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On the face of it, his comprehension of the point of view, the mentality, the prejudices, and the ignorance (invincible or otherwise) of the average American Protestant is an asset that can easily be turned to good account in a work which every truly zealous priest should have at heart, the bringing into Christ's fold of those "other sheep" for whom as well as for ourselves the Precious Blood was shed on Calvary.
It is a truism to say that ardent zeal, the apostolic spirit, the missionary longing to spread Christ's true Gospel is, or at least should be, a characteristic of every cleric ordained to the ministry of God's altar. To the parish priest in the most Protestant town or village in the United States, not less than to the foreign missionary in Africa, India, or China, are applicable the words of St. James: "My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: he must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." In all probability there is no Catholic parish in this country in which may not be found more than one or two non-Catholics whom a little effort on the part of the pastor would speedily bring into the Church, who are ready even now, given the occasion, to say to the priest, as Agrippa to Paul, "In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian"; and happy the pastor who in such a case can truthfully echo St. Paul's reply: "I would to God that, both in little and in much, not only thou but also all that hear me, this day, should become such as
I also am, except these bonds." Christ's commission, "Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature," cannot be restricted in our day either to the workers in the foreign mission field, or to the preachers of missions to non-Catholics here at home: it is binding, in some degree at least, on all those who have received from Him the transcendent powers of offering Mass and forgiving sins.
That a goodly number of our American clergy recognize the reality of this obligation and consistently strive to fulfil it is made evident by the muster-roll of converts credited to many of our dioceses from year to year. Hundreds of our pastors, more especially those in our larger towns and cities, habitually have under instruction classes of non-Catholics numbering from two or three to a dozen or a score. Here and there throughout the country is found an exceptionally zealous priest whose efforts for the conversion of his separated brethren meet with almost phenomenal success, or success which seems phenomenal to other clerics who either do not have, or do not profit by, the same opportunities of increasing the number of their parishioners. Granting that conditions vary considerably in different parts of the country, that the Protestant soil is in some of our States hard and sterile while in others it is rich and fruitful; granting, too, that the aptitude to influence nonCatholics and gradually win them, first, to take a sympathetic interest in our religion, and finally to embrace it, is notably less marked in some priests than in others, it may still be questioned whether
a pastor who has exercised his ministry for ten or fifteen or twenty years without having to his credit a single convert to the faith, can flatter himself that he has done his full duty in the accomplishment of the second of the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' Lack of opportunity and lack of natural dispositions for the work may count for something in his failure to make conversions; but it will be profitable for him to probe his inner consciousness and inquire whether another factor in the failure has not been his lack of zeal.
To insist, as such a pastor is likely to do, that the spiritual care of the Catholic flock specifically entrusted to his ministrations engrosses all his time and energy, that he has quite enough to do in looking after his own people without adding the supererogatory work of evangelizing outsiders, is to make what at first blush may appear a thoroughly common-sense statement; but on examination it will be found that while the statement contains something of truth, it holds a good deal more of fallacy. The implication that zeal in convert-making connotes any measure of neglect of a priest's proper parishioners is altogether erroneous, is so fallacious in fact that in nine cases out of ten the true connotation is the direct antithesis of that implied. Almost invariably the priest who is unusually successful in winning those "without the walls" to enter the Church is a pastor noted for his spirit of self-sacrifice and devotedness to his flock, an exemplary cleric in his habitual bearing and conduct, a never-failing friend to the poor
and unfortunate, a frequent visitor to the sick and the afflicted, a wise and patient counsellor to those in difficulties, a veritable spiritual father to all those entrusted to his pastoral charge. It does not require much knowledge of human nature, indeed, to understand that these very qualities, exemplified in his daily life, furnish an intelligible explanation of his success as a convert-maker. Whether or not he takes account of the fact, the priest in every American city, town, village, or rural district is a marked man; and the fewer imperfections of any kind that are discernible in his life, the greater the assurance that some at least of his non-Catholic fellow-citizens will be impressed by the beauty of the religion which he lives as well as preaches.
Quite apart from any question of conversions, it is eminently worth while for a priest to give some thought to the nature of the individual influence which he exerts on the men and women in the little world around him. While it is probably true to say that if there is one petition which, less than another, the average mortal, priest or layman, need address to Heaven, it is the prayer attributed to a naïve Scotch dominie: "O Lord, gie us a good conceit o' oursells," and while it is the part of wisdom not to take oneself too seriously, not to be carried away by a sense of one's self-importance, it is neither absurd nor foolish for a priest to recognize that to the Catholic cleric with peculiar appropriateness are addressed the words of St. Matthew: "You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid." Individual example
is a more potent agency for good or evil than the unreflecting are apt to consider it; and no member of a community, certainly no priest, is so insignificant that his principles and actions, his conversation and conduct, do not sway toward right or wrong some few at least of his fellow-citizens. "Even the weakest natures," says Smiles, "exercise some influence upon those about them. The approximation of feeling, thought, and habit is constant, and the action of example unceasing.”
What most laymen, and possibly a few priests, need to have persistently impressed upon their minds, as to this matter of individual influence, is the unquestionable truth that we shall be judged with regard not merely to the evil we have done, but also to the good which we have failed to do. Not to give a positively bad example is well enough as far as it goes, but it clearly does not constitute the complete fulfilment of a cleric's duty to the people in the world about him. A priest's influence on those with whom he comes habitually in contact, be they Catholic or Protestant, infidels or Jews, ought to be something more than simply innocuous; it should be positively, not to say aggressively, beneficent. A man of God, a true ambassador of Christ, he should impress those not of the household of the faith in much the same way as Carlyle was impressed by the life-story of the twelfth-century monk of St. Edmund's:
The great antique heart: how like a child's in its simplicity, like a man's in its earnest solemnity and depth! Heaven lies over him wheresoever he goes or stands on Earth; mak