An Address Delivered to the St. Michael the Defender Chapter of CUF, Memphis, Tennessee, December 6, 1974.
The essential meaning and purpose of Catholics United for the Faith are fundamental and simple, yet I think they must be seen under at least three aspects. I’ll mention the first two without offering much supporting argument, on the general grounds that if they are not evident by now, I don’t suppose any arguments of mine could make them so.
The first is that we live in a time of crisis in the Church. The Holy Father has been referring to it—often with tears—off and on for most of his pontificate; and there are qualified persons who judge it to be the worst crisis in the history of the Church who judge that the visible, structured Church as we have known it is already weakened to the point of near-helplessness, and may disappear from large parts of the scene within a generation.
The second aspect is that there has been a serious weakening of the faith in the hearts of Catholics at every level in the Church. The spirits of disobedience and schism are almost visible, almost everywhere, as things which have crawled up from the underworld and overspread the continents. It has been said that 1500 years ago “the whole world woke up to find itself Arian.” So, today, we look out and see the face of our holy faith suddenly
distorted—battered and bruised, as was the Holy Face two thousand years ago. Again I simply call our Holy Father to witness. Seven years ago he declared a Year of Faith, urgently asking all his Venerable Brethren in the episcopacy, all the clergy and all teachers to explain the Creed, and to collaborate with the hierarchical teaching authority of the Church in preserving the true faith from error. The Supreme Authority in the Church has been asking the same thing—with the same meager or negative results—ever since. A Catholic is driven by events to think of the mysterious verse: “But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8)
A “Pervasive Mediocrity”
CUF came into existence in 1968 as a specific response to those two specific crises. However, CUF was not to be a mere band of firemen, rushing around to put out one blaze after another. Something else quite extraordinary had been happening all the while. The Fathers of Vatican Council II, with a perception that one can hardly account for on natural grounds, saw that though all appeared to be well with the Church as seen from the outside, that appearance was more a matter of cosmetics than of good health. They recognized that there was a pervasive mediocrity in the Church; that there was little depth of spirituality to be found anywhere, and that the whole Body of Christ, the whole People of God, was weak from undernourishment. And they did an extraordinary thing: they called out to their own flock, to the laity, as if to say, “We are your leaders and shepherds by divine appointment; but you too have your own very real—though very distinct—share in the priesthood of Christ; you too are called to be the salt of the earth, the leaven in the meal, the light of the world; you too are called to holiness. You may no longer be passive hangers-on or lookers-on, but must take up your full responsibility.” And in their Dogmatic Constitution on the Church the Fathers of Vatican II said, quite specifically: “…[The Laity] are called by God…being led by the spirit of the gospel, so that they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 31) So the laity are sent.
No one can understand the simple meaning and purpose of CUF without keeping his eye on this third aspect: the voice of the Church, in a most solemn form, has called the laity to start to play its full role in the life and the mission of the Church. And Catholics United for the Faith is our response. We call ourselves Catholics because, as we declared in our opening statement in 1968, “we pledge fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church as the loving
presence and authoritative voice of God among men.” We have united “in order to offer our unswerving filial support to Holy Church in the persons of the Supreme Pontiff and all bishops in union with him.” And the principal purpose of our uniting is “to show forth our aspiration to believe, defend, bear witness to, and try to live the faith so gloriously set forth in Pope Paul’s Credo of the People of God.”
Why “For the Faith”?
It might be asked why we single out faith for special mention in our title. Could we not be Catholics United for Charity? Or for Justice? Or for Peace? Here again our answer is fundamental and simple. When a building shows signs of weakening, we look first to the foundations, the fundamentals. John Henry Cardinal Newman put the case well in an address to his Oratorians in 1848. He said:
The Christian life may be comprised in two words, faith and charity, as we all very well know. Faith is the foundation, charity is the building. Faith is the first and chief essential—charity the higher and more perfect Faith is the essential because no building can stand without something to stand upon. Our Lord describes the state of that man who built his house upon the sand . . . We see instances of this, alas, all around us in this country—instances, surely without number, of kind, warm feelings, benevolent purposes, and pure intentions wasted and lost, because they are not
founded and secured on the true faith . . . because they begin with charity, or what seems like charity, when they should begin with faith.
