WE SAY a great deal nowadays, and very rightly, too, about the Apostleship of the Press, but what of the Apostleship of Speech? For the Press, mighty and far-reaching as it is, has, we all know, its own peculiar limitations, and needs a complement. Many of us can not write, many lack the time or inclination, and even when it is duly sent forth, the printed page is never quite sure of its audience. This man will not read except for amusement, the other distrusts whatever savors of the supernatural, a third is steeled beforehand against anything which hints of Catholicity, or the Church.
But the kindly, spontaneous speech of man to man is easy and common to us all. It murmurs everywhere, on the car, on the street, in offices and homes, kindling its own interest, winning attention, appealing to every one, in spite of his prejudices and his inclinations. It opens an easy way for that genial interchange of personal opinion, of question and answer, of objection and reply, which clears and recommends, as nothing else can, one's true beliefs, and principles and points of view.
Of course, no one nowadays would praise mere controversy or polemics. Heaven forbid! That odious and ugly wrangling over sacred truths, which only adds stubbornness to each man's conviction, is happily out of mode. But we are in danger of going to the other extreme and following the indifferentism of the age so far that we carefully avoid every mention of sacred things. This cruel kindness and complaisance we are guilty of sometimes even to our dearest and nearest friends. Cruel one must call it, because we are keeping from them, by our silence, the very truths and principles which we hold as our dearest and most precious possession in this world. If a readiness to share one's money and influence and opportunities is looked for between friends, how much more should there be a frank and willing communication of those eternal truths which enrich and ennoble a man's immortal soul. Yet, if we treated one another in matters of dollars and cents as we do in issues of the soul's salvation, some of us would have few friends left in the world.
Once, in the murmur and clatter of a crowded street-car, an angry voice rose over the hum of city noises : "You knew the firm was going under," it shouted in ungovernable fury, "and let me go ahead with the deal." A moment's pause followed, in which one might imagine a murmured reply. "You knew I was in for losing, and you were on the right side, and you didn't say a word I" cried the voice again. "You curl That may be your idea of friendship, but it isn't mine; don't talk to me again!" The angry man was right. That was no true friend who let him stake his money on a rotten venture and never said a word. Heaven grant that our own friends may not have cause to hurl a like reproach at us on the Judgment Day!
I remember still the regretful pathos with which a dear old gentleman, who in the thoughtlessness of youth had entered into associations which kept him from his religious duties, told me of the strange silence which every one kept toward him on that one subject of which he had most need to hear. "There was So-and-so," said he, "a good Catholic, and a firm friend of mine, but he never said the word. And there was Father N ; many a time I laughed and chatted with him, but he never said the word. And there's X, and Y, and Z Ah I" the old man would finish, "and now that I'm back in the Church of God, it seems to me I've lost the most of my life I" All for want of the word!
No man of us all can plead a lack of such occasions. Many a Catholic, nowadays, is almost solitary in a circle of unbelieving associates. Is silence friendly then. The man who drops into a seat beside you and wishes you a cheery good-morning, may be as starved and stinted of all knowledge of things divine as a tribesman of the Moros. More than possibly, as things stand now in the United States, he has never said a childish prayer by his mother's knee ; never learned to reverence the Sacred Name; never heard, at home or at school, the saving truths of Christ; never once been brought face to face with the stupendous truths that there is an Infinite God, and that man has an immortal soul! It is not malice with him, this denseness to sacred truth: it is ignorance, it is preoccupation.
This is a distracted age; we live fast, we notice only what is thrust upon us. All that he has heard of God's Holy Name may have been (dreadful thought) when it was used in blasphemy, or as the nice ornament of some well-turned phrase; or at the best, as a vague symbol of nature or human-kind, lacking personality and dim of definition.
Ask the missionary, or him who has care of the instruction of converts, whether this picture be too darkly drawn. Religion to this man may be only the queer fancy some men have to while away a Sunday morning. That God is a person, even as himself; that the soul has ages of endless life before it; that the world is only a trying-out place for the brightest or darkest hereafter; that there is a hell, the blaze of the anger of God, and a Heaven, the smile of His tenderness; that every man and woman is sacred, is of God's own kindred; that what seems blind chance is only a bit, ill-seen, of the vast schemes of Infinite Prevision—what does he know, what has he ever dreamed of all these things? But you are his friend. He will listen to you, if you are ready for a kindly explanation. He is interested, after all, in most things human, in your affairs particularly. What a revelation to his ignorance, and what a stimulus from his dangerous preoccupation with merely earthly and temporal things, if you were sometimes to take occasion from current themes to explain those lovely and satisfying doctrines of the Church, which please and thrill by their beauty and saneness even where faith does not enter in and beget acceptance of their truth! If it were golf you were interested in, or stocks, or futures, or horses, or a new brand of goods, or a coming marriage, it would go hard, but he would have to listen all the way downtown, and that right cheerfully. Well, try him sometimes, with kindly tact, and opportunely, on some Catholic theme. I say opportunely, but fit occasions are legion nowadays. With almost every question of the clay there is bound up some point of Catholic principle or belief. The labor questions of the times call up, with their multifarious perplexities, those sanest showings- forth of the mind of Christendom, the masterly Encyclicals of Leo XIII. In this connection one will naturally think of the vast influence for good of the Papacy on the world; of the true nature of that spiritual leadership, by which Christ made Peter and his successors not sinless indeed but infallible, when they teach us in His name. Thence opens wide the whole question of the Apostolic Succession, then one may speak of the Roman Curia, and all the admirable government of the Church, so much misrepresented because so little understood. One may fall to explaining, also, the history of the Papacy; why, for instance, some great ecclesiastics may have been great rascals, without their unprincipled lives reflecting either on the doctrine or discipline of the eternal Church.
