By Fr. J. F. T. PRINCE OF the many rosy prospects with which the nations at war indulged their fancy, none was rosier than the promise of spiritual revival.
After both wars there were indeed
those of us who felt that such a revival in the wider sense was being effected; but the illusion, though it
died hard, may be taken as fairly dispelled if we are in accept seriously the verdict of General Moral De
clension so often passed in our courts. And since the lack of organ ised—or, more accurately, revealed— religion has been largely blamed in the same indictment, we cannot fail to take church attendance or lack of it as a reliable index. Nor do the reasons for this decline, whether provided by Catholic or Protestant apologists. seem to add up.
The Protestant has been heard to declare that services should be more
attractive. the liturgy more lively. the sermon shorter and sweeter; and that until such time as the Church competes with Sunday cinema and television, recusancy will prevail. The Catholic bids him think again and points to the crowds that throng the churches for Mass, when the sermon may (by good fortune) be short but is rarely sweet. and progress at the altar scarcely audible or visible by very reason of the human deluge that presses upon all but the front benches. At this, the cynic, suspecting that too easy a moral may be drawn,
points to a "Catholic" country,
France, where it is estimated that of the eighteen million in the French working class, only five to 10 per cent. are in any sense practising; or for that matter, if he reads the Papal Encyclicals. may quote the authority of no less than Pope Pius XI, who stated: "The great scandal of the Church . . is that she lost the working class." And again, lest it be thought that this is a situation peculiar to France,
or merely to the mass of industrial workers, dwellers in the tenement townships who felt that there was
little room for them in the bourgeois
framework of the parish, we have a pries: in that most "Catholic" of
countries, Spain, declaring: "After
years of work in two industrial areas, one of which constantly receives
newcomers from country parts, I have to admit that the falling away dismays me. For every step forward we take one, a large one, back."
Decay of faith
TO what, then, must we assign the almost universal falling church membership? To a variety of causes no doubt, but to one only that can possibly account for the wholesale landslide. This we believe to be no less titan the decay of faith itself; and if the process of dccay be taken as synonymous with the triumph of materialism, we are at the end of our enquiry. For of the reasons that must account for that triumph. one stands out pre-eminently while the rest are mere ancillaries: 1 mean the rationalism which flourished and seeded a century ago. It may be that the teaching of utilitarian and rationalist is dis MANY readers have written to enquire about the muchadvertised religious campaign of Billy Graham. But the value or otherwise of his work is not a question for us Catholics so much as the spiritual emptiness Into which thls preacher, and many others, speak. But that emptiness will not be filled save by the solid faith revealed by Christ and the enthusiastic and Intelligent witness!ng to Christ In life and conduct by members of Christ's Mystical Body.
Fr. Prince's article will enable II! to understand better the meaning of spiritual decay and the need for spiralual revival.
credited in the Schools and the Salons of the intelligentsia. But amongst the People it has only just arrived, or at least has only been established a score of years.
When Huxley and John Stuart Mill (or for that matter old Locke himself) were preaching their loudest, the working man was listening to the words of Holy Writ. Now that they are dead and more than half forgotten, their shades stalk the highways and byways. pub, club, screen and much-in-little Press, as their inhibitions ha u n t the Scripture classes of our children.
THE neurosis of unbelief lies deep
in society itself, however much more comfortable it is to be told of "causative factors outside ourselves." To locate and attack the toxin and to build tap a sound health of mind and body, not merely by preaching nor by contrivance and stunt, is the gigantic task which faces the Church today.
The world — we may add the Christian world—is as torn asunder as Communism is united. Nevertheless, it is Christianity that is selected for the most relentless of persecution today.
Communism will not be defeated by material arms, nor can repressive methods do much more than repair the hydra of a head here and there. Essentially a negative creed, it can be combated only by the positive, by the positive teaching and training which will show how Christianism can substantiate where Marxism falls short, start (in the final order) where Communism stops. 'the combat is not the speciality of the cleric but the vocation of all who would not repudiate the Church and her Founder.
ikAosr of the above slay be and has been applied to organised Christian forces outside the True Church, For Catholics, in so far aa the personal conscience Is affected, the problem is infinitely more pressing. Precisely because we rest upon the rock of objective Truth our responsibility Is frighteningly heavy.
Self-congratulation is but a step removed from the Paradise of Fools; and verily statistics can make fools of us. I have heard the annual quota of conversions cited regardless of the much larger number of leakages, and the increase in the Catholic population quoted triumphantly, though it is accounted for largely by the contribution from Ireland and Poland, Even the crowds at Mass (in churches insufficient in size and number to the new demands) must be offset by our unattended evening services. For though Benediction be a super -erogation, yet the love of God's House (to the extent of two visits on a Sunday) may well be more impressive than fear, even the Godly fear of mortal sin by missing Mass!
wE, too, then had best be frank Sr V enough to admit that we are in desperate need of spiritual revival. That admission alone will be an accomplishment, for it will clear the way to progress. Where faith, the eyesight of the soul, is dim (I paraphrase St. Francis), look to your way of life. Look also, we might add, to the amount of exercise we deem adequate for that faith. Atrophy may follow overmuch ease as well as malnutrition.
A faith that is rarely effective in action is doomed to die.