That is one reason why we insist that it is necessary to begin with faith. Another reason is this: How many of us Catholics can really and honestly say in our hearts what the British non-Catholic, Malcolm Muggeridge, said in June of 1968:
Surely [faith] is the gift most to be desired on earth. I cannot imagine any price too high to pay for it. Without faith . . . there is only night, however brightly the neon lights may shine, however glamorously the colored pictures glow on glossy pages and television and camera screens.
We live in a world of little and waning faith, and of inordinate and waxing cupidity and concupiscence. . .
There is, it seems to me, no substitute for faith. Without it, life is unlivable. It is the sense which faith gives, of a universal spiritual order, that alone makes it possible to establish some sort of temporal, moral, social or political order. Without the one, as we are now drastically seeing, the others break down. As faith disappears, chaos becomes inevitable; as the light goes out, darkness must fall. (“What is Faith?” Catholic Herald, London, June 21, 1968)
We did not know of that declaration when we started CUF three months later; but it does well express one of our basic thoughts. Notice how uncompromising his language is: faith alone makes it possible to establish any sort of temporal, moral, social or political order. Where the light goes out, darkness must fall on all things. Consider this for a moment. We are all bombarded by requests for financial and other help for political parties and
candidates, for hospitals, schools, colleges, publications, any number of charitable and otherwise worthy enterprises. And all around us we see generous Americans giving generously to such causes, always slow to notice or to believe how easily corruption of one kind or another can creep in.
A relatively small political party is currently soliciting funds by mail; it suggests a range of twelve suggested contributions of which the highest is $10,000, and the lowest $15. It is interesting to note that the smallest amount they can think of suggesting is the amount which we ask of the loyal Catholic laity—over a twelve month period—for help in the defense of the faith! Again, according to reports, there were a number of local candidates in the recent election who received in contributions anywhere from two to ten times as much as the total that CUF has received from the Catholic public of the U.S.A. in all its six years of endeavor!
“Keep the Darkness from Falling”
Of course, this inadequate response saddens and alarms us; but we believe that its very inadequacy is an indication of how much our work is needed. Most Catholics seem not to believe what our non-Catholic friend, Muggeridge, believes: that all other causes dear to us are doomed if the faith is not saved, nourished, and restored to vigorous life.
CUF is dedicated to doing all it can to keep the darkness from falling by keeping the faith shining: by keeping the faith! And Christianity has always taught that that has to mean starting with ourselves, by converting, by repenting, by begging for a new heart, and by taking the indispensable step for receiving one—that is, surrendering it to Christ.
We insist that it is necessary to begin with faith. It is equally necessary not to stop there. In that same opening statement that I have referred to, we said:
Catholics United for the Faith believes so strongly in the primacy of the spiritual and the power of the supernatural that it is convinced it could do an enormous work even if its members’ only activities were study, prayer, fasting and works of mercy and love towards our neighbor. We believe that these are, necessarily and objectively, prerequisites for the effectiveness of any Christian work. Thus, they are in no way opposed to action in itself; they are opposed only to impatient, self-assertive or quarrelsome action.
Then it might be asked why we thought it necessary to form an organization with a meaning and purpose so rudimentary. The reasons for that are also simple. There is need for a sustained and organized effort to awaken people to the dangers; then there is need for controlling and channeling into appropriate undertakings the energies which, suddenly awakened, are often vehement; and there is need to give continuity and perseverance to those undertakings, for they almost always peter out if left exclusively to individual initiatives.
This waking up, this becoming responsible, is what is meant by the word renewal, to which Vatican II gave such emphasis, and which, as Pope Paul has been stressing with greatest urgency in all he has said about the Holy Year, must be, first of all, “moral, personal, inner renewal.”
