Editor’s Introduction: This is a brief excerpt from pages 148 to 152 of Hamish Fraser’s 1954 book, Fatal Star, which is sadly out of print. The name we’ve given it on our website is of our own making, but the text itself is not altered, aside from the correction of a typo in the original. An unsuccessful effort was made to find the current copyright holder of the book. The Neumann Press, who republished the work in 1987 with their own copyright, was bought out by Tan Books and remains today an impress of Tan, who informed us in writing that they do not hold the copyright. If the copyright holder wishes the piece removed from our site, we will comply. The reader is asked to remember that Mr. Fraser was a Scotsman, which explains references to Catholic and Protestant football teams, the use of the very Scottish expression “unco guid” (which we’ve linked to an online definition), and other such Scot-isms which we think help to make his book a delight for an American to read.
WHY is it that to-day the Church makes so few converts? The reason is that in view of the atmosphere within the contemporary Church it is surprising that she makes any.
I am not suggesting that Catholics as a whole are sullen, quarrelsome and unlovable. And I certainly would not dream of implying that Catholicism has little or no meaning for the majority of those who practise their Faith. It undoubtedly has; and it would be wanton uncharity and downright libel to suggest the contrary — even in the case of those whose understanding of the Faith is very far from perfect.
To avoid misunderstanding, and to make perfectly clear what I do mean, let us look at a contemporary Catholic parish. And to avoid presenting ourselves in a needlessly unfavourable light, let us choose a good parish: one in which only a negligible fraction of the Baptised fail to practise their Faith, where frequent reception of the sacraments is the rule rather than the exception, and where the various sodalities are both well organized and generously patronized by the congregation.
In such a parish, even if the rich implications of the Faith are only dimly appreciated by many of the parishioners, their Faith has, nevertheless, a very real meaning for the overwhelming majority. But the essential point to be made is that even the Faith of such a parish has little or no meaning for the non-Catholic section of the population. And so long as this situation continues, the rate of conversions will continue to be what it is.
It serves no purpose to argue that since Faith is a supernatural gift from God, unbelievers cannot hope to understand its significance because they lack supernatural grace: or that for the same reason the assurance of pardon and the comfort of consolation which Catholics derive from the sacraments can have little meaning for one who has yet to receive the gift of Faith. The truth is that if, besides enjoying these blessings of the Faith, Catholics also understood the necessity of living their daily lives in strict conformity with the guidance of the Holy See no less than in obedience to the Ten Commanments, every single Catholic would be aware of the Church’s mission towards those as yet outside the Fold. Then, though not all Catholics would participate in the work of that mission, a sufficient number undoubtedly would: i. e. sufficient at least to make their non-Catholic fellow-citizens realise that the religion of Catholics, far from being a private affair, has a truly universal relevancy.
THE CHURCH VISIBLE
In the light of that recognition, the Catholic business man would not confine himself to making generous donations to the Church; in the market place no less than in the sacristy he would make it abundantly clear to all and sundry that business need not always mean mere business. As an employer of labour, he would, like the Harmels and Alan Turner, provide a living example of the meaning of the great social encyclicals.
The Catholic worker would be similarly distinguished from the herd of the class-conscious. An ardent defender of justice for his fellow-workers and a conscientious member of his trade union, he would seek to give to the latter that Christian idealism which in the nineteenth century so distinguished the British trade unions from their anti-religious counterparts on the Continent. Insisting on the dignity of labour, he would insist no less on the humanity of the employer, and would refuse to be stampeded by the prevalent assumption that the doctrine of original sin is applicable only to owners of capital. Instead of continually shrieking for a greater share of the existing cake for the workers, he would be in the forefront of that truly progressive opinion which seeks by the co-operation of labour and capital to benefit both employer and worker by increasing the total product of industry. A supporter of working-class emancipation in the true sense, he would be an advocate of revised taxation aimed at the restriction of monopoly, and of legislation designed to “induce as many as possible of the people to become owners”: owners of their own homes, master craftsmen in their own trades, or true shareholding partners in industry. A supporter of self-help no less than of private charity, and an ardent devotee of the voluntary principle both as regards the social services and the question of labour-management co-operation, he would at the same time be the sworn enemy of the modern Leviathan state, whose encroachments on the family he would resist with every fibre of his being.
