A Question Of Atmosphere
BY GEORGE S. BURNS, S.J.
MAN flew from Rome to London in an aeroplane. After a day in London he , wrote to a friend: " There are enormous differences between Rome and London."
These differences are very clear to anyone who has visited both cities. London is five times as large as Rome. There are underground tubes in London, and there are none in Rome. The sun shines from a blue sky in Rome, but Englishmen are always complaining of their weather.
These kinds of material differences are evident. But it is certain that there are many similarities in the moral order. A preacher could inveigh against the devil, the world and the flesh almost in the same words in each of these cities. What the Pope has called " lust for earthly goods " and the accursed greed for gold " is the prime motive in the lives of both Italians and Englishmen. The Holy Father has analysed these evils with great clarity in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart And the present world distress. From this " accursed greed for gold" come: "Sordid egoism, which too often regu
destroy every bond of law, human and divine.
" Spread of atheism through large masses of the people.
" The joining of the Cross of Christ with the symbols of modern imperialism, as though religion were allied with those dark powers which produce such evils among men."
A Pagan World
These evils ,exist in a greater or less degree in the world, and they exist in their full force and strength in those regions which broke away from the unity of the Church in the sixteenth century. It is only now that we are witnessing the full consequences of that disastrous heresy called Protestantism, but it would be true to say that Protestantism today is a spent force with no intellectual or spiritual authority.
A Catholic working man recently exclaimed : " The Christian is today faced with a world that is in many respects completely pagan. In economic and political life injustice and sin are to be found everywhere. What can the Christian, endeavouring to live and serve God, du in such a world'? Shall he isolate himself, or shall he allow himself to be moulded by his surroundings?"
A Question of Atmosphere
This is the question that faces us in this present article.
It comes to this, that the real difference between a predominantly Catholic world and a predominantly non-Catholic world (represented by Rome and London) is largely a question of atmosphere. We can never forget that in the large industrial cities of Europe, where the Church has little or no influence, large proportions of the people have not been even baptised.
A priest who is living in one of these cities recently said to the present writer: " I can almost feel that the devil is walking about the streets of this city."
The constant contact with the spirit of this modern paganised world has evil effects upon Catholics, which they cannot ignore. It is a very great mistake to make little atmosphere of the Faith. It is a great reality and the cumulative effect of a variety of causes. Uncatholic atmospheres creep into the soul and fog its supernatural outlook. They weaken the sense of sin quietly and silently.
In Rome the churches ring their bells and the Orders wear their habits; symbols of their challenge to their world and their separation from its maxims and motives. In London the taxis toot their horns—and we are all " clergymen "1 In Dublin the ticket collectors salute a priest with the title of ." Father " and the street boys ask for " holy pictures "; in Edinburgh they ask for cigarette cards and a priest is often met with surly looks. Naples is warmer than Norway; Salzburg is nearer to Heaven than Stockholm. Shrines and images of Our Lady exert their influence in the Catholic Rhineland; not on the Hitler youth camps. One can imagine a young Catholic, isolated in one of these for a year without Mass and without the sacraments, praying in the words of the psalm : " Deliver me, oh Lord, from lying lips and treacherous tongues. Woe is me that I have to stay so long among barbarians, that I have to live in the tents of Kedar."
Three Dangerous Influences
Let us mention three dangerous influences at work over Catholics who are scattered over this modern pagan world and breathing the spirit of the decaying Protestant world.
First, the very smallness of their numbers brings with it great dangers. Once again we must mention the enormous problem of " leakage." How an it not haunt the mind of a priest? Let us now just make two observations: (a) No mere organisation or society, guild or sodality will affect anything, unless it is backed by effective literature, by an inspiring congress, above all by the solid and systematic formation of future apostles.
(b) Nor will the liturgy solve this problem by itself. All really effective lay apostolate on the Continent makes much of simple forms of mental prayer and the importance of "spiritual direction " is coming to be more and more recognised.
I mention here in this connection the re markable book called The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom I. B. Chautard.