“Let Us Pray”
How can we not share that sense of urgency? Who can look around today with open eyes and fail to see that the entire world is engulfed by a moral plague which not only brings immeasurable physical suffering here and now, but carries with it the very thing Our Lord warned about so solemnly: “Fear ye not them that kill the body , and are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Hear how the present view is described by the great priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten:
Take an atlas and open it at the maps of Europe and Asia. Like a monstrous beast sprawls the outline of the Soviet Union. Next to it is China, stretching out grasping arms to enfold the heart of Korea, Vietnam and Tibet . . . Look well at the map of these regions, which have been taken away from God and civilization. It represents the ordnance map of hell. Think with sorrow of the people who have to live there—more than one thousand million of them. Wherever your finger touches this map innocent persons are languishing in prisons, concentration camps and places of exile.
Innocent persons who are on the way to hell in cattle trucks, slave ships, gangs of prisoners. Innocent persons in huts, torture chambers and psychiatric annihilation clinics. Innocent persons behind bars and barbed wire. Innocent persons being abased, maimed, tormented, tortured and driven to death…
Should we not be dismayed by this…unscrupulous trampling underfoot of human values? This steamroller crushing mercilessly all that is holy? Are we aware of what is at stake? Are our churches full of faithful Christians in prayer? Do we ponder on the reasons why God allows this test? Do we try to persuade the Lord? Do we storm Him with our prayers? Do we appease His anger by fasting, penance, mortification and good works?
Far from it! We dance around the golden calf. We enjoy ourselves and make merry. We destroy the last bulwarks of the beleaguered City of God…
Christendom awake! The world is burning. The Church is bleeding. Christ is dying in countless millions . . .
A small bridgehead is all that remains. And in this narrow remnant of the free world prevail indescribable confusion, fratricidal hatred, discord and rebellion against authority…Here the laws of God are thrown on the scrap heap and the Church’s commandments ridiculed. Here youth is led astray and corrupted. What is holy is trampled under foot. Total chaos is being deliberately prepared. Humanly speaking the situation is hopeless . . .
God alone can save us… Let us soothe Him by our guileless trust and by the waves of our prayer, beating confidently on the shores of eternity and breaking like surf on His attentive heart.
Let us become better men and pray: . . . pray with the faith of children; pray as the ancients prayed, Moses on the mountain and Jonah in the whale; as the youths prayed in the fiery furnace and Job when tested by Satan. The prayer of all these was heard. Let us pray with unshakeable confidence and a heart that embraces the whole world in love. And the Lord will incline towards us and there will be no limit to His mercy.
So there is need also for a corporate awakening.
“Invited and Bound to Holiness”
The laity have been called to share in the mission of the Church. What is her mission? And what is to be our part in it?
Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity spells out the answer with a clarity that is inspiring and challenging even, perhaps, alarming. And the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church sums it up: “All of Christ’s followers, therefore, are invited and bound to pursue holiness… The Apostle has sounded the warning (for each of us): ‘Let those who make use of this world not get bogged down in it, for the structure of this world is passing away’”
Several things appear sharply from those documents.
First: They assume and emphasize the age-old distinction between Christ on the one hand (His glory, His redemption, the whole “world” of Christ in His Kingdom and in His saints) and on the other hand, the fallen world which has not yet been brought into relationship with Him. They assert the existence of the supernatural in its full primacy, as something radically other than the world of fallen nature, and as the only source of life, light, and truth by which the fallen world is to be rescued and transfigured.
Second: They assert explicitly and repeatedly that all of Christ’s followers are invited and bound to seek holiness with all their energy. Perhaps we have to ask ourselves to what extent we really seek it at all!
“Formation and Form”
Certainly, so far, neither the Holy Father’s efforts nor our own have aroused sustained interest in the renewal of the spiritual life. One reason for this is, I believe, that we of the laity have never had what we undoubtedly need: a formation and a form for our spiritual life. For instance, whenever, in the past, a young woman has been moved to follow the call to perfection by entering the religious life, the Church has always recognized that such a soul should have a special and lifelong formation under a Rule; and she has provided it.
And that is not surprising. It is hard work being transformed into Christ: and all along the arduous path devils are assigned to deceive and mislead souls. The question for us is why should it be supposed that we laymen require so much less work? For even the Church seems not to dispute the supposition. Consider another young woman who also burns with love for Christ, but is called to follow the different path, of marriage.
