pursue the less trodden path. Again, we can voluntarily elect to form new associations of images, by linking ideas in such a way as shall serve the interests of cheerfulness, forming and reforming the connection, until a groove has been made, a habit set up, and a new current created which will make for our elation as the old made for our depression. And finally, even though unpleasant images be forced into consciousness, we still can say something as to the amount of attention which shall be given them, and we can take away all voluntary attention from it, by concentrating it, with all our power, upon some other object. Let us at least do all we can to enlarge our dominion in the land otf hope and cheerfulness and to be numbered among those delightful and valuable people who all their lives long have

“Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.”

It would be idle, of course, to pretend that ability of this sort is ready to every man’s hand, or that it can be developed in a moment. The important point is that it can be developed, if we are earnestly resolved to acquire it. A strong determination and persistent effort will soon give us some power in such matters, no matter how rudimentary our faculty may at first appear to be. As to the means we should employ to carry out a course of self-development in cheerfulness, the question may be looked at from many points of view; we can get suggestions from the hygienic, the pedagogic, the ethical, and the religious fields. When all counsellors have had their say, it seems to remain clear that each of them attributes a good deal of efficacy to the exercise which the Catholic Church has for ages recommended and practiced under the name of “meditation,” namely, the methodical presentation to the imagination and intellect of pictures and ideas calculated to awaken beneficent emotions, healthy affections, and good resolutions. Among the curious sights presented to us nowadays, is the vindication of many a good old Catholic practice by means of the new principles which, to so great an extent, have been supposed to discredit the Church. Meditation is one such practice; and we find it recommended now by the representatives of modern psychology as a fine instrument for mental formation and character-building. A specific use it may be put to, is the development of a spirit of cheerfulness; and when this is undertaken, we shall have at least one good result, that men will be using their energy in the right direction and employing an efficacious means. Even though it be but the human side of the process which appeals to them, they will surely be in some way the better for it, and, therefore, necessarily nearer to the kingdom of God.

Meditation and Modern Life

We shall hardly be written down in history as a reflective race; our genius is above all else practical; Americans characteristically tend toward action rather than contemplation. To the field of external activity the eyes of the age are turned most often; and, measured by the standards which nowadays obtain the whole world over, theorists and dreamers and idlers and meditative men seem all pretty much alike. To be busy is the ideal – to meet and in strenuous combat to overcome the forces confronting the race in its progress toward wealth and convenience and culture. External achievement is the goal of ambition – so our little ones learn, whether their lessons be taken from men or from books. The plaudits of the crowd are won by Hercules, not by Atlas:

“‘Tis the transition stage, the tug and strain,
That strike men; standing still is stupid like.”

We know there are peoples whose genius lies in the order of thought, and philosophies which consecrate a quiet ideal; but the races and the methods which, by right of conquest, prevail in this modern world are ours; and history, as we read it, seems to preach only the need of energy and to demonstrate the supreme worth of action.

With rare exceptions, the whole literature of modern philosophy has no good word for meditation as a factor in human development. In part this is the cause, and again it is the result, of a reaction against a practice and tendency commonly looked upon as mediaeval or Oriental. We are afraid of being monastic, of becoming contemplatives. “When religious mysticism was in flower, meditation held an important place among the means of education; but as the age of mysticism passed, the practice of meditation fell into disuse and gradually came to be looked upon as a kind of mental idling.”

Some one has affirmed that in old times the devoting of a half-hour each day to meditation was part of the ordinary routine of a Christian. It was then the privilege of the common man to appreciate and his custom to cultivate

“That blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened.”

We have changed all that; and most of us have forgotten that there ever was such a time. Yet now, at last, the lawmakers of the psychological world begin to tell us we are going too far in our reaction, and to warn us against cultivating to a fatal extreme the ideal of unrestrained activity. Philistine of the Philistines as he is, formed in the school of observation, steeped in the habit of experiment, and saturated with the philosophy of action, an occasional teacher lifts his voice to remind us of the neglected good and to recommend that henceforth meditation should be numbered among the approved means for developing the finer qualities of the spirit.

Such an attempt to control our tendency toward extroversion was to be expected. Who could long forget that the mere observer must ever be confined within the narrow limits of the little world which his senses can reach; that exclusive analysis will finally deprive a man of all largeness and breadth of view. It is possible to have too much “actuality.” Critics of American scholarship find the weakness of our universities to lie in the “essentially practical purpose” which dominates them. Never to rise out of the world of reality into the ideal sphere of thought – always to be either doing or planning; this must entail the fading away of those finer visions which ever abandon shrines that have begun to hum with the industry of man. Even before “The Simple Life” had become a street phrase with us, we were made painfully aware that depression and world-weariness and black pessimism come from overwork as surely as from idling.

“Why are we weighed upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest; why should we toil alone?:
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown;
Nor ever fold our wings
And cease from wanderings;
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor hearken what the inner spirit sings:
‘There is no joy but calm!’
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?”

Then again we, who are so skillful in fashioning and finding, begin to lack the capacity to enjoy. The marvelous and the rare give us less satisfaction than our ancestors drew from the trifling and the commonplace; else were the list of crimes shorter and the shocking news of a suicide more infrequent. We have truly much cause to be thankful in the material progress of the world; yet the day of the telephone and the subway-express and the extra-edition is also the reign of cynicism and of nervousness and of much insanity.

In what shall we find a corrective? Possibly in growing more thoughtful, reflective, contemplative. And what better means shall we employ to this end than the practice of meditation? There is a time to speak and a time to be silent; apples of gold upon beds of silver are the deeds of a thoughtful man.

For those who can attempt it, the experiment is worth trying, even at some cost. As has been said above, teachers are beginning to appreciate the function of methodical reflection, and to recommend its practice as a means of grasping truth and of forming character. It is a far stretch from this attitude to the position of the Catholic ascetic; yet, after all, the saint and the scientist are looking at different aspects of the same truth. Both for the general education of the intellect and for the developing of a deeper religious knowledge and a finer moral sense in the souls of the Christian people, it would be expedient to spread wide a reverence for this practice, elementary in the spiritual discipline of the Church and fruitful of great results in the school of Catholic sanctity, but too little known elsewhere. On this account, it seems well here to consider what may be called the psychological estimate of meditation, and to see just what the practice may be expected to do in the education of a soul.

A professional psychologist has published a book which will serve to inform us on these points. To meditate, he says, means to live in such intimacy with an idea, to unite our mind so closely to it, as to embrace its whole content and to comprehend all its relations and connections. Meditation is a complex act by which the mind, turning in upon itself, throws the searchlight of consideration upon its own notions and judgments, and studies its own most lofty thoughts. To meditate means to become recollected and to concentrate one’s thought; to reflect with patience and intensity on facts full of significance and of interest; to look backward and to look inward, so as to bring the past and the present into connection with the future and the internal into relation with the external. It implies that we think with discrimination and with vigor, that we apply ourselves with freedom and with perfect calmness, that we patiently and persistently pursue our investigations Meditation is in part a kind of critical self consciousness, a cross-examination, a species of retrospection which is at the same time a forecast and a preparation. It converts knowledge into conviction, and develops within the soul a power which is both purifying and liberative. It is meditation which we must often thank for our ability to control extravagant sentiment and to allay immoderate excitement.

Minute and patient analysis, followed by careful and earnest attempts at synthesis, gradually refines the meditative mind. Step by step, the reason goes along the road marked out; inch by inch, it delves deeper toward the ultimate causes of things, its aim being to reach the point where, with a single glance, it can take in the whole group of relations and facts that center in the object of thought, and thus acquire sure and final standards of judgment. Gently and slowly and through laborious meditation, analytical knowledge is converted into synthetic and becomes an inalienable possession of the mind. After having undergone a gradual filtration and clarification, ideas disclose the single master purpose which controls and shapes them all; and when the good and the true are at last revealed, they are revealed as one. It is through a process of this sort that the fruits of our thinking gain that maturity which conscious deliberation alone can give, and which renders the life of the thinker solid and consistent.

Nor is this all. As Carlyle puts it, a man is enabled through meditation to see into the very heart of things, and knowledge becomes the voice, the energy, the very inspiration of his soul. Study can make us acquainted with the elements of a science; but through meditation alone shall we gain a full appreciation of facts and rise to the higher and philosophical point of view. Can anything but meditation give us the taste of a national culture or gauge for us the peculiar character of a historical epoch? How otherwise than by meditation do men acquire their noblest thoughts, their firmest convictions, their most generous faith, their truest estimates of human knowledge and human power? For meditation penetrates the hidden recesses of nature and the soul, gives to facts the splendor of truth and the glory of a moral meaning, settles all discord between the various faculties and moods of the spirit, renders human life unselfish and social relations noble.

Quiet and patient as it is, this return of the spirit upon itself for the purpose of re-thinking its thoughts, of forgetting the subject in the object, helps not only to better our conduct, but to perfect our knowledge, to make it fairer and clearer and steadier than before. It even aids our very power of observation by controlling, correcting, and confirming the fragmentary data of experience. As polishing will make a diamond brighter, so patient and methodical meditation will render ideas clearer and richer in suggestion. Like the sea, thought becomes more limpid as it deepens. Under the influence of meditation, the mind rises to the sublime heights of the divine, at the same time that it reaches to the lowest depths of the human; yet it always retains its relation to nature and to ordinary life, its ultimate aim being to dominate both the one and the other by knowledge. Thought when nourished by meditation is like the tree which, in proportion as it grows higher and spreads its branches wider, in quest of air and light, strikes its roots ever deeper and multiplies incessantly the thousand shoots which reach out in the surrounding earth to get more nourishment and to gain new resisting power against the pressure of the winds above. From the point of view of the subject, the mind is purifying and enlarging itself; from the point of view of the object, the truth is extending and multiplying its applications, is reinforcing and refining its significance. Gradually by means of this orderly and assiduous labor – an activity, by the way, which is about as vigorous and as personal as is possible – we more and more idealize the real; and at the same time, without straining, we are slowly preparing ourselves to realize the ideal.

When we meditate, we give a definite direction to the apperceiving functions. By so doing we are able to illuminate the darkest problems, to clarify the most obscure questions, to catch and hold fast and utilize those subtle and fleeting suggestions which contribute toward the construction of a larger knowledge. Our souls are suddenly revealed to us; and the buried seeds of great achievements in art, in science, or in virtue are fertilized. It has, indeed, been maintained by some that the habit of meditating lessens the output of creative energy; and to the superficial observer this might seem to be the case, for the work of meditation is more like sowing than like reaping. But, in reality, it is a mistake to regard thought and action as opposed. In fact, even though we should fail to solve a problem on which we meditate, we are not without reward for the time and energy expended. In these quiet hours our mentality has been developed. By dint of meditation the mind has secretly and gradually grown keener and stronger, as will be evident when some day we shall show ourselves capable of accomplishing, without an effort, tasks which otherwise we should have found difficult, if not impossible. What gymnastics do tor the body, meditation does for the spirit. In neither case is there any apparent result from a single exercise; yet, one following another, the series generates a latent fund of energy which is of amazing magnitude, and which we might vainly seek to acquire by other means.

That there is no opposition between meditating on the one hand, and working or producing on the other, we have the witness of great writers and artists and men of action, whose meditative bent was very pronounced. Many names immediately occur to us as belonging to spirits of this order; and, in selecting examples, our embarrassment would proceed not from lack but from excess of candidates. Not the meditative man, but the man who carries meditation and analysis and introspection to a morbid extreme, deserves the reproach mistakenly directed toward the process itself. An Amiel meditates much; its true, and wastes his genius as a consequence; but he is not a normal type. In the soul which is sound and healthy, meditation is not confined to the restricted field of the intellect, nor locked in the laboratory where ideas are corrected, polished, matched, contrasted, grouped, and unified. The process goes further. Knowledge perfected by meditation, instead of remaining in the region of ideas, overleaps these boundaries and invades the world of action. A thought which has been profoundly pondered is soon passionately loved; next it must be made to live; and though a man’s first concern in meditation is that he may know things better, this, in the normal mind, is closely related to another interest, namely, that he may will better and work better.

The preceding suggestions indicate very clearly the important function of reflection in mental development. Coming as they do from a source which is strictly secular and scientific, they may serve to point a lesson in spirituality which would be far less effective if it emanated from a professedly religious teacher. Men are most apt to trust obviously disinterested testimony. They should, therefore, be quick to draw from the implications of the psychologist upon the worth of meditation conclusions which will make this practice seem a very profitable form of spiritual exercise. A vital want in religion is the deepening and perfecting of the soul’s appreciation of truth; and, if meditation be used properly, the want in question will be well provided for.

Manifestly the present writer is not now attempting a demonstration of Catholicism; but, supposing Christianity true, it seems plain that the practice of meditation is very necessary in the life of the Christian: The truths our religion teaches are so rich and deep and mysterious; the inspiration of its virtues is so different from the motives of conduct prevalent in the multitudes with whom the believer is brought into daily contact; its ideals are so sublime; there is so great a danger of the accidental and the superficial crowding in upon and marring the beauty and the purity of its faith – that meditation would seem to be literally indispensable for the conservation and growth of the Christian spirit. Christian history – that is to say, the careers of those who have been the great figures and the main influences in the story of the Christian religion – and Christian literature – that is to say, the writings which contain the rules and the records of holy living – go far to show that the practice of meditation fulfills a most important office in the pursuit of the Christian ideal. It has been made the subject of regulations and the matter of methods and the topic of instructions, written and oral, since that pursuit began; and it is of the same concern to the contemporary teacher of spirituality as it was to the desert saints and the ancient anchorites.

To know God well the soul must rise and go forth into the life of action; yet, in some measure, it must already know something of Him before it is moved to desire Him. Tu ne me chercherais pas, st tu ne m’avatis pas trouvĂ©, says Pascal – “Thou wouldst not be seeking me, hadst thou not already found me.” In the secret communion of the soul with God the strength of the martyr and the desire of the lover are made perfect. So in the ordinary life of the Christian, quiet contemplation of the ineffable attractiveness of God precedes and prepares for the hours of labor or of suffering which perfect the character and fulfill the mission of the individual soul. In action and endurance we find only the God to whose service we have already secretly pledged fidelity.

There remains much to be said as to the helpful light thrown by psychology on the practice of meditation; and a particularly illuminating view is that of the distinguished French writer who describes meditation as the process of thinking with things instead of with words. Usually the actual image of reality is so complex and cumbersome that, for the sake of convenience, we substitute in its place a mere word easily retained in our own minds and easily conveyed to others. Now, if we were always to use a word which signified a thing perfectly familiar to us through personal experience, the symbol might indeed be trusted to recall the reality. But, unfortunately, we learn many words without having had any previous acquaintance with the things which they represent; and we may never have the time or the inclination to fill the empty shell with its proper content. Hence, even the most intelligent of men are apt to go on using words, as a parrot might use them, with little or no appreciation of the realities which correspond to the signs. Meditating is filling these empty husks with grain; itis replacing signs by images, and not by vague and indeterminate images, but by images which are as particular and concrete as they can possibly be made, and which duplicate reality down to the very least detail.

Perhaps no one will read the preceding without at once recalling Newman’s distraction between apprehension which is “notional” and apprehension which is “real.” This is in fact the very point to be kept in mind in order to appreciate the function of meditation, which is to change notional apprehensions and assents into real. Newman calls apprehension “real” when words express things, but “notional” when they express thoughts. Now words can express things either because the objects are within the range of our senses at the very moment of our speech, or because they are reflected in memory as in a mirror. If I recall a past experience or a distant scene with accuracy, I create nothing; I see a picture of facts. “The memory of a beautiful air, or the scent of a particular flower, as far as any remembrance remains of it, is the continued presence in our minds of a likeness of it which its actual presence has left there. I can bring before me the music of the ‘Adeste Fideles,’ as if I were actually hearing it; and the scent of a clematis, as if I were actually in my garden; and the flavor of a peach, as if it were in season; and the thought I have of all these is as of something individual and from without, as much as the things themselves, the tune, the scent, and the flavor are from without, though compared with the things themselves, these images (as they may be called) are faint and intermitting.”

To summon into consciousness images favorable to our reflection; to shut out all distracting thoughts and disturbing emotions; to hold ourselves by a united effort of all faculties in the presence of certain great realities full of significance and alive with spiritual power; and resolutely to will both the present exercise and the future activities for which it is the effectual preparation – this is to convert the notional into the real, or, in other words, to practice meditation. “Passages, which to a boy are but rhetorical commonplaces, neither better nor worse than a hundred others, which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted generation after generation for thousands of years, with a power over the mind and a charm which the current literature of the day, his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival. . . . And what the experience of the world effects for the illustration of the classical authors, that office the religious sense, carefully cultivated, fulfills toward Holy Scripture. To the devout and spiritual, the divine word speaks of things, not merely of notions. . . . Hence the practice of meditation on the sacred text, so highly thought of by Catholics. Reading, as we do, the Gospels from our youth up, we are in danger of becoming so familiar with them as to be dead to their force, and to view them as a mere history. The purpose, then, of meditation is to realize them; to make the facts which they relate stand out before our minds as objects, such as may be appropriated by a faith as living as the imagination which apprehends them.”

But “assent, however strong and accorded to images however vivid, is not, therefore, necessarily practical. Strictly speaking, it is not imagination that causes action; but hope and fear, likes and dislikes, appetite, passion, affection, the stirrings of selfishness and self love. What imagination does tor us is to find a means of stimulating those motive powers; and it does so by providing a supply of objects strong enough to stimulate them. The thought of honor, glory, duty, self-aggrandizement, gain, or, on the other hand, of divine goodness, future reward, eternal life, perseveringly dwelt upon, leads us along a course of action corresponding to itself, but only in case there be that in our minds which is congenial to it, However, when there is that preparation, the thought does lead to the act.” And hence, in meditation, the mind ranges over the whole field of earth and heaven, of past, of present and of future, seeking tor thoughts and words and facts and possibilities which shall sway the feelings and affections of the human heart and irresistibly dictate a course of conduct in harmony with the divine will.

