Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Problem in Canada

by Henry Somerville

In an article on "After-War Problems," the Very Rev. Vincent McNabb, 0. P., wrote:

The chief after-war problem will naturally be how to bring the vision of the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ, before the millions of our fellow-countrymen. Humanly speaking, our present methods can never hope to succeed in converting the country. Moreover, until we have intelligently and patiently exhausted all the human means of converting our country we have no claims upon the divine help. Prayer that is a substitute for human action neither praises nor persuades, but insults God.

Although Father McNabb is eminent as a Master of Theology whom it would be presumptuous for a lay writer to correct on a theological point, it may be well to mention that Father McNabb cannot mean that we must wait until we have exhausted all human means before we begin to call upon God for His help in our Catholic work. We must use supernatural and natural means simultaneously. However, the lesson that Father McNabb endeavours to drive home so strongly is profoundly true. Nothing will excuse Catholics for neglecting the natural, human means necessary to carry on the apostolic work of the Church.

Amongst our religious duties is the duty of secular efficiency in so far as efficiency in secular things goes to promote the strength and influence of the Catholic body. I imagine that even St. Francis of Assissi, with all his passion for the Lady Poverty and his love for what was lowliest, would not think it desirable that Catholics should be the helots of the community, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, whilst the higher social functions, the professions of teaching of letters, of journalism, of medicine, of law, the business of government and the leadership of industry were in the hands of heretics.

We can all see that there is no station of life from which Catholic influence should be excluded. We have all to fit ourselves for the most efficient performance of the duties of our station, whether it be a higher or a lower one. The plea for Catholic efficiency is simply a plea for Catholic education in all its branches. We want the best possible secondary education, and the best possible higher education, as well as the best possible primary education. I am not now speaking of religious teaching, the importance of which Catholics recognize, but of secular teaching, the importance of which many Catholics do not recognize. In Toronto not long ago a deceased Catholic's estate, amounting to many thousands of dollars, was distributed according to the terms of the will. For parish purposes and charitable purposes there were very munificent bequests, but for educational work the testator left not one dollar. In some countries such a Catholic will would be regarded as very singular, but here it is the usual thing. It is rather a singularity when a rich Canadian Catholic is found making any substantial endowment for an educational institution. That remarkable priest, who is the head of the Belgian Catholic Labour Unions, Pere Rutten, says: "Catholics aware of their duties and responsibilities have at all times set educational good works in the very forefront of their interests and of their almsgivings." When Father Rutten pleads for Catholic social work he does so on the ground that “social work is only a continuation of the work of education.” It can hardly be said that Catholics throughout Canada set educational good works in the forefront of their interests. There have been very few examples of the munificence that used to be traditional with Catholic patrons of learning, and to which the world owes such universities as Oxford, Cambridge, and Louvain.

The Nation's Business is Our Business

Catholics will be backward socially (I do not use the word in the snobbish sense) in proportion as they are backward educationally. Such backwardness as exists is due to lack of vision, to lack of real Catholicity. We are too exclusively occupied with our own particular selves, our own particular parishes, our own little localisms. Therefore, we do not make Catholicism the power and influence in the national life that it ought to be. We are not succeeding in "bringing the vision of the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church, before the millions of our fellow-countrymen." These countrymen of ours are blind and often bigoted. There are Catholics who make this Protestant blindness and consequent bigotry an excuse for every kind of damnable selfishness and narrowness on the part of Catholics themselves, for neglect to share in the nation's work, for refusal to co-operate in patriotic, civic and social undertakings as if they were none of our business. The nation's business is our business. If we serve the nation efficiently we serve the Church. We take the best means to open the eyes of our fellow-countrymen to the fact that Catholicism is not uncivic. If we make ourselves useful we shall make ourselves valued and anti-Catholic prejudice will be dispelled. It is not so much for our own sake that we should seek to dispel prejudice as for the sake of our separated brethren themselves. We might indeed say: “Let Catholics adopt the motto of 'Ourselves Alone,' let them trust to their own resources and leave the bigots to their bigotry.” But such an attitude would be profoundly un-Catholic. It is our strict duty to labour, in spite of all failures, to dispel anti-Catholic prejudices, because without doing that we cannot succeed in what Father McNabb says is our great work, to bring the vision of the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church, before the millions of our fellow-countrymen.

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