« AnteriorContinuar »
stitutes for the young of both sexes, retreats for laymen, and a host of other specific topics? Assuredly not, and for a variety of reasons.
In the first place, active participation in social work, and hence the knowledge essential to such participation, is after all only a secondary, though a real, duty of the priest. His primary and essential duty remains, even in this socialized twentieth century, the sanctification of his parishioners' souls, the perfectioning of their spiritual rather than their bodily well-being. His social action is indeed commendable and justifiable only in so far as it tends to promote the spiritual interests of the flock entrusted to his charge. Any study, therefore, or any active work that interferes with the full performance of his purely sacerdotal ministrations may well be looked upon as negligible, not obligatory.
In the second place, it is altogether probable that a considerable number of middle-aged and elderly priests already know much more about a good many of the subjects mentioned in the foregoing paragraph than they are generally credited with knowing by the world at large, or, possibly, even by themselves. Text-books constitute one means, and no doubt an excellent one, for the acquisition of knowledge concerning any science; but they are not the only means. One's general and special reading, one's familiarity with the current literature of the magazines and the discussion of timely topics in the daily press, one's attendance at lectures on questions of the day, and one's conversations with specialists or with the
ordinary man in the street-all these are positive and not ineffective means of storing the mind with worth-while information about social problems, as about many other matters having to do with concrete humanity. A priest's reading on social topics is, moreover, far more likely to be instructive or educative than is similar reading on the part of laymen, because of the philosophic and theological training to which in his youthful manhood he was subjected in the seminary. The ethical and moral principles underlying all social action appeal to him more immediately, and he more readily detects and dissents from fallacious theories. Added to this is the personal contact of the pastor with concrete examples of no small number of these social problems, each of which has given him food for anxious thought, for specific study, and for consultation with friends of wider experience than his
If, then, there are relatively few middle-aged priests who, in the realm of sociology, know everything about something and something about everything, there are probably still fewer who know nothing about most things and very little about anything: the great majority know something about most things and a good deal about some things. And this much is sufficient for the average priest. Neither the Sovereign Pontiffs who have counseled social action on the part of the clergy, nor the bishops of different countries who have been most active in seconding the desires of the Holy See, nor the most eloquent pleaders for clerical social service in our own land, have had in
view the transformation of the ordinary pastor into a sociologic specialist. Pius X's letter to the French bishops, advising the setting apart of some of their priests for expert training in social science, indicates the real desideratum, and the only one that is practically attainable. A diocese, several of whose priests are competent to speak and write authoritatively on the multitudinous topics of social econ omy, and the remainder of whose clerics are fairly well informed as to such topics, may be considered passably equipped for the solution of the comparatively new problems with which present-day conditions confront the clergy.
It goes without saying, of course, that while the ordinary pastor is not at all bound to acquire a thorough knowledge of social science as a whole, or of any particular branch thereof, still, the more he knows about the larger aspects of sociology, and the more intelligently he can discuss the particular social and industrial questions with which he is brought into personal contact, the greater will be the prestige which he enjoys among his fellowcitizens, and the more potent the influence which he exerts in behalf of such of his parishioners as have need of his material as well as his spiritual help. A year or two ago the present writer heard a retreat-master very frankly inform several hundred diocesan priests that the imperfect knowledge of capital and labor evinced by the average pastor, and the resultant failure of such pastor to champion the righteous cause of the workingman, was a serious detriment to the priest's efficiency as a father of souls. On that specific question, indeed,
no intelligent priest of our day should be unable to speak with convincing explicitness and authority. During the quarter of a century that has elapsed since the publication of Leo XIII's epoch-making Encyclical Rerum Novarum, or "The Condition of the Working Classes," as it is called in the London Catholic Truth Society's excellent translation of the document, the respective rights and duties of Capital and Labor have been so often and so thoroughly discussed in papal and episcopal pronouncements, in ecclesiastical reviews, and in ordinary Catholic magazines and weekly papers, that even the least studious and most frivolous cleric must, it would seem, have acquired a comprehensive grasp of the whole subject.
Not only in theoretical knowledge of social economy but in the practical application of that knowledge to local needs and individual cases, the average pastor is perhaps better equipped than is generally supposed to be the case. As a doer of deeds of charity, an expert in charitable action, in the more restricted sense of that phrase, the American priest, like his brother-clerics the world over, has always of course been known and loved by the poorer members of his flock; but his achievements even in social action have been, and are, by no means inconsiderable. The outstanding distinction between charitable and social action is that while the former aims principally at relieving poverty, sickness, misery of all kinds, the latter is chiefly concerned with the task of preventing these misfortunes. Now, it is evident that in the sphere of a pastor's specific work for the betterment of his
flock's material condition both sorts of action will often be combined, will blend and merge one into the other. Taking into consideration the eminently practical character of the typical American cleric, it is indeed probable that a pastor's charitable work is habitually accompanied with activities distinctly social. Just as Molière's M. Jourdain learned with astonishment that he had been, without knowing it, talking prose all his life, so, we take it, would not a few priests be surprised to learn that they have been throughout their pastoral career not merely charitable men but effective social agents, excellent helpers who have applied to the definite problems existing in their parishes the most approved principles and methods of twentieth-century social action.
It may be worth while, before going further, to say a word about a certain prejudice against systematic, scientific, ruled and weighed and measured relief given to the unfortunate poor, as opposed to the spontaneous offerings of generous and warm-hearted private individuals. It is a prejudice not confined to the laity, and not always easy to overcome even in the case of logical and thoughtful clerics. We are all perhaps inclined to sympathize, subconsciously at least, with Boyle O'Reilly's fling at
The organized charity, scrimped and iced
even while we acknowledge the superiority of wellordered and methodical relief over impulsive and