What does the Church propose or offer by way of formal preparation for her vocation, her arduous path towards sanctity, and as armament against the devils who lurk along her way? “Obey the laws of God and the Church, my child; say your daily prayers faithfully; get to Mass on Sundays; be a dutiful and loving wife and mother. And God bless you now!” And off she goes. She will receive the grace of the Sacrament, yes; very important. But
otherwise she will be without special armor, without enclosure, without direction, without any recognized form or formation in the development of her life in Christ, that life which Christ came to convey to all, ever more abundantly.
“Answer the Call”
If the Council is right—since the Council is right—in saying that we of the laity are called, we must prepare ourselves to answer the call. We may not wait. We have the right to ask our spiritual leaders to lead us in the paths of holiness. But if, as it sometimes seems, they feel they cannot spare the time for such work, then it has to be a do-it-yourself enterprise on which we shall beg their blessing.
We at CUF have made a small beginning within our drastically limited resources of persons and money. We make a continuing effort to select and make available to our members sound Catholic reading formative of Catholic faith and morality. We have focused on the problem of passing on the faith, intact and living, to our children. In the general assault on orthodoxy today, and the decline in the number and quality of sound Catholic schools, this has been a big task for us.
We have done all we could to evaluate the flood of new catechetics books; we have worked closely with the authorities entrusted with the task of determining the content of Catholic religious instruction; by the tens of thousands we have distributed our analysis of the General Catechetical Directory issued by Rome and the “Basic Teachings” issued by our bishops; we have conducted forums in Hartford, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and New York stressing the unchanging content of the faith; we have made a comparative study of the bishops’ “Basic Teachings” and the so-called “Study-Aid” issued by the U.S.C.C.;
here and there, in places where the situation has become otherwise intolerable, we have helped in the founding of small, parent-operated schools, sometimes known as Holy Innocents Schools.
Passing on a Living Faith
From these quiet, patient efforts, one truth seems to be emerging. Just as we have insisted that the question of faith must come first because it is fundamental, so we come to believe more and more that our focus must be less on the schools than on the families, because the family is the fundamental social unity. The battle for the faith, the battle for a generous response to the call to holiness, must be waged, first of all, in the family. Catholic parents must become much better instructed in the unchanging basics of the faith so that they can teach it fully and in depth to their children, and in that way forearm them against the assaults which may later be made against their faith, even by persons dressed up as priests, brothers or sisters—or, perhaps, not dressed up that way, but calling themselves such!
But knowledge does not, in itself, provide the ability to pass on a living faith. Christ did not say that He had come to cast penny catechisms—or experts—on the earth; He came to cast fire—to be fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of love—and it is His will that that fire be kindled and spread. That Holy Spirit appeared in tongues of flame at Pentecost. And to whom did He appear? And in what circumstances? He appeared to the Apostles who
“with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” “
In this very connection, hear the words of Pope Pius XII on the subject of lay action for Christ and His Church: “You will fulfill these duties only on condition that you pray. Indeed, only through prayer will you be able to remain steadfast in the faith” (!) “and to act according to the faith in all life’s circumstances. Only a militia of souls in prayer can win victory in the stern war between truth and error, between good and evil, between the
affirmation and denial of God. Only a militia of souls in prayer can bring social peace.” (Sept. 12, 1948: cf. Documentation Catholique, 1948, col. 1418)
“A Spiritual Renaissance”
That is why CUF gives highest priority to the development of prayer, not as an alternative to action but as an indispensable preamble and accompaniment to action. There simply has to be a spiritual renaissance, a flowering of prayer, among the Catholic laity. And two years ago a well-known and highly respected priest came to us with word that the appropriate authorities in Rome are entirely aware of the need for such a rebirth, and are hoping indeed that some association of the laity—such as CUF—will prepare and present something like a Rule of Life which will meet the need.
This is a very large and difficult task. Indeed, it is way beyond our natural powers in the best of circumstances. For us it is complicated by the question of whom such a Rule should be written for. For all our thousands of members? Based on what we have been able to see, such a Rule would have to be modest indeed! Or for those—fairly numerous, we might hope—who are prepared to work in the vineyard and who have been standing idle up till now because no man hath hired them—that is, because no invitation has reached them from the pulpit, from the diocesan press, or from any source which has
filtered down to them? Or should we compose our Rule for those who have already heard the call to holiness, and are fully ready to respond, but are still saying, “ Lord show us the way”?
