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

Source: A Bishop And His Flock

If we love God, we must be zealous for the souls of men - Love of our neighbour a test of our love of God - Especially are we bound to try to give spiritual help - The October prayers - Catholicism without zeal for souls sure to decay - Letter of Pope Leo XIII to the English - What Union means - All should cooperate in bringing about Union : by a Catholic’s own unworldly life, by being prepared to give information, and by public and private prayer.

Among the duties of believers there is one which is far too generally neglected. It is the duty of trying to make converts ; the duty of imparting to others that holy faith which we are so happy as to enjoy ourselves. This responsibility no doubt affects the Clergy in a different degree from the Laity, and in a different way. But it is a very grave mistake to suppose that we are not, every one of us, bound to labour, each in his own sphere, for the conversion of the non-Catholics who surround us on every side.

The law of the love of our neighbour is one which is called by our Blessed Saviour a " New Commandment,” because He has made it a marked feature of the New Covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ requires from men and women greater nearness to God than the ancient law ; and a deeper, a more searching, and a more tender love of one another was necessary in order to ensure, and to test, a deeper, a more exact, and a more heartfelt love of God.

But the substance of the commandment was as old as the creation of man. It is one of those dictates of nature written on our consciences by the finger of the God Who made us. We have only to look and we can read it ; we have only to make the simplest of reflections and it becomes luminous to our reason. We are bound to love our neighbour because we are bound to love God. We are bound to love God, because our souls are His creation. They are made to His image, with immortal longings to satisfy, and eternity to live through, and are therefore utterly unable to hope for rest or happiness unless they attain to the final possession of Him.

Now, as He has made our souls, so He has made the souls of all mankind. If we are bound to turn to Him, so are they. As He is jealous of us, so He is jealous of all. As He wills that we be saved, so He wills that all be saved. As He has made Himself the Father, the Friend, the Saviour, and the Shepherd of my individual soul, so has He done to every soul of all the generations of men. In this divine wish, in this most beneficent counsel, our duty is to second our Lord and Master. His zeal for the saving of souls must be the pattern for our imitation. If we love Him, we must work for Him and work with Him. No one can truly have given his heart to his Divine Lord if he is not ardent and eager to gather in for that Supreme Master of the household the harvest which He so longs to see secure in the courts of the heavenly kingdom.

This law of the love of one another, whose springs are so deep within us, and whose streams have been so solemnly consecrated by Jesus Christ, covers the whole of this universe which man inhabits. Few men or women - we may truly say none - can avoid the influence of other men and women. We all have neighbours ; and our neighbours may help us to bliss and happiness, or they may sink us to everlasting ruin. Each of us has the responsibility of the souls which are near him. Our words and example, our acts and omissions, must influence, for good or for evil, all who cross our path. If we are not with Christ, we are against Him ; if we do not gather, we scatter. There is no escape from the law of brotherly love.

Moreover, as has been said, our love of our neighbour is a test of our love of God. Every interior act must be tried by an outward test, if we would be sure that it is genuine. Love, worship, contrition these are acts of the heart, and there is abundant room for delusion in their exercise. To prove our love, we must keep the commandments. No sighs and tears, no bending of the knee or bowing of the head, no protestations or ejaculations, will avail before God unless we also do as He orders us. And let us observe that this proof or test is not required for Almighty God (Who can read our hearts), but for ourselves. Our human nature wants it in order to be sure that its interior emotions are genuine. Thus, God has proclaimed that He will take our behaviour to one another as a test of our dispositions towards Himself. True Christians understand this. They are not content with devout feelings, or with prayers said smoothly and comfortably ; they put down their prayer-books and come out and find the poor man ; they visit the house of want and of sickness ; they seek out the neglected child ; they put their hands in their pockets and help the missionary ; and if they feel they have to make an effort to do these duties of charity, they recognise how easily their religion might have been a sham, unless Christ had ordered them to minister to His little ones.

