Author: Bishop John Cuthbert Hedley, O.S.B.

Source: A Bishop And His Flock

The Catholic community a people apart, and ought to be closely drawn together — Catholics should help one another, should promote the Kingdom of God by combination and organisation, for missionary and public purposes — Catholic Associations.

As you will remember, the grand lesson taught by St. Paul in the Epistle read on Quinquagesima Sunday (1 Cor. 13:1 etc) is the lesson of Charity. That august word means the twofold Love, without which no human being can obtain everlasting life — the love of God and the love of our fellow-men. On this wide subject there is much to be said; but our purpose on the present occasion is to address you on one only of the many issues that are raised in practical life by the great commandment of Love.

At the present day, Catholics, nearly all the world over, are a people apart. They live surrounded by a multitude more numerous than themselves, which is generally hostile to them, and which, at the best, is out of sympathy with their faith and indifferent to their aspirations. It should not be so. The religion of Jesus Christ — which Catholicism alone adequately presents to the world — is intended to take possession of every heart, to influence all the actions of men, and to be the grand rule and arbiter in all the world’s concerns, whether public or private, whether social, commercial, or political.

At a few epochs and in a few countries this ideal has been more or less consolingly realised. But there is now, probably, not a corner of the earth’s surface where Jesus Christ truly reigns with that complete acceptance and that paramount influence to which He has so just a claim. That claim, it is true, contemplates “a Kingdom that is not of this world.” That is to say, the rule of Christ does not constitute kings, or assemble parliaments; it does not raise armies or distribute earthly justice. But its rights over the rulers and the laws of this world, though not direct, but indirect, are paramount. It lays down canons which may not be contravened; it reveals ends and aims which all earthly work and speech must admit and respect; and it enforces on the world the great and immutable code of Christian morality, which, with ever-living voice, it applies in just measure and degree to the varying needs, views, and customs of every region, and the changing circumstances of every generation.

The Catholic community thus surrounded, as it everywhere is, by hostility, by contempt, and by indifference, and inconsiderable as its numbers are in countries like this, is, or ought to be, a community which, in the sense explained, acknowledges Christ as its King. Whatever be the laws, the manners, the progress, or the practice of the world at large, the Catholic must recognise a higher law and a more imperative duty. For this he is bound to be ready to make all needful sacrifices; to renounce, to bear, and to suffer; and to incur, moreover, the condemnation or the anger of the surrounding world. When his worship, his sacraments, and the divine organisation of his Church, are assailed by word or act, he must summon his manhood and his intelligence to take up their defence. When he is offered the bribe of worldly advantage to become a renegade or a disloyal Catholic, he must remember the words of his Master, and never, by denying Him before men, incur the danger of being denied by Him in the Kingdom of His Father. Above all, he must follow the banner of his King — the banner on which are inscribed the words of justice, sobriety, purity, honesty, and brotherly love — and never forget that, if all men are bound to lead moral and upright lives, then a Catholic is doubly bound, becauses he professes to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

If a community lives up, even inadequately, to such an ideal as this, there follows the consequence that such a community is not only marked off and distinguished from the Godless multitude around, but also that it grows to be closely and affectionately drawn together in itself. Its members all recognise one Heavenly Father; and although all peoples, tribes, and sects, especially those who believe in Christ, must, under all circumstances, remain children of that Heavenly Father as long as mortal life lasts and probation continues, yet the Catholic idea of God — or rather the Catholic faith in God — is so definite, so full, and so effective, that it constitutes a bond of union the most real, the most intimate, and the most persistent.

Views of God, as we find them around us, are vague and shadowy; views of the Incarnation are incomplete or false. But the Catholic believes in a Creator, who is also the absolutely good and the absolutely just; who loves and cares for each individual human being in the genuine and intelligible sense of those words, and who, nevertheless, will judge every man with strictness, and will reward or punish him as he shall deserve. The Catholic believes that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh true — God and true Man, to be worshipped, studied, imitated, followed, and loved by men. This living and lively faith makes one family, one household of us all. We may be strangers to each other in race, in tongue, in class; but not one of these differences can really prevail against the sympathy which springs from our union in God and in Christ. Having the same Father and Lord, the same last end, immortal souls of the same complexion, and the same road to travel, we find ourselves gathered into the same earthly fold, looking up to the same pastors, and accustomed to assemble round the same sacramental Altar and table.

