By Bruce Marshall
TILE Catholic Church in America, in its terrestrial extension, consists of 22 provinces
sub-divided into 22 archdioceses,
99 dioceses and 1 vicariate apostolic. it is governed by four Car dinal Archbishops, 20 Arch bishops, 138 Bishops and Coadjutor Bishops and 2 Apostolic
Exarchs for the Galitian and Podocarpathian Ruthenians of the Byzantine Rite. Under their direc tion 40,470 priests in 14,742 parishes are attempting to persuade 25,268,173 laypeople not to live by Coca-Cola alone but to devote at least a com mensurate portion of their energies to getting themselves into heaven, whether it lies aboVe the bright blur sky or in a hollow pocket outside Einstein's tureen of curved cosmos.
This, and not, as is often suspected,
to provide soft mattresses for lynxeyed monsignori or to do dirt to
Stalin or the Baptists, is the one politic which inspires the Catholic Church, irridescent in Ireland or perturbed in Poland.
It is this certainty of her mission which has caused many well-meaning and sincere persons to misunderstand her. For the Catholic Church teaches, categorically and carbolically, that man has been sent into the world, not to make money on the stock exchange or to rollick with red heads to follow the dear old dad, but to save his soul, which is immortal; that, despite protoplasm, ectoplasm. Darwin and the Kinsey Report, every man or woman is destined one day to find himself or herself either in heaven or in hell and that both these states will go on for ever. It is this assertion of the immutability of the matheinatic of Christian doctrine which distinguishes the Catholic Church from other Christian Churches, who seem to regard faith in the light of an answer optimistically sent in by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists to a vast magazine competition on cosmology.
Christ summed up the Old Law in two new commandments: to love God and to love our neighbour. The record of Catholic countries in Europe during the last fifty years would seem to indicate that, however many individual souls they may have finally saved, the hierarchies of those countries have not been particularly successful in obtaining obedience to the second new commandment from the congregations committed to their charge: in Spain and Italy and France the selfishness of upper-class Catholics has estranged the poor and made them Communists, with the result that among a large section of the people the first commandment has been sent toppling overboard as well; in Germany and in Austria the Catholics did not, in the operative years at any rate, very audibly condemn the atrocities cornmitted by the followers of Hitler.
Doubly Catholic In the United States of America the Catholic Church, as in no other country of the world, is doubly Catholic: it is Catholic because it is part of the Universal Church; and it is Catholic because it is also a microcosm of the Universal Church, including within itself large numbers Of the Irish, German, Polish. Italian, Spanish and other Catholics who constitute the Universal Church.
Preaching to such a conglomeration of nationalities, what chance have the 4 Cardinals. 20 Archbishops, 138 Bishops and Coadjutor Bishops. the 2 Exarchs for the Galitian and Podocarpathian Ruthenians of the Byzantine Rite. and 40,470 priests of the United States of America of succeeding where the Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and priests of Continental Europe have. despite heroic efforts, failed? What chance have they of getting it into the heads of their co-religionists and compatriots that the one thing which will simultaneously save the world from chaos and rehabilitate religion in the eyes of the unbelievers is the integral practice by Christians of both the first and the second new commandments ?
Firstly, Catholics in America, like Catholics in England, constitute a minority of the population and minorities, as a rule, practise their religion more assiduously than majorities. This is not invariably true, because Eire provides the example of a country where the adherents of the majority religion behave with greater devotion than the adherents of the minority. Humanly speaking, however, there seems to be something in the fact of a religion being practised by a minority of the inhabitants of a country which causes the members of that minority to walk more circumspectly than those who belong to the religion professed by the majority. The Archbishops and Bishops of America, as well as those of England and Wales, would be astounded at the laxity with -which French Catholics, for example, observe the Church's laws on marriage, abstinence and Sunday attendance at Mass. They would be even more astounded to learn that sexual purity, which they claim to be almost a Catholic monopoly. is considered, not unreasonably, to be much higher among French Protestants than among French Catholics. In America, however, as in England, it is the Catholics who are in the minority.
Secondly, American Catholics belong, for the most part, to the Saxon and Celtic races. who are much more amenable to discipline and decorum, whether of God or of Caesar, than their Latin co-religionists. There is all the difference in the world between the behaviour of a congregation in St. Patrick's in New York and that of a congregation in the Church of Sainte Marie Madeleine in Paris. In St. Patrick's you feel that the congregation has assembled for the unique purpose of worshipping God, but in the Madeleine you are not quite so sure.