Meditation, then, consists in the search for, and the consideration of, motives of conduct, as well as in the contemplation of truth; the former more than the latter, indeed, so long as the soul is in a state of probation and concerned with insuring its own conformity to an ideal difficult enough – say, rather, impossible – for any but the blessed in heaven to realize perfectly. Even in the cloister of the contemplative this holds true; for it is in the contrast of labors, more than in freedom from the necessity of laboring, that the Christian recluse differs from his brethren in the outer world. But eminently is it true of the man who infuses an element of reflection into a life which, in large measure, is devoted to the satisfying of demands for immediate external work. And so we meditate: to determine our choice of a policy, or to decide our vocation in life; to get illumination on clouded issues, when the road to perfection is in doubt, or to ensure fidelity to what has long been recognized as our proper duty; to arouse and reinforce our affections for the things we must love if the call to holiness or the appeal of duty is to hold us; or, again, to awaken emotions of fear and aversion for the evil but seductive idols which tempt us from the worship of the God of Israel.

We hear it said now and again that to be sincerely religious necessitates the playing of a personal and active part, that it is not enough to be the passive recipient of dogmatic teaching or of sacramental grace. And perhaps sometimes we have come so near to the realization of this necessity as to wonder just what a personal and active interest in religion would imply. It certainly does not mean merely attends ing at divine service, or helping to build churches, or relieving misery, or reading – or yet writing – pious books. What then? In truth, personal religion – -and for the very reason that it is personal – implies something far too intimate and secret and sacred to be put into formulas or general directions. However, it plainly does imply at least this, that we shall use our powers of understanding and feeling and willing, so as to enlarge the share of God, but diminish the share of self and the world, in our conscious life. How best to do this is the problem of problems. But who can be blind to the fact that meditation will help much toward its solution?

The mind should not be passive but active with regard to truths which it has received. It should turn them over and over; it should grow familiar with their various aspects and deduce their consequences and study their practical bearings. It is not enough that occasionally I should hear in a sermon or read in a book the sentiment of some one else as to the duties implied in following after Christ, or in believing the Holy Spirit to be an indwelling divinity in the just soul. These things should be worked out personally; each man should study them over for himself; each must individually go through the process of development which has been gone through laboriously and slowly by the general Christian consciousness in the course of centuries. Merely to learn conclusions will not suffice; they must become my conclusions. I must trace for myself the connection between the life Christ led and my daily duties. I must endeavor to make the motives for devotedness and love which were revealed in Him spring up in me. I must see for myself, and must gaze long and studiously at the picture of poverty and unselfishness and humility and patience and kindliness which He presented. The motives for contrition, repentance, amendment, gratitude and affection must be held before my mind by concentrated thought and voluntary attention; they must be renewed by constant repetition. The moving scenes of our Lord’s life must grow familiar through constantly revived contemplation. The deeper meaning and the inner significance of the institutions Christ bequeathed must grow clear, as alone they can, through reverent meditation and reflection. God’s attributes and the teachings of the Church and the ideals enshrined in the lives of the saints must be cultivated until they yield up the precious spiritual fruit that nourishes and makes strong the soul. Inspirations and trends of thought and feeling, associations and suggestions that make for holiness, must thus be multiplied. In a word, I must meditate. Reinvigorated by faithful realization in the sphere ot action, or weakened perhaps by surrender in the hour of temptation, this habit of living, by meditation, amid thoughts of God and sacred things will, at any rate, help me not a little in the saving and purifying and perfecting of my soul.



Then He opened their understanding. – Saint Luke

O wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us! – Burns

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. – Ovid

Readers familiar with the Summa of Saint Thomas will perhaps recall an interesting little Article of the Second Part, in which he proposes the question: “Do men ever hate the truth?” and another Article, farther along, in which he discusses the problem: “Is mental blindness a sin?” In the course of the great Doctor’s arguments, he reminds us that, though men naturally love the truth, there are times when they hate it; as, for instance, when a man wishes that certain events had never taken place, when he longs to be ignorant of a law which binds his conscience unpleasantly, when he desires that a false opinion of his own merits should prevail. Thus to elevate our selfish interests above our love of truth, to shut our eyes to principles and to distract our attention from facts, in order that we may enjoy a fictitious freedom from moral restraint, is, Saint Thomas teaches, a sin.

These statements suggest food for meditation. We are so apt to evade the practical application of such doctrine as this; so slow to hunt down various faults against truth which are as much more common than ordinary lies as they are less-palpable and less conscious. The obvious untruth is universally condemned. To go back on our promise, to bear false witness, to deny what we have affirmed, to falsify accounts, to betray a trust; these things the private and the public conscience alike anathematize. But there are finer and more subtle sins against truth. There are shrinkings and hesitatings, dodgings and evadings, unreasonable questionings, unfair doubtings, and obstinate stiflings of the still small voice – all in the interests of selfishness and ease; and concerning these conscience is not always sensitive nor condemnation general. Seldom do we find a pure-hearted and constant follower of holy truth, a man who postpones all other ambitions to the quest of her, who turns loyally aside from the common ways when her footprints lead in another direction, who worships at her shrine unfalteringly, though the multitude scoff and enemies jibe and friends dissuade. For to do all this is painful. There may be unwelcome facts which threaten to destroy our peace of mind; half-hidden faults which cost us much to face and recognize; claims upon our time and attention which custom and inclination bid us disallow. There may be duties only dimly perceived, opportunities barely suggested, possibilities which we can easily construe into unrealities. Who has the heroism to follow the track of truth through all those devious ways? Diogenes, with his lantern, might easily find an honest man among us, if respect for the rights of property were alone in question; but the search would be far more difficult, were the philosopher looking for an open mind.

For this is the ideal, “An Open Mind”: one that never offers obstruction to truth; that throws wide the door at the first sound of her imperious knock; that contemplates her unflinchingly, whether there be a smile or a frown upon her brow. It is a high ideal and few dare attempt it; a hard saying which few are willing to hear. Yet the love and the faithful pursuit of this ideal are surely among the qualifications of the perfect man. The bearing of our Savior’s teaching on this point should not be lost on us. We ought to grow more appreciative of the sacredness of truth in the measure that we become “followers of the word.” The richer coloring and the finer shade which a response to divine revelation is supposed to add to the natural man should be manifested in a keener sense and a more loyal obedience with regard to the slightest behests of truth.

We do not forget how common is the accusation against religion that preconception and party interest and the necessities of argument play havoc with the believer’s sense of truth; and, insofar as that charge is based upon fact, we hope that our minds may be opened to see. For the moment, however, we are less concerned to discuss the comparative virtue of believer and unbeliever, than to examine into considerations which all of us alike should ponder, since all alike have need of tireless vigilance and constant alertness in order to lay hold of those saving truths which fall daily from the lips of enemy and of friend, and which plead with us to revise our opinions and to change our ways.

Heine, having described Gottingen as surrounded by a cordon of police, goes on to say that it was no harder for a student to get out of the university than for an idea to get in. Such a condition is more or less typical of men and of institutions. Minds tend to crystallize; and ordinarily we allow the process to continue without interference, forgetting that, with minds as well as with bodies, movement is existence and to live is to change. Consulting the petty interests of the present by shutting out the tide of immigration, we debar ourselves from all share in the wider, richer life of the world at large – as if the life of man or nation could always be renewed and recruited from within. Like unwelcome aliens, new ideas protest in vain against the rigors of our Exclusion Act; we, like short-sighted governments, insist on regarding every foreigner as an undesirable citizen. He is not to the manner born; he does not fit in with prevalent customs; he will not take for granted all that we have been used to assume; he criticizes our ways and speaks of methods which are better. So a suicidal policy is desperately maintained; and the intruding man or idea is kept out for the sake of domestic convenience. We have decided upon the facts of a case, or we have at last succeeded in getting our philosophy all nicely arranged; and we take it very ill of any bothersome new notion to come along and try to introduce a change.

A story tells of the magistrate who heard only the plaintiff’s testimony and then at once decided the case “lest he should be confused by hearing the other side.” There is more than a jest in the tale; it comes near to describing the common attitude of men who regard their first judgments as final and all their opinions as beyond amendment. Wonderful, indeed, is the adamantine firmness with which the modern commercial trust resists every attempt of the small producer to obtain a foothold in preempted territory; yet no combination is closer than that formed in the brain against the new idea. The prejudiced mind does not ask, Is it true? nor consider, Is resistance wise? It is enough that the novel views do not harmonize with the old. Propose to a man a notion which obviously will require time and effort in order to be fitted into his present state of mind. Instantly there will be opposition. Not that this is anything but natural; not that we could get along as well in the practical affairs of life, were we not endowed with an instinctive and, on the whole, most profitable conservatism! But since a new idea is usually at a disadvantage, love of truth and real desire for knowledge will make us extremely careful to win due control over a tendency calculated to hinder our mental growth and to dim our sense of actual conditions. The law forbids a man to be judge in his own trial; it aims to compose a jury of entirely disinterested persons; but here, in the inner court, the rulings come from the party who is the most prejudiced, or at least the most interested, of all. It need hardly be said then that, unless we master our primary instincts and form the habit of judging truth apart from its bearing upon self, we shall dwell in a fairyland of unrealities and lead lives far less actual than those impersonated on the dramatic stage. To be in touch with reality one must, by ceaseless diligence, maintain an open mind.

This is not a defense of inconstancy, nor an excuse for fickle judgments; it is simply a plea for reasonableness. As we learn from the Nichomachean Ethics: “The reasonable (continent) man, while he does not veer about under the influence of emotion and desire, does remain movable. It is easy to persuade him on occasion; but the obstinate person resists the persuasions of reason.” It is reasonable, then, to recognize the high probability that, in many instances, our opinion will be wrong; to appreciate the perverse tendency of our snap judgments. Since we are always inclined to believe our own plans wise, our motives pure, our actions right, an effort is needed to counter-balance this predisposition. Such effort is the price a man must pay for an open mind.

Improvement, as a result of criticism passed upon our work and behavior, is the first fruit. of open-mindedness. To a man who will heed disagreeable truth, and accept the assistance of friends brave enough to wound his vanity, kindly criticism can be of great use. It helps him to correct defects, to acquire virtue, to grow in amiability, efficiency, and general happiness. There are persons, however, to whom not even the dearest and most trusted friend dare utter a word of reproach or correction. Right or wrong, their critics always meet a storm of recrimination and dispute. If we happen to belong to this unfortunate type, well may we pray for “the giftie” which will show us how we seem to others. The awakening will be beneficial, though it will certainly not be pleasant. Few experiences are less agreeable than suddenly to recognize the fact that we have been escaping well-merited criticism because our friends would not venture to wound a self-esteem which they knew to be inordinate. So humiliating is such a discovery that, under the first sting of it, we are apt to turn with chiding words on the friend who has spared us, forgetting that years of experience have taught him how useless it was to name our plainest faults, forgetting the dismantled affections and the wrecks of friendships strewn along our course, due to warnings we resented and criticisms we obstinately disregarded; for, despite our loud profession of love for truth, we do, in desire and in deed, betray what with our lips we honor.

To make use of criticism skillfully and sympathetically administered is, as a matter of fact, not a rare or an heroic accomplishment. A harder lesson to learn is, how to make use of rough, unfriendly censure. This achievement seems, indeed, to be quite beyond the power of weaklings and to require a more rugged determination and a stronger good sense than most of us display in the work of self-improvement.

“Fas est et ab hoste doceri,”

sang the old poet wisely and convincingly. We have much to learn from our enemies, not only in the strategy of war, but in the campaigns of conscience too. Commonly, however, we feel that we may fairly enough be allowed to dismiss the criticism as soon as we have shown the critic to be an enemy – as though an enemy were not likely to be as keenly alive to our weaknesses as he is blind to our virtues. The fact is that, if we have a defect, the man who dislikes us most will be the one to perceive it first. Under the smart of his accusation, or the sting of his sarcasm, we are tempted to soothe our feelings with the consolations of well-meaning friends; but the part of wisdom would be to cut away the possible basis of future accusations. So far as character and virtue go, what matters it if there is some bitterness, some exaggeration, in the words of those who hold us up to ridicule and shame? That which really signifies is the grain of truth in the load of misrepresentation. Seek that; and when found, consume and digest and assimilate it. Bitter though it be, it is wholesome. Let us do as “Sludge” professed to do:

“Take the fact, the grain of gold,
And throw away the dirty rest of life.”

Religion, of course, if it has any meaning for us at all, should aid us to face our faults and defects with an open mind and to accept, at the very least, such corrections as are well-grounded. The old ideals of humility and patience and self-denial and obedience, therefore, throw flashes of light across the path wherein we walk. The man who takes the Gospel seriously, and endeavors to impress deeply on his mind the lessons taught by our Lord’s example, will find much wisdom come to him from his moments of silent meditation. Without excessive introspection, and without exaggerated self-depreciation, he may by frequent examination of conscience gain no little strength and clearness of vision. And if occasionally he refreshes his memory about the saints, by dipping into their lives; if he takes a lesson now and again in the Catholic principles of spirituality; if, at intervals, he follows the exercises of a retreat; best of all, if he goes regularly and earnestly to confession; he will, other things being equal, surely grow much more open-minded with regard to his faults than the man who does none of these things.

Study, in so far as it enlightens the mind and corrects prevalent misunderstandings, also helps us to grow out of our primitive attachment to appearances and first impressions, and trains us to welcome unexpected truths. It is characteristic of a cultivated man to be capable of adaptation, as it is in consequence of having been adaptable that he has acquired culture. In a special and peculiar way should open-mindedness be characteristic of the man who has learned from psychology the various illusions to which the mind is subject. Familiarity with the different forms of normal and abnormal hallucination diminishes the obstinacy and the extravagance of our self-confidence. The student discovers that in many ways nature has been imposing upon him: both his eyes are partly blind, though he never knew it; a thing will be cold to one hand and warm to another; any sort of blow on the optic nerve causes him to see light; two steel-points will be felt as single or as double, according to the part of the skin with which they are put in contact; sensations of color and form are discovered to be largely clever guesses and skillful interpretations forging their own letters of credit in accord with universal custom. It is the student’s business to investigate and, as far as he can, to explain these and a hundred other common errors; and while he ponders them he gradually becomes less dogged in the conviction that first impressions are generally beyond the need of correction and reversal.

The investigator of mental habits and vagaries, the study of our slavery to chance influences, the appreciation of human knowledge as largely relative and hypothetical – all go to make a man humble with regard to his own opinions, and patient with regard to those of others. What psychology does on the subjective side, history does on the objective; that science reveals man’s limitations, this reveals the world’s. When one has grown used to contemplating cycles of time, to measuring the lives of races, to studying the development of civilizations, to tracing the reign of historical law and the periodic recurrence of seemingly unique phenomena, he has already begun to be healed of his narrowness. There is so much to be learned from a knowledge of the origins of things. Comparison of times and of institutions teaches such startling facts. The emptiness of momentary success; the inexorable – working of eternal hidden forces; the supremacy of tendencies which men commonly despise – to have studied the play of these elemental facts in the life of humanity is to have grown beyond the mental stature of a child. Therefore history – and above all comparative history – is a veritable priestess of truth. Nothing human can impress upon us a better sense of proportion than to see the generations succeed one another, each to bequeath new idols to a posterity which pulls them rudely down and erects others of its own. When we have counted the figures in a long procession of nations, and have marked how inevitably each one of them falls under the same old delusion with regard to the divine origin and the eternal necessity of its customs and institutions, we are forever afterward less apt to be dogmatic, more ready to be open-minded, with regard to the inherent sacredness of our own.

In short, any kind of mental development, any growth of the soul, tends in some wise to broaden the sweep of our vision, to open the mind. Worldly experience does it; love does it; study and meditation – -each in its own fashion – have the same effect, if other things are equal. The old are supposed to gather wisdom with the passing of years; in the same measure is it true that the mature become more patient of differences and more open of mind than the headstrong and impetuous youth. The lover is open-minded because teachable – at least by the beloved. The soul of the mother has one more entrance than the soul of the childless. Part of the sinner’s trouble is the narrowness of his view; at the moment of temptation, the evil thing seems to be all-important for his happiness; it is big enough to cover the whole field of vision – because his field of vision is very narrow and limited. Whereas the saint, who sees with far-sighted and eternal eyes, is aware of a world of considerations and mighty truths unsuspected by lesser men. He is open of mind in this and in other ways; and says with the Psalmist:

“Ambulavi in latitudine:
Quia mandata tua exquisivi.”

Though what has been said about the tendency of all development to enlarge and open the mind is true, other tendencies, as a matter of fact, may counterbalance this, or even make the individual narrower and less open than he was in a previous stage. But this much, at least, is sure, that all of us need to be more open-minded than we are, and readier for the correction of our faults or our opinions; and again, that many means are available for our improvement. To make use of these means is an obvious duty, to neglect them a fatal mistake. We may not realize this fully now; but we shall sooner or later. For somehow and somewhere, the soul must learn heartily to love the truth, ere ever it can dwell with joy in the bosom of God.


We can do nothing against the truth. – Saint Paul

Dare to be true; nothing can need a lie. – Herbert

May truth shine out, stand ever before us. – Browning

Keeping in view both the general power of emotion to sway the judgment and the peculiar intensity of religious feelings, we are not surprised to find open-mindedness – that is, the disposition to allow full value to criticism – less prominent among believers than among other men. If there is a man who bares his soul to every argument, who faces willingly every fact, who displays no prejudice in discussion and no hesitation in drawing conclusions, the chances are that he is one of those who sit apart,

“Holding no form of creed
But contemplating all.”

The believer, on the other hand, is proverbially disposed to betray his prejudices during the very first moment of a dispute, and to give less than adequate consideration to the difficulties urged by his opponent.

Now, if it were necessary to choose between the two alternatives, bigotry might, indeed, be regarded as preferable to indifference; as the passionate prejudice of the patriot is a lovelier ideal than the cold aloofness of the man who never says: “This is my own, my native land.” But, in fact, it is not necessary to choose between faith and open-mindedness. We can be fair and honest without abandoning our religion, as we can be fair and honest without renouncing our civil allegiance. To attain due balance of mind will, no doubt, require considerable labor; but for the sake of our own character, for the good of humanity, and for the cause of religion, such an effort is well worth making.