From these considerations it is easy to infer that the chief commandment of brotherly charity is to try to save our neighbours souls. Our Heavenly Father cares for souls, and (in a certain sense) for souls alone. If He can finally gather these precious souls safe into His heavenly country, what else is of any consequence ? It is true that we must feed the hungry and minister to the distressed. These are clear and stringent duties, binding upon all according to circumstances. Such material charity, indeed, is often the first thing to attend to, because you cannot do much good to the soul of a man who is starving, nor can you organise spiritual efforts in the face of misery and destitution. But in proportion as the immortal soul is more precious than the body, so is the charity which labours for the soul more urgent and more pleasing to Almighty God than that which stops short at the wants of the body.

This is an age of beneficence and of philanthropy ; but we are in danger of forgetting what kind of charity is the truest beneficence and the most genuine philanthropy. Those who are outside the Church’s fold naturally let alone the works of mercy spiritual ; they are too ill-informed, too indifferent, or at least too uncertain in matters of religion, to help their neighbours in the way that a Christian should be helped. But for us there should be no excuse. All Catholics know that the way to salvation lies through Christ’s Word and Christ’s Sacraments. When we think of the thousands round about us, who, by an inscrutable judgment of God, are living without adequate Faith, without knowing how to repent of their sins, without the Blessed Sacrament, we must surely, unless we are very poor creatures indeed, be filled with serious thoughts. These non-Catholics are our neighbours ; many of them are intimate with us ; many are probably among our valued and dear friends. There are men and women of fine natural dispositions, religiously disposed, and not afraid of self-denial and of sacrifice.

There are troops of little children, taught in most instances to know the name of Christ, only wanting further definite teaching and the sacraments to secure their final perseverance. All these souls cry out to us for help. Priests and people are answerable to God for them. The priest knows this too well ; and whilst he offers prayer and sacrifice, whilst he exhorts, and spends himself, his life is saddened and darkened by the knowledge that the fruit of all his efforts is so small. But let us take courage, my brethren in the priesthood. Whatever seed is sown must come up. No prayer or apostolic act can possibly be thrown away. Continue to sacrifice, continue to pray. Cease not to explain, with reverent and careful study, the saving word of God. Seek out the well-disposed, as occasion may offer ; let zeal teach you a divine skill in attracting the inquirer ; remain at your post unwearied, that none who venture near may ever go back empty. For God counteth all your steps, and the bread which you have thrown on the waters will come back to you. We are not bound to make converts, but we are bound to labour for conversions.

The laity - the members of the flock in general - are bound, on their part, to prayer, and to the contribution of labour and money, according to their means. Regular prayer for the conversion of the country is a duty on all. At the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on the second Sunday of every month, it is the wish of the Bishops that special intentions and prayers should be offered for this holy purpose. We should also pray in particular for our immediate friends and neighbours. Without annoying them, or making religion ridiculous, we should take opportunities of explaining Catholic teaching and Catholic rites - and for this purpose we should be well-informed and fully instructed ourselves - we should be ready to lend books, and we should promote attendance at Church ; for the mere presence of the Blessed Sacrament often touches the heart with irresistible grace. Finally, we should in all things lead such a Christian and edifying life as to preach Christ by our actions. The devout man preaches Christ ; the sober and temperate man preaches Christ ; the honest, the chaste, the Churchgoing, the pure of speech these are the apostles of our Saviour. This is an apostleship which requires no laying on of hands ; it is our Lord’s charge laid on every soul in virtue of that soul s relationship to the Lord Himself. The united prayer of the Catholic Church, ordered by Pope Leo XIII. for each month of October, is especially intended to bring about conversions. We should take up those prayers in the spirit of faith.

The faith of a Christian heart has much to contend with in the times in which we live. With every generation the world seems to grow more deadly. Like some of our marvellous modern machines, its speed and power are terrible ; its wheels go faster and faster, it fumes and flashes, it catches, crushes, and transforms, more and more effectively, and the ring and crash of its motion arrest our very senses. Faith, in such a noise and such a hurry as this, finds it difficult to make itself felt or heard. In simpler and less exacting times, Faith counted as one of the visible forces of the world. Now it seems to be overborne and drowned.

