Nothing better demonstrates the truth of the Catholic Church than the constant persecution to which a godless world subjects her. She has inherited in all its fullness the hatred which Jew and Gentile, Pharisee and Herodian, not only bore in their hearts but openly manifested against her Divine Saviour. The Redeemer foretold that His Apostles, His servants, His faithful, and His Church would fare no better than He Himself : "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you." And in the course of the ages this prophecy has been amply fulfilled, even before our very eyes. The Church as a faithful bride patiently shares the fate of her Lord. She too is crowned with thorns; she too is nailed to the cross; she too is bedewed with the blood of her martyrs. But just as the Redeemer is wonderful and adorable in His bitter passion and death, so the true Church shows in her bloody persecutions, in the countless numbers of her martyrs, a greatness, a truth, a beauty, a divinity, which surpasses a thousandfold all the other splendid efforts which she employs for the conversion of the world. Although the marks of the true Church, her unity, her sanctity, her catholicity and apostolicity betoken that God is with her—for indeed, He has, as it were, built the Church on these four mighty and indestructible pillars as His abode on earth and as a secure asylum for mankind—still the likeness which the Church shows to the suffering Saviour in her sorrows and her persecutions demonstrates far more clearly the divinity of her vocation to save the
world and to comfort the faithful.
Just as St. Joseph strove to defend from the machinations of Herod that most precious treasure entrusted to his care, the Divine Child, so the Church has ever striven to defend against the attacks of the Herods and the godless of all times, the Catholic faith, grace and redemption, as the most precious trust confided to her for the welfare of the world. Like St. Joseph she spares no pains, no effort; she recoils not even from persecution, if only she may preserve this priceless treasure. For this very reason she is called the Church Militant, against whom all the powers of iniquity have conspired.
I spoke last time of the bloody persecutions of the Church, in order to show her truth and beauty. Today I will speak of her unbloody persecutions, for they are worse and more dangerous than the former. They proceed from heretics and wicked governments; the former attack the Church in her faith, the latter in her possessions and her life.
O Jesus, assist me with Thy grace!
1. An old Greek fable tells of the Titans, giants of prehistoric times, who in their audacity wished to scale high Olympus itself. To attain this end they heaped mountain upon mountain until the thunderbolt of an avenging god dashed them to the ground. Such Titans or giants of godlessness have ever arisen against the kingdom of heaven on earth, as Christ calls His true Church. This has given rise to the persecutions against the Catholic Church. The pagan emperors were the first giants of impiety. They attempted to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth by shedding the blood of the Christians in profu-sion. Nay more, they declared themselves divine and exacted for themselves divine honors and worship. The pagan emperors tolerated every form of superstition, ungodliness and vice. For the Church and the Christian faith alone they reserved their most relentless and cruel measures; at the price of her life-blood the Church, and she alone, preserved the faith and with it the benefits and the blessings of Christianity to the world. In the meantime the omnipotence of God dashed to the ground and annihilated the idolized pagan emperors with their empire.
But even during the days when the persecutions, instigated by the Roman emperors, were still raging in all their bloody fury, there arose a second generation of Titans to assail the kingdom of heaven. They appeared in the form of heretics, who did not, indeed, threaten the life of the faithful, but who designed to wage a far more pernicious warfare against what Christians prized even more highly than life itself, namely, the doctrines and the faith of the Church. If faith itself be destroyed, the Church will automatically cease to exist. The numerous herd of false teachers who rapidly succeeded each other did not at once direct their attack against the whole body of the Church's dogma, but slowly, steadily, one by one they took them up, disfigured them and tore them to pieces. In the course of centuries there is not a single Catholic doctrine, not an article of faith, not a mystery that has not been questioned or denied, so that at present there is not a tittle of divine revelation which has not been, or is not being, made the object of ungodly criticism or of impious denial. The very existence of God, the personality of our Divine Saviour, the Blessed Virgin in her dignity as Mother of God, the Divine Sacrifice, the immortality of the soul, eternity, heaven and hell, are made the mockery of vile tongues and are positively de- nied. This second persecution is promiscuously tolerant of every heresy, every folly, every madness of the ancient and the new world, down to the renewed theory of man's evolution from a monkey. It hates but one thing—one thing alone it pursues with its venom, and that is the Catholic faith. It is the destiny of the Church to suffer, through the ages, the same persecutions to which her Divine Lord was subjected by the Pharisees and the Sadducees, for they constantly attacked His teachings and cast suspicion on all He said and did.
