Revival: Fr. McNabb On "Love Of Soil"
Catholics and non-Catholics last week combined at an exhibition at Caxton Hall on The Family to show that Christianity is not just a matter of " pie in the sky when you die."
That Christianity has a concern for social justice; the words have become flaccid through excessive handling, but the exhibition restored thcir meaning.
What the Churches have done and are doing to improve the material and moral standing of the family was vividly shown. The pity is that it was shown to the converted.
Those with the complex " pie in the sky when you die " were shy. Or perhaps exhibition publicity was haywire.
The unfortunate impression on Thursday afternoon was that of being at a well-bred bazaar . • that sort of
people, that sort of atmosphere. The exhibits deserved better, much better.
Nothing Anaemic About This There was, however, nothing anaemic about the lectures given during the three
days of exhibition. On the last day, Thursday, Catholic M.P., Mr. P. C. Loftus, spoke on the need of reviving agriculture —a cardinal point in the Work-For-All plan outlined in the CATHOLIC HERALD.
He was not gentle with the Government, nor with the people, for Government and people share a false sense of values.
" If you draw up a plan for putting to the plough some of the thousands of English acres that are going barren, for restoring to a full life and security hundreds of families, for guaranteeing a food supply in case of war, strengthening the health of the nation in peace. and you suggest that for the success of your plan you need about £400,000,000, then your plan is termed imbecile. But if you draw up a plan for building roads on the model of the German autobahnen at the same cost, then everyone is delighted."
Shall We Relax Into The Old Ways?
Mr. Loftus echoed the W.F.A. plan when he said:
The shock of the imminence of war floodlit deficiencies in the whole of our national life and civilisation. But I fear that when the shock has passed we shall relax into our old ways, the ways which have landed us in our present mess—for we are in a mess.
" Can any civilisation endure if the family and the land are forever subject to attack by legislators and administrators?"
He described the attack on family and land in England during the last two bundred years. A depressing history of the creation of an English proletariat. But the history is not finished—unhappily.
"Today the city dweller exploits the primary producer, makes farming hazardous, discourages life on the land, drives land out of cultivation.
" Your business man of sound economics talks knowingly about the law of supply and demand • when anyone mentions the plight of agriculture. He talks bosh. I have myself .watched the fluctuations of prices at Covent Garden, wild fluctuations dictated by the speculation of those trying to clear the biggest possible profits out of food.
They Made Deserts in Canada
" But there is not only exploitation of the producer. but of the land. also. All over the world Man is destroying the land given him by God. Deserts have been made in Canada because of large scale farming for export.
" What was wanted was small scale farming for subsistence, but the vast outlays of capital which had been diverted from our own farming to these new prairies, had to be justified, at least in the eyes of the owners of this capital, by profits.
" Only in French Canada has there been
any care of the land. There for three centuries families have farmed in their small units without the land deteriorating. These people show a devotion to what God has given them."
Our monstrously bloated cities and our unchecked decline in population brought from Mr. Loftus a condemnation of the ineptitude of successive Governments since the war.
" The grotesque concentration of people Into cities has been allowed to go on, now we're thinking hard on how to avoid vast death from the air.
" Millions of people are growing up utterly divorced from nature. Water is for them something that conies out of tap, milk is something left on the doorstep every morning in hygienically rinsed bottles. This denaturalisation leads to appalling discontent. You will see this discontent in the eyes of people, you will hear it in their talk . .
" We Must Change Popular Opinion" "The cities need an influx regularly of country blood, in order to keep up the health and initiative of the city dwellers. But these days there are not people left to come into the towns. Everyone almost is in the towns. In my own county of Suffolk, land that was well farmed twenty years ago is now full of briars.
" Nowhere else in Europe is there this waste of land. Italy, Germany, Holland have reclaimed vast tracts of land from disuse. New villages have sprung up, new farms, small farms, family-owned.
"What is to be done in England?
" Parliament?" This M.P. sounded disillusioned.