Perhaps this may explain, in some degree, why it is that it is so difficult in modern times to start or carry out a crusade. Faith cannot make itself heard. There are plenty of believers, and a good many practical Catholics ; but, like the raindrops on the hot sands of the desert, the aspirations of Faith disappear as they touch the earth ; no stream or rivulet is formed, no lake, no sea and the barren sands remain unchanged. There is no united Catholic effort. There are brave and loyal hearts, self-sacrificing hearts, spiritual-minded and devoted men and women. Here and there in a generation a few unite together and fight for Church or Pope, for good laws and Catholic liberty. But there has been nothing yet, in these latter generations, like a universal stirring up of the Catholic strength. If there had been, we should not now have to complain so bitterly that the Church is persecuted and the Sovereign Pontiff fettered.

But whilst we long and wait for a crusade - a crusade of such a kind as modern times demand - there is always one kind of associated effort which is within the bounds of present possibility. This is general and united prayer. Prayer requires no banners, no speeches, no meetings, no arms. Prayer can be made without braving opposition, encountering ridicule, spending money without any of those sacrifices which men of faith might make, but which the world makes it difficult for men to make just now. Prayer not only works many wonders on behalf of the kingdom of God at large, but it is the sanctification of each one’s individual soul. And whilst prayer is sure to be answered in some direction, it has the further inestimable effect of gradually strengthening Christian faith and Christian courage, so that when a call of a different kind may come from the throne of the Fisherman, Christians will be ready to answer that call with a loyalty and unanimity worthy of their numbers and their race.

The objects and purposes of the Holy Father in calling the flock to special prayer during October are sufficiently known to all, at least in their general outlines. They include specially the deliverance of the Holy See from imprisonment, and the checking of that sacrilegious encroachment of the State upon religion and education which we have to deplore in so many Christian countries. But with us, in England and Wales, there is one most pressing intention for which it cannot be doubted that the Sovereign Pontiff would invite us to offer our prayers. It is true that we require many things, for our schools, for our poor, for our orphans, and for the religious wellfare of our people in general. But it will hardly surprise you to hear that what we want more than anything else, is the conversion to the faith of Christ of those among whom we live.

With the help of God, the Catholic Church of this country is now fairly rooted in the land and based on solid foundations. There are many drawbacks which are known to all, and which call upon all of us, priests and people, to humble ourselves before the Prince of Pastors, Jesus Christ, Who gave His life for the flock. But we have churches, schools, and priests we have numerous congregations and a steadily practising population. With all this, we are now in face of a danger which may be serious of a fault which may blight the future of our holy faith. No Catholic community has ever had a long or vigorous existence which has been without zeal for the spread of the Kingdom of God.

You need not be reminded how, in Apostolic times, St. Peter and St. Paul had to strive against that narrow spirit which wished to confine the glorious inheritance of Christ to the race of Israel alone, and to leave the nations of the world in their heathenism. In early Christian history, nothing is more melancholy than to consider the withering of so many noble Churches which seem to have decayed because they had lost the zealous proselytising spirit of their founders.

In this island, the ancient British Church, with all its glories, became narrow, jealous and exclusive ; it ceased to be the mother of Saints, and had to have new life infused into it by strangers. To speak of smaller instances have we not seen with our own eyes many a mission in this country, founded, it may be, two or three generations ago and giving excellent promise in its beginnings, now after so many years not only no larger, but absolutely diminished in numbers, stagnant, lifeless, and threatening to disappear ?

Can it be that in those places the spirit of zeal has by degrees died out that the flock, and perhaps the pastors of the flock, have not cared for the souls of those without that they have assembled in their little chapel and heard their Mass and said their prayers for decade after decade, and not wanted, not encouraged, not prayed for, those around them, for whom Christ died as well as for themselves ?

The spirit of indifference to the saving of souls is a real danger, both to countries, to districts, and to individual missions. It brings with it three great evils - uncharitableness, indifference, and isolation ; uncharitableness to our neighbours, indifference to Christ, to His interests, to His Church, and to His Sacraments; and isolation from centres of life and animation, and especially from that great centre of all - the Roman See, with its traditions and its ever-renewed vitality. For the Roman Church has always been the great missionary Church; and no local Church, no diocese, no district, could possibly lose its missionary spirit without also to a greater or less degree withdrawing itself from the influences which perennially emanate from the See of St. Peter.

