Chapter 20

in which Father Smith, recently promoted to Canon Smith, suggests to his fellow priests that Catholic faith is about more than hindering lovers to seek their privacy in secluded church corners.

Father Smith was sixty-one years of age when, in 1929, the Bishop made him a canon of the pro-Cathedral, reinstated him as rector of the Church of the Holy Name, and transferred Canon Bonnyboat to Saint Mungo's, Strathtochter. Monsignor O'Duffy was jubilant, and said that it just showed ye that everything came to him who waited, and that the nuns at the convent would cheer like a crowd at a football match when they saw him daundering into the sanctuary in a purple cassock. And on the Feast of Saints Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus, Martyrs, Thomas Edmund Smith sang his first capitular High Mass in the pro-Cathedral, with Canon Muldoon as deacon and Canon Bonnyboat as subdeacon, and Monsignor O'Duffy himself as master of ceremonies.

As it was a weekday, the congregation was small, with Lady Ippecacuanha very prominent in the front row. The canons, however, were all there, fitted into their stalls like pipes into racks, and Canon Smith felt very nervous because he knew that his voice, never good at any time, was now old and cracked. The collect bothered him quite a lot and he decided to sing it on a low tone so that his faults might be the less noticed; but before he had got the first clause out, Monsignor O'Duffy, who was standing beside him, whispered: 'Sing oot louder, Tam; the auld wives at the back'll no be able tae hear ye.'

When the Mass was over, the chapter meeting took place in the presbytery because there was no proper chapter house. Shorn of their vestments and their robes, the successors of Saint Andrew and Saint Kentigern and Saint Blaan and Saint Drostan and Saint Columba sat round the sombre dining-room in their square black boots and alpaca jackets that came halfway down their thighs. Christopher Canon Bonnyboat of Saint Mungo's, Strathtochter; Aloysius Patrick Francis Canon Muldoon of the Sacred Heart, Drumfillans; Peter Canon Dobbie of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Abergirnie; James Canon Sellar of the Five Wounds, Kilngavie; Francis Xavier Canon Poustie of the Immaculate Conception, Lochmuchtyhead; Thomas Edmund Canon Smith, of the Church of the Holy Name - they were all there, men with old faces and young eyes, butchers, bakers, and candlestickmakers stilled into priests. Through the open windows came the caw of gulls and the happy cry of children as they played by the June sea.

When Monsignor O'Duffy had opened the meeting with prayer, Canon Poustie rose and asked the chapter what, in their opinion, was the best way of dealing with lovers when found canoodling in church doors. He said that it was his practice to go round the outside of his church with a flash lamp after Benediction each evening and chase the lovers out of the buttresses and off the porch, but that it didn't seem to do much good, because the shameless creatures just crossed to the Baptist church on the opposite side of the road and carried on their iniquitous practices there. Canon Dobbie said that he fully sympathized with Canon Poustie, because there were always lovers cramming into the porch of the Church of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Abergirnie, too, but that he had come to the conclusion that it was best to leave them where they were, as it was just as possible that a grace from the Blessed Sacrament might touch their souls as that the tempo of their embraces might offend the Blessed Sacrament.

Monsignor O'Duffy then rose and said that he thought that Canon Dobbie's answer to Canon Poustie was a very beautiful and consoling one, and that none of them must ever forget that God moved in a mysterious way, and that the Blessed Sacrament was a very wonderful Sacrament, indeed, and could shoot out all sorts of graces, even through stone and lime, at people who hadn't the slightest idea that Jesus Christ Himself was within a million miles of them. Perhaps, though, his old friend, Canon Smith whom they were all delighted to welcome among them, would like to say a few words on the subject.

'Right Reverend and Very Reverend Fathers,' Canon Smith began, 'I thank Monsignor O'Duffy for his very kind reference to me. I think, though, that Canon Dobbie is right when he suggests that we should leave the lovers to our Lord, because the sacraments are powerful in these matters and because the Church's teaching thereon is well known. Indeed, so well known, even among heretics and schismatics, is the Church's teaching on sexual morality that it is popularly supposed that the word sin connotes almost exclusively the grosser carnal misdemeanours and that lack of charity is a peccadillo which our Lord will pardon easily. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to minimize or to excuse in any way the conduct of which Monsignor O'Duffy and Canon Poustie complain. I am aware of the deep offence which such behaviour gives to our Blessed Lord, and I fully understand that no adulterer or fornicator can readily apprehend the spiritual truths of our holy religion. But for Catholics there are the sacraments to cool them, and even to non-Catholics our teaching is, I repeat, well known, so that anything in the nature of a special campaign would, I think, be a work of supererogation.