Or it may be that the sad state of unhappy France comes up for discussion, and one is naturally moved to explain the true relation of the Church and State; or the reasons and policy of the Church's prohibition of Secret Societies—not always for what they are, but sometimes also for what they may come to be; or the Parochial School question, and why the Church so stoutly demands Catholic teaching for Catholic children.
Again, the questions which turn upon Marriage and Divorce are forever bobbing up in our speech nowadays. The uncompromising stand of the Church on such matters, her watchful guarding of the sanctity of marriage, and her reasons for it, how natural to dwell on these I Or Socialism—how many topics does it not suggest? The reason for the necessary and unrelenting hostility of the Church, which stands for piety and justice, against a creed which in the concrete is both irreligious and unjust; and so on, to subjects without number. "But how in the name of goodness," I seem to hear some one cry out sadly, "is one to be ready to give good explanations on such subjects as these?"A proper question, and one which calls for a whole treatise by itself. But one can condense after the manner of the testy gentleman who cried out in answer to a similar inquiry: "God bless you, sir! Why not go and read?'
Naturally, to be a proper Catholic, one must glance now and then over Catholic papers and have some acquaintance with Catholic magazines and books. But "why not," to be sure? If the followers of Christian Science and its airy inconsistencies can toil to be letter-perfect in "Mother Eddy's" clueless mystifications, so as to have at least a quotation ready for ever need; and if the Spencerian agnostic can bear to trace out his leader's maunderings to the dusty end, surely we Catholics can all endure to become prompt and ready with the warm and human, yet Divine and Heavenly, truths and principles of Christ.
Wrong-headed folk, with flimsy theories, have often a dreadful gift of voluble exposition, which puts us children of the light to shame. In season and out of season they din away at their pet theory, until by mere repetition they wear it a place in men's thoughts, or even a standing in their esteem. We must not imitate their fanatical excesses —indeed there is little danger as things go with us now; but the temper of the times is such that even the truth can not dispense with some of this emphasis of repetition and ready reply. The age is crowded with clamoring teachers; if even truth is silent it will be unregarded as well. On the other hand, by kindly explanation, timely comment and friendly expostulation and reply, one's beliefs and views are sure to gain a hearing, and a hearing is all that Catholic Truth need ask.
In fine, look on this picture, and on this. Our friend Dick has a fearfully keen nose for controversy. His type, I own, is somewhat rare in these days. Give him but a little opening and he will argue away for hours, with the slightest encouragement, nay, in spite of the most evident distaste and disgust on the part of his unwilling victim. Dick means well, to be sure (his selfishness is half unconscious) ; he knows a great deal, his speech is fluent and sincere ; he only lacks the heavenly gift of tact and opportuneness, but lacking this, his acrid fluency has made many a helpless fellow sore on religion and savage against pious talk for all after days.
Tom, on the other hand, and his name is many, runs quite to the other extreme. He is the discreetest fellow in the world, and sheers off from questions of belief and principles like a timid hare at the hunter's halloo! He seldom breathes a word that can benefit any one, his talk is all remote from religious issues, and most of his friends scarcely know whether he is a Catholic or a fellow of Huxley, or of the German visionaries. He breaks a commandment. His light never shines at all!
Harry, on the other hand—God bless him I —holds the difficult mean. When he speaks of religious matters he does it in as easy, interested a way as when he talks politics or business. His mind runs naturally on the theme, and his interest carries you with him. He knows and he thinks on what he knows, and remembers it readily and in opportune connections. There is neither false shame nor harsh self-assertiveness in his tone. You see earnest-faced men listening to his quiet explanations with a sort of steady wonder; and when he pauses you notice that they sink back and murmur: "By Jove! that sounds sensible. I never could understand just what you Catholics thought on that point before." Ah, if there were only more Harrys now amongst us!
Source: "Your Neighbor and You" by Father Garesche, Imprimatur 1918