Communist Propaganda The second great evil to which they are exposed is the Communistic propaganda which they will have to meet in many diverse forms. • At present it is taking the form of a persistent attack at the wealth of the Church in Spain and the continual assertion that the clergy were living on the poor and reluctant to meet their wants. Last summer a group of Catholic working men called at the Presbytery where I am staying and showed me a bundle of Communistic literature which was being propagated in the factories of that town. It was full of lies and concealed hatred of Christ and His Church.
Recently a priest wrote to me and told me that in many parts of England grotesque stories were being circulated about the wealth of the Jesuits in Spain. " Some say that the Jesuits own the Madrid trams, some the Spanish banks. and others a steamship line. The latest story is that the procurator of the Society sits on 36 boards' of directors of electrical companies, banks and mines. All this is, of course, very stupid, but people are so ignorant that they believe it and it does great harm."
And so it is safe to say that Catholics have to face this kind of propaganda and are often so isolated that they are not in a position to be able to meet it.
The problem of mixed marriages may be taken as a third kind of danger in this lioneCotholic world. And here again the evil becomes more acute from day to clay.. For the non-Catholic party has been brought up from childhood to view marriage from a point of view that is completely alien and even • repulsive to the Catholic party. It would be very easy to show statistics which would prove that these mixed marriages are disastrous to the faith of the children. Conversions to the Church for the sake of making a Catholic marriage are often far from being true conversions.
One special word must be said about Germany. We must pray with special earnestness for the Catholics in this country. They are passing today through a terrible crisis. The German Bishops published a collective pastoral in which -these words occur :
" We see with anxiety a school struggle which aims at transforming the confessional school, guaranteed by the Concordat, into a so-called common school, and at expelling religious teachers, " We see with anxiety that the adolescent youth is alienated from the priest and the Church.
Christianity Being Destroyed
" We see with anxiety how respect for the Christian religion is being destroyed, how blasphemies of the worst kind and derisions of Catholic doctrines and institutions are being propagated.
" We see with anxiety how people are systematically urged to leave the Church, how State employees are compelled to take their children away from Catholic schools and themselves • to leave the Church."
What then are we going to do to meet this crisis that faces isolated Catholics in all parts of the world?
We Need Lay Leaders
The Catholic world needs lay leaders; that is, men and women who have been trained in true Catholic piety and been taught the Catholic principles of social and economic life.
These leaders must be imbued with a deep faith which is manifested to their companions in the ordinary walks of life. They must be given a sense of responsibility for the welfare of their fellow-Catholics and do all in their power to bring small groups of them together for mutual edification and strength. The true apostolate is not shown by noisy demonstrations or even by merely handing round Catholic pamphlets and leaflets. The Christian is an apostle in the very life he leads and by the constant good example which he gives to his family, to his friends and to his fellowworkers. In England some sodalists of Our Lady are endeavouring to live up to this ideal of Christian life and they have a rule of life in which these words occur:
"Through the study of Papal encyclicals and Christian doctrine try to cultivate a Christian outlook on international and national problems. Imitate the saints in their detachment from worldly pleasures, in their constant acts of kindness and in their enthusiastic service of Christ the King in spite of persecution, isolation and the apathy to religion of the society and surroundings in which you work."
We must pray therefore for young men of the stamp of Giorgio Frassati, or of that university student of Bologna, called Maffei, whose life has just been written. The faith shone so strongly and serenely in him that he attracted all his companions and helped them to become more fervent Catholics. Or men again of the stamp of Ralph Metcalf, the American athlete, who made the Sign of the Cross before the vast auditorium before commencing his race at the Olympic games in Berlin.
We must pray that our Catholic children, who have to grow up in atmospheres so alien to the faith, may yet be able to breathe the airs of heaven through their close companionship to Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary. Growing up in this way they may become true Catholic leaders in the various levels of society which divine providence has assigned to them.
A young lad, who works in the mines of an industrial city in England, said to me last summer : " I go to communion every day and with Our Lord so near me, who can touch me? not the whole world!" And he laughed. It was a true Christian laugh. May it ring roue' the world.