How is it possible, then, that we should not feel that every Catholic, by the very fact that he is a Catholic, is an acquaintance, a neighbour, a friend, a brother? Certainly, it is only those Catholics who think more of the earthly and the temporal than of the Divine things that will never pass away, who can look upon their fellow-Catholics as aliens. The man whose heart is not warm and open to the children of his own Father in Heaven, must be a man who heeds his Father but slightly, and values but little that which is his true home.

Many practical consequences follow from considerations like these. First of all, there should be among Catholics a marked spirit of mutual forbearance, allowance, and friendly help. Misunderstandings should be avoided, or promptly set right. No man should believe evil of a fellow-Catholic on mere hearsay, or on any such insufficient grounds as men are generally content with. Neighbour should try to understand neighbour, family to understand family, and the well-to-do and the poor, who worship at the same altar, should resolutely cast out of their hearts all mutual bitterness, jealousy, and evil judgment. We would go so far as to say that Catholics should associate with Catholics and deal with Catholics, whenever it is possible. The Catholic householder should try to have Catholic servants; in spite of constant disappointment and of extra trouble, a master or mistress must never forget that there are few forms of brotherly love more meritorious than to afford to young men and women the protection and example of a Catholic home. “As long as you have done it to one of these, you have done it to Me.”

Catholics should encourage Catholic tradesmen. This, it may be admitted, is not always possible, and is sometimes more or less inconvenient. But it is certainly an apostolic precept. “Let us work good,” says St. Paul (Gal. 6:10), “towards all men, but most of all towards those who are of the household of the faith.” No Catholic who has any influence, position, or opportunity, should neglect to forward the interests of Catholics who are seeking situations, looking for employment, or struggling to make a living. To push forward those who were unfit, would, it is needless to say, be wrong, and often unjust to others. But men and women who are in earnest in imitating their Saviour’s compassion, will not shrink from the trouble that is involved in helping the needy and yet doing no injury thereby to any man.

A second consequence that results from our belonging to the Catholic Church, is the duty of being zealous for that Kingdom of God which that Church embodies and carries on. The laity, as you need not be informed, are bound to interest themselves in the means of promoting God’s glory, forwarding the interests of our Saviour’s passion, and saving the souls for whom He died. These things are not by any means exclusively the business of the priest. If a church is wanted, it is the flock, as well as the priest, who are responsible to Almighty God. It is the business of the flock, each man or woman in his or her degree, to help on the Elementary School by contributing, by seeing that every child attends, and sometimes by sharing in the management and the collecting. Provision for orphans, for workhouse children, and for youthful offenders, is of the most absolute necessity, if the Kingdom of God is not to suffer heavy loss. Yet how few Catholics there are who show themselves anxious to lessen the anxieties of the Bishop by contributing to our Poor Law Schools, by watching the police courts when Catholic children are dealt with, by uniting in efforts to rescue our homeless or neglected boys and girls, and by providing refuges or homes in our large towns for those who are continually drifting into non-Catholic institutions or Salvation Army shelters, and are mostly lost to their holy faith. No one can be a thorough Catholic who is not animated with this zeal for souls, and ready to make sacrifices in the cause of the great Shepherd of souls. To wrap one’s self up in one’s money-making, in one’s family, in one’s comforts, taking no share in saving the souls of the children of poverty, is to be a poor and contemptible Catholic. And no toiling man or woman, however hard he or she may have to work, will ever be any the worse, even temporally, for sacrificing a little time, or a shilling or two occasionally, for such good purposes as the Church pleads for.

Besides this kind of co-operation in missionary and rescue work, there is another kind, which is becoming more and more needful every day. It is necessary for Catholics to combine for public purposes. Politics, in the usual modern sense of that word, the Church does not meddle with. Bishops and priests, who have a right, like other men, to their views and their opinions, are laudably anxious, like St. Paul, to suppress their political sentiment whenever there is any danger of scandalising or dividing a flock which cannot or will not distinguish between the priest and the citizen. Besides, however lawful and laudable political activity may be, it is rightly considered that a priest should not imperil his sacred character by descending into the arena, nor risk the neglect of his professional duties by occupying himself too much with secular matters.