" Parliament only acts after the people have made up their minds that Parliament shall act. We must change popular opinion.
"The people must be regenerated. The old, everlasting, real standards of value, which have been lost to the people, must return. " We must make finance the servant instead of the controller of our national life. Money must not be used as a commodity to be gambled with.
" We shall never solve the unemployed problem if we neglect the land—and the unemployment problem has got to be solved. We must get our own country right because that is the best way to get the world right."
Fr. Vincent McNabb. OP., who was chairman, commented thus on this fierce, uncomforting, realis! speech: " It takes a good deal of love of God and of soil to turn knowledge into such essential wisdom."
The priest added more wisdom.
Here are some of the things he said: " Parliament can't make people free. but it can make them free from.
" I might suggest that M.P.s, during their summer vacation, should spend a month on their English land.
" Competition is the Soul of War "
" Ireland I love as a man loves his mother, England I love as a man loves his wife. I want to make the people of England love England. But I can't. They spell England. L 0 N D 0 N.
" When I was at school I was taught: " PARASITES!" says Fr. Vincent McNabb of these toys to which we proudly point as the emblems of civilisation 1938.
" The people of the towns exploit the people of the country— the producers of food— so that a few of the most fortunate townspeople may continue to enjoy a fantastically luxurious standard o f living. What is the price? The land turns to desert, and the proletariat stifles in the slum.
"We have forgotten that God is quite as intelligent as the men who invent card indexe s, motor cars, dynamos, airplanes and all the other things which prevent us getting to the ultimates," says Fr. McNabb.
So is the bright facade of the twentieth century, erected by men dazed in an unreality of gold shares and financial trusts demolished by a man who " loves Ireland as his mother and England as his wife"; and whose sorrow is " that the English spell England: L-o-n-d-o-n."
'Competition is the soul of trade % later I found that competition is the soul of war. As long as the town predominates the country there will be wars. The countryman has trie tools: the townsman the weapons. "In the country co-operation is the soul of work, not competition.
" The priesthood would have to cease before the family life could cease. For the family life is a primary institution. From the family the priest must come.
" The Anglican Bishop of Nyasaland said when he opened some workers' flats at St. Pancras, that the African native would be horrified at the conditions under which 90 per cent. of our city populations live. " No people has ever gone out from the town to the land without a religious impulse."
Are We Going To Do Anything?
Yes, eminently quotable, nearly all of it --yet it is possible that the words may have a less sterile effect, that they may bring forth the practical results we want so urgently.
" We must change popular opinion," the Catholic M.P. said.
W.F.A. gives the Catholic the basis for a formidable attack on the old complacencies, the old sloths. Parliament will act if the people make it, and the Catholic minority can lead the people in demanding that the country be made really worth defending, by putting in order the deficiencies in food, transport, forestry, communications; by giving the unemployed the chance to volunteer for such work of national development, by training them to do it properly.
There was much evidence—too much for comfort—in the exhibition of the emaciation of national strength; and by national strength I don't mean guns and gas cylinders; but the moral and physical fitness of the people.
Brightly painted charts demonstrated the downward slide in population.
Photographs in juxtaposition showed what the words .slum and rehousing mean.
Bugs on Show There was a life-sized model of a tworoomed flat. Not quite the flat at which Home Exhibition devotees might gaze dreamily.
Some battered chairs, an iron bed, a few tawdry ornaments (their brightness, that once may have looked so attractive in a cheap furnishers, dulled with an irremovable veneer of dirt), some strips of carpet, and pieces of ragged lace hanging by the window and over the fireplace.
The model flat was empty except for some bugs which crawled on some pieces of wall paper taken from a recently demolished tenement. The bugs were safely inside a glass case. But two women who were examining the flat, shuddered.
For the next Ideal Home Exhibition, or Woman's Fair, this model flat should be kept. It won't go with the Strauss and strawberry ices, but it might be a good antidote for the envious suburban housewife who wants a washing machine and cannot afford it.