The recent trend of history gives us an opportunity of viewing some of the relations between prejudice and religious belief. It shows that, in general, people have been steadily growing more tolerant. At the same time, it shows that the fierce fanaticism displayed in the old religious wars and persecutions was the outcome of an enthusiasm and devotedness far more intense than anything to be encountered at present. In comparison with our own, those days were “the ages of faith.” They were likewise characterized by less readiness to examine into evidence pro and con, and by less willingness to admit that the denial of a doctrine may be made in perfectly good conscience. Nowadays the prevalent temper is liberal; creeds and confessions in the religious order are revised almost as easily as scientific theories; and, by common consent, to ignore obtainable evidence is to commit the unpardonable sin. And – we must add – doctrinal indifference is now the fashion; unbelief advances pari passu with the spirit of fair play. We begin with admiring the objectivity and fine critical temper of men who discuss, without any show of passion, such subjects as the connection between religious phenomena and mental aberration, the authenticity of the accepted sources of revelation, the comparative moral value of Mohammedanism and Christianity, the influence of Buddhistic teaching upon the Gospel. But before we have gone very far, it transpires plainly enough that, like Gallio, who “cared for none of these things,” the speaker or the writer is, in religion, a mere dilettante, willing for the moment to assume any standpoint, to start from any given premise, to conduct a methodic doubt to any extreme. “It’s all in the point of view” is, perhaps, the most characteristic phrase on the lips of the tolerant and indifferent man; he is ready to look at the chess-board one way and call it white, or another way and call it black:

“Tros Tyriusve mihi nullo discrimine agetur.”

There are some observers of this condition of things who regard the connection between open-mindedness and irreligion as essential; who say that the believer dare not expose his soul to the influence of the evidence presented by the free-thinker; who affirm that religious convictions are the result of auto-hypnotism, and incompatible with pure hearted devotion to truth. So, too, many Christians confess to an insuperable horror for the methods of the open court. They set no limit to the dangers arising out of contact with unbelievers; they deprecate impartial examination of difficulties; they see in critical methods the entering wedge of atheism. If extremists, they go even to the length of placing all their religious opinions on practically the same level and of endeavoring to cover them all with the same mantle of finality. To question a received tradition, to cross-examine witnesses for the faith, to summon a pious belief before the bar of history – these are regarded as the prolegomena to apostasy.

Now, it should not be said that this view is wholly unreasonable, since, in fact, the believer cannot afford to be absolutely indifferent. The methods of physics and mathematics are out of place in the establishment of religious convictions; uncontrolled criticism would very soon give the death-blow to faith. In the constructing of the foundations of belief, our admirations, our affections, our “will to believe,” are of great importance. We do not depend exclusively on analysis and demonstration; we do not proportion each assent to the exact logical force of the argument supporting it; we do not surrender a conviction every time we meet with an unanswered objection. Motives too fine and subtle to be set in the frame of syllogism deserve weighty consideration; and the logic of the heart gives conclusions more recondite, but no less valid, than those mathematically demonstrated from evident premisses. Moreover, authority may outweigh numerous difficulties, counterbalance solid arguments, and decide for us many a controversy. As the Catholic believes that there has been established a divine power for the infallible communication of religious truth to all the world and to every generation, it is not to be expected that he will so far depart from the reverence due to authority as to set aside its decisions for the sake of contrary objections which are not demonstrated. Supposing that he has reasons to look upon a proposition as divinely guaranteed, then not all the difficulties in the world avail to make the suspension of his assent a requirement of honesty.

This, however, renders the problem harder rather than easier. For there is a whole field of views and opinions which, though confirmed by no divine guarantee, yet seem to be harmonious with, and more or less clearly suggested by, truths authoritatively defined. And with regard to these, what course should the believer pursue? If he abides strictly by the evidence, then he is accepting, to a certain extent, the canon of the rationalists, and is going a little distance in their company. If he holds to strictly traditional opinions, he must sometimes incline toward what is, in the light of late developments, an evident absurdity.

To be guided always by reason, or always by authority, would be a simple affair; but when neither reason alone, nor authority alone, introduces us to the whole truth, the mind is in a very perplexing situation. On either hand are the opposite extremes of rationalism and superstition. The one unduly exaggerates the function of reason – as if nothing but reason were needed; the other unduly exaggerates the – function of authority – as if authority alone sufficed. The partisans of each side are wresting an essentially true principle to their own confusion; and if the rationalistic unbeliever deprives himself of a great treasure of instruction, it is no less obvious that the credulous or superstitious mind often arrays itself amid the enemies of the truth.

Now this the Catholic must learn: that authority has rather to control the activity of pure reason than to dispense men from the duty of thinking and deciding for themselves. It no more destroys the proper function of the private judgment than it destroys the function of the private conscience. Its office is to guide and assist both to a certain extent, and afterwards to leave them to find the way and bear the burden themselves. ‘Though reason alone is inadequate, this does not justify us in setting it aside altogether; neither does the fact of cur faith’s being built upon revelation imply that all our inferences and deductions are infallibly true, or that all our customs and institutions are divinely established, or that all our instructors speak with the same finality. “Are all – apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?” Must we not rather observe a certain discrimination and consult a certain sense of proportion? Within its own realm, where reason is ruler and judge, we must pay all due respect to argument, we must listen heedfully to the suggestions of common sense. If, in obedience to a superstitious prejudice, we refuse to open our minds to the light, if we fail to foster each little seed of evidence, we shall hardly deserve to be looked upon as the good and faithful servants of truth.

In our own small way most of us find out soon enough that scarcely anything is easier to abuse than the divinely efficient but divinely delicate instrument of authority. And if called upon to employ authority in the enlightenment of minds, or in the control of wills, we quickly discover that it is tar from being an easily wielded club to beat personality into submission. The self-restraint and penetrating insight required of those to whom the exercise of authority has been entrusted are so great, indeed, that their position really demands a degree of virtue little short of heroic – one reason why men should bear with their shortcomings and make allowance for their failures.

It follows, then, that we Catholics have to guard against the defects of our qualities. The possession of certainty and authority may easily tend to render us bigoted and despotic. It may dispose us to minimize the rights of the individual reason and the individual will, to confuse assumptions with arguments, to mistake tyranny for persuasion. There is both a time to speak and a time to be silent, an hour for discussion and an hour for attention. Docile Christians and obedient Catholics still retain the natural human repugnance for mental blindness and spiritual slavery. Though loyal and reverent in the highest degree, they yet cherish freedom of will and openness of mind. The love of the Gospel accords perfectly with the love of liberty and the love of truth. These points, then, are to be remembered: that the deposit of revelation does not yield up an answer to all the questions put by restless ingenuity; that inerrancy cannot attach to all our opinions; that authority will never attempt to do the work of our personal intelligence; and that rational criticism of the proof is perfectly compatible with reverent acceptance of the conclusion. There are numerous problems which must always remain problems, because not within the competency of authority to solve. And when disagreement occurs in matters which authority does not decide, then, whether the field of dispute be philosophy or history or economics, “both sides should show themselves willing to meet, willing to consult, and anxious each to treat the other reasonably and fairly, each to look at the other side of the case and to do the other justice.”

To draw the line of demarcation is not easy. We cannot always predict beforehand upon what things authority will or will not pronounce; as we cannot say beforehand exactly what can or cannot happen by the operation of the laws of nature. But as we say of somethings that they are possible, and of others that they, are impossible to natural human powers, so, too, we may say of some questions that they are within, and of others that they are outside the province of infallible jurisdiction; and of others again that they are of questionable character, that their relation to the teaching power is still undetermined. We must beware of lumping together all opinions which go by the name of ” Catholic”; of making all alike part and parcel of the faith delivered to the saints; of asserting that religion bids us close our minds to further consideration of such or such a question. Were we to make agreement in every minor detail a test of orthodoxy and a badge of piety, our policy would soon reveal the suicidal principle involved. Some who have been brought up in the straitest traditions, and who have been given to understand that every “Catholic” notion is unquestionable, finally arrive at the conclusion that there is really no such thing as an infallible authority. It would seem worth while to ask if the false impression of the content of faith originally conveyed to these minds, may not have contributed to the fatal result; if the over-pious instructor of the child may not have to bear some responsibility for the impious attitude of the man.

We are all disposed to be too exclusive and too final. It is, therefore, instructive to note the difference in this respect between the action of the Church and the action of the individual Catholic. Curiously enough the same Church which bears the imputation of being rigidly exclusive is also reproached with being fickle and crafty and diplomatic, because ever ready to receive light from all quarters, and to adapt her policy to changed conditions. The truth seems to be that she partakes of both the constant and the variable elements. Firm in her attachment to the past and its deposit of truth, she has also, on occasions, shown herself to be capable of making most generous concessions to the needs of the time. One does not have to go back very far in her history, or to dive very deep beneath the surface of events, in order to find instances of this which would seem incredible to many a simple mind engaged in defending as eternally immutable all the disciplinary routine and all the speculative details to which it has been accustomed. Seen even in outline, the history of the Church furnishes evidence that she possesses a spirit quite unlike the petty temper which is ever ready to dictate a speedy way of dealing with troublesome objectors.

Men will grow in wisdom and in truth when they learn to correct their narrowness by the pattern of the Church’s divinely large and divinely patient disposition. If one has a too sharply defined conception of what can and what cannot happen, then the study of Church history will help to cure his precocious dogmatism. If one habitually entertains suspicions of all accounts which represent another Christian age as very different from our own, then a reading of old records will give rise to new sentiments. And this shows us why the historian is usually differentiated from other men by his breadth of view. It is because his acquaintance with the secrets of the past keeps him from entangling himself in preoccupations about the future. The common man, more sure of his ground, rushes in where scholars fear to tread. He views new ideas with alarm; he is set against the possibility of development and the expediency of change. Unconsciously he has fostered so strong a prejudice against the likelihood of alterations of Catholic view or Catholic practice, in the past or in the future, that he holds out against most respectable evidence, and perhaps even ventures to condemn, in the name of faith, such theories as seem to be “disturbing.”

That this is the tendency of the average believer can scarcely be denied; though it is indeed often controlled by a juster appreciation of things. Most of us uphold as necessary and immutable many details which have no essential connection with revealed doctrine and to which the pronouncements of authority really give no sort of guarantee. The pressing issue is not whether our views are true or false, but whether or not our attitude tends to bring discredit on the faith. The questions to put to ourselves are these: Do we reject over hastily such evidence as tells against us? Do we give a cold welcome to unpleasant discoveries? Do we refuse to lift our anathemas until overwhelming proof shows that we have been fulminating against a myth? If we thus persecute the truth, then, no matter what may be our motive, we shall have to suffer the penalty of intellectual dishonesty. It is because familiarity with ecclesiastical history helps to prevent this sin that the study is so good a discipline. What it teaches us of the Church reveals a personality, a temper, and a method greater and more illuminative than those of any man or any nation. Directly or indirectly, as the case may be, by recording the success or the defeat of human diplomacy, by telling the triumph of the truth or the utter failure of mendacity, church history gives us many a lasting lesson on the value of open-mindedness.

One of the things we perceive as we read history is that an inordinate attachment to details as essential parts of the changeless faith is in great measure responsible for the schisms which, from time to time, have rent the Church, and for the lamentably slow progress of various movements for reunion initiated outside the pale or within. For a moment such agitations stir the Christian body; then, having encountered some deep-rooted prejudice, they quiet down and die out. Too few souls are ready to take the path pointed out by sage or saint. It would be an educative exercise for us, therefore, to go over the long list of compromises recorded in history as effected or as suggested, and to measure the comparative generosity of our own spirit by the willingness we feel to sacrifice accidentals Perhaps many would experience an uncontrollable tendency to stick at little things, even though the salvation of multitudes were at stake. Few would manifest the qualities which mark out the great statesman or the great missionary, as distinct from the crowd, by the nobility of his spirit and the breadth of his views. And the difference would come largely from the fact that, by stern necessity or by long experience, the big-hearted men have been taught, as we have not, to discriminate between what is vital and what is unimportant. We are of the crowd; and most men, it would seem, must first grow used to things before being able to appreciate them justly. Doubtless Saints. Cyril and Methodius would never have dreamed of so revolutionary a plan as a change in the language of the Catholic liturgy had they always lived in the one diocese, been inoculated with the provincial spirit, and contemplated the needs of the Slavonians impersonally and from afar. And when the Jesuit missionaries in China dressed themselves as mandarins, they gave proof of having broadened out under a unique experience; for at home they would probably never have imagined so strange a method of procedure to be a good and wise way for a Christian priest to go about the evangelization of a heathen land.

Strangely rare is the mind which can hold a just balance in comparing essentials and accidentals. Rare, too, is the faculty of examining proof objectively and of judging cases impersonally. Having small reason to believe that we are different from the majority of men, we should take account of this fact, lest we reject truth by an unconscious bias toward cherished theories and familiar notions. To give an instance: Suppose we were to hear it brought forward as an argument against the Immaculate Conception that Saints Cyril and Basil accused the Blessed Virgin of sinning by want of faith and that Saint Chrysostom charged her with pride. Would we not be likely to deny the statement, simply because it told against a Catholic thesis? Or suppose that, to support his criticism of Catholic modes of worship, a Protestant were to state that during the first five Christian centuries the use of the crucifix was unknown! Would we be perfectly fair and open-minded? Or would we not, in this case and in similar cases, deny the allegations at once, as if loyalty called upon us to answer with heat, and as if it were an irreligious thing to attend to the evidence and to that alone? Probably we should so act. But it would be a mistake; and in the long run, that kind of mistake has done much harm, There are so many masked errors which profess to be connected with the faith; there are so many prejudices entrenched behind a show of piety; and there is so much pseudo-science claiming the protection of religion, that imprudent zeal has often become a serious obstacle to the progress of truth. Unless wary of invoking the aid of religion in the support of a personal, or a partisan, or a national interest, we run the risk of opposing truth in the name of God.

Had the Christians of earlier times been as narrow as we, they would in all probability have condemned any man found predicting that the laity were one day to be deprived of the use of the cup at Communion. They would have thought it impossible that baptism by immersion was to become the distinctive mark of an heretical sect, subjected for this practice to the ridicule of many an orthodox Catholic. They would have indignantly denied that the taking of interest would ever be universally sanctioned and practiced in the Church. Another instance – the present organized form of canonization and of ecclesiastical preferment is so different from the democratic fashion of other days, that the average Catholic of either time would in all probability be quick to deny that the method to which he was unaccustomed ever did or ever could prevail. Again, it is very probable that the attachment to existing customs is strong enough to make ordinary Catholics rather uneasy when first told that infants used to be given Holy Communion, and that the laity were once allowed to receive the Sacred Host in their hands and to reserve it in their rooms at home. There is, however, no real reason for uneasiness over these or even much greater changes in ecclesiastical discipline.

The instances cited illustrate the general tendency of prepossession to lead minds away from the pursuit of truth. The failure to appreciate things in true proportion is due to a blind conservatism which holds the mind’s eye tightly shut, and insists on laying out, in accord with its own preconceptions, a whole world of unknown and unexplained facts. A delusion which seems to be a sort of illegitimate offspring of faith bids men desperately defend every old position and obstinately set face against every new idea. See its influence in the current Scripture controversy, record of the infinite travail with which truth is brought to the birth. See it in the depreciation of the methods of the new psychology. See it in the slow progress toward recognition of the science of comparative religion. See it in the denial or concealment of most instructive words and incidents dug up out of the rich soil of patristic literature. See it in the stir caused by the publications of Lagrange on the Old Testament, Duchesne on national legends, Delehaye on the lives of the saints, Hemmer on popular devotions. Or finally, see it in the general reluctance to concede such facts as Newman makes mention of in the following passage: “The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasion with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons; use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the Host, images at a later date, perhaps, the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.”

We should, indeed, be cautious about adopting novelties, but we ought also to be cautious about condemning them. It does religion little good to be heard time after time on the wrong side of debated questions; nor does it mend matters very much to bestow a belated Imprimatur on ideas which have won their way in spite of censure and interdict. Certain affairs are whispered about in such mysterious wise that the propaganda of them seems to be fraught with some dire and dreadful consequence to religion; whereas a calm analysis of the situation would show that the triumph of the new views could never amount to anything more than a lasting rebuke of the bigotry which masquerades as an ally of faith.

The plain inference is that we need to grow more open-minded. In matters falling outside the domain of faith, and to a certain extent in our conceptions of the teachings of faith, we must be prepared for possible developments. We must also be prepared to find that in a number of theological disputes the advantage rests with the other side; and that in some respects our critics are occasionally justified. It is truly a pity when the interests of charity are set beneath those of party; and when victory in a controversy is sought more eagerly than truth. The truth will, of course, prevail at last, no matter how strenuously opposed; but perhaps the day of its triumph will also be the day of our punishment. Strong words with regard to our defects in these matters were written a while ago by Father Cuthbert, the Capuchin: “The very freedom of thought fostered by Protestantism, which for so long was the greatest danger to the Catholic faith, now bids fair to infuse new life into Catholic theology. Original theological thought is not abundant among us at the present time. We have so accustomed ourselves to draw upon the labors ot those who have gone before us, that we have in great measure ceased to think for ourselves. We quote texts instead of exercising our own minds. In a word, theology with us has become stereotyped. . . . Catholic dogma is receiving outside the Church such thorough and original treatment, as it has not experienced since the golden age of scholasticism. . . . If the Protestant world is becoming more Catholic in temper and thought it is owing more to their own religious thinkers than to ourselves.”

That is a good way to face unpleasant facts or humiliating discoveries. We should not make up our minds beforehand that a monopoly of truth and virtue has been established among us. Once and for all let us be convinced that it is a poor tribute to Christ to defend Him with a lie; and that it must be a sad reflection on the Church’s power to purify the human soul, if her children are not more than ordinarily devoted to the sacred interests of truth. The Apostle who sank into the waves because his trust had failed, and the disciples who cowered timidly under the onset of the storm, find many to imitate them in their weakness, but few to follow their sublime example of confidence after having been endued with power from on high. “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” is a reproach deserved by every zealous controversialist who becomes too solicitous about the success of his defense to remain scrupulously truthful in the presentation of his arguments. To triumph quickly over the enemies of the Cross is sometimes our supreme ambition. A harder and a holier ideal requires that we suffer the assault of the powers of darkness, yet go on trusting nevertheless. This is a more heroic test than the call to assent to evident conclusions; it develops higher qualities than the following of a captain who is ever visibly victorious. Loyalty would be too easy a thing, were our courage not severely tested, and its moral worth would inevitably be small. And, in any event, burying our heads in the sand is a poor way to deliver ourselves from difficulties. Ultimately these must be met and faced in all their strength, the only question being whether we shall encounter them with suspicious or with open minds. Let us, then, beware of the tendency to deny facts for the reason that they upset our arguments, to ignore truth whenever its aspect is disagreeable.

