The Point – September 1952

Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center

September, 1952

POINTERS

Some months ago, Father Francis J. Connell, C. Ss. R., associate editor of The American Ecclesiastical Review, made a play for public recognition as a theologian, by denouncing boxing as an immoral sport. Now he has continued his headline-directed theology, by doing some speculation for publication on “flying saucers.”

Fr. Connell says that, although science might have some objections, there would be nothing at all against theology in assuming that the “saucers” indicate the existence of rational creatures on other planets. He even proposes how, if these creatures sinned, God might have arranged for their redemption. “It is possible,” he says, “that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed the nature of rational beings of another world … or one of the other Divine Persons could have become Incarnate.”

We can imagine Fr. Connell at Christmas-time, lost in meditation of some other Bethlehem that might have occurred on some other planet, where some equally Blessed Virgin (having been told by an angel nine months before that she, too, is to be the Mother of God) kneels in adoration before her new-born Baby, who is the re-Incarnate God — perhaps God the Father, this time, or God the Holy Ghost.

Another priest who thinks that Our Lady is not nearly so singular as she has been made out is Bishop Fulton Sheen. In his latest book, The World’s First Love, Bishop Sheen says of Our Lady: “She is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman — whether he knows it or not.”

It would probably surprise, among others, a lot of inmates of Moslem harems, to hear a Catholic bishop assuring them that it was not the Sultan’s lust but his unconscious love for the Blessed Virgin Mary that put them where they are.

Catholic Bible Week will be observed from September 28th to October 4th. In anticipation, Sheed & Ward has been plugging a publication called The Knox Bible. Here is one of Sheed’s plugs: “The Knox Bible is the first Catholic Bible since Gutenberg (now having its 500th anniversary) to be praised alike by Catholics and Protestants. 500 years is a long time to wait, but still it’s nice it’s finally happened.”

True, Frank Sheed, 500 years is a long time to wait. But aren’t you getting too little credit for the fact that “it’s finally happened”? It takes an awful lot of publishing know-how to get out a Bible that will be praised by both Catholics and Protestants, both papists and Baptists, both Hail Mary sayers and Blessed Virgin despisers.

Bar-Mitzvah is a Jewish religious term which means “one who is bound to obey the commandments.” Bar-Mitzvah is also the name of a book published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. The declared purpose of the book is to make young American Hebrews take pride in their prominent noses. It bears the imprimatur of the Rabbinical Council of America, and from their long experience in snubbing Jesus and Mary, the Council members offer Bar-Mitzvah ’s readers some strictly kosher advice for the 25th of December: “Let there be no Christmas tree in the home, because the Christmas tree is symbolical of a religion in many ways contradictory to ours. To have that tree, the symbol of Christianity, in a Jewish home, stamps that home as disloyal and false to our religion, to our duty, and to our God. He who is proud to be a Jew will scorn to be a servile imitator of Christians.”

When Archbishop Richard J. Cushing addressed a meeting of Jewish rabbis in Boston a while ago, the Rabbinical Council was pleased to learn that His Excellency made no mention of Christmas trees.

PORTRAIT OF A PIOUS FRAUD

America is a land dedicated to the proposition that all that glitters is gold. It is a land where sham is the standard, where phonies flourish and pretenses go unquestioned, a land of drug-store literature and dime-store art, of trumpet kings and grapefruit queens, of simulated leather and mahogany veneer, of imitation flavoring and “color added.” It is a land where advertisers flatter you into buying something you do not want by pretending that you are something you are not — young or rich or good-looking or intelligent, where movies have made themselves the number-one industry by offering as entertainment vicarious adventure and romance. It is a land that likes to call itself Christian, but neither follows Christ nor has any intention of following Him. It is the land of the whitened sepulchre, where bright lights and gaudy colors hide misery and filth, and age conceals itself behind a mask of cosmetics.

America is the land of the fraud. And somehow this spirit of fraudulence — the spirit that has made this a nation of four-flushers, windbags, and impostors, a nation unable, or unwilling, to distinguish gold from dross, truth from lies — has found its way into the Church. For the pride of American Catholicism, its fairest flower, its choicest fruit, is a fraud. He is the Pious Fraud — the Catholic who pretends to have the Faith, is assumed to have it, but who hasn’t a glimmer of it.

