or saving the material buildings of his church and school from fire a priest must
Let the church Burn
By a Parish Priest.
THE Catholic Church has ever, and
ever will expect from her priests administration of the Last Sacraments, even at the risk of their own lives. But She does not need to demand it, the priest's own inherent sense of duty— his consciousness of the power and value of the Sacraments, will always keep him ready and willing to give his
life—if needs he—in their administration.
The writer of these notes has had to take that risk many times. In the last European war it was a daily—hourly risk undertaken by our Catholic chaplains. 1 happen to he the only survivor of a little group of 17 Catholics, to whom 1 tried to administer Extreme Unction while poison gas rolled over their unconscious bodies in dirty yellow waves.
It is also for this reason that the Church visits with the severe penalty of "sitspensio a divinis" a parish priest who would culpably refuse to administer the Last Sacraments to a dying Catholic.
It must surely be evident from all this that to a dying Catholic priest who is in charge of a parish, the one duty that conies before all others, is that of administering the Last Sacraments.
Let it Burn What then is to be said u/ the recent' legislation compelling Catholic. priests to register for fire-fighting? The answer is simple. If it is a question of saving an immortal soul. or saving the material buildings of his church and school from fire. he must let that church burn—even though it were the Basilica of Si. Peter's— unless there are others there to save it. For him there is no choice. lie is in conscience bound by tire word of Our Lord Himself. The loss or gain of tire. whole material universe is nothing compared to the loss of one immortal soul.
The writer of these notes has had the agony of Seeing the parochial buildings— church. school and convent—his whole life's work destroyed in five separate air-raids. On three of these occasions he and his curates were attempting to give the Last Sacraments to men, women and children, buried and bombed and burnt in fallen buildings where they were trapped. Had the bombs which fell on the church schools and convent been incendiaries, in place of high explosives, they would have done their fell work, if they depended for extinction on the priests ; for the priest's first 'call—having removed the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle— was to administer it to the dying.
Doctors Exempt Medical doctors who have the care of the body arc exempt from fire-watching and rightly so, but why not the Catholic priest who is responsible to God for the 'immortal soul?
Surely if our professions to-day are not to he mere empty hypocrisy—then the spiritual things—the ideals must always come before the material. Are we not told day after day that we are lighting to crush godless mater
ialism, If that is so—why then enthrone this hateful thing in this land which stands alone in its Iirm and irresistible determination to crush it for ever. Why enthrone it at the cost of the sacrifice of alt that is most sacred in life and in death to the soul of man?
No—the Catholic priest in charge of souls, cannot tire-watch. We who know ]pm know that he is at his post night and day. He lives on the site of his church and school. He cannot afford as others can the luxury of a some in a safe area. His workshop— the church and the school—are his. home. These he never abandons, and there night as well as day his people know they will always find him.
Therefore registration or no registration for fire-fighting, he is what all other fire
fighters arc in this land—a passive lire• watcher until the time conies for the translation of that passivity to activity. When that hour comes; when in thc darkness, the incendiaries and high explosives hurl earthwards; it is at this very moment -that an activity prior to all others claims him—the call of his dying parishioners.
Catholic priests are not unreasonable, they would not and do not ask that all clergy should he exempt from lire-watching. There arc hundreds of clergy who can do tirewatch. Students who arc in Sacred Orders, priests who arc professors in colleges, or in other occupations which do not entail the care of souls. The parish priest, however, and his curates stand in a category all alone. For them exemption should be the law as it is for doctors.
Wise human legislators will not allow their man-made laws to clash with the law of God. For the parochial clergy there is no choice—In the choice of God or Caesar they know where their duty lies.