To be zealous for souls, therefore, is to live ; to be indifferent to souls is to decay and die. Here is our lesson. There are round about us, round about every Catholic altar in town and country thousands of non-Catholics. They may be, in some way, strangers ; they may be, to some of us, alien in blood and race ; they may be unsympathetic, or even in some respects contemptuous and hostile. For the most part, it is certain that if they ignore or reject our holy religion, it is because of the prejudice in which they have been brought up and in which they necessarily live; it is certain that many are willing to listen, and that a large number, deprived as they are of our Catholic Sacraments and of the Holy Eucharist, venerate Our Lord, respect the Scriptures, and keep with greater or less fidelity the Commandments of the Decalogue. But whoever, or whatever, their souls may be, it is our duty, as followers of Christ, to desire, to pray for, and to work for their conversion to the Catholic Faith. We cannot love Christ unless we do our best for those for whom He is longing.

It is mere superstition to be proud of your faith, if you do not want to bring all men to share it. It is an insult to Jesus Christ to boast of Catholic forefathers if you do not try to make other people Catholics as well. Oh that we could stir up within us that spirit of zeal which sent the great English and Irish missionaries to distant and barbarous countries, to bring the inheritance of Jesus Christ to men with whom they had no ties and no sympathies, except that they had immortal souls, and to shed their blood, in imitation of their Master, for those who lay in darkness and in the shades of death !

There are many ways in which the flock can join with the priest, on whom most of the labour falls, in procuring conversions. Good example (nothing hinders conversions like drunkenness, bad language, and the breaking of God’s commandments); the bringing our influence to bear on friends or connections who are non-Catholics; the spreading of Catholic books, pamphlets, and leaflets; and the contributing according to our means to the Diocesan Fund and other funds for the spread of the faith.

But at this moment it is only necessary to allude to one and that is, to the prayers of the month of October. These devotions, prescribed by the late Holy Father, begin on the evening of the last day of September, and end on November 2nd, the commemoration of All Souls. Five mysteries of the Rosary are to be said each day, together with the Litany of Our Lady, and the Prayer to St. Joseph. If said in the morning, these prayers must be said during the Holy Sacrifice; if in the evening, during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. To attend Church in order to join in these devotions will doubtless entail some degree of sacrifice and self-denial. This is the kind of prayer which pierces the heavens; self-denying, united, earnest prayer, made in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Let us offer it up for the Holy Father’s intentions, and especially for the conversion of the souls around us. How happy shall we be if we contribute to bring about a movement which shall lead many well-meaning and earnest non-Catholics into the Church - a movement which, when we consider the Holy Father’s two recent Letters, that “To the people of England,” and that “On the Unity of the Church,” and the decision as to the non-validity of Anglican Orders, now just published, is far from improbable.

The obligation which binds all the Catholics of this country to do their best in order to bring about the union of their fellow-citizens with the Catholic Church has been set before us in eloquent terms by Pope Leo XIII. in the remarkable letter “to the English people." 1 That letter, so full of fatherly solicitude, it is true, was, in form, addressed rather to Protestants than to ourselves. It pointed out to our non-Catholic fellow-countrymen what they are losing and forfeiting by remaining outside of Catholic belief, Catholic practice, and Catholic Sacraments. It impressed upon them the fact, which in this country has been so unhappily ignored, that the Church of Christ, as she has a heavenly head in Christ Himself, so she has an earthly head in the Roman Pontiff, who is Christ’s Vicar. It made them feel that it was for them to come to the Church, rather than for the Church to come to them. The Church has never failed, and she never will fail. She has always been visible, always able to speak her behests, always unerring, always holy, always Apostolical. It is not the office of her Pastors to be proud, unapproachable, or supercilious. Like their divine Master, Whom they humbly and at a great distance follow, they must seek out the wanderer and entreat the sinner. But the Church herself can never meet error half-way. She may modify her discipline, and adapt her ritual to the circumstances of time and place. But her Creeds she cannot alter ; the decisions of her Councils she can never repudiate ; the definitions of her Supreme Head she can neither reject nor suffer to pass into oblivion. If she could, she would no longer be the “pillar and the ground of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), but rather a wave-tossed bark, at the mercy of every breeze that blows.

