By FR. VINCENT McNABB, O.P.
TWO incidents may serve to introduce what I shall say on a difficult subject, not of my own choice, but chosen by those whose choice, for me, is final.
Some short time ago a young girl left her home in the countryside, to seek for work in London; or perhaps to seek for a change from the hard necessary work of the countryside. After a year or thereabouts in an office, the weariness which had perhaps driven her from the hard work of the countryside began to drive her from what she found was the harder work of the city. Having unconsciously coarsened by losing her girlish country shyness, she was one day heard to say: " I am tired of office work,' I don't see why I should not have a good time."
I could hardly bear to tell this incident, with its yet unfinished drama, did I not recall an earlier incident in my life.
. .. * *
Many years ago at the outset of my pastoral work I was sometimes privileged to share the wisdom of one whose years entitled her somewhat to mother-and indeed, to grandmother-my inexperienced soul. Though much of her cultured knowledge came from books, which she read in half-a-dozen languages, it came mostly from the circumstance of being the daughter of a soldier in high command at home and abroad.
Daughterly devotion to her soldier-father, whom she thought the ideal father and soldier, had kept her unwed. But it had also kept her girlhood unwithered far into the winter of her life,
One day when our talk lay amongst the hundred and one grave topics of our mind and soul, the plane of our talk was suddenly intersected by a momentary reference to one of those periodic Press discussions about what youth should or should not know. But the unpleasant interruption, suddenly begun, was as suddenly ended by a few words of hers that still enrich my memory and my soul. Very quietly, very gravely, but with no touch of dogmatism she said : "I often think that a young girl's, and, for that matter, a young boy's best safeguard, is not a wide knowledge of what is had, but a 7leep love of what is good.
After all there no safeguard against impurity like a Idve of purity."
Something seemed to tell me, at once, that this cultured woman whose long life had been an unstinted service of daughterly love, and who was beloved by all the village poor was offering me in her quiet words, not only a coin of golden wisdom, but a fragment of autobiography that unlocked the secret of her widespread influence.
Moreover, untrained spontaneous philosopher that she was, with her experience gathered from :many ranks of society in cities, villages, hamlets, camps at home and abroad, she had instinctively raised the
question of purity from its earth-level of mere knowledge, to its native empyrean of unselfish, and th refore self-controlled, love.
And now when my ears are hurt and throbbing at the young village-maid's despairing desire for " a good time," the quiet call to the love of purity, I one day heard, is like the chiming of church hells telling the time, in the lull of a nightstorm.
How easy it is to condemn, but how necessary it is to pity the poor girl or boy whose plan for a good time is but a childish error about the nature of good and the value of time! Hardly has youth passed from the school to the work for which they have been schooled, than an orchestra of suggestion tells them in a thousand ways how much they will lose if they do not go the wanton way of having a good time.
Against that great orchestration of untruth the cry of those who tell them what they will lose if they go that way, and how much they will gain by going the way of love controlled by purity, sounds only as a still small voice. Yet to those " whose whole soul music is " a thunder of orchestration is music and bearable only if they hear it as the unstinted crowd-applause of some quiet lilt of song.
* * *
It is this quiet lilt of purity that youth now needs to hear, They will hear it as the fluting of the Pied Piper, who leads them out of the mirk and din and reek of the good time, not into a desert place of frustrated desire but intotiitatclen of desire fulfilled.
Those need, first, to hear it, who through some happening of life or through some self-accepted or self-made duty will lead their life unwed. Yet sued geetieety must never faint in holding before their soul the splendid vision lof a life consecrated by unselfish love. (When the suggestion that a life like theirs, unwed and unsatisfied, is but a living death, they must recall that great crowd, whom no one can number, who have enriched every way of life from the hearth to the throne with their virginal unselfishness.
Death that comes to the wanton as a cruel winter wind driving and scurrying a race of withered leaves, comes, and is seen coming, to the haste unwed as the last fair breeze that rings a heavy-laden bark to its mooring wi hin call of home. A lifevoyage like thei s is a great life-venture that has been to the good. A lifetime like theirs has been a good time. Indeed for some whose eyes discern land beyond the airless coasts of death, such a life has been a very good time, because it opened a door and deserved a " well-done, well-come " in eternity.
* * *
But there are others whom life will not call upon for unwedded years. They are already drawn, in spite of themselves, as in a flood a man suddenly loses touch with the earth and is swept along without his power to stand or withstand.
* * *
One day a seer foretold a time when " the old men would dream dreams and the young men would see visions." Age would have its poignant memories of years that were past. Youth would have its splendid visions of years to come.
Centuries passed. On another day the words of the seer received undreamt-of fulfilment when a Greater than the seer said quietly to the crowd around Him: "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God."