A Latin Claim The Latin may claim, as Aldous Huxley once amusingly suggested, that his ability simultaneously to worship God, think about the deal he is going to put through on th,, stock exchange on Monday morning and admire the ankles of the lady kneeling in front of him constitutes proof of a mental agility superior to that possessed by the Anglo-Saxon. It is, however. much snore likely. as even the saints have found content
plation difficult, that the claim constitutes proof of his inability adequately to worship God.
Despite centuries of Catholicism the average contemporary Latin Catholic seems completely to have lost all sense of the tremendous awe of worship. It is a tremendous awe because it is a tremendous mystery and it is a tremendous mystery because, just as the emotions of piety generate the gestures of faith, so do the gestures of faith generate the emotions of piety. "Prenez de real, Unite et vous deviendrez croyant." I. K. Huysmans once said, " take holy water and you'll become a believer." In other words, the mystery is that faith is a boomerang. Believing American Catholics behave as though they believed; and, behaving as though they believed, they believe still more. Reverence is to worshippers what drill is to soldiers.
Thirdly, American Catholics live in a country young enough still to be uncorrupted by the dusty and sterile sccpticisms of the continent of Europe. In America, despite Wall Street and political bosses, it is still respectable to believe in the benevolence of God, in romantic love and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In Europe, on the contrary, for more than a hundred years now the intellectuals have been persuading the people that the world created itself from chaos, that romantic love is au itch consequent upon the over-consumption of moonbeams and alcohol, that power is to the strong and opulent and that religion is an opiate for the dispossessed. The result of such teaching has not been the self-fertilising free-for-all foretold by the new prophets, but power polities. gutted cities, black markets and homeless hordes. Materially as well as spiritually, has been proved the truth of the Chestertonian adage that it is better to speak wise things foolishly than foolish things wisely.
In America. the Bishops and priests of the Catholic Church may have to struggle against materialism and indifference and ordinary human sin; they rarely. as on the continent of Europe, have to combat intellectual pride, atheism and black hatred of God. They can say their wise things foolishly without fear ot laughter or contempt or persecution. The Church, they know, says them with a fine roll of thunder in exquisite Latin and so perhaps they themselves are to be excused if they sometimes express them from the pulpit in shoddy platitudes and in editorials in sugary Sunday journalese rather than in the economic eloquence of the psalms. "Nisi Dominus ." -Unless the Lord build the house they labour but in vain that build it." That is part of the wisdom with which the hierarchy of America is attempting to
inoculate the Catholics of America and, through them, all the citizens of America.
Mitres and Words at a Tilt
In unofficial speech, however, the American clergy rarely say things ineptly, as they are young enough to be original in idiom as in gesture. Accustomed to the circumspection of European ecclesiastics, I was often surprised and charmed by habits and expressions which impressed me as accentuating rather than diminishing the holiness of their practitioners. 11 do not know whether St. Paul would have sanctioned the chewing of gum by the Thessalonians had the practice been customary in his day, hut I do not suppose that the parish priest I met in Rwas less likely to be elevated to the episcopate because he was addicted to a habit generally regarded in Europe as anti-social. Even the Archbishops and Bishops seem to wear their mitres at a tilt rather than with the traditional decorum affected by their European colleagues. What is more important, they often utter their words at a tilt too. expressing the old wisdom of Europe in the new hard language of everyday America.
For the restatement of old truths is one of the things that the world needs most. if it be true, as Thornton Wilder once guggested, that rhetoric has ruined religion.
The monsignor from the middle west who referred to an eminent Italian ecclesiastic as the " joker from the Vatican " impressed me more than if he had bumbled out embellished blandishments about the " illustrious emissary from the Holy See." Perhaps because their rule forbids speech, thc Trappists of a monastery I visited had to find another way of avoiding the cliche when their abbot died: they did so by providing liberal supplies of bourbon for the secular clergy attending the funeral, so that their reverences might adequately celebrate the arrival of their Father-inGod in heaven. " What kind of a bozo is Evelyn Waugh ? " a priest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, once asked me in the smiling presence of his Bishop. I do not know what kind of a bow Evelyn Waugh is because I have never met him; but I do know what kind of bozos the American Catholic clergy are because I have been privileged to meet so many of them. They seemed, especially, to be sincere bozos; and sincerity more than anything else is what the disillusioned and propaganda-fed peoples of the world are seeking to-day.
(To FIE CONTINUED).
In the next instalment of Ms report. Bruce Marshall describes the fidelity of Catholics in America and gives further reasons for the excellent state of American Catholicity.