At first it may seem like a very “conservative” process to enter an a priori denial of all hostile criticism, and to cite an easily-invoked authority in condemnation of every puzzling argument. But there is danger that such policy will prove to be anything but conservative in the long run; that the day will dawn when those who now sit docile under our teaching will remember of it only our hasty condemnations. It is an awful thing recklessly to inform a man that there is necessary opposition between his opinion and the faith of the Church. In fact, it is an awful thing to make any rash statement about the content of the Church’s teaching. Some one pays the price of this rashness, sooner or later. At the hour when a student opens the Grammar of Assent and laughs at himself for ever having believed the details of the scholastic philosophy to be akin to revelation, he is apt to experience a permanent weakening of his confidence in the magisterium. If he has been taught to repudiate as incredible the cavils of his Protestant playfellows against the least virtuous occupants of the Chair of Peter, he will suffer when he finds out such things as are faithfully set down by Pastor and by Barry. If staggered by an atheist’s revelation of unimportant facts that might have been found in the pages of the Bollandists, he may consent to surrender essential parts of his religious heritage. And if there ever comes a crucial moment, when it seems to him as if he has been all his life reverently accepting myths and fables, when he remembers with bitterness that the name of religion has often been invoked to sanction the inculcation of absurdities, then his world will perhaps go upside down. Nor are the suppositions just made altogether imaginary. There are thousands upon thousands of earnest men and women whose hearts have been sickened and whose consciences have been troubled by irresponsible definitions of “what Catholics must believe.”

Some souls never recover from shocks which in the beginning were perfectly gratuitous, and in the event are seen to have been “all a mistake.” Censure these souls as weak, if you will; but acknowledge that the responsibility is not theirs alone. If children grow up with crippled faith and weakened trust, their instructors are probably to blame for it in part. If there come upon us the epidemic of religious decay, which the less hopeful men are now predicting, then the fault of causing it must lie largely at the door of all who force the acceptance of views possessing the guarantee only of prejudice or, at most, of probability. If we keep the facts concealed as long as possible, how can we wonder that the pupil comes to be: habitually suspicious of us; that he imagines we are always attempting to deceive him ” for his own good”? Nemo me impune lacessit, is the perennial challenge of truth. To those who maltreat her is dealt out retribution, slow, perhaps, but certain – in this instance the demoralization of the souls upon whom the hopes of the future must be built.

So open-mindedness is not only right; it is expedient too. To rely upon the truth is safer than to depend upon a lie. Salvation will come from the facing of facts rather than from the endeavor to ignore or to refute them.

“Dare to be true; nothing can need a lie,”

wrote Herbert; and ages before him another had written:

“Non eget Deus mendacio nostro.”

Theoretically we see, and in the abstract we approve, these principles. It is not plain, however, that in actual conduct many of us are willing to take the risk of living up to them.

We have all heard much of “the will to believe”; possibly we have begun to understand that in matters of religion it is indispensable. But we must not, therefore, forget the value of “the will to be true.” The pia credulitas of the disciple is certainly one of the dearest possessions of his soul; yet it should not be suffered utterly to exhaust his mental activity or entirely to supplant his devotion to the pursuit of facts. Briefly, together with the wish to believe, he must also cherish the fortis affectus veritatis, which might perhaps be freely translated as “an open mind.”


To open their eyes that they may be converted. – The Acts of the Apostles

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side. – Lowell

Having admitted that the profession of the Catholic faith does not necessarily imply the possession of an open mind, we may now, with good grace, go on to consider certain faults of people outside the Church. Less by way of passing judgment than by way of suggestion, we shall note both the nature of these offences and the lines along which improvement can be made. Nor need our suggestions appear untimely, even though the present generation has, to a very remarkable extent, emancipated itself from prejudices and dishonesties prevalent at an earlier date. Granted that there has seldom existed a nation readier than our own to listen to the presentation of Catholic claims, and that there is no place upon earth where the Church has a fairer chance to make converts than in this land of ours; yet, even here, there is still room for improvement. Non-Catholics often display characteristics which form a serious obstacle to the progress of the truth; prejudice still keeps possession of many minds; multitudes are sluggish in responding to the behests of conscience; frequently there is manifested an ingrained reluctance to go strictly by evidence in matters of controversy. Hence, having considered our own shortcomings, it seems proper that we should devote a few words to the shortcomings of our neighbors.

Every one is aware that for some people there could scarcely be conceived a harder duty than that of patiently studying and openly accepting the teachings of the Catholic Church. Menacing phantoms warn a man not to persist in his search for the facts; human ties of every kind detain him in the state of belief or unbelief to which he has been accustomed. The example of the crowd, the wish to preserve reputation, the love of personal comfort, the affection of friends, the traditions of race and family, the revolt of judgment and temper – these, and perhaps still more intimate motives, play upon the will with a force calculated to overcome any ordinary powers of resistance. And finally there is the inevitable temptation to defer action and to re-examine arguments endlessly. If, despite these obstacles, a man becomes a convert from genuine conviction; if he withstands the influence of disposition, training, and habit; if he overcomes that last foe of duty, self-distrust; then we may regard him as a noble example of open-mindedness.

When a man has made public profession of certain principles and convictions, it is no small thing for him to own that he has been wrong. “Lord! what wilt Thou have me to do?” was the instant answer of Saul to the constraining voice at the gate of Damascus; but to few does a divine voice speak, and to few are supernatural evidences granted. The many go through a long and painful contest with indecision. They question the call to repudiate what they are under solemn pledges to uphold. Through some such test must every convert pass, so long as Providence places truth at the end of the path of renunciation and makes faith the reward of suffering bravely borne. The fact that in our own day so great a multitude has been ready to venture upon this path and to face this suffering, would seem to prove that, with all its lack of idealism, our generation is neither irredeemably selfish nor hopelessly corrupt.

We must not forget, then, that open-mindedness usually involves heroic virtue on the part of a convert to the Catholic faith. No one can deny that the saying is a hard one. Nevertheless, we would here insist upon the principle that in this, as in all other affairs, a man is bound to make whatever sacrifices fidelity to the truth may entail. First and foremost in the moral life comes the obligation to fulfill the divine commandments written by the God of nature on the human heart; and among these is the law of truth. We have a higher destiny than to satisfy our selfish inclinations. We are created to obey the will of another, rather than our own. No matter how clever may be the excuses self-love invents, they will never be strong enough to withstand the fierce testing to which the God of truth will one day submit them. The main issue is plain: Are we seeking the whole truth, or not? Those who do not seek it with the ardor of lovers can hardly hope to look upon the face of their Creator or to be admitted to the pure-hearted company of the saints. Once we find a clew to the teaching of God, we must follow it. There can be no drawing back under penalty of moral disaster. We may be tempted to devote the time and the energy entrusted us to other ends; we may desire to wrap our talent in a napkin and store it quietly away; we may wish to linger and temporize until some pleasant change comes over the spirit of our convictions. But all the while we dally and procrastinate we are weighing self against God; and too long a delay must inevitably mean that the heavenly vision will pass away, never again to be vouchsafed us.

Here, then, the non-Catholic may find matter for self-examination: Is my attitude toward the claims of the Church determined by right or by wrong motives? In other words, do not other considerations than the legitimate pros and cons play too important a part in the forming of my judgment; and do not other aims besides the quest of holiness absorb too much of my attention?

Take, for instance, the matter of intellectual and social culture. Now learning and refinement are all very well in their way; they are good gifts of God; they are valuable adornments of truth. But, however high they rank, they are not criteria of revelation. The mental acumen, the scholarship, the fine polish of a religious teacher cannot be regarded as final tests of his doctrine. It may very well happen – in fact, we shall be quite within the bounds of truth in saying it often happens – that the possessor of a brilliant and highly cultivated mind is offered the opportunity of receiving instruction at the hands of an apostolic messenger who, in every human quality, is immeasurably his inferior. Under these circumstances there will naturally be a strong temptation to shrink away from the duty of listening to such a teacher; and the temptation is not always earnestly resisted. To yield, however, is plainly to prefer the human before the divine, to set pleasure above duty, and to sin against the truth.

The temptations of controversy dig another pitfall for the feet of the unwary. Not to take advantage of an adversary, despite our chance to score against him, is to exercise a very extraordinary degree of self-restraint. Yet the interests of truth require that we resist loyally every such temptation. How rarely it is resisted can be seen by all who watch the course of current controversy; and how difficult resistance is, they know who have subdued the vicious inclination to argue for the sake of victory. Though few may follow this ideal of perfect honesty, it is morally imperative. Sins against it will be punished with inability to see the truth which one may, to some extent, really desire, and for which one may shave searched long, though not faithfully nor unselfishly enough. For truth is the reward of following the light, not the prize of stratagem and deceit. To seek for truth is far different from submitting to an ordeal, the outcome of which depends on the dexterity and strength of one’s champion. The conclusion of an honest discussion should be a summary of all the facts presented or suggested by both sides, not a judgment on the comparative ability of two debaters. The result should have nothing to do with the chance circumstances that this or that pair of disputants has been matched. Despite our sympathies we should be ready to develop the imperfect arguments brought forth by either party; and to put into telling shape the considerations which have lost force through imperfect presentation.

Another opportunity for the practice of open-mindedness arises from the common expectation that truth and virtue will always be found together; for this anticipation begets a prejudice against doctrines supported by men who are not distinguished for holiness of life. But though, as a general rule, we can arrive at the true by tracing out the good, this clew cannot always be relied upon. For the sake of gathering the grains of wheat we may have to delve into most unlovely heaps of chaff. The representatives of truth at times are far from being models of virtue. By way of illustration, we may refer to the difficulty caused by the scandals of Christianity, as set forth in the pages of a recent writer: “Even if we remove the mountainous accumulation of fables, false judgments, blind prejudice, and malignant calumny, there still remains, alas! a second mountain of scandalous fact, beginning with what we read in the pages of the New Testament, such as the many failings of the Corinthian converts or the tepid Church of Laodicea; and discernible century after century. So, for example, the worldly Christians whose portraiture is to be found in The Shepherd of Hermas, during the time of peace before the persecution of Decius, and then in natural sequence a multitude of defections; again, a hundred years later, the influx of laxity after the age of persecutions had ended; those unworthy members of the Church who almost made the great Saint Ambrose lose heart, and who clung so fast to pagan licentiousness, that in Africa the rude Vandal conquerors were astonished at the spectacle of vice; then later the scandalous errors of the two great Christian states, the Frankish and the Byzantine; the popes of the tenth century mere puppets of the factious Roman nobles; the sad moral condition even among the pious Anglo-Saxons of the laicized monasteries before the reforms of Saint Dunstan; the concubinage of the clergy before the reforms of Gregory VII (Hildebrand); the heaven-defying court of William Rufus; the unchristian hatreds and homicides of later mediaeval Italy; the life and surroundings of Alexander VI, and the licentiousness of the Italian Renaissance; the forlorn state of the archdiocese of Milan when Saint Charles Borromeo took possession; the antagonism of rival orders in the face of a common foe, with such disastrous results, for example, in England and Japan; the heartrending testimony of missionaries that the scandalous lives of Christians are the greatest of all obstacles to the spread of the faith. Even in lesser things there appears a continuity of abuse, and we might think the Fathers were living in the days of Chaucer, when Saint Jerome and Saint Gregory of Nyssa bear witness to the abuses mingled with the use of pilgrimages, and when Saint Chrysostom rebukes the superstitious use of amulets in Antioch and Constantinople, though himself enthusiastic in the rightful veneration of the relics of the martyrs and the wood of the Holy Cross. . . . Indeed the narrative may be woven by so skillful a hand that, without straying from the nominal truth, the history of the Church may be made to appear a chronicle of scandals.”

The author proceeds to show that, despite all these unpleasant features, the Church is still worthy of the attribute of holy. “These very scandals, if once again we look below the surface of things to the depths, if we seek the testimony not of partial but of total facts, if we remember our theological principles – these very scandals in the Church are a witness to her divinity. . . . The Church must indeed pay the penalty for her title of Catholic Whatever else she may be, she must remain the Church not only of the ill-mannered and coarse-minded, but of the criminal and the outcast. . . . She must journey through the centuries, bearing as the heaviest of her trials and the greatest hindrance to her success, the daily shame of her unworthy members, and be well content if she can save at their death those who have been a disgrace to her during their life.”

Reflection will, indeed, make it clear that religious truth, like other divine gifts, may be at times in the hands of wicked husbandmen and faithless stewards; but reflection is not likely to suggest itself to any but the most earnest seekers. The devoted follower of truth alone will take the trouble to study out this aspect of the situation, and to find the viewpoint which enables him to overlook all objections. In the face of moral weakness or vice on the part of the messengers of the faith, the convert’s quest must truly be a hard one; and only on condition of being gifted with a high degree of courage and a most ardent love of truth can he hope to bring it to a successful termination. It is in part because most questioners fall short of ideal single-heartedness, that missionaries must spend so much time in answering objections based upon scandals, distressing enough, to be sure, but really not affecting the issue under consideration.

When a high-souled convert, or prospective convert, meets with some such painful obstacle to progress, all the strength of inclination and emotion is engaged against the cause of Catholicism. It may be the shock of discovering wickedness in high places; it may be the treachery of one who has accidentally been associated with the presentation of the truths of faith in a particular locality; it may be a display of moral depravity by some one who ranks among “distinguished recent converts.” Now, no one can be blind to the fact that these circumstances extenuate the error in the cases where the individual judgment is prejudiced finally against the truth. Yet it is possible for minds to rise superior to such considerations, as was done in a notable recent instance, when the vile behavior of a prominent convert toward the wife whom he had first influenced toward the Church did not in the least affect her appreciation of the faith which the Church taught her. Unfortunately, though, such loyalty is something of an exception. The rule is that people are determined by the accidents of these cases. They heed the promptings of emotion. They have not been trained to support principles for their own sake and without further question; so they lack the strength necessary for the following of the naked truth.

Another tendency which does much to keep men alienated from Catholicism is the disposition to cling blindly to old traditions, whether authenticated or not. The cultivation of open-mindedness is the sure road to freedom from this bondage. In proportion as the love of truth is developed in the soul, ancient calumnies will lose their power; for love of truth leads men to struggle against mental inertia and forbids them to repose supinely in the shade of accepted opinions. This development is much needed by the average man who is loth to disturb his own social or domestic peace by the introduction of new views and policies, and who thinks what was true enough for the father true enough for the son. Dante compares the multitude to blind persons with their hands upon the shoulders of others equally blind, falling into the ditch of false opinion and unable to escape. “They are like sheep, rather than men – sono da chiamare pecore, e non uomini.” A means to counterbalance this tendency and to correct the errors which result from it will be found in that open-mindedness which has helped us to so much of the best we possess in the way of knowledge and power.

The man who contemplates Catholicism from without is also severely tested when he discovers a more or less prevalent tendency to superstition among Catholics. Newman, in his Ninth Lecture on Difficulties Felt by Anglicans, sets forth this difficulty in almost startling strength. It is based on the reproach “that Catholics, whether in the North or the South, in the Middle Ages or in modern times, exhibit the combined and contrary faults of profaneness and superstition. There is a bold, shallow, hard, indelicate way among them of speaking of even points of faith, which is, to use studiously mild language, utterly out of taste, and indescribably offensive to any person of ordinary refinement. They are rude where they should be reverent, jocose where they should be grave, and loquacious where they should be silent. The most sacred feelings, the most august doctrines, are glibly enunciated in the shape of some short and smart theological formula; purgatory, hell, and the evil spirit, are a sort of household words upon their tongue; the most solemn duties, such as confession, or saying office, whether as spoken of or as performed, have a business-like air and a mechanical action about them, quite inconsistent with their real nature. Religion is made both free and easy, and yet is formal. Superstitions and false miracles are at once preached, assented to, and laughed at, till one really does not know what is believed and what is not, or whether anything is believed at all. The saints are lauded yet affronted. Take medieval England or France, or modern Belgium or Italy, it is all the same; you have your Boy-bishop at Salisbury, your Lord of Misrule at Rheims, and at Sens your Feast of Asses. Whether in the South now, or in the North formerly, you have the excesses of your Carnival. Legends, such as that of Saint Dunstan’s fight with the author of all evil at Glastonbury, are popular in Germany, in Spain, in Scotland, and in Italy; while in Naples or in Seville your populations rise in periodical fury against the celestial patrons whom they ordinarily worship. . . . Such is the charge brought against the Catholic Church. . . .

“Hence, the strange stories of highwaymen and brigands devout to the Madonna. And, their wishes leading to belief, they begin to circulate stories of her much-coveted compassion. towards impenitent offenders; and these stories, fostered by the circumstances of the day, and confused with others similar but not impossible, for a time are in repute. Thus, the Blessed Virgin has been reported to deliver the reprobate from hell, and to transfer them to purgatory; and absolutely to secure from perdition all who are devout to her, repentance not being contemplated as the means. Or men have thought, by means of some sacred relic, to be secured from death in their perilous and guilty expeditions. So, in the Middle Ages, great men could not go out to hunt without hearing Mass, but were content that the priest should mutilate it and worse, to bring it within limits. Similar phenomena occur in the history of chivalry; the tournaments were held in defiance of the excommunications of the Church, yet were conducted with a show of devotion; ordeals, again, were even religious rites, yet in like manner undergone in the face of the Church’s prohibition. – We know the dissolute character of the mediaeval knights and of the troubadours; yet, that dissoluteness, which would lead Protestant poets and travellers to scoff at religion, led them, not to deny revealed truth, but to combine it with their own wild and extravagant profession. The knight swore before Almighty God, His Blessed Mother, and – the ladies; the troubadour offered tapers, and paid for Masses, for his success in some lawless attachment; and the object of it, in turn, painted her votary under the figure of some saint. . . . The crusaders had faith sufficient to bind them to a perilous pilgrimage and warfare; they kept the Friday’s abstinence, and planted the tents of their mistresses within the shadow of the pavilion of the glorious Saint Louis. There are other pilgrimages besides military ones, and other religious journeys besides the march on Jerusalem; but the character of all of them is pretty much the same, as Saint Jerome and Saint Gregory Nyssen bear witness in the first. age of the Church, It is a mixed multitude, some members of it most holy, perhaps even saints; others penitent sinners; but others, again, a mixture of pilgrim and beggar, or pilgrim and robber; or half gypsy, or three-quarters boon companion, or at least, with nothing saintly, and little religious about them. . . .