It is not numerical superiority that makes the Pious Fraud the most prominent member of the Church in America, for he is not the common garden-variety of American Catholic. But what he lacks in numbers, the Pious Fraud more than makes up for (1) in influence (he is the type and exemplar of American Catholicism; he has stamped it, molded it, and made it what it is), and (2) in ubiquity.

The Pious Fraud is everywhere. He is in every office, every neighborhood, every parish. You can hear his voice on the radio, read his books in the library, and see his picture in the newspaper. He is always the most conspicuous Catholic in whatever place you find him. He represents both sanctity and intellectuality in American Catholicism. You will hear him variously referred to as “the best Catholic we have,” “a living saint,” “a man who really knows his Faith,” and “the person to ask.”

A fraud — whether male or female, clerical or lay — is a person with Catholic devotions, but with Protestant and Jewish sympathies. He is always anxious to apologize for anything Catholic that anyone might care to attack, but he gets terribly indignant if you suggest that the Protestants and Jews of America are anything but sincere, God-loving people. He will tell you, often and loudly, of his daily attendance at Mass, his frequent Communions, his novenas, his family rosary. But he will never insinuate to the Protestants and Jews he knows that they suffer any essential lack in not having these things. He will never urge them to come into the Church, or hint that the devotions he claims to cherish so highly might be needful for them, too. Rather, he modestly allows that the Protestants are doing as much, in their way, by attending their churches, and the Jews, in their way, by attending their synagogues, as he is doing, in his way, by attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion.

You must not assume from this behavior, however, that the Pious Fraud is uninterested in having America become Catholic. Indeed, if you can get him alone, he will assure you that there is no interest closer or dearer to his heart. The Pious Fraud realizes that in order to justify his annual contributions to foreign missions he must take some stand on the 120 million non-Catholic Americans. Consequently, he has manufactured a theology to go with his lack of apostolic zeal. This allows him to pose as one who is very interested in making conversions, and at the same time excuses him for not telling the Protestants and Jews of America that they ought to be Catholics. Here are some of his utterances:

1. “You can do much more by prayer and good example than you can by forcing it down their throats.” (This is the Pious Fraud’s favorite. It not only excuses his not mentioning the Faith to non-Catholics, but it also emphasizes his own piety: How could anyone be unmoved in the face of such holiness? How could such prayers go unheard?)

2. “Don’t you think it is very uncharitable and unkind to criticize a person’s religion to his face, and tell him that your church is true and his isn’t? How would you like it if he said that to you? You will never win him that way. All you will do is drive him farther away from the Church than ever.”

3. “Of course America must eventually be converted. But I am afraid that it is not for our times. We have a humbler job to do. We have the job of preparing the people — teaching them to lead moral lives and to have a reverence for spiritual values — so that when the Faith is finally preached in America, the people will be ready to receive it.”

4. “After all, you know it does require a certain amount of intelligence to understand the subtleties of the Faith; and, frankly, most people just don’t have that intelligence. I think the best thing is just to leave them to the mercy of God.”

5. “Whoever said you have to be a Catholic to save your soul, anyway?”

Whenever you hear a person talking this way, you can be pretty sure that you are listening to a Pious Fraud. No matter how great a reputation he may have for holiness and learning, no matter how much display he may make of his devotional practices, no matter how many allusions he may make to his hair shirt, if he is, in addition, inventing reasons to avoid telling Protestants and Jews that they ought to be Catholics, if he is making them think, in any way, that he approves of their religion — then he is, clearly and unmistakably, a Pious Fraud.

But perhaps you, reading this, do not agree with what I say. Perhaps you think the reasons enumerated above are good reasons for not preaching the Faith … Perhaps you, too, are a Pious Fraud.

BY FATHER FEENEY

Monsignor Ronald Knox is the son of an Anglican bishop and the brother of an Anglican minister. He severed his own connections with Anglicanism so as to acquire the central assurances and valid orders of Rome. His change of religious allegiance was managed without any apparent ruffling of his relatives, and he entered the Church, pipe in hand. That pipe he has not since put down, not even in photographs. Nor has he put aside any of his former canniness and nimble ability to amuse …

Reverend Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) Image via Ronald Knox Society
Reverend Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957)
Image via Ronald Knox Society

Ronald Knox is a great one for knowing the boundaries of things, both in behavior and in thought. And he has a shrewd way of keeping the apostle and the apologete in a priest, distinct. One is in doubt at times as to whether he wants England to come back to the Church, or the Church to come back to England. I once heard him say, when he was the Catholic chaplain at Oxford, that his purpose there was not to make conversions, but only to minister to those who already had the Faith. His own reasons for becoming a Catholic — his previous wide reading and proficiency in the humanities, his spiritual indebtedness to Virgil’s Aeneid — most of the students were familiar with, thanks to his many books and articles on the subject. Some of the students, however, thought Monsignor Knox’s logic too tactful to be innocently true, and they felt that if he stopped his affirmative arguments for a moment, and polished up his negative premises, he might easily win on the other side.