It would be no kindness to our non-Catholic brethren to hold out to them the hope that truths like Transubstantiation or the Immaculate Conception, or the infallibility of the Sovereign Pontiff, or the full inspiration of Sacred Scripture, can ever be given up, or cut down, or explained away. These dogmas, in fact, are not excrescences not fanciful additions to Christian belief, elaborated by the piety or enthusiasm of this or that generation. They are as much a part of the original revelation as the leaf that comes out in the spring is a part of the tree which in winter had only bare branches. To go back on them, now that the consciousness of men has explicitly lifted them to the surface of thought, would be to destroy and nullify those primary Christian truths which even non-Catholics acknowledge to be part of Christ’s revelation.

To the Catholic Church, therefore, unity and reconciliation can only mean the full acceptance of her dogmatic teaching and of her everyday and continuous right to teach and to be obeyed. If these conditions seem hard or intolerant, we can only reply that if there is any ascertainable divine revelation at all it must exclude all toleration of any contrary doctrine. Unless we desire to reduce Christianity to the vague and impalpable conditions of the agnostic and the rationalist, a line must be drawn somewhere ; and wherever you draw it, those who are left on the outside will be apt to raise the cry of intolerance. But the Catholic view that is, the Catholic faith is, that Christ has revealed many things, and that the Church, to which He has said, “I am with you to the consummation of the world,” has defined and decided many things ; and if to act on such a view be intolerance, then we must charge with intolerance even Christ Himself.

It is consoling to know that the Letter of the Holy Father to the English people, as well as that on the Unity of the Church, 2 has been received, on the whole, with a courtesy and good feeling such as its kindly and fatherly tone deserved. It was hardly to be expected that the people of this country should at once respond in the way that the Pope would ardently desire that is, by recognising the Catholic Church, and praying for admittance into her fold. A desire for union can only spring from a right understanding of what union means. As long as the vast majority of our fellow-countrymen cling to the right of private judgment, and hold that Christ left His religion to be argued and fought over by the crowd, they will neither see any advantage in union, nor believe that union is possible. It is true there is a considerable number of Anglicans who have some acquaintance with the idea of a teaching Church.

Of these, it may be expected that prayer and sincerity will lead some to Catholicism. But it must be sorrowfully admitted that among those who are the loudest in proclaiming their belief in what they call “Church Principles” we meet with the strongest instances of the essential spirit of Protestantism ; for we find too many assuming the right to judge and define the constitution, the prerogatives and the practice of the Church of Christ by the light of their own study, their own reasonings, and their own fancies.

On our own part the Holy Father’s appeal may well remind us of our duty. If we love our Lord and Saviour we must desire with anxious longing to see this country return to its ancient faith. To whatever land we may belong by birth or race, we are all one in Christ ; all destined to immortality, all partakers in the blood of Calvary, and all, therefore, intended by our blessed Redeemer to profess His faith, and to make use of His Sacraments. To save souls is to imitate Christ ; to bring souls to Him is the sweetest offering we can make Him. To draw men to real and practical belief in the Incarnation, in the Eucharistic Presence, in the beneficent gifts of the Priesthood, and in the intercessory office of Christ’s Mother and His Saints, is worth all our efforts and all our sacrifices. What a field is there lying around us, stretching far on every side, for the zeal and the missionary spirit of Catholics ! Many of our priests have but small congregations and but few who recognise their ministry. But they are all of them debtors, as St. Paul said, to a far wider flock ; they are, in a certain degree, responsible in their respective districts, for all those crowds who frequent church and chapel for the men and women in the street for the reckless and indifferent, the honest and the God-fearing, the prejudiced, the doubters, the inquirers, and the lookers-on, who constitute the dense and varied population of the land we live in. And if the clergy are primarily answerable for the souls around them, every Catholic family and every Catholic individual must also share in that charge. Whatever can be done by zeal and charity, enlightened and guided by discretion, should be anxiously done by each of us, in the great cause of the con version of souls.