“You enter into one of the churches close upon the scene of festivity, and you turn your eyes to a confessional. The penitents are crowding for admission, and they seem to have no shame, or solemnity, or reserve about the errand on which they are come; till at length, on a penitent’s turning from the grate, one tall woman, bolder than a score of men, darts forward from a distance into the place he has vacated, to the disappointment of the many who have waited longer than she. . . . You turn away half-satisfied, and what do you see? There is a feeble old woman, who first genuflects before the Blessed Sacrament, and then steals her neighbor’s handkerchief, or prayer book, who is intent on his devotions. . . . You come out again and mix in the idle and dissipated throng, and you fall in with a man in a palmer’s dress, selling false relics, and a credulous circle of customers buying them as greedily as though they were the supposed French laces and India silks of a peddler’s basket. One simple soul has bought of him a cure for the rheumatism or ague, the use of which might form a case of conscience. It is said to be a relic of Saint Cuthbert, but only has virtue at sunrise, and when applied with three crosses to the head, arms, and feet. You pass on, and encounter a rude son of the Church, more like a showman than a religious, recounting to the gaping multitude some tale of a vision of the invisible world seen by Brother Augustine of the Friars Minor, or by a holy Jesuit preacher who died in the odor of sanctity, and sending round his bag to collect pence for the souls in purgatory; or of some appearance of our Lady (the like of which has really been before and since), but on no authority except popular report, and in no shape but that which popular caprice has given it.”

Probably no one will ask for a stronger indictment than the foregoing. Yet the Cardinal’s luminous discussion of the objection enables the man of average intelligence to see that this ugly array of facts does not discredit the claim of the Church to be divine in origin and in doctrine. On the contrary, it rather constitutes “the very phenomenon which must necessarily result from a revelation of divine truth falling upon the human mind in its present existing state of ignorance and moral feebleness.” And, indeed, no religion which takes vital hold of the popular feelings and imagination can fail to be tinged with something of superstition in the minds of the vulgar. The adequacy of this answer will be perceived by many who would not be broad and patient and just enough to seek of their own accord for a similar explanation of the disagreeable superstitions which they daily encounter. When a Newman appears and smooths away the difficulty, they are honest enough to accept the explanation. But should he not appear, they will let themselves be deprived of a great gift which might be theirs, were they to correct their prejudices and to control their emotions more heroically.

We may conclude these reflections on open-mindedness, with the affirmation that it is a quality indispensable to the ideal man or woman; that it is far too rare; that it can be, and should be, developed by patient striving. Much courage will, of course, be required, for it takes a high form of bravery to walk in faith and hope amid such specters as the enemy of truth is constantly summoning up to frighten men away from the paths of simplicity and honesty. Threats will crowd in upon us, misunderstandings multiply, the pleading of well-intentioned but faint-hearted friends become hard to resist. We shall seem to have no light but conscience, and no aid but God. Yet all will go well if, in the spirit of Paracelsus, we keep our course:

“I see my way as birds their trackless way.
I shall arrive! What time, what circuit first,
I ask not.”

Meanwhile it affords us no small consolation to know that all trials endured in the service of truth will help to clear that inner sight wherewith we must in eternity view the beauty of the face of God. This same fact intimates to us the reason why men must progress toward the truth by struggling with temptation, by resisting the solicitations of selfishness, and by toiling wearily along the path of duty.

Our love of truth must be stronger than common affections; for it leads not toward comfort but sacrifice, and promises us scorn in the place of honor. The man who treads truth’s narrow path is being prepared for the highest and the holiest life; and when he reaches. the object of his seeking he will already have achieved some measure of nobility by his constant struggle against the lower tendencies of nature. It does not seem strange, then, that so often the only road which leads to faith is the road of the Holy Cross; nor that acceptance of the moral ideals of Christ and the Church must accompany every serious effort to acquire the fullness of Christian revelation. As inside the fold the self-denying saint is led into light and knowledge denied to lesser men, so the seeker outside is assisted or abandoned accordingly as he does or does not show himself ready, for the sake of truth, to renounce what is attractive and to embrace what is repugnant. Without calculation he must follow the lead of the Spirit.

“Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead is all her seamen know.”

Devotion to the Holy Spirit of Truth should be cultivated by all who hope to become open of mind. This devotion will necessarily include a readiness to make sacrifices for the sake of truth; and opportunities for such sacrifices none of us will lack. To hold no private interest superior to the duty of seeking the truth; to ask for no dispensation and to invent no excuse to relieve us from the obligation of using all the light we may receive – this is an essential part of devotion to the Holy Spirit. No matter what we have thought or professed or done in the past, the summons of truth must find us ever ready to acknowledge, to alter, to amend. If certainty of anything is granted to us here upon earth, of this we are sure – that God never approves and man never profits by a sin.

To see light, that is to react against the stimulus of rays which fall upon the retina, is less a virtue than a mechanical, or physiological, necessity. But to hold the eyes open when they are tired, to strain them when the light is dim, to peer about and search eagerly for truth which we are aware will make us uncomfortable – this is to serve the cause of virtue and to obey the law of God. It is the requirement of the ideal. We may often fall short of it in practice, but at least let us recognize it interiorly as sacred and divine; let us be filled with shame when we fail to embrace it in effort and intention.

The foregoing considerations upon the virtue of open-mindedness may, at least, serve to suggest a topic for study. Let each reasonable man see to it that he possesses sufficient humility to use criticisms passed upon his character or his work. Let each Catholic make sure that in discussions he is ever upon the side of truth, irrespective of his sympathy and his inclination. Let each possible convert stamp upon his soul the ambition to be honest and pure-hearted and brave. Let him frown down calumny, fearlessly correct misunderstanding, and cultivate the good-will which disdains suspicion. And if the time should ever come when reason suggests that the old prejudices are baseless, and observation intimates that Catholicism is divine in its quality, and conscience whispers that investigation, or maybe submission, is a duty, then let there be, upon his part, no shrinking, no evasion, no postponement.

The School of Paul

If it is true that every human soul is an image of the Infinite God, it is also true that in some respects no two images are quite alike. From Mary Immaculate down to the last and least in God’s great calendar, each individual presents a new reflection of the Infinite Holiness, and saint differs from saint in sanctity as star from star in glory. A gracious dispensation is this; tor thus, among the endlessly varied types of holiness, each epoch, each class, each person may discover a model possessed of peculiar attractions. Nor does the cultivation of a special devotion to this or that saint in any way imply a departure from the spirit of À Kempis, or a sin against the teaching of the Church. Rather, we may say, that a particular affection for some one saint is a first instinct with fervent Catholics. Experience, moreover, proves the legitimacy of this impulse, since we all find valuable aids to progress in the fostering of a special love toward those particular men and women whose characteristics or histories possess peculiar personal charm for us.

Among the saints most fascinating to the age and country in which we live, a certain preeminence must be accorded to the man whose – conversion is commemorated by the Church on the twenty-fifth day of the month of January. Often enough, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Saint Paul has been depicted as an attractive ideal of sanctity, as an embodiment of the characteristics which appeal most powerfully to the noblest instincts of the modern mind. In other words, we are taught to believe that if our civilization is to be crowned with the glory of holiness, the work must be done by souls formed on the type of him whom Saint Augustine named “the great Apostle” – men of high ideals, void of selfishness, submissive to authority, filled with the spirit of prayer, consumed with zeal for God’s glory, counting all else as loss beside the excellent knowledge of Christ, and yet withal impulsive, energetic, practical, determined, tireless, broad-minded, independent, free-spirited, progressive, intolerant of defeat. Nota few thinkers, deeply concerned with the development of religious life in our generation, affirm that the type of manhood representing what is best among us will be led to attain the summit of divine love only when the lessons taught by Saint Paul have been faithfully learned! We, then, who are eager for the building up of Christ’s Kingdom must carefully study this remarkable saint, and realize what is implied in the great sanctity of a man whose characteristics were refined, developed, and consecrated by grace, but whose powerful personality seemed least subdued when by his own testimony he was living no longer his own life, but the life of the Christ within him.

This special affection which our contemporaries cherish for Saint Paul is based, in a great measure, upon their strong sense of fellow-feeling with him. True, an outline of the early Roman Empire constructed to demonstrate its resemblance to our own society might reveal as many difficulties as proofs for the thesis. Yet, putting aside the question of a close analogy of this sort, we can affirm that at least the historic Paul of the first century strikingly resembles the ideal Christian of the twentieth. Exchange Hellenistic Greek for English, and his dress for ours. Forget that we worship in magnificent temples and with a splendid ritual, whereas Paul adored Christ in the humble upper chambers of Troas and Ephesus; that we are bornin the presence of a mighty organization which he helped to establish; that we inherit a perfected liturgy and ceremonial, only the simple beginnings of which were known to him; that larger worlds than his age dreamed of now reverence the religion at whose cradle he watched. Disregard this surface contrast; and it becomes evident that, as the faith he preached is one with the faith which we profess, so are the traits predominant in him identical with those which we consider to be the essential requirements of a true Christian character. Thus strong is the kinship of the oldest church and the youngest, thus tightly welded is the chain binding the ancient Asiatics and the races that crowd upon this new continent, thus similar the ideal of Paul to the ideal of America. What our energetic people need, and what they thoroughly appreciate when obtained, is a teacher who counsels them to consecrate without destroying liberty and activity, one who shows them by personal example how in a busy, hurrying life they may remain mindful that in the inner sanctuary of their souls dwells the living God, Whose “temple not made by hands” their bodies are.

As in theology, so too in real life, the workings of grace give rise to most intricate problems. When to pray, and when to act? what share of our success to attribute to divine influence, and what to our own eternal vigilance? when to trust Providence, and when to exert our best personal energy? which human inclinations to suppress, and which to foster and supernaturalize? – these are questions continually tormenting the earnest seeker alter holiness. In choosing a vocation should we follow our natural attrait as a God-given sign, or ignore it from dread of lurking selfishness? Should we sometimes stand out against the counsel of others, or always humbly yield? Should we maintain principle rigidly, or become adaptable; be strong or gentle, determined or winning? Should we renounce or tenderly care for father and mother, sisters and brothers; invite criticism or disregard it; secure ourselves from the danger of excessive affection within an impenetrable reserve of strive to. charm all men by sweetness? Such problems constantly confront every one undertaking to lead an intelligently devout life. The ability to solve them is an uncommon gift; yet without a theory of action, both true and workable, no man can become what God destines him to be. The matter, moreover, possesses a special interest for those whose minds are vigorous and inquisitive, whose natural powers are strongly developed, whose intellectual honesty is of a high degree, and who will neither rest content with evasive statements nor accept an inconsistent theory.

Men of this stamp turn quite naturally to Saint Paul. In addition to being the great doctor of grace, he exhibits a perfectly harmonious personality. From him we learn a spiritual doctrine unspeakably sublime, yet in thorough accord with human nature. His life is an object-lesson in perfection. If one wishes to plan a campaign against the enemies inner and outer, which swarm the passage from the lowest to the highest point of spiritual ascent, he may well seek guidance from the man who, beginning as a blasphemer and a ravager of the Church, became later the bondsman of Christ, an Apostle, an ecstatic; who was blessed with visions and revelations, was momentarily snatched up into Paradise while yet alive, and was finally crowned with the shining halo of martyrdom. What an arduous life and what a marvelous growth! The humble weaver of goat’s hair is transformed into a leader of the most glorious march of conquest recorded in history. Drilled in the science of a decaying Pharisaism, he flashes over the world the unquenchable light of a teaching never to be equalled for depth or sublimity. Once scorned or ignored by the schools clustered on the banks of the swift-flowing Cydnus, he is now addressed as master by the mightiest intellects of the human race. If during life he was obscured by a host more eminent than he, since his death he has been sought out by the most – famous scholars of Christendom, who drink eagerly at the exhaustless fountains of divine wisdom discoverable in his writings – writings penned not with ink but rather with the spirit of the living God.” The conquered subjects of Alexander and Napoleon were few compared to the numbers that have trooped after the banner raised by Paul. The organization of imperial Rome was weak beside that of the institution he spread among the nations. The fame of Homer and of Plato cannot be called enduring if contrasted with his.

An effect so mighty argues no ordinary cause. But, some one says, in all this how slight was Paul’s influence, and how great the action of God! Here, indeed, a vital point is touched upon. How little was due to Paul? how much to God? What was effected by divine grace, and what depended on the man’s co operation? These questions, to be sure, never will find an answer. But seeing the course of his labors and their results, we do perceive one thing to be certain: that Saint Paul had fathomed the mystery puzzling us, that he had learned when to act and when to let God act, that he knew how to discern the time of speech and the time of silence, the hour for giving battle and the day of rest. This, then, at least we may be sure of, that he can throw light upon dark places in our path. So we shall look to him to learn the way of waging warfare victoriously. He will teach us how to fight, yet not as those that beat the air. Few men have given to the world so frank and complete a self revelation as the great Apostle. The Acts narrate his achievements, the Epistles reveal his inner life. As confessions his letters contrast strikingly with the morbid egoism of semi degenerate minds whose nicely-prepared confidences are so often and so obtrusively thrust upon us nowadays. His self-disclosures are unaffected. They come warm from the heart. Hence, Paul’s sayings are sometimes hard to understand; but, on the other hand, they repay study far better than the lines of the deepest poets. As we read, the many-sided genius of the man gradually discovers itself, and once we have found out his meaning, and met the writer face to face, we listen to what may be called a familiar monologue on that most absorbing of all topics, human relationship with God. Then, too, as he is opening up great spiritual vistas for us, we catch a glimpse now and again of secret depths in his own soul, some chance word or phrase throwing strong sudden light upon his character and revealing the wonderful workings of divine grace within the fiery spirit of this most ardent of the saints.

What do we discover to be the hidden root of his glorious growth? Can we give concrete expression to our estimate of him? Can we analyze his peculiar excellence? Often men have said that the love of Jesus Christ was the root-idea of Paul’s theology and the inspiration of his sanctity. But how did it come about that he loved the Savior thus fervently? Is it possible for us to delve deep enough to see why Christ’s love took so strong a hold upon his inmost being and controlled his life so absolutely? If we can do this, no doubt the result will teach us lessons of strange power, will reveal in their simplicity the essential principles of spiritual perfection, and will help to settle many of the problems clamoring to us for solution.

Be it said, then, that the very bone and marrow of Saint Paul’s spiritual being was his clear perception of, and perfect conformity to, the movement of God within his soul. His specialty, if we may so call it, was the true relation of grace and nature, the harmonious working of the divine operations in the supernatural and in the human order, the concurrence of the Infinite Will and the finite will, the interaction of Almighty God and Saul of Tarsus. To him Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, perfection realized, divinity manifested. The humanity of Jesus bridged over the chasm between heaven and earth, between God and not-God. Therefore every fiber of Paul’s being reached forth to grasp the Word Incarnate, clung fast to Christ, grew into Him, “dissolved”? as far as might be into oneness with Him, so that Paul became God’s by becoming Christ’s and realized himself to be the temple of God’s spirit through his strong sense of Christ’s abiding presence in his soul. Jesus Christ became all to him, because for him the Incarnation was more than a notion; it was a great, palpable, throbbing reality, stamping itself upon his mind, searing into his heart, never absent from him after once it had seized and conquered him in that supreme moment of his life when the terrible splendor of God darkened the blaze of the Syrian noon-day and struck him blinded to the ground. The memory of that brief instant could not be effaced, its lesson could never be forgotten. Paul then learned who the Lord was, and all his future had to be set true in the light of the newly-realized fact of God’s Infinity. This task he undertook and accomplished.

“There are,” writes Newman, “but two luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator.” These words vividly express the fundamental truth of religion. Saint Paul can be read aright only when we understand that realization of this great axiom was the supreme motive power of his life. In this we possess the key alike to his conduct and to his doctrine, and using it, we find that our study of his words and actions teaches a wonderful lesson on the first principles of that sacred thing, religion.

Creation, human nature, man’s destiny, the law of perfection, every fact, and every maxim of the spiritual life, are to be explained in the light of this fundamental dogma: God and I exist. Absolutely speaking, no other fact is essential for the fulfillment of human destiny, no other truth necessary to be known. “God and I alone in the world,” said the old mystic, thus expressing the sum of spiritual science and laying down the supreme law of lite. God and I were alone at that first instant when my soul sprang forth from the spontaneously fruitful bosom of Divinity. God and I are ever alone in those secret recesses of my being wherein no creature can enter. Especially shall we be alone at that last moment when the darkness of death is encompassing me. Through all eternity God and I shall dwell as if alone, contemplating each other with endearing eyes, both radiant with love, He effecting and I receiving, He giving and I returning, God sustaining me and I possessing God.

These truths teach us life’s meaning. God and Self, the two necessary conditions of eternal felicity, intimate the rule of a perfect existence. To interpret every fact in life we need consider only Him in Whom we live and move and have our being. Beside Him what does man possess upon earth, or desire in eternity? In heaven all activity will be centred upon God, and out of our vision of Him will spring our love for our dear ones, our very knowledge of fragmentary truths. It should not be otherwise upon earth. Here, too, whatever is not directed to God is naught; every act that does not begin with, depend upon, and end in Him is less than nothing; and every creature loved outside of Him is a false god. True, Pantheism is an error – creatures are something essentially distinct from God. But to the man who would be perfect, they must become as nothing. In God and for God we must know, love, act. What God wills we must will. Such is the norm of perfect life.

A lower depth than this we cannot attain even in the soul of Saint Paul. Here we touch upon the principle which is the first and last of his spiritual doctrine. A study of him convinces us that his sanctity sprang from his knowing perfectly the rights of God and man, and giving to each his own. Saint Paul’s teaching and conduct alike emphasize the necessity of pleasing God by means of a complete and absolute self-surrender, which is possible to man only in regard to God and which alone is capable of satisfying the Creator’s claims upon His creatures. Devotion of this sort is the quintessence of religion; it is vital, personal, perfect worship. It is the religion of the heart, the adoration in spirit and truth dear to God, and the one thing so needful that without it not even Almighty Power can perfect a human soul.