Monsignor Knox, by way of revising the bad English of the Church he entered, recently loaned it his vocabulary, and issued an edition of Holy Scripture known as “The Knox Bible.” In this Bible, Ronald Knox figuratively puts wrist-watches on all the Evangelists, and invites them to dinner in a don’s refectory, where, in the midst of revelation and refreshment, they may be colloquially introduced, and may receive academic credit for being the excellent and inspired authors they are.

(from London is a Place, The Ravengate Press, Boston)

OUR VANISHING SEMINARIANS

A Catholic priest and a Protestant minister have certain things in common. These things are: the “Reverend” in front of their respective names, the clerical discount on their monthly bills, and the Jewish rabbi who insists on being mentioned every time a priest and a minister are. Apart from these accidentals — their mode of address, their 10% off, and their vocational classification with bearded Hebrews — a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister are necessarily unlike.

A Catholic priest is a teacher of dogmas; a Protestant minister is an expresser of opinions.

A Catholic priest can forgive your sins; a Protestant minister must excuse them.

For heritage, a priest has Christendom’s saints, its cathedrals, and its glorious crusades. A minister is left with the Reformation’s pillage, some hymns, and the Ku Klux Klan.

A minister’s success can be measured by his ability to maintain his reputation in the community. A priest’s greatest achievement lies in losing his reputation, and, ultimately, his life, for Jesus.

The majority of American Catholics, however, will not agree that there is any basic unlikeness between a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. It is the loudly protested opinion of most American Catholics that a priest and a minister are both equipped to serve God and save souls. The only differences they will admit are those of equipment. To do his job well, a priest requires an altar, vestments, candles, Latin, and the power to turn bread and wine into God. To do his job, and the assumption is that it is done equally well, a minister needs none of these.

This lack of faith among American Catholics, this depredation of the Sacraments of Holy Orders, is beginning to have its logical effect on vocations to the priesthood. Vocations are everywhere taking a drop. Everyone has a theory about why this is so, yet no one has mentioned the fundamental reasons for our vanishing seminarians: the prevalent Americatholic teaching that there are people who can reach Heaven without the aid of a priest.

The call to the priesthood is no longer an imperative and zealous awareness. It is no longer an impetuous abandoning of family, wealth and self; no longer an alert eagerness to defend the honor of God and His Blessed Mother. An American boy’s decision to be a priest is now too often determined by (a) an attraction to the courtesies accorded to a Roman collar, or, (b) the double lure of a room at the rectory and a locker at the country club, or, (c) the expectation that the sacerdotal “glamour jobs” will soon need some new Bishop Sheens and Father Kellers.

America’s seminaries are turning out not apostles but apologetes; not pastors, but business men; not lovers of Jesus and Mary, but proponents of “divinity” and “religion.” A young priest is not encouraged to “preach in the highways and the byways,” and win America to the Faith. He is asked to study under atheists at heretical universities, to let everybody know how American and how intellectual a man can be, despite the fact that he is, at the same time, a Catholic priest.

The Catholic Faith did not come blazingly to our country the way Saint Patrick brought it to Ireland, or Saint James to Spain. The Faith disembarked here timidly, as an immigrant. It filled out all the forms, complied with all the regulations, and, after a couple of generations, lost all of its objectionable European qualities. The seminaries have been the chief instruments for this Americanization of the Faith. Now that it has been accomplished, a priest can walk down Main Street, America, and feel as much a part of the milieu as any Protestant minister might. Still, vocations to the priesthood are falling off.

Each year it is becoming more difficult for seminaries to interest young boys in a One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church which is just one of many ways to Heaven, and in a priesthood which has only advantages of liturgy over Billy Graham.

Our concern is not prompted solely by the prospect of empty confessionals, vacant tabernacles, and unanointed deaths. For the tragedy of America’s vocation problem is not just the shortage of laborers for the harvest. It is the belief that, even without laborers, the harvest can come in by itself.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s