The pagan emperors constituted themselves gods, and so, like them, the second Titans end by self-deification. It is the apotheosis of human reason, which places itself above God, above Jesus Christ, His Church and the teachings of the faith, and constitutes itself an infallible court before which everything must pass for judgment. It displays itself im-pudently in the sciences, in books and schools and periodicals, and is the cause of all perplexity, contradiction, doubt, ignorance, impiety, blasphemy and hatred. The omnipotence of God has likewise hurled this second attack against His Church to the ground. The force of this second storm is now well-nigh spent. The Protestants belonging to the numberless sects have at the present day no choice left but that of joining the Catholic Church, as so many have already done in England, Holland, Germany and our own country, or of becoming adherents of modern paganism.
The Catholic Church has splendidly withstood all the violence of this storm of centuries. There, impregnable as the Lord built her, she stands a beacon light to the nations. The tempest lashed the waves to fury and hurled them mountain high against her, but the waters fell back in harmless foam, and the beacon stands calm and undisturbed, sending forth the pure rays of her light of faith in undiminished power to guide the nations of all the world, on their way to God, to life eternal.
2. During the middle of the last century a third persecution against the Church had been gathering its forces out of the second. This is the most dangerous and ruthless of all. Just as the cruelty of Church Militant - Herod only benefited the innocent children, so the Roman emperors by their bloody persecutions only benefited Christianity; for never did she show herself in such radiance of truth and virtue as during the days of her greatest suffering. She took the pagan world by surprise and converted it. Nor have the countless heresies caused the Catholic Church any damage. What she lost in Europe by apostasy, she regained in Asia, Africa and America, and the Catholic faith shines as ever in the undimmed splendor of its unity throughout the world.
But this third persecution proceeded from the interior of the Catholic Church herself, and was directed against her own inner life. Consummate cunning and malice distinguished its procedure, for under the mask of friendship and protection, under the caption of reform and enlightenment, an attack was organized such as the world had never seen. This most baneful of all persecutions was reserved to Catholic princes and governments. They forced their way into the very sanctuary and hesitated not to lay their unhallowed hands upon the altar itself. They pretended to regulate everything and endeavored to gain control of even the most sacred functions. They hemmed in the Church on all sides, assumed tutelage over her and robbed her of her rights, her liberties and her possessions. They destroyed order and discipline, and forbade the conferring of ecclesiastical orders, the giving of blessings, the holding of processions and pilgrimages—all the manifestations of the Church's life. What was the result? Catholic life, once so flourishing, now languished, works of piety were forgotten, the zeal for charitable institutions died out, old habits of industry and honesty vanished and respect for constituted authority became a thing of the past even among Catholic nations. The Lord's day was neglected. Instead grew up religious indifference, ignorance of man's most sacred obligations, impiety, immorality, luxury, dishonesty, discontent, and, finally, revolution. Whole generations were corroded and remain so to this day.
But just as the pagan emperors ended by becoming self-made gods and then went down to their destruction, just as the heresies deified reason and are now in a state of dissolution, so the third persecution naturally culminates in the deification of the State. The mask is fallen, the State is without religion, without God—it is its own god. Therefore it has but one battle to fight and that is against the Catholic Church.—Its ultimate purpose is the dechristianization of the peoples. A State without a God must necessarily hate the Catholic Church as its natural-born enemy.
1. The dechristianization of the nations is effected in a twofold manner : First, the deified State declares that it is the source of all right and justice. But if the State is the only source of right and justice, it strictly follows that no other law or right has force or value; then there is no divine or ecclesiastical or international law, no personal or civil rights, no true freedom, no justice, no liberty of conscience or of opinion, except only in so far as the State may be pleased to allow it. Every justifiable opposition is branded as rebellion against the State, and so every effort is made to destroy the life and the activity of the Catholic Church. On the contrary, under pretext of enlightened toleration,—the toleration of the pagan emperors of old,—every protection and facility is given to lies and slanders and errors, aye they are welcomed with open arms as staunch allies in the one great fight—the fight against the Catholic Church.
2. Secondly—the aim is the dechristianization of our children by means of schools without religion, where the Catholic faith is misrepresented and held up to the scorn of the pupils in a multiplicity of ways; the dechristianization of the family by means of civil marriage and divorce; of the student body by means of infidel or irreligious universities under the pretext of advancing the cause of liberty and of science; of the adult world by means of a subsidized press, of theatres reeking with lewdness and immorality, and of secret societies. When the child, the family and civil society have been thus gradually dechristianized—then, of course, it is assumed that the Catholic Church will be very near her last end, and what is left of her can be destroyed without great difficulty. This saddest of all the persecutions is very much like the action of Herod, who did not indeed condemn Jesus, but clothed Him with a garment of mockery with the purpose of robbing Him of the last remnant of respect and love in which He was held by the people. In like manner godless governments clothe the Church in a robe of derision by abandoning her to every possible insult, with a view to depriving her of the people's love.