To declare this spirit characteristic of Saint Paul of course does not imply it to be his exclusive possession. Some share of it is an indispensable condition of all real religion. It is as widespread, therefore, as religion itself, being the common badge identifying the true children of God’s kingdom wherever and under whatever circumstances they may be found. But Saint Paul’s grasp of the principle and its consequences is something extraordinary and proper to himself: and his teaching of it is unequivocal and final. No one can read the Epistles without being struck by the writer’s strong sense of Divine dominion and human stewardship. No one can meditate upon them and still retain the illusion that there is a substitute for personal devotion and absolute self-surrender. The disciple of Saint Paul learns very quickly that his life is not his own; that to God’s free gift he owes all; that he has been bought, redeemed, freed, made alive, sanctified by his Master. Subtract these truths from Saint Paul’s teaching, and you substitute nerveless platitudes for the sublimest doctrine human lips have uttered. Retain them, and you have that doctrine in perfection. It is these truths which explain his habitual temper of mind and tone ot speech, these which show us why, forgetting the things behind and ever stretching forward to God, he counted all else as loss, and regarded it as filth, prizing creatures only in and for his love of their Maker.

Man is only a creature to be sure, but still his activity differs in kind from that of sunlight and planet and ocean-tide. His highest privilege, the one which characterizes him as man, is individual freedom. By means of this he becomes an independent agent, a centre of activity, and in a sense is liberated from God’s control. In giving man free will the Creator, as it were, rules off a certain sphere and makes the individual master thereof, constituting him “God”? of that little world, and releasing him from the sway of every external power, even the Divine. In that domain the individual is supreme. Though unable to escape from God’s sight, he can rebel, he can thwart God’s wishes, he can frustrate God’s plans, he can accomplish what God does not will and check what He does will. Man becomes perfect, therefore, by remaining faithful to the office of delegate, and never trying to assume independence; by contenting himself with simply repeating God’s commands, thus restoring to God dominion over the region entrusted to the human will. When man acts in this way, then and only then can he say with meaning: God and I alone in the world. There is no acceptable submission short of self-annihilation. The perfect human song must be a unison wherein the creature takes and holds the note struck by the Divine Singer, since intercourse between God and man implies a relation to the All of one who is more than nothing only in virtue of existence communicated by the All.

It is evident then that the bond of perfection must be the unifying principle, love. Thus only can the law be fulfilled. Love which is blind to all except the beloved and which utterly annihilates selfhood is, therefore, the one needful gift, greater than prophecy, tongues, miracles, martyrdom, hope, or faith.

Such is the conclusion deduced by Saint Paul from the great truths of man’s divine origin and destiny. He voices his teaching in words of unmistakable import. Further, he gives us a living example of perfect conformity to the principles he proclaims. Clearly, love is the ruling motive of his career. It begins to be so at that critical instant when the sight of the Lord’s uncovered glory sends the fierce spoiler cowering to the earth. It ceases to be so only at that last moment when the Roman sword, gleaming in the sunlight of an Italian June, leaves the martyr’s headless body prone upon the Ostian Way. Quid me vis facere? is his constant thought. It is the supreme question. The answer to it, in so far as known, forms Paul’s single rule of life. Always it is God’s to choose and Paul’s to obey. The Lord wills; Paul acts – acts with a readiness that makes his deeds seem spontaneous and a cheerfulness that argues the choice to be his own. So, indeed, it is his own choice, for love with its wonderful transforming power has made his will one with the will of God, has fired heart and brain with unquenchable fervor, has mastered intellect and will and instinct, and brought every human power into sweet captivity.

Reducing all duties to the pleasant one of loving seems like laying out a royal road to perfection. But the direction to love is an easy one to follow, just as De Sales’ maxim, Ask nothing, refuse nothing, is a simple rule of mortification. Delusion occurs when a thing is seen as through a glass darkly. To fulfill the law by loving is easy only when we have learned to love easily. This will be the case in heaven, where God is seen face to face, where truth is clear as noonday light and goodness is revealed in all its loveliness. But the very significance of life as a time of trial implies that we are now wandering about a world of half-truths, blind to the meaning of God, and constantly mistaking shadows and images for realities. Often our God-given freedom avails only for our own hurt. We lose our life in attempting to save it. And yet naturally we still incline toward trying to save it. To annihilate self on faith is no welcome task. A life-long struggle usually precedes its ultimate accomplishment. Constant repetition of misfortunes due to selfishness barely suffices to convince us that God is all and we are nothing. ‘Through these devious ways the teaching of Saint Paul guides us, and if we hear from the midst of his prolonged torments a cry of anguish: “The evil that I will not, that I do! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” we catch also the echo of his pean of victory foretelling the final triumph: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Readily we perceive that the victory of grace in Saint Paul’s soul could not have been won with ease. Only the power of a mighty and extraordinary love subdues and controls natures like his. This is why his affection for Christ really did play the all-important role in his spiritual development. His love for Jesus Christ can be described by no word short of passionate; it was an absorbing devotion, possibly without equal in the history of Christian saints. Asa friend, as a brother, as a spouse, Christ had inflamed his soul with love. For Christ’s sake he would gladly become a fool, an outcast, an anathema. In “Christ and Him crucified” is found the sum and substance of Saint Paul’s writing as of his preaching, the same yesterday and today and always. For, through Christ, God took complete possession of him, making the fulfillment of the Divine Will the sole desirable good in life; and Christ won Paul’s love solely because He was the revelation in human form of the Deity never seen by eye or conceived by thought of man. To Paul Jesus was no mere ideal of humanity, no simple type of human perfection. In Him dwelt the fullness of the Godhead corporally. The mighty tide of love that swept through Paul’s soul at the thought of his Beloved, surging high at the very mention of Christ’s name, was, then, incomparably greater than any affection one human being could inspire in another; it was a love of transcendent depth and purity; it was unique because its object was Divine, because the Beloved was one with the Infinite Being Whose uncovered face was to transform Paul into His own ineffable image. As far as was possible for man, this saint had realized the significance of the Incarnation and had found in the Word made Flesh a magic influence to raise his own soul out of the depths and set it beyond the reach of temptations to infidelity. It was the vision of Jesus, then, that fixed him fast in that essential and unchangeable relationship which he knew must obtain between God and a perfect man.

Such a lesson does Saint Paul teach us. We have noted already that it possesses a powerful influence over our age. Reasons are quickly discoverable. The very simplicity and directness of Paul’s spiritual scheme recommend it strongly to a generation like ours. He never is betrayed into exaggeration of accidentals at the cost of essentials; he insists on no partial views; he does not attempt to substitute temporal for eternal interests. This is the type of religious teacher that is most willingly listened to nowadays. It is not because our contemporaries lack generosity that they take to Saint Paul as a model. No one would ever dream of expecting a compromise from him. Men go to him because they really want the meat and kernel of spiritual truth; because they seek its essence rather than its accompaniments, its soul and not its trappings. Men go to him because if there is a higher and purer spiritual doctrine than that, of Saint Paul it has not yet been revealed.

Further power over our age is gained by Saint Paul in consequence of the perfect fullness and symmetry of his manhood. A people whose spiritual ideal is an integral one will think of a saint’s nature as well as of his graces, and will trust a little to their own human instincts in choosing a model of sanctity. What saint then, in a day like ours, will elicit sympathy more quickly than this great Apostle, who, as Chrysostom tells us, “though he was Paul, was also a man”? Men feel instinctively that their loving God perfectly cannot imply their ceasing to be what God made them; and they find in Paul a comforting instance of splendid sanctity built upon a well-developed nature; of a man obedient to God, not as an unreasoning infant might be, but by means of an individual intelligence and a strong will in full play, giving glory in the highest to God our Lord. His ideal encourages creative vigilance and personal initiative; it leaves intact the freedom wherewith we have been made free, and approves of the liberty of the children of God; it bids us respect not the person of men and submit only to the powers ordained of God. Yet – and Paul is the guarantee – our submission need be no less perfect for being united to a sense of the sacredness of individuality, and shaped according to the dictates of personal conscience. Minimizers of either truth or service will find no sanction of their ungenerous spirit in the lite or the teaching of Saint Paul.

Another reason of his charm is that he preaches to every one the possibility of approaching closer to God. Innocent and penitent – they that are afar off and they that are nigh – all hear from him of high privileges reserved for them, gifts of intimate friendship with Jesus Christ, and great graces in prayer accorded even to sinners, “of whom I am the chief.” Here is a preacher who brings God nearer to men by awakening within them a desire for, and a belief in, the possibility of that ineffable relationship which the Creator delights to bestow upon the children of men. You are Christ’s and Christ is God’s, Paul declares to us; His yoke is sweet, His service reasonable, His love broad as heaven. So is the soul taught to keep its gaze fastened upon Jesus, the Author and perfecter of faith, that it may continue steadfast to the end, by hope persevering, and by that love which is the greatest of gifts and the more excellent way finally entering into union with God Himself.

That men are responsive to Saint Paul’s doctrine is but another evidence of the human soul’s “innate Christianity.” It argues the inevitable final triumph of the Church founded to propagate that doctrine, and hindered from spreading chiefly through the failure of some minds to appreciate the true meaning of Catholicism, which to be loved needs only to be seen in its native sublimity. For most religious characters outside the body of the Church, the stone of stumbling is a dire misconception of Catholic teaching upon the principles of vital religion – as if the Church could have any other aim than to lead souls closer and closer to God! But men stare and hesitate when told this truth, and they doubt Newman when he declares that “the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial; no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator.” Yet the Catholic knows this to be not only a fact, but an absolute necessity.

What if the Church is an external institution? She declares herself to have been established as an instrument for furthering the reign of God in human souls. By her own profession she is the road to a goal, the means to an end. If she insists on the necessity of Sacraments, it is because these are God’s ordinary channels for the communication of grace to men. In fact, though an external and visible society, the Church ranks her invisible element, internal religion, as all-essential; interior life is declared to surpass in value and necessity both defined dogmas and prescribed customs. Paul’s ideal is hers; oblation of self to God is the perfect worship. Newman does not exaggerate one whit in saying that Catholicism, as understood by its own adherents, as interpreted by officially-approved teachers, like Saint Alphonsus and Saint Ignatius, “interposes no cloud between the creature and the object of his faith and love. . . . It is face to face, ‘solus cum solo’ in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude.”

The Church’s sympathy with Saint Paul, then, might in itself suffice to save her from the suspicion of formalism. On her altars the Apostle and Doctor of internal religion is venerated with a peculiarly high honor. She points him out for her children to imitate; she turns triumphantly to her accusers and asks: Is not this a man given up heart and soul to interior worship; a propagandist with neither selfishness nor narrowness; a preacher intent on the love of God and the pure Gospel of Christ? Who ever insisted more strongly on the vanity of mere externalism, spoke more fervently on the beauty of the Kingdom of God within the human soul, or taught more explicitly the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Who has demonstrated better by word or deed that the saint’s ideal is to serve God with a simple, unswerving fidelity incapable of being improved upon were a man and his Maker in very truth alone in the world?

God in the Soul

God, the Maker of everything that exists, is, of course, present to each of His creatures. In the souls of those that love and serve Him, moreover, He dwells most intimately and lovingly. Such is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Theology represents this familiar association of man and God as the office of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity; the reason for this appropriation to One Person of the indwelling common to all Three, being this: that the bringing together of the creature and the Creator in a wonderful communion of love accords well with the Personal character of the Holy Ghost. The note which distinguishes Him from the Father and the Son consists in His being originated by their reciprocal love. He is properly called Amor Procedens, Love Abounding and Flowing; He is the Gift of Love; and so to Him we assign that marvelous favor of God, by means of which the human lover and the Divine Beloved are united as both desire.

When the union of which we speak occurs, the human creature, having received the gift of sanctifying grace, becomes a “sharer in the Divine Nature,” a privilege we should hardly dare to claim in words so plain, had we not the warrant of Scripture for the use of this very phrase. Catholic theology explains this to mean that man by grace partakes of powers naturally proper to the Deity; thus he is rightly said to transcend the rank of created nature and to share in the very life of God. This deification – as the Fathers of the Church did not hesitate to call it – is effected not by destroying human nature, but by elevating it to a higher order and by investing its operations with a truly divine worth. Man, by nature the child of Adam, is raised by grace to the sublime dignity of being the child of God.

The fact that God actually and substantially dwells within the sanctified soul is, then, the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church. The life of grace means this. It means that there has been effected between the soul and God a union closer than any other except the union of the two natures of Christ. Since the human race began, the Holy Spirit has ever been thus active among the souls of men, sanctifying by His presence all such as cling to God with firm and generous hearts. So it was with Adam when he became the son of God by grace, so it was with David, Elias, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna. So it has been with every soul raised to the supernatural life of grace within or without the body of the Church. Each has been sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. For, on Pentecost “the Holy Ghost did not come to commence His indwelling in the souls of His saints, but to penetrate more deeply into them; not beginning at that time to bestow His gifts, but pouring them out in greater abundance; performing no new work, but continuing what He had already begun.”

As in human friendship, so in this mysterious union of the soul with God, there are degrees and gradations. Sanctity varies in the individual; so also the intimacy of union with God. And since the Pentecostal advent of the Holy Spirit, this grace of union has been bestowed to an extent utterly inconceivable. “For this gift, this sending of the Holy Ghost, after the glorification of Christ, was to be such as had never been before; mot that it had never been given before, but that it had never been given to the same degree.” So abundant is this outpouring that the Christian soul can go on ever strengthening the divine life within, ever binding itself more intimately to God, gaining new titles to love, forging stronger chains of affection, winning closer embraces. As flame in the blazing fire, as a lover in the arms of his beloved, so is God in the soul. Personally and literally, by the actual presence of His Divine Substance, He rests in His creature as truly as He dwells in the tabernacle containing the consecrated Host.

This privilege of the Christian surpasses all others, as it is the one to which all others tend. The time of sacramental Communion is a moment of ineffable sweetness indeed, and human nature can never mount beyond the height reached. when Jesus Christ, God and Man, comes to rest in the arms of his devout lover. Still, the physical presence of the Body of Christ does not last for long. With the corruption of the elements, the physical and bodily union between the worshipper and his Lord comes to an end. But grace remains. The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Jesus, abides in the soul; and with Him, both Jesus and the Father. This indwelling is invisible, as indeed the union of the Second Person with the humanity of Christ was invisible. Like the transformation of bread into the body and soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, it produces no sensible result. But just as surely as Transubstantiation makes Christ’s Body present where previously it was. not, so surely does the sanctification of the soul by the entrance of the Holy Spirit bring God Himself into the human heart, there to abide as a king upon his own throne.

Such, then, is the doctrine at the basis of devotion to the Holy Ghost. That devotion takes its rise in the consciousness that, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Christian soul has become the temple of God, that it has been consecrated by the Divine Presence as truly as if it were a tabernacle marked by the lighted lamp as the abiding place of Jesus Christ. For this consciousness naturally impels the soul to direct special thought and nourish special affection towards that Person of the Most Blessed Trinity through Whom this grace is bestowed.

What rank this devotion holds in the spiritual life we learn from the Holy Father’s emphatic eulogy. Deaf to his teaching and blind to all spiritual perspective would we be if we ignored this great truth, while exerting ourselves to gain vogue for pretty little specialties begotten of pious imagination. It is true that in every household use can be found for small things as well as for great, and the wondrous number and variety of Catholic devotions may well justify pride and admiration. Nevertheless the sense of doctrinal proportion must be respected, and it were most unseemly if those ardent in carrying on the propaganda of minor devotions should remain “wrapped in error and ignorance as to the benefits and graces that have always flowed and still flow from this divine source – error and ignorance, indeed, unbefitting the children of light.”

Individually, at least, each one of us can do something toward dissipating that ignorance by enlightening our own souls; and though the subject seems to be fathomless, this does not excuse us from the endeavor to learn something concerning it. It is true, even the personal characteristic of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity seems to be shrouded in peculiarly deep mystery. The names of Father and Son in nowise adequately or exhaustively describe the proper personality of Those so named; but we imagine, at least, that we understand Their relationship to the Divine Nature far better than we do that of the Third Person. Of His characteristic we gain only the merest hint in such unsatisfying statements as theology ventures to advance. Nevertheless the symbols assigned to Him, and the works appropriated to Him, do afford some aid. First of all, we notice how they seem to throw about Him the kindly light of tenderness and love. The gentle air, the brooding dove, the soft, clinging cloud-shadow, the dawning light, the parted tongues of fire – these symbols intimate to us how sweetly lovable must be this Best Gift of the Father and the Son. And then the offices appropriated to Him as most in harmony with His personal character – to sanctify the human soul, to inspire the patriarchs with longing for the Messiah’s coming, to pour sweet strains of heavenly music into psalmist-souls, to illumine the prophets with the gleam of a light never seen upon earth – these, and the espousing of Mary, and the forming of the body of Jesus, – and His baptism, and the consecrating of the Apostles, all indicate how greatly our love and worship would increase did we but know the Third Person of the Godhead better. All the precious graces that come in the Sacraments are His Gift, and all the sweetness and strength and comfort infused in prayer, and every good deed of the millions of priests anointed with His holy unction since the Church began – these are His work too.

So out from the obscurity breaks a glimmering of the loveliness of that Divine Comforter Whose advent it was expedient we should purchase even at the cost of Christ’s departure. Surely devotion to Him will bring some new nobility into our sordidly selfish lives.

And now what is implied by devotion to the Holy Spirit? First of all, an endeavor constantly to attend to His Presence in our souls. If we were to do that well and lovingly, we should need no other form of recollection. To gaze affectionately on the face of God unveiled is the life of the blessed in heaven. To remain close to Him each moment while here upon earth, to acquire the habit of ever directing the will lovingly toward Him, to contemplate Him hidden in the soul under the veil of faith – this is a life of the best and highest prayer, a life that has transformed thousands of men and women into saints. Like Adam in the garden, we walk daily in the company of God. Like the Virgin after the angelic salutation, we bear within us the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of the Most High. As the Sacred Heart of our Divine Savior was thrilled with the ineffable and measureless graces poured into it by the Holy Spirit, we too are quickened and sanctified and made more than human by His loving touch.