'There are, however, other matters to which I think we priests might profitably give our attention. A French agnostic once asked, "Si Dieu a parlé, pourquoi le monde nest-il pas convaincu?" God, we know, has spoken and, equally we know, the world is not convinced, It cannot, we also know, be the Church's fault that the world is not convinced, since the Church is guided by the Holy Ghost, and is the infallible depository of those truths which Almighty God has chosen to reveal; but it may conceivably be the fault of churchmen who have stressed some of those truths at the expense of others which they have scarcely stressed at all.

'One of the reasons that the world is not convinced is, I think, that men believe that the Church, which they confuse with churchmen, teaches a short-range rather than a long-range morality. They hear the adulterer, the thief, and the murderer condemned from our pulpits, but not the employer of sweated labour, not the shareholder in armaments factories, not the men who make their money out of films about gangsters, not the politicians who compromise with the perpetrators of cruelty in faraway lands. They argue that, in the eyes of the Church, a man who owns shares in a company which makes its profits through underpaying Chinese coolies is a good Christian so long as he doesn't murder the friend who beats him at golf or cohabit with his parlour maid. We, who are priests, know that this is not the teaching of the Church, but can we honestly say that we have taken the trouble to let men of good faith know that this is not the teaching of the Church? For, as is evident, many men of good faith remain outside the Church. Is it not for us to ask ourselves if we have not, by condemning only those sins which it takes little courage to chasten, prevented them from finding their way into the Fold which is Christ's?

'Right Reverend and Very Reverend Fathers, there are more than three hundred million Catholics in the world today belonging for the most part to the civilized nations of Europe. What an influence for good could we not exercise if each one of those three hundred million Catholics were an ardent follower of Christ, ready to put the teaching of his holy religion before interests of self or country. Instead of that, whom do we find? We find that heretics and schismatics, even atheists, are claiming to practise a charity more perfect than ours. For what else is the communist heresy but the boast to be able to love one's fellow man without first loving God? Right Reverend and Very Reverend Fathers, I speak in all seriousness. The Church of God cannot fail, but churchmen can and will delay her success unless they call the faithful back to the practice of rigorous and uncompromising religion. We must be pure, yes, because fornicators shall not clearly see God. We must be humble, too, because our virtue is so frail. But above all, we must be brave and cry aloud to men to practise virtues that are more unpopular than purity and humility. We must tell them that a lot of things, which apparently have nothing to do with Christianity, have everything to do with Christianity. We must make them understand that modern advertising is a sin against God as well as against good taste, because it seduces the senses from an appreciation of Him and teaches men to love that which is shoddy and vulgar and temporal. We must teach men that ugly animals can suffer as sharply as beautiful animals, that an insect can feel agony as acutely as a hippopotamus, that a million men who die in battle are a million lonelinesses, each separate and alone with stars and trees and woods. We must teach men that wrong is not right because a community practises it. We must insist that the so-called useless subjects be taught in our schools, since it is not the poets who make wars. In short, Right Reverend and Very Reverend Fathers, we must try to save the world from another war while there is yet time, and there is only one way to do that: by preaching the full fearless doctrine of Christ, by teaching the religion of Jesus as well as the religion about Jesus, by proclaiming that God wants men to be just and kind to one another as well as to believe that He is really and truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar. In that way will the raiment of the Bride of Christ shine white for all men to see, because our faith shall he justified by our works; for doctrine without charity is only less dangerous than charity without doctrine.'

Sitting down, Father Smith saw at once that they had not understood. He saw it from the way they avoided his gaze and looked sideways at one another when they thought that he wasn't looking. Even Monsignor O'Duffy and Canon Bonnyboat seemed perturbed and unhappy. And yet all of them when they had been young had seen the vision and followed it and become priests. They had known then that security and prosperity were mean goals and that the achievement of sanctity was the only thing that mattered. Even although none of them were saints behind their tired faces, they must still know that it was the duty of all men to try to be saints, for they were priests, humble men highly set apart. Why, then, hadn't they understood when he had called upon them to see again the City of God they must all have glimpsed on the day of their ordination? Was it that their piety had become a habit, or was it that his own words had been badly chosen? He was still puzzling over this when Canon Sellar rose.

'When a bishop pontificates at the ceremonies on Holy Saturday, ought he to remove his mitre when lying prostrate in front of the altar during the litany of the saints?' he asked.


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