The Speaker was not age dreaming its dreams. Though He was Wisdom yet He was Youth. But He was Youth challenging the eyes of the youth to see a vision, and challenging the heart of youth to follow the vision onward and upward to Him Whose being and Whose every act are the unselfishness of pure love.
It is in these spring days of a love one day to be called " wed-lock " that youth must keep its love safe locked as in a fastness. To such youth I can but repeat the wisdom 1 once heard: "There is no safeguard of purity like the love of purity."
* * * The days of an unwedded love that is at length to pass into wedded love are as fair, and yet as fateful as an orchard's blossomtide. Fair as each blossom is, it is not given us to pluck and enjoy. One day if -we have had the power to withhold our hand from plucking it as a flower, it will fall into our hand almost without plucking. as a ripened fruit.
So too the days awaiting wedded love, though so fair, are not given the future bridegroom and bride for enjoyment, but for use and restraint. As the flower is but a preparation and a promise of the fruit, so too the days of betrothal are but a pre
paration which must be made, and a promise that must be kept. A thousand things have to be done, a thousand selfish tendrils and sproutings pruned, if wedded love's full harvest is to enrich the bride's and bridegroom's life.
The plane of eye and ear where love is first discerned must give way to a plane still higher, lest the good show its old weakness of being enemy of the best.
In the end there must he for the future bridegroom and bride a meeting and a mating of souls. In that meeting-place alone human love can reach an unchangeableness beyond the reach of those lesser beings that meet and mate only on the plane of the body. A poignant verse, almost the most poignant verse of the great Grecian singers tells us:
" No lover he Who loveth not eternally."
Now this craft (for it is not a trade but a craft) of love-mating, or as men nobly say, of love-making, needs all the -lovers' powers of self-restrain. Unless these lovers are to venture upon an unchartered sea they must know that a husband is wont to be what his wife has made him in the days before she was his wife; and a wife is wont to be what her husband has made her in the days before he was her husband.
Once again -must we repeat that in this subtle self-effacing craft of soul-mating the one thing necessary to the two love-makers is the love of purity. Again the wisdom of Greece has handed to us a golden phrase fit for bridal-giving. It is this : " Plato I love, and Socrates I love; but Truth I love still more." The Greek seer who gave us this wisdom knew that unless he loved truth more than he loved Plato or Socrates, he did not love Plato and Socrates enough.
So, too, unless the bridegroom loves purity more than he loves his bride he does not love his bride enough. And unless the bride loves purity more than she loves her bridegroom she does not love her bridegroom enough.
No wonder that once men had set up in the world an altar of sacrifice, bridegrooms and brides never rested until they gave their hands, their words, their lives to each other in the shadow of the altar. If for some of my hearers that altar of sacrifice now recalls Calvary and the Cross, it but recalls the royal throne made for the Son of God on the day he wooed and wed the children of men. All in that so great wooing is so pure and unselfish that bridegroom and bride can look upon Him Who gladly gives His life for his friends, and indeed for His foes, not just as they would look upon a Victim of His altar of sacri flee, or even as a Teacher on His chair of teaching, but as a Master-lover making His masterpiece of wedded love.
If then there is one lesson most needed by the newly-wed on their wedding-day, and on all later days which should be but the wedding-day carried forward through the years of wedded life, it is this. The romance of wedded love is ever its chastity; for unchastity can break into wedded love not as its romance but as its tragedy.
Sometimes when the young lovers who are wooing wedlock come to me, I presume upon my years, my wide and long pastoral experience, my profession. In that presumption I speak -thus to them: "Hitherto my children you have loved each other with an unwedded love that was ever growing, and ever growing in its unselfishness. In your heart of hearts you know that the romance of that love has been its chastity.
" You are looking forward with desire to a day when this unwedded love wilt be changed and perfected into wedded love. Do not, even in that day, forget -that the romance of your life has not ended at the altar of mutual plighting. You will there begin the still greater romance of wedded love. And it will still be the romance of chastity-wedded chastity."
Then turning to the future bridegroom I say almost whimsically, "Do not marry your wife only-marry the mother of your children." And to the future bride I say, " Do not marry your husband only-marry the father of your children." Then to both I say a little seriously, "Only the good mother makes a good wife. Only the good father makes a good husband. But you will happily remain such children that you, the husband, must be somewhat of a father to your wife. And you, the wife, must be somewhat of a mother to your husband.
"If one day into the home which you have made by your wedded chastity there should come a brood of fledglings with their wealth of young unwedded love to safeguard and cherish, you may have sight beyond eyesight. You may be glad to see the most remembered words of any poem in our mother-tongue:
There's no place like home,' and see them not as platitude nor yet perhaps as poetry, but as that essential wisdom of the wise which in the man about the street we call humour, and in the woman about the home we call motherwit.
"Thus may your life be love, and your love be for ever joy.
" And when time is giving place to eternity may God's good-time be fulfilled for you in God's good eternity!"