The flame-illumined crystal, shot through and through with splendor, typifies our souls when, by the indwelling of the Spirit, we are made partakers of Divinity. God’s spirit in the innermost depths of our being is soothing, healing, quickening, strengthening, uplifting, comforting, purifying us, hour by hour. He is ever gently stirring our souls as the summer air that breathes so softly amid the forest leaves. Truly God is with us. Truly we are His temples, bearing Him in our bodies – a precious treasure in earthen vessels.

When first this truth is presented to our minds we draw back in astonishment and doubt. Then, as conviction slowly dawns, we feel stunned and bewildered. We have been walking among crowded sand-hills that shut away the view on every side, and suddenly we come out upon a great shoreless sea stretching away into infinite space. The fog is gathered thick above the water. Nothing can be seen except brooding mist, and nothing heard but the thunder of the hidden surf. We are humbled,. awed, terrified. The great God dwelling in us! What can it mean!

And then the story of Bishop Cheverus comes back to us, perhaps; how the sainted priest confessed his humiliation when some one said to him: “What! you believe that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, descends from heaven each morning to enter your bosom? Why, you would be rapt into the ecstasy of a saint!”

“At these words,” said the good old prelate, “I blushed with shame, for so it should be.”

Thus we find it beyond belief that we are still so worldly and selfish and sinful, with the Spirit of God really dwelling in us. But still the indwelling is a fact that cannot be gainsaid. The privilege is not optional. Whether we will it or not, we have been “born again” into the life of grace, the supernatural order, and have come into the company of the saints – for our great glory, should we persevere, for our inevitable and well-deserved shame and ruin, were we now to become castaway. Far better the mollusk on the seashore, or the toad imprisoned in a rock, than a soul turned away from God. But though the issue is in our own hands, the choice of evading responsibility has not been given us. We are equipped for the struggle, but the necessity of it is upon us. We must face it, whether for better or for worse. “Your members are the members of Christ.” “Your body is God’s temple.” “Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

It is true that the first deep realization of this truth may be fearful and oppressive, that the initial step in devotion to the Holy Ghost is often made in dread and trembling. “This indeed is an awful place: for God was in this spot and I knew it not,” you say at your first long look into the depths of your soul. It is as if, while imagining yourself to be alone at night, you were to turn about and suddenly see a face in the dark, with great eyes that seem to pierce you through and through. But, as you recover from the momentary terror, you find that the face is as sweet and loving as that of the mother who used to bend over your childhood crib, and that the eyes resting on you are soft and winning and deep with an infinite tenderness beyond anything known before. And then your heart leaps up in an answering love, as if now at last its quest were ended and it had found an object worthy of all its loving worship.

So it really is. There is a hunger in the human soul unsatisfied by all the joys that creatures can bestow. There is a love best appreciated when the eyes are closed, a love mentioned only with bated breath, as something too sacred to be conversed about in common tones. It is the love of God, surpassing the love of woman. Its joys transcend those of the mother and her smiling babe, of the bridegroom and his bride, of the faithful pair that have seen their golden jubilee of wedded life. Searching for this love we ever tend to make gods of our fellow-creatures. But no creature can so remain for long, and left without a God, we become again restless and unhappy.

“We seek Him down the nights and down the days;
We seek Him down the arches of the years.”

And at last, Augustine-like, we find Him within – God, the Holy Ghost; and like Catherine of Siena, building a little chapel in the soul, we worship Him there with fervor for evermore. Now is our God always with us, caressing us in the sacred privacy of love’s communion: “I to my Beloved, and His turning is toward me.”

The old charm of selfishness is gone now. From morn till night we are under the eyes of the God Who loves us. The most trifling infidelity has become an unpardonable crime, as if grieving the Holy Spirit were the same with neglecting the slightest wish of the dear invalid whose sensitive, restless eyes follow us when we are moving about the sick-room. A venial sin seems like a sacrilege now, as if we were close to the tabernacle, or at the altar-rail. Dreadfully wearing all this! some one says. Ah! but the reward. Who can describe the joys of the saint? On the edge of the sun-scorched desert is the cool wood with its heavy leaves, with its damp moss and its running stream. There, far from the worry of creatures and the taint of sin, the soul finds rest and peace and a Divine Comforter. And that dear solitude is loved as no other spot on earth. In the shadow, unseen of men, here within my heart, God dwells with me and I with Him. No pulse of mine can beat, no breath be drawn, but He knows it. I live, now not I, but He lives within me. Sooner than lose the sweet consciousness of His presence, the sense of His watchful eye, I would suffer the bitterest pain. For with Him pain is paradise, and without Him life is a dreary torment.

But mere loving attention to the fact of God’s indwelling is not the last of our relationship with Him. The will must enter actively into our intimacy. Our contemplation must be that of faithful servants, whose eyes are bent upon their Master’s hands, and who await only the signal to obey with alacrity and exactness. If, then, our devotion to the Holy Spirit be real, it will imply ready and perfect obedience to His inspirations. As attention to Him is the perfection of the life of prayer, so obedience to His inspirations is the perfection of the active life. For what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit if not habits of soul disposing us to do God’s will promptly and perfectly?

Consideration of this simple truth may help us to realize the true ideal of spiritual direction, namely, that God is the supreme director of souls, and that all human consultation is of use in proportion as it leads to the recognition and fulfilment of the divine will. We need to be instructed and perhaps to be encouraged by others; but we must also make large use of our own enlightened common sense, and the impulses of grace in our souls. Frequent advice may be quite indispensable to our success, and consequently it is to be sought; but we should not neglect opportunities of useful work, merely because no one has suggested our embracing them. Nor can we always have our director within call, unless indeed he be the indwelling Spirit. Therefore, the best direction is that which trains men in prompt and spontaneous fidelity to the guidance of God the Holy Ghost; as the normal spiritual life is that wherein the soul, instead of merely shaping itself on the minute details of a model provided by an adviser, uses its own intelligence to recognize and its own will to execute God’s particular designs in its regard. How simple in sublimity the rule of life which has for its supreme principle the conscience, instructed by authoritative teaching, and energized by the promptings of the Holy Spirit!

But does this not render the individual lawless and his conduct arbitrary? In the spiritual life, thus conceived, there must be danger of pride, fanaticism, vagrant fancies, illusions, and the worst possible self-deception. That is true; and ruin would be imminent were there no balance, no corrective, no external standard of guidance. Here, as always, the beautiful symmetry of Catholic doctrine is manifested, and its unity made evident. The inner promptings of the voice of God are to be tested by their harmony with the external direction of authority. God will not contradict Himself. The less obvious and certain direction is to be corrected by the clearer. Hence, in case of conflict, the supposed inspiration must always give way to the explicit direction of lawfully constituted authority. This rule has been well illustrated in the lives of saints like Teresa, who professed that they would obey the command of a lawful superior more readily than they would follow any interior suggestion, though it seemed clearly to proceed from the Holy Spirit. Thus fidelity to the integral Catholic ideal has ever enabled men to steer safely between the fatal alternatives of fanaticism and indolent passivity. Like the plumb-line of a mason, the rudder of a ship, or the beacon on a lee-shore, external authority constantly guides and directs human activity. Launched successfully on the crest of a mighty inspiration, the enterprise will soon run upon some hidden disaster, if orders are disobeyed or warnings disregarded. The demon may whisper within us in the guise of an angel of light, but, obeying our legitimate superiors, we cannot go astray. The wall will be true to a hair’s breadth, the ship will safely weather the foam-bathed rooks. It is the certainty of being thus guarded against danger which enables the loyal Catholic to work out God’s plan with untroubled serenity.

All this is clear. But we must not forget that God’s plan is a harmony, that in the perfect observance of both His inner and His outer behests lies the fulfilling of the law. To work lawlessly were crime. To work only when expressly commanded by external authority were indolence. The danger-signals and the limits of progress are marked from without; the impulse to act is often from within. The careful watch of lawfully constituted guardians, like the swaddling-clothes, of infancy, protects us against fatal chill; but the Christian, like the babe, lives not in virtue of swaddling-clothes alone. Faithful and energetic correspondence to the will of God, manifested externally by superiors or by circumstances, and hearty co-operation with the suggestions of the indwelling Spirit – both are necessary elements in the building up of God’s household. The Gentile missions of Paul, the reformed foundations of Teresa, the new institute of Ignatius, were inspired by secret whispers that the Divine Master communicated to these saints in the privacy of their own souls. External authority did not give birth to these movements. What it did, and did thoroughly, was to provide against all possibility of extravagance.

Many a one, no doubt, is ready to say: “But I never have any such inspirations. I never hear the voice of God within my soul.” Cleanse away sin, shut out the world, purify self-love, and then listen. Why, to the worst of men God whispers His admonitions through the voice of conscience, and it must be that He will speak more often and more explicitly to souls sanctified by grace. If we are attentive, we shall certainly not fail to receive suggestions from Him. If we are faithful to the light given, it will go on always increasing. Evening and morning, at our going out and at our coming in, now amid the bustle of daily duties and now in the retirement of a church, the good impulse may be felt. Sometimes an inclination to prayer and again a summons to action, first a call to mortification and then to kindness, this time the suggestion of a pleasant duty and later of one that is bitterly repugnant – so the motions of the Spirit vary as He listeth. But they gather about our pathway ever and always – at one time as soothing dew and again as scorching fire, now as soft, low music, and now as the trumpet-call to battle; for all ways are His. He is ever beside us, ever within us, and His inspirations fall athwart our souls as constantly as the long shadows on the quiet surface of a mountain lake. So Jesus trained the disciples for their work. So, instructed by the guiding Spirit, the Apostolic twelve revolutionized the world. Ever contemplating and ever obeying God, we too will be transformed into some greater likeness to Him, as friends dwelling together for years grow to resemble each other.

The result of this devotion is, in one word, Perfection. Its examples are the saints who in every age and land, with an infinite variety of dispositions and faculties, have learned to become perfect instruments of the God abiding in their souls. They have exhibited in fullness those gifts and graces which are the proper fruits of devotion to the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, fear, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity – gifts and graces in which every good Christian shares to some extent, but which are capable of indefinite and lasting increase. Thus will our lives be rounded out and perfected, if we too learn to love the Spirit of God and faithfully follow His guidance. For are not all other things for the sake of this; is not the visible on account of the invisible? Surely so. The ultimate end of human existence is the perfecting of the relationship begun by the Holy Spirit’s entrance into the soul.

Many times the pursuit of this ideal will conflict with prevalent notions and cherished traditions perhaps, but it must be pursued faithfully none the less. The world will move, be the denials of that fact ever so numerous and loud. And, as it moves, God inclines men first in this direction and then in another. Human wills must be free and ready to follow the divine. Ad majorem Dei gloriam must be our principle of action, and it must stand supreme. “God first” was the interpretation given to this maxim by the saint who has made it a household word among modern Catholics, and the Exercises he invented were framed to train the soul so that, purged of attachment to minor goods and lesser means, it might aim at whole-hearted loyalty to the Supreme Good, the end of its existence, and always elect to follow him.

There is more than one reason why it seems as though devotion to the Holy Spirit were especially suited for our age, and above all for the people of this country – earnest, intelligent, active, and liberty-loving. Mindful of the significance of those acts of the Holy Father which officially bear upon the spiritual welfare of the whole Christian world, we may well consider Pope Leo’s directions to have been a heaven sent indication of the ideals that best avail for the perfecting of the existing social order. In consecrating the whole human race to “the Sacred Heart, the symbol and sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ,” he directed attention toward that devotion which attaches men most firmly to the person of Him Who is their Way, their Truth, and their Life. In renewing devotion to the Holy Spirit, he influenced men to turn their thoughts inward and to learn the ineffable dignity of the life of grace, and he encouraged that love of internal personal religion, that loyalty to the inner promptings of grace, that cultivation of the highest form of prayer, and that sense of individual freedom and individual responsibility so well fostered by this devotion, and in default of which vital spirituality is so likely to decay.

“I have long thought,” said Cardinal Manning, “that the secret but real cause of the so-called Reformation was that the office of the Holy Ghost had been much obscured in popular belief.” But the new religionists brought about a far worse state of affairs. Making no headway themselves, they still obstructed the path of others. Wild fanaticism such as they displayed was the one thing most likely to discourage authority from reposing confidence in the personal fidelity of the subject. Catholics were forced to concentrate all resources on the defense of points attacked. External authority was of necessity emphasized most strongly and became all dominant, while individual initiative in action and individual freedom in methods were suspected to be, and often developed into, the false and fanatical vagaries of heresy.

Today, however, the siege is nigh over. Protestantism has all but completed its process of self-disintegration; and now the evil most to be feared is indifferentism and infidelity. To this our century tends, as is evident, and the national genius of our own country is such that naturalism is the point of danger. How thoroughly is this danger counter-acted by the two great devotions which Pope Leo saw fit to commend so specially – devotion to the sacred symbol of the God-Man’s love for us, and devotion to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! We tend to humanism, therefore our natural bent is caught and directed upward to the transfixed Heart of the Savior of mankind. Again, we tend to exaggerate liberty, our sacred birthright – that liberty of which the Pontiff wrote, “it is the greatest of man’s natural gifts” – and therefore devotion to the Holy Spirit is commended, that human liberty, bound in the chains of divine love, may be made over to God in the free and spontaneous consecration of our wills to the will of the Divinity reigning within us. Thus has the highest authority in the Church stamped supreme approval on a devotion which already had been marked as specially fitted for our day by the decree of the Baltimore Council, by the action of the American College at Rome, by declarations from cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and saintly priests throughout the English-speaking world. What indeed, could be better adapted to bring about the renewal of Christian life in human society and the reconciliation to the faith of all those outside the Church? The finger of God points out this devotion as one which, earnestly cultivated, will lead all dissenters into the Catholic fold and inspire all Catholics to lives of sanctity.

Each of us, then, may feel specially called to cherish it. How greatly it helps to simplify our lives! Neither badge, medal, nor affiliation is necessary to its practice. The sole equipment is a lovingly attentive heart; and this all Christians may lay claim to, if they will, in any place, at any time, and under any circumstances. Love and obey the Spirit, hearken to His outer and His inner voice, and it is enough. As a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, He will lead you on into the land of promise. The glad spring sunshine, the grateful perfume of the pine woods, the murmurs of splashing fountains – none of these is so delightful as the gracious caress and sweet whisper of the indwelling Spirit, the Spouse of our souls. It was formerly a custom in Catholic countries to symbolize the advent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost by letting fragrant blossoms and lighted fleece fall from the ceiling of the church. Well did those symbols recall the love and light bestowed on those who become His disciples.

Among the splendid old hymns that have thrilled the Church tor centuries there is one, the Veni, Creator Spiritus, unique in its wonderful history. To the echo of its music kings have been anointed and emperors crowned. While its cry went up from the kneeling thousands, bishops have knelt beneath the consecrating oil, priests have been ordained, and temples erected to God. Under its inspiration spotless souls have consecrated their chastity to Christ, preachers have stirred sinners to lifelong penitence, and showers of Pentecostal grace have flowed down on men. May this hymn find new echo within each Catholic soul today! Veni, Creator Spiritus! May the advent of the Spirit awaken us to the joyous consciousness that He is come indeed, and that He. is abiding within us, never more to depart until in heaven our eyes shall open to gaze eternally upon His uncovered Face!

Epilogue – The Unconverted World

Differ as we may in our estimates of the Catholic Church, all agree that the work she calls her own, the task which she claims was set before her by Christ, is still unaccomplished. Twenty centuries have been lived through, and as yet mankind has not been brought together into the one fold under the one shepherd. Nor can a condition so puzzling to the Catholic be explained by alleging that outside the pale ‘there are to be found only such as sin against the light. Scholar and saint alike affirm that many a man lives and dies honest but unbelieving. Indeed, there are daily instances of persons above the average in intelligence, and beyond reproach in morals, who remain utterly unmoved by able presentations of Catholic doctrine. We, who behold the Church’s appeal falling thus ineffectual, are able to attach blame neither to these who listen nor to those who preach.

To some observers this situation presents a serious difficulty. They feel driven to choose between the alternatives of a very ugly dilemma. The Church’s failure to win over all honest minds seems to imply either that Catholicism holds no sufficient credentials of its divine origin, or else that some souls have been left by God without the practical ability of arriving at religious truth. In either event the conscience grows uneasy at the suggestion that God’s doing is inconsistent with His planning – since one may not take refuge in the principle of indifferentism and suppose that people outside the Church are provided with as many spiritual helps as God permits Catholics to enjoy.

For more than one reason this difficulty deserves attention. First, although dim and unreal to many Catholics, it becomes to others a source of acute annoyance, wearing the look of a mere gratuitous trial of faith and calling for the surrender of that most sustaining of all religious beliefs, the conviction that to those who love God all things work together for good. Again, not a few outside the fold would find progress far easier, perhaps, if the painful burden of this new doubt could be lifted from souls already too heavily laden.

True, the puzzle cannot be completely disentangled, for its deeper roots run back into that ultimate mystery, the problem of evil. As we shall never know exactly why a race incapable of sin could not have brought glory to God as well as – or, rather, far more economically than – the actual creation, so we shall never discover the true reason why God’s Kingdom, the Church, is not co-extensive with His kingdom, the world. Yet, although convinced beforehand that we shall have to leave our riddle half unsolved, we may look to wrest from the study of it at least something which will make the situation less uncomfortable.

Seeking for the motives which may prompt an honest mind to hold out against the Church’s claims, we find that most of the really redoubtable objections can be reduced to one or other variation of the charge: “The Catholic Church is not as holy as the Church of God should be.” This plea, it is clear, assumes the existence of some lofty standard of moral excellence, to which the Church of God must conform. The assumption is indisputably sound, since the voice of any universal instinct calls for recognition with a sort of divine right. With unerring confidence men declare that such an institution as the Catholic Church professes to be, should stand forth the noblest object in creation, a being holy with the holiness of God, an organism endowed with the characteristics proper to the mystical body of Christ, a bride without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. When these demands are made concrete, we find they amount to this: men demand that a divinely framed society should be far more heaven-like in appearance than critical inquirers or sensitive believers will assert the Catholic Church to be, here and now in the world of reality.