It seems to us that we must address ourselves distinctly and simultaneously to each of all such groupings. So we begin by asking all members of CUF to join their prayers with ours, since the entire project is one which we should be undertaking together. We also venture to believe that some—perhaps many—may find it in their hearts to commit themselves to one or several of the suggestions on the list we enclose this month. I need not say, I’m sure, how glad I would be to hear from all who are interested in this whole project, and who would like to take part in it.
The second stage that we visualize is the development of a regular, unified, country-wide series of retreats and days of recollection. We have already taken the first steps towards developing contact with a group of priests who would be qualified and able to do this for us and with us.
The third stage is one which I touched on in a talk in 1971. Everyone today seems to know for sure and to accept as an ultimate that every young person should go to some college—any college—and study something—anything—with a view to getting a degree which is all-important—for reasons which are unclear! Would it then be wild to suggest that here or there there may be young Catholics who are serious about answering the call to holiness as lay people, and that they might be given a chance to spend a year or two after high school—or after college—at a small center for Catholic lay formation? There they would be given a basic training in philosophy and theology and in other important subjects such as Church history, apologetics, etc. They would be obliged to earn all or part of their maintenance and education by daily labor, following the example of St. Paul; and above all they would be formed in those indispensable habits of prayer and contemplation, so difficult to form in later life, yet so necessary for continued spiritual growth.
“This Is No Tea Party”
And a final project—perhaps still very distant, perhaps not—is the forming of communities of Catholic Christian families. We have heard the somber description of our surroundings given by Malcolm Muggeridge, and the even more blood-curdling account of Father Werenfried van Straaten. Now let us listen to words of Newman written over a century and a quarter ago. Many of you may know them already, but that will do no harm!
Surely there is at this day a confederacy of evil, marshalling its hosts from all parts of the world, organizing itself, taking its measures, enclosing the Church of Christ as in a net, and preparing the way for a general Apostasy from it. Whether this very Apostasy is to give birth to Antichrist, or whether he is still to be delayed, as he has already been delayed so long, we cannot know; but at any rate this Apostasy, and all its tokens and instruments, are of the Evil One, and savor of death.
Shall we Christians allow ourselves to have lot or part in this matter? Shall we, even with our little finger, help on the Mystery of Iniquity, which is travailing for birth, and convulsing the earth with its pangs? “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united” (Gen. 49:6). ‘What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? Wherefore, come out from among them and be separate,’ (2 Cor. 6:14 &17) . . . lest you be workers together with God’s enemies, and be opening the way for the Man of
Sin, the son of perdition” (The Patristical Idea of Antichrist; Discussions and Arguments. Vol. II, 1872).
Yes, it may be necessary for us to “come out from among them, and be separate.” Our Fathers in the faith withdrew from the corruptions of ancient Rome to the desert. Throughout the life of the Church individual men and women have withdrawn in order to give glory to God and to be channels of peace to the fallen world. It may be that in this age—and precisely as a concomitant of evangelization—there must be in one way or another a partial withdrawal of some families together, to keep alive in themselves, and in their children, and for the world, that name of faithful love which Christ came to sow upon the earth not at all as a refusal to be the salt we’re invited to be, but precisely in order not to lose our savor.
We must think about it because, I believe, it is hardly possible to overstate the seriousness of the situation that confronts us. If it turns out otherwise, God be praised; but one thing seems as clear as anything can be in this murky world—that there is going to be no solution that is comfortable. But come to think of it, there is something a little unreal about taking as our model One Who had no place to lay His head and was tortured to death, and expecting to find comfort or ease along the way. Deep inner joys, yes; but not comfort. What CUF proposes to do must absolutely be done; and it will be done—done by others if it is not done by us—because God has so clearly declared that it is to be done. It will not go well with those who, having been invited, decline the invitation; who, in the sloth of disobedience, not watching, not praying, refuse to follow Him to glory.
This is no tea party. This is the trial, the test. God give us the grace to meet it!—to be working together with God’s friends, and opening the way for the Son of Man, the King of glory! Holy Archangel Michael, defend us in battle!