This feeling, however, must not be exaggerated. There are many subjects which touch politics on one side, but which, on the other, intimately affect that faith and morality which it is the Church’s office to uphold; such as freedom of worship, civil disabilities arising from religion, primary and secondary education, proselytism in public institutions, and the various injustices of the civil law in a non-Catholic country. Whenever the Church can prudently intervene in questions like these, she has no hesitation whatever in doing so. And in this she has a right to the intelligent and willing support of the whole flock. Whether the matter be one which concerns the universal Church, as, for example, the civil independence of the Sovereign Pontiff, or a whole country, like the education question in Ireland and in England, or some particular town and district, like the children’s peril among ourselves, no Catholic can remain indifferent or stand aloof, but all are bound to do their part by speech, by work, and by sacrifice. We are a small community. But by intelligent combination we can make our influence felt. Such combination, therefore, becomes a duty.

But combination, to be effective, depends upon three conditions.

First, there must be a genuine and intelligent Union among us. Most of the questions on which Catholic combination is required do not admit of discussion. They are settled, even in their details, by principles of the Divine Law, which it is the business of the Bishops of the Catholic Church to interpret and apply. It is the duty of all intelligent Catholics to make themselves acquainted with the decisions and pronouncements of the Sovereign Pontiff, and of the Bishops, on the practical questions of the day, and to put themselves in a position to take them up, not merely with sleepy acquiescence, but with knowledge and with heartiness. If there are occasions, in a town or district, where discussion is needful or convenient, there should be discussion. It should be discussion which does not end in empty talk, but in a practical decision, and in that suppression of individual views and feelings without which there can be no real working union, and therefore no effective combination.

The second condition of Catholic combination is Organisation. Good intentions and sound views are most praiseworthy, but they are of little use without organisation. A man can only make a powerful engine or machine by carefully fitting part to part; the various parts, as long as they lie scattered on the ground, are inert, powerless, and dead; join them together, with skilled brain and practised hand, and you may move or make whatever you please. Organisation means first the preparation of the units, then the bringing them together, and thirdly, the working of the machine. Practically, in our towns, it means the multiplication of the Catholic voter and the bringing him to the vote. This implies registration; it implies committees, meetings, and the use of the press; and it means extra hard work at elections and other critical moments. The most effective way to secure strong Catholic organisation, not only for voting purposes, but for general Catholic mission, rescue, and social work, is to form, in all our principal centres, a Catholic Association, such as exists in several towns. But such an association cannot be imposed upon the flock by the clergy. If the laity do not initiate such things — and it is certain that a Catholic Association is not everywhere possible — they may be started, but they will speedily languish and die.

The third condition of Catholic combination is, that Catholics be prepared to sink their differences, for the sake of agreement on what is more momentous. The Catholic Church has nothing to say to what is ordinarily called political action, as long as it stops short of law-breaking, sedition, or rebellion, all of which are deadly sins. Every Catholic must sympathise with constitutional efforts to break down Protestant ascendency in Ireland. But Catholics in this country would be doing a service to the religion of Jesus Christ if they would resolve never to allow any cause to make them neglect the contest for faith and religious freedom going on in the country where they live. There can be no reason why political activity should paralyse religious co-operation.

These practical demonstrations of fraternal attachment and loving help to our fellow-Catholics are a part of the seriousness of life. It is only the negligent, the thoughtless, the frivolous, or the abandoned, who will neglect them. They tend towards the realisation of that ideal of peace, unity, and co-operation, which Our Blessed Lord prayed for, and which His Apostles preached without ceasing. They show that men who boast of being Catholics are Catholics in reality for Our Lord has said, “He that is not with Me, is against Me” (St. Matthew 12:30).

Let us all seriously reflect whether there is not the danger that by our indifference, our fastidiousness, or our prejudices, we are actually living in a state of disloyalty to our only Lord and King.