God also permits this persecution. It has furnished an excellent opportunity of drawing a sharp line of demarcation between the good and the wicked, between virtue and vice, between hatred and love; indeed it is a glorious time for the Catholic Church and her loyal children. It is particularly in our day, when the iniquities of the world have conspired against her, that the Catholic Church stands forth in all her grandeur and majesty, the true beacon light of unity in faith and salvation, a sure guide and consolation for the oppressed peoples. And it is this commanding attitude that fills her enemies with rage and drives them to despair.
3. The pagan emperors of old have gone down to ruin and their world-empire has been destroyed. The different heresies are now undergoing a slow but sure process of disintegration. Like them, all the States that have discarded God and His law are hastening to inevitable destruction. And it cannot well be otherwise. The adorable wisdom and providence of God have admirably adapted the Catholic faith to the life, the habits, the needs, the liberty, the aspirations of the individual as well as of whole nations. Take it away from them, and the individual as well as the nation will perish. Take a being out of the proper sphere of its existence, and see how it suffers. Look at the fish out of water, the bird deprived of air and freedom, the beasts of the woods and the mountains enclosed within the confines of a cage. Thus and much more does man suffer, do nations languish, when they are rudely torn from the atmosphere of Catholic life and faith. Such a life is no longer natural; it is injurious and a menace to existence itself. Those who tamper with the faith of a nation, who work at its dechristianization, call it by whatever name hypocrisy dictates, enlightenment, liberty or toleration, they are the peril and the enemy of that nation, for they are undermining its very life and existence. It is the first endeavor of every sectary and revolutionary to dupe the people, by means of insidious definitions, into throwing aside their Christian faith, so that in the resultant turmoil he may gain the mastery and acquire wealth.
In fact the man who has lost his Christian faith, who rejects Christian teachings and precepts, no longer believes in honesty, conscience, retribution, or charity. He throws off every restraint, he seeks his personal advantage in everything and earth is his paradise, procured, if necessary, by a life of public or private crime. What is true of the individual is
equally true of the nation. If there be any honesty, morality or loyalty left, it is owing solely and alone to Catholic faith, to Catholic life,—not so-called enlightenment, not to the promised happiness and brotherhood of man nor to the swarm of worthless periodicals.
My dearly beloved! When the Catholic Church opposes this avowed purpose of the deified State, when she vindicates her divine mission and her rights, she defends thereby the Christian family, true liberty, the true welfare and rights of the individual as well as of the nation. And if for this she is made to suffer, if she is persecuted and hated, she suffers and is persecuted because she, and she alone, can warn and save the nations. Infidelity and vice and error and secret conspiracies have never yet retarded the downfall of a people but have rather hastened it. The public press of our country is barely tolerant of, certainly not friendly to, the Catholic Church. For once that it is forced by circumstances to say something in her favor, it is a thousand times the vehicle of the vilest slanders and insults against her, her institutions and her children. And in this it enjoys the protection of the country's fundamental law. Why should this be so? Because the Catholic Church is the hereditary enemy, and the people must be taught to hate and to despise her and all that she stands for.
We Catholics have indeed been obliged in the past to listen to many a malevolent misrepresentation, many a sneer and taunt cast on our glorious faith. And we, good poor fools, have accepted all and kissed the rod that struck us. In this land of liberty, we alone are considered aliens and must apologize for having the temerity to exist. Are these the limitations of freedom of conscience? Are these the equal rights guaranteed to us by the constitution which our forefathers helped to frame and for which so much Catholic blood was shed?
The Catholic Church by strenuously opposing the dechristianization of the nations and suffering for her principles, can alone save the peoples. And if she cannot attain this object, not she, but the nations will suffer. Like her Divine Lord she battles against the impiety and the corruption of the world. And in this particular point she proves herself worthy of the Redeemer as His true Church. In this warfare she is more splendid than in peace and gives evidence of the divine power that is assisting her. She fights and suffers because she seeks for souls and desires to save the faith and redemption for the coming generations, until finally her efforts will be crowned with victory, and there will be but one flock and one shepherd on earth.
We too, my dear friends, must fight, at least for ourselves and for those who belong to us, so that we may preserve that most precious treasure entrusted to our care,—our Catholic faith. Everything depends on it, —not only grace and truth and eternal life, but also our very temporal existence, right and justice, order and well-being. And if in our sphere we have saved the Catholic faith from the machinations of the Herods, the Pharisees and the Jews, it will in turn save us for time and eternity and will lead us to the blissful vision of our Divine Saviour, to whom be praise forever. Amen.
The Beauty and Truth of the Catholic Church, Imprimatur 1911