Among the means which might, and should, be employed in the discharge of this great duty leaving out of the question the direct missionary work of the clergy may be first mentioned the public and careful profession of the holy Catholic Faith. It is often said, and it is an undeniable fact, that the dis-edifying life of so many Catholics is one of the chief reasons why we gather so few souls into the Church. The prevalence of indifference, worldliness, drunkenness, and dishonesty cannot but repel non-Catholics, even those who are no better themselves. The truth is, that the greatest triumph of the devil in a Protestant country is to corrupt and degrade the Catholics. To neglect prayer, to live without Mass or confession and communion, and to let oneself be carried along with the general stream, giving up all the week to worldly work, drifting into the habit of degraded amusements, feeding what intelligence one has on the scraps of the newspapers this is to desert from the army of Christ. It is to throw away the grandest supernatural motives and the most precious supernatural helps, and to find oneself without even those natural supports of respectability and human respect which so often prevent the outward lives of others from being degraded.

This is what a Catholic people have to fear in a non-Catholic country. Our first duty to those round about us, whom we desire to draw to the sanctuary of the Lord and to the holy Table of the New Covenant, is to keep ourselves untouched by the unbelief, the religious indifference, and the denial of the supernatural, which grow so rank and so thick over all the soil of a non-Catholic country. It is only the practical Catholic who can hope to take his share in the journeyings of the Good Shepherd after the straying sheep. It is only the Catholic who knows what his Church is and what she can give him, who will do any good in enlightening and attracting his Protestant friends. It is only the Catholic who keeps the commandments who will recommend our holy religion to a questioning and a scoffing world.

Intimately bound up with the duty of edification is that of being prepared to instruct others. With the clergy the office of instruction is a pressing and a constant charge. With all classes, in proportion to opportunity and capability, it is a work which, especially in these days, is of the utmost utility in promoting conversion. The friend who knows how to explain to a friend some point of Catholic doctrine the servant who can give a clear answer to an employer the young man or young woman who shows careful teaching in the Catechism it cannot be estimated how much good such Catholics as these can effect. There are many amongst us who can put into a neighbour’s hand a book or a leaflet, that will convey more than can be said by word of mouth. Printed matter of this kind is now abundant. One shilling, one sixpence, or one penny will purchase history, explanation, lives of the Saints, and interesting narrative such as we find in the publications of the Catholic Truth Society and as everybody in these days reads, and wants to read, it is easy to see how much might in this way be done to dissipate the prejudices or dispel the ignorance of Protestants in regard to the doctrines of the faith.

Neither must prayer and intercession ever cease, in public and in private. Every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass our Lord Jesus Christ Himself offers to the Fathers the infinite merits of His expiation and intercession. One Mass would suffice to obtain the grace of conversion for all the non-Catholics, and all the Jews and heathens of the whole world. Why do so many Masses fail to win them ? Because our Lord is in the hands of His servants. Miracles He works sometimes. But in the ordinary course of His grace, He does not produce outward and visible effects except with the co-operation of His priests and His people. The conversion of the country is, therefore, in our own hands. All must be done by the Grace of God. But to open the flood-gates of Heaven, and to let loose the streams of that mighty Grace, is given to the prayers of men.

Therefore, never should we assist at Mass without praying for the conversion of non-Catholics. As often as we can attend at this great Act of the New Law we should be anxious to do so, were it only to unite with our Lord and Saviour in obtaining grace for those who are outside of the true fold. A special Mass of Our Lady is said, with the Litany, in every Church of this Diocese on the first Saturday of each quarter, to promote the spread of our Holy Faith. At Benediction, on the second Sunday of every month, the priest at the altar prays for the same intention. There are confraternities and associations, moreover, whose members unite in petition and in sacrifice in order to draw down God’s powerful grace on those who know not the faith.

Let us not be behind hand. Let us resolve to do something for the interests of Jesus Christ. Nay, let us promise, in the love and fervour of our hearts, and in the gratitude we owe Him for His holy coming and His earthly ministry, that no day shall ever pass without our lifting up a prayer, offering up a cross, or giving an alms, for the cause which He has so much at heart the cause of the lost sheep, the cause of the wanderer, the cause of those multitudes of our friends, neighbours, and fellow-citizens whom He longs to gather to His fold.

1. Amantissima Voluntatis, April 14, 1895 return

2. Satis Cognitum, June 29, 1896 return