The following article deals about us, Catholics. Written by a Catholic author, it shows how much we Catholics are being wane and lenient. I sometimes asked myself if I am one and if so, how I must fix it the soonest time. I’m now sharing it here for the benefit of my fellow Catholics. In this little way, I hope to awaken a Catholic here or there from a long sleep that’s close to killing the body itself.
The fact is that too many Catholics - good Catholics, pious Catholics - live a one-sided life. Spiritually one-sided, that is. They are meticulous in avoiding sin, conscientious in prayer, and frequently at Holy Communion. They are engrossed in nurturing a beautiful soul for themselves, but unhappily missing the full implication of the Gospel. They have absorbed well the lesson of the Beatitudes, but they have not balanced that lesson against the Works of Mercy.
The Master was well aware of our human nature’s tendency to selfishness, even in matters of the soul. That is why He hammered away so often at the idea that our attitude toward our neighbor is the true test of our inner health. I am sure that if I had been asked to guess, in advance, how Christ would describe the Last Judgment, I’d have flunked the test completely.
“Come, ye blessed of my Father,” He says, “possess you the kingdom prepared for you.” That much would be easy to guess. It’s on the “becauses” that I’d have tripped up. “Because you were prayerful, and truthful, and chaste; devout, honest and sober.” Something like those would have been my choices. So it is a bit of a shock to listen to Christ’s actual words, especially as they begin to sink in.
“Because I was hungry and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; naked and you clothed Me… as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me!”
So maybe there would be sense, after all, in our confessor’s question: “Who lives next door to you?” And who lives in the house beyond, and in the house across the street? It would be no escape for us to answer that folks next door are hillbillies; that they are fighting with each other half the time and drunk every Saturday night. It would be no defense to say that they belong to some queer sect called the “Church of the undefiled”; that they hate Catholics and that we don’t want anything to do with them. It wouldn’t be our confessor who would answer us. Christ already has done so: “For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not even the heathens do this? Be you therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is, to say the least, a bit sobering to realize that my spiritual perfection is going to be measured by my attitude toward the man I can’t stand; toward the woman who always gets in my hair; toward the family who has destroyed the peace of the neighborhood.
It is a hard lesson to learn. To realize that the more unlovable my neighbor is the more all out I must go in my efforts to love him. To knock on the back door of “those awful people” and maybe ask to borrow some little thing (since psychologists say the easiest way to make a friend is to ask a favor, rather than to do one). To break down their reserve, and maybe suspicion, with gentle kindness and unobtrusive love. Finding perhaps in the end that the reason they fight and drink is because they are lonesome in a neighborhood where friends are so hard to make.
The reason it is so painful to us is partly because there’s nothing in it for us. There must be nothing in it for us, nothing except the approval of our Master, and that “Kingdom prepared for us,” of which He speaks.
Too often Catholics approach their non-Catholic neighbors with a predatory eye; they wonder how they can be led into the fold; they are disappointed if they balk at coming to the font. But the love of which Christ is speaking must be disinterested enough to transcend even this selfish (if holy) satisfaction. We shall pray for their conversion, certainly; but even more, we must pray for their salvation. The two things are not always coincidental.
I hope that no one will misunderstand me and think that I am belittling personal piety. To praise the rain does not mean that the sun is thereby condemned. The good-works-only type of religion is as bad as the me-and-God-only type.
I am only saying that a man would be an imbecile to spend hours and money in a gymnasium to build up his muscles, then put them to no other use except to flex them before a mirror for his own enjoyment, especially if his neighbor was being crushed to death beneath a heavy weight.
Who lives next door to me? It is Christ!
I once knew a man who did many things which his friends considered foolish. When they would point the finger of criticism at him, he would answer darkly, “I have my reasons.” So if anyone accuses me of harping too much on this theme of fraternal charity, love for my neighbor, I too shall reply, “I have my reasons.”
One of the reasons stems from the sadness I sometimes feel at the thought of how much more powerfully we could be witnesses to Christ, had we but the charity of Christ. We have allowed our non-Catholic brethren to outstrip us in many things that should be characteristic of Christ’s own. The Anglicans have outdone us in their appreciation of, and love for, the liturgy. The Evangelicals have surpassed us in their reverence for, and knowledge of, the Holy Bible. The Witnesses of Jehovah daily us to shame by the fervor of their apostolic, if mistaken, zeal.
And the Quakers, a numerically small and insignificant body, have become synonymous in America with selfless and dedicated devotion to the poor and unfortunate. If our Catholics had the compassion of our outnumbered Quakers, then the modern pagans might exclaim again, as did those of Rome, “See how these Christians love another!” And Christ might reign among us.
The picture, I know, is not all black. We can look around us at the Catholic orphanages and hospitals and homes for the aged, and the steadily increasing amounts given for the home and foreign missions, and for European relief. But we have allowed our charity to become so institutionalized. As though we could answer the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” merely by writing a check or dropping a bill in the basket.
A Communist leader once asked the French Dominican, Pere Leow, “Do you mean to tell me that out of all your hearers - who call themselves good Catholics and never dream of missing Mass on Sundays - there would be a single one who would be willing to share his home, if a worker and his family were wandering around this town this very night, without means or shelter?”
That’s almost hitting us below the belt, isn’t it? What would I answer, I wonder, if a man rang my doorbell today, with a wife and a couple of kids by his side? If he said, “Mister, we’ve been evicted and we have no place to go; could you put us up for a couple of days?” Would I answer, “Sure, I’ll sleep on the sofa and you can have my room!” Or would I run to the phone and call the County Welfare to ask what agency I should send them to? Being big-hearted enough, of course, to provide them with carfare to get them to a caseworker’s desk.
Actually, of course, it won’t happen to me. The day has not yet come when a poor man can say with confidence, “I’m sure of getting help here; this is a Catholic family.”
It’s amazing how few of us have ever seen poverty in the raw. Tenements where the rats run across the children’s bed at night. (And there is only one bed, no matter how many children.) Hovel’s where coal is brought in by the bushel, and husbanded like gold. Shacks where the water is hauled in by the bucketful, and heated only for cooking. (“Even if they are poor,” I hear myself saying, “They needn’t be so dirty.”) Main-thoroughfare property is too expensive for tenements and hovels and shacks, so we don’t see them. And if we see them, they aren’t real to us. No one we know lives there.
It’s surprising, too, how few of us have ever fed a poor man - or woman - with our own hands. I don’t mean that we have a passport to Heaven by the mere fact of seating a beggar at our table, or lugging a basket of groceries to that shiftless Jones family. I only mean that Christ - and His Bride, the Church - would tower so visibly over our city streets, if I could but stop feeling complacent.
If only I could stop thinking that Christ came upon earth precisely so that I and my loved ones might relax in the odor of incense and guttering wax, and be clean and secure and sheltered. If only I could remember that no artist has ever dared paint a picture of “The Comfortable Christ.”