In asserting that Catholicism, if it originates from God, should in certain respects be other than it is, men are right. So it should. As divine, it should elect for itself vessels of irreproachable holiness; its pontiffs should be an uninterrupted line of saints, its bishops models of perfection, its priesthood spotless; the Catholic laity should be burnished mirrors of God’s sanctity; recrimination, self-seeking, division should be unknown; never should a sacrament or a devotion be aught else than the clasping of God by a human soul; simony, sacrilege, nepotism, canonical trial, should be terms uncoined. Since in the divine idea the Church possesses the characteristics above enumerated, and since the divine idea itself begets the obligation of conforming to it, any departure from this in actual history implies the existence of what should not be, of what, by its very presence, justifies the charge that something is wrong and some one at fault.

The human mind, then, rightly postulates an obligation on the part of the Church to be more like God’s ideal, to be more convincingly divine than Catholicism actually is. About the validity of such an assumption we make no question. The staunchest apologist must concede a vast difference between the ideal and the actual, a striking deficiency in what is, as compared with what ought to be. The one point for discussion is this: does the existing discrepancy imply an essential, and therefore irreconcilable, difference between historical Catholicism and the divine ideal made known through the God-given instincts of the soul.

In the light of pure a priori speculation, we might perhaps be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But after carefully analyzing the instincts involved, and recalling how frequently and how significantly other like anticipations have been corrected by experience, we shall probably be led to conclude that the historical shortcomings of Catholicism, so far from being inconsistent with a claim to divine origin, present an exact analogy to conditions generally prevalent in the world. Everywhere we find reality marred in the making; everywhere creatures fall short of their innate possibilities; everywhere the absence of such symmetry and integrity as must necessarily have been included in a divine plan seems to belie the heavenly parentage of things. Wherever God’s design has been entrusted to man for fulfilment, wherever human co-operation has been required as an element in the establishment of harmony, there perfection is wanting. Surely all this is as truly a disappointment to heaven-born anticipation, as is the discovery that the Church appears to live a human rather than a divine life. Deep instincts have bidden us presume that every being which issues from the bosom of God will be good and beautiful and true. In the inanimate, as in the living, and again in the spiritual order, we look for this – our expectancy resting upon a principle quite axiomatic in theistic philosophy. Yet what is more painfully evident than the fact that the universe is not all good, not all beautiful, not all orderly? And from this what other inference can be drawn than that the visible world, though absolutely dependent on God, has been interfered with and partly spoiled by the action of wills not controlled by the divine will; that it has been defaced by creatures endowed with the amazing prerogative of opposing and, to some extent, thwarting the divine intention and foiling the divine plan.

We find God-given potencies checked and stunted, and the currents of life turned into channels of destruction and death. For order we see substituted a chaotic flux of things out of which, in the progress of history, harmony must be again evolved tediously and laboriously, if at all – and, it may be, imperfectly, even at best. The most childlike trust in the excellence of “the final goal of ill” cannot blind us to this. Is there any lack of evidence to prove an evil influence at work in the world? Can this universe be identically what God planned it to be, the exact realization of a perfect ideal? Are divine wisdom and goodness adequately manifested by the correspondence obtaining between what does and what should exist? The thought is inconceivable. Who can accept it as part of the creative purpose that the instincts of the human heart should beget such sins as are written all over the pages of history? Who can believe that God’s will is responsible for the horrors which leave their awful record in city slum and Turk-ravaged village, in the torture-room, the leper-island, and the Oriental harem? As surely as the Almighty Being Who rules creation is wise and good, so surely does the world about us fail to reproduce His archetypal ideas, to fulfill His will.

“I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields;
But in His ways with men I find Him not.”

These facts, so obvious and easy of belief when secular affairs are in question, prepare us for a similar experience when attention is turned to the religious condition of mankind. In no-wise then should we be astonished, if we find that the Church of God has suffered from the action of man’s imperfect mind and fickle will; that the human element in Catholicism is not convincingly divine; that the mystical body of Christ shines less brightly when material vestments have wrapped it round. In other words, we are ready to view, with more or less equanimity, the spectacle of a Church divinely founded, and yet somewhat obscured in those prerogatives which normally belong to institutions that are of God.

As she comes from the hands of the All-Wise and All-Holy, the Church must possess a beauty and goodness transcending human powers of comprehension. She, the representative and delegate of the Deity, the Bride of the Lamb, the Mystical Body of Christ, must spring into being, pure of blemish or defect, radiant with beauty, holy with an evident holiness that bespeaks divinity. Within she must possess the potency of a growth that will be merely the progressive unfolding of limitless loveliness and sanctity. No attribute and no circumstance attending her advent can impress the mind as inconsistent with divinity. Every intelligence that grasps the meaning of her native characteristics must perceive the evidence of a divine source of the life within her.

Let us suppose the Church thus plainly divine at the beginning. Then commenced her human history; and tor nineteen centuries she has been submitted to all the torment and humiliation that demon-like men chose to inflict upon her – even as her Founder had previously been put at the mercy of Roman and of Jew. Needless to say, during certain epochs in this history, faith itself has been staggered at the extent and depth and persistence of unholiness in the body of the Church; at the venality, the cruelty, the filthiness, and the hypocrisy of those who, if Catholicism is divine, were holding the keys of the kingdom of heaven as dispensers of God’s graces to the souls of men.

This infidelity on the part of the human element has profoundly affected the self-evidence of the Church’s claims. Her growth has not been an uninterrupted advance along the lines designed. She, too, has had her Betrayal and her Passion; and the outcome of her agony, like that of her Master’s, has been an external defilement and disfigurement such as keen-eyed faith alone could disregard. And as for the powers that rule the world, they have welcomed her much as they welcomed her Master. Her face was set against them, and they did their worst to bring her low. She has been in the thick of a lasting and almost hopeless struggle with the mightiest forces in the kingdom of evil, with the lust of the flesh and the craze of power and the accursed greed of gold.

Little wonder that her look is altered, since foes have been so stubborn, since children have so often fallen away. Little wonder that as she emerges into view from out the shadows of the ages, nothing is plainer on her brow than the marks of conflict, nothing more evident than that no Church could come from the hand of God in such a guise. She is stained with the blood that treason has spilled. Around her, cloud-like, is the smoke of battle – a battle that should never have been, a battle provoked by man’s evil will, a battle waged with relentless hatred and no little power. So we find the truth of Catholicism now obscured, the loveliness of Catholicism defaced, the holiness of Catholicism soiled, by the doings of vicious enemies and unworthy children.

As truly as her Lord, she has shed her very life-blood for men; as truly as He, has she been humiliated and left at times without beauty or comeliness. The splendid evidence of heavenly birth, which might so easily have been detected as she stepped across the threshold of history, now, at the end of nineteen centuries of struggle, is replaced by a dimmer testimony, intelligible to none save the few who realize that to bear thus long the brunt of shock from world and flesh and devil, means to be strong with the strength of God. Only those few understand that nothing merely human could have defied or escaped the forces arrayed against the Church. To these penetrating minds the analogy of history suggests the probability of just such a condition as that which troubles and disturbs the confidence of men less wise – the condition, namely, of a Church facing a world which, with great show of logical right, demands that further credentials be forthcoming ere allegiance be rendered. In a word, the inconsistency between what God’s Church should be and what the Catholic Church is, ceases to appear like a new or surprising problem, and becomes to the reflective student merely another aspect of the ancient riddle that has baffled men since first they began to think:

“Ah, me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would?”

The answer – if answer there be at all – is that in truth “a lesser god” has, by sin and selfishness, tried to re-make the world, and now is startled at the ruin he has wrought – almost convinced, let us hope, that Nature is greater than man, and that man had best give up the attempt to create a new heaven and a new earth.

Supposing now that, as declared above, the Church’s testimony to her own claim has lost some of its cogency in consequence of her members having failed in duty, is there not something to be adduced also with regard to the weakened capacity of minds which examine that testimony? Undoubtedly! The human element in the Church – fallible, passible, changeable as it is – must, indeed, bear the responsibility of having obscured the evidences of Catholicism; yet the blame is to be shared by others, too. We may recall that objects grow dim not only when twilight comes, but also whenever one’s visual faculty is impaired. Similarly, a failure to recognize the Church’s claims may be traceable in part to some sort of astigmatism, as well as to the existence of ecclesiastical imperfections.

Long ago the principle was established that isolated reasoning leads no man to the truths necessary for the wise conduct of life; or, rather, that it is altogether impossible for a human being to employ isolated reasoning and to proceed by strictly logical processes in the formation of opinions. To the construction of a man’s philosophy – and no man lacks one – his whole nature contributes. Inherited tendencies, acquired habits, instinct and emotions, whether developed or repressed, each in its measure takes part, as the will also does, in the laborious search for knowledge. Noble and upright conduct ranks among the chief elements of success in such a quest; and the man of symmetrical character, pure affections, and lofty purpose is far better adapted than a reasoning machine would be to attain to notions fairly representative of objective realities. The most hopeless and helpless of all errors is that which proposes to reject whatever transcends the containing capacity of a demonstrative syllogism. This holds true as well in religion as in other fields. Qui facit veritatem venit ad lucem – which is as if to say: “Men’s chances of properly estimating the claims of God’s revelation will be in some sort proportioned to their virtue.”

What, then, shall be expected of a race which, though originally sound, has culpably lost its integrity? Should we wonder if in the pursuit of truth it is halting and unsuccessful – more unsuccessful than one can reasonably suppose God designed it to be? By no means. That sin is possible at all, may be mysterious enough to engage minds in an eternity of speculation. That men who have violated natural law are mentally in a wretched plight, that sinners stumble and err in doctrine, will scarcely present a new difficulty. It would reflect no discredit on an inventor, and cause no astonishment, if his delicate machine proved to be unworkable when choked with sand or rusted. No more is God’s wisdom questionable because, ever since sin undertook the ruling of the universe, discord has disputed the sovereignty of order and law.

Sin introduced a foreign element sure to disturb equilibrium. The constitution of things was shattered, the perfect balance lost; and the human soul henceforward corresponded to objective realities in a less adequate way than that which of necessity had obtained so long as man was the unspoiled creature of God. The sad mistake which rendered the spirit unholy, left it blinded as well. Both these injuries, by an inevitable fatality, spread infinitely far and laid hold of every being related to the primal transgressors and involved in the original curse. As sin had tainted humanity at the very source, the infection extended to each new member of the race; it injected poison into blood and brain and nerve; it distorted the emotional nature; it unhinged the will; it dulled perception and deadened conscience; and in each of these ways it struck hard at man’s power to estimate the value of evidence and to attain to truth.

Moreover, in virtue of the solidarity which makes it impossible that a man should live – or die – unto himself alone, our search for truth is affected not only by the original race-sin inherited by us, but also by individual sins of ancestors, of neighbors, and of the vast millions under whose influence, at whatever distance of time or space, each one of us must fall.

Again, our native ability is further lessened by our own past personal sins, little and great, which have aggravated infirmities derived of inheritance or contagion. There are some points we cannot attempt to explain. Why God chose that the human will should be free, and that all men should spring of a single stock and be born blood kindred, it is hard to say. What laws control the communion of goods and how God interferes in behalf of a creature inextricably tangled in the meshes of wickedness, are questions difficult to answer. But one thing does seem to be clear: that the actual state of things is, on the whole, not inconsistent with the teachings of Catholic faith, and cannot be said to imply an unjust equipment of man by God: By some necessity virtue renders the soul more capable of arriving at truth, and vice, contrariwise, makes it less capable. Small reason for amazement, then, that a race and a generation as sinful as – with all its virtues – our own appears to be, should stray and stumble in its progress; small wonder if many a one born with a right to freedom and truth dies a bondsman of error.

The preceding considerations seem to possess a value over and above their possible efficacy to relieve the pain of an awakened doubt. They tend, namely, to throw us back on the world of action for a means of lessening our difficulty still further. What has been said reminds us most emphatically that, in determining the practical success or failure of a religious propaganda, conduct acquires an importance far greater than the mere logic of the situation demands. In the measure that observers are known to be affected by the moral bearing of an apostle, in that same measure must behavior rise in significance as a test of the apostolic vocation. If conduct weighs heavier than eloquence or learning in the unbelievers’ balance, then nobility of life rather than precision of speech is the greater qualification of the propagandist.

The moral worth of Catholicism, its power to better lives, the embodiment of sublime ideals in the persons of its representatives – these are the facts that will preach best to the unconverted world; and they are facts, too, over which we can best exercise control. Nothing is more absolutely within a man’s own power of determination than his goodness or badness of life; and it behooves us to realize how strongly this same goodness or badness tells on the critical minds outside the Church. Each of us, willingly or unwillingly, is always gathering or scattering, standing with Christ or against Him, laboring as a missionary of the gospel or as a promoter of the kingdom of evil. The less sin thrives among us and the rarer selfishness becomes, the farther and the more triumphantly will fare the banner of our faith. Hence, in a very potent way, the laity can realize the missionary vocation, not alone by explaining doctrine, distributing literature, encouraging attendance at service, and incessantly praying for conversions; but, with equal truth, by resisting temptation, by striving for holiness, by spurning the solicitations of evil. Each earnest effort to progress spiritually, is less like a blow struck in a private quarrel, than like an impulse which ripples out in ever-widening circles to spread knowledge and love of God as far as the very boundaries of human kind.

That our behavior counts for much is true of the mass and outline of our conduct; it is true of the fine shadings, too. Not merely the observance of the graver precepts, but also the cultivation of sublime ideals and the widespread ambition of heroic virtue, enter as integral elements into the constitution of the Christian character. As Catholics we are of necessity missionaries, and as missionaries we are bound to aspire to moral nobleness, just as our leaders in turn are bound and irrevocably consecrated to the pursuit of perfection by the acceptance of a vocation which implies that they have been wrapped round with a sacred flame from heaven. What further condemnation is needed of that degenerate philosophy which, under cover of the laborare est orare axiom, would make the one concern of the priesthood to be ceaseless activity? – as if external labors alone could suffice for the culture of the spirit, and as if men would not surely regard as spurious a religious system whose advocates lack the halo ever crowning true messengers of God.

Therefore, such as have been personally ordained to preach Catholic truth must take careful account of the instincts which prejudice men in favor of teachings that are lived as well as preached. Illogically, perhaps, but at any rate efficaciously, holiness of life attracts the earnest seekers after sound doctrine. Conduct rather than rhetoric, then, will be examined at the final court of inquiry; and only on condition that one has edified even those who knew him best, can he be rewarded as a faithful apostle. So a priest’s trust is never adequately discharged while any possible measure of perfection remains unattempted.

And, as with the priest, so with the people – in whom Catholic doctrine must always glow with its proper accompaniments of beauty and holiness. What could be more reasonable? Surely the man or the society favored with a divine revelation should be proportionately superior to others less favored. In honesty, frankness, prudence, bravery, independence, industry, tenderness, generosity; breadth, tolerance, refinement, learning – in these and in all other good qualities, the children of the faith, compared with others, may fairly enough be required to prove themselves more perfect, to seem better images of that type upon which the Creator modeled man, like which He intended and commanded and has helped him to be.

Finally, another inference! It would seem evident from what has been said that the work of converting souls must include the attempt to exert over them other influences besides those which tend to draw them directly toward the Church.

The unbelieving not only have to be introduced to Catholic doctrine; they must also be given new power to see it. Since virtuous living is a condition of keen vision, the apostle should devote no little attention to the moral improvement of those outside the fold. It well becomes a missionary, therefore, to diffuse among the people at large those spiritual agencies which the Church has used so successfully in the perfecting of her own children ever since her work began. Catholic asceticism includes more than one principle which may very properly and very effectively be recommended to men for whom as yet there is shining no brighter light than the ethical ideal, or to those for whom as yet Catholicism is simply one of many legitimate forms. of Christianity. Those great means of spiritual development which have been sanctioned by the Church’s authority. and immortalized in the practice of her saints, will prove, many of them, to be far from repugnant and anything but useless in the educating of souls without the law. Meditation and mortification are instances in point.

Be it noted at the same time that whatever is good in the native tendencies and whatever is elevating in the religious practices of non-Catholics, may help immensely in the work of preparing minds for the truths of faith. Nor are forces of even the merely human sort beneath the notice of the missionary, whose broad and tolerant sympathy should rest upon the principle that men cannot truly rise at all without rising nearer God. It is in this sense a really apostolic work to teach the multitudes high ideals of citizenship to advocate on its own merits deep reverence for law and public trust, to inculcate sentiments of decency, humanity, temperance, justice – in a word, to assist the unconverted world to rise higher in its own order and by its own way. Not alone in the interests of a prospective proselyte, but for the uplifting of the whole unlovely and unregenerated mass we have to strive. To the profligate and the wanton and the tramp we are, indeed, debtors; and, if only to render these less brutal and more human, the lives of our bravest and fairest should be offered up unflinchingly.

Timid Christians may quail as the magnitude of this mission looms up, and may hesitate when they are asked to believe that on no easier conditions can the apostolic vocation be fully realized; yet hope will hardly abandon such as have pondered the end and purpose of it all. These can conceive of no task too big to attempt. “To attempt,” we say; because “to accomplish” is of secondary moment. Not to accomplish, but to strive and to persevere in striving, is the purpose for which we were sent into the world. On no soul can be laid a heavier burden. Issues and outcomes are in the hands of God, to be determined by other influences besides those which we control; but as for labor, that is our contribution – wholly ours – to give or to withhold, as we choose. Once we understand what God wants, those of us who are truly His own, will go heartily to our work, however hopeless of accomplishment it seem. When at last the day is done – whether apparently it has been spent well or vainly – we shall see with a clearness unattainable in the stress of toiling, that God’s dearest wish was one with our highest happiness, and that somehow neither could have been realized in any other circumstances than those which it was our blessed privilege to accept and utilize.

About This EBook

The text of this ebook was taken from the book The Sacrament of Duty, by Father Joseph McSorley, C.S.P. The version used was the 3rd edition published by The Paulist Press in New York, New York in 1917.

It has the Nihil obstat of Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, Censor Deputatus, and the Imprimatur of Cardinal John Murphy Farley, Archdiocese of New York, New York.

It has the dedication “to My Mother”.

The cover image a detail from a lidless Roman sacrophagus, c.350, artist unknown. The original is in the Museo Pio Christiano in Vatican City, Rome, Italy, it was photographed by Jastrow in 2006, and the image was swiped from Wikimedia Commons.