If, therefore, only the Catholic business men and the Catholic workers in our hypothetical parish were thus won over to realise the meaning of Christ’s Kingship as it affected their daily lives, the mission of the Church would become visible for the first time in the modern world to the non-Catholic section of the population no less than to the Faithful themselves. Moreover, the vast improvement in personal conduct that would inevitably stem from consciousness of the full meaning of the Faith would force the unbeliever to realise that for Catholics the Faith means infinitely more than attendance at Mass. They would see the Church as a divine institution affecting not only Catholics, but the lives of every single man, woman and child in the vicinity.
The astonished world could then not escape the realization that the Church is essentially dynamic: on the move: literally, a movement. And by a movement, the ordinary man understands, and rightly, a community of men and women working consciously for a given objective. A movement has a mission: and if the mission be made sufficiently clear to the outside public, such citizens as both sympathise with its aims and admire the spirit animating its members will want inevitably to join the movement.
This, indeed, is the reason alike for the success of Socialism-Communisim and for the failure of Catholics; for whereas the former is undoubtedly a movement, the contemporary Church has yet to become one. People can never be induced to join an organization that is not essentially a movement, a Crusade, unless for selfish (even if spiritual) motives. Therefore, the first pre-condition for the mass conversion of our fellow-citizens is that they should be won over at least to the point of wishing that they, no less than ourselves, were part of the Catholic movement; for the wish is father to the thought — including the thought of becoming a Catholic.
Not, indeed, that anyone can ever become a Catholic merely out of admiration for the spirit of the Faithful. To become a Catholic one must first have the gift of Faith. Yet if one really wants that gift, that is half the battle; for it is hardly likely that anyone wanting to have the Faith would not seek the companionship of those already thus privileged.
It is almost incredible that a Catholic thus approached would not both pray for the seeker as well as advising him to pray for himself. And I do not believe that anyone who prays conscientiously for the gift of Faith will ever be refused his request. In saying that I am relying not only on my own personal experience but also on that of others who were in the same position as myself.
In brief, if the typical Catholic parish were imbued with the spirit of Fatima, we should once more be living in a period reminiscent of Apostolic times when mass conversion was not only a practical possibility but a by no means unusual occurrence.
THE CHURCH INVISIBLE
As it is, however, even in the very best of our Catholic parishes, what is the situation?
The only difference between the average Catholic business man and his Protestant or Freemason competitor is that whereas the latter will proudly boast that he never lets religion interfere with business, the former tends to be slightly ashamed that he has neither the faith nor the courage to see that it does. The only apparent difference between too many Catholic employers and their Protestant counterparts is that whereas the former may go to Mass the latter may prefer the seashore or the links.
As for the Catholic worker, he is often much further to the Left than even the post-Christian members of the proletariat: in the factory being often only too ready to accept the leadership and guidance of the Communists. Too often, indeed, the only thing which distinguishes the Catholic working man from his Protestant neighbour is the colour of the football jersey he supports. And why anyone should wish to become a Catholic out of enthusiasm for a football team is more than I at least can understand.
It is true that there are a great number of Catholics who lead blameless personal lives; but as there are many Protestants and Freemasons who are no less upright members of the community, even were Catholics more highly respected than is the general rule, this would still be no adequate reason for a non-Catholic to think seriously about the meaning of the Faith. Even under optimum conditions the Church will continue to have within its portals a very considerable proportion of open sinners; for whereas the Protestant who scandalises the community as a rule no longer continues his church membership, the Catholic Church seeks especially after her black sheep.
In any case, we are hardly likely to increase the attractiveness of the Church by denouncing the sins of our neighbours, be they Catholic or Protestant. We can, it is true, strive to show good example and give good counsel. But for Heaven’s sake let us not begin to judge one another, lest we in turn be judged even more severely. The delicate and unenviable task of correcting the sins of others is one for which we have neither the special grace nor the necessary training except where our own children are concerned. That is above all a job for the clergy, and its proper place the confessional. Heaven preserve us from a tribe of lay preachers; for nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Church than the unco guid layman with a passion for supplementing the Sunday morning sermon. I can, indeed, think of nothing more likely to repel a one-time Protestant in search of the Truth. And a professedly Catholic organization whose main stock-in-trade is the public censure of those deemed to lack the wisdom and moral probity of its membership is already in process of degeneration into a mutual admiration society.
The role of the Christian apostolate is not that of making odious comparisons between the best and worst of Christians nor yet between the best of Christians and the worst of pagans: the primary role of the Christian apostolate is that of making all men conscious of the Fatherhood of God and of their own brotherhood in Jesus Christ. This aim could be achieved, given sufficient Catholic initiative in accordance with the spirit of Fatima. In short, where the Church enjoys a legal existence, all that is necessary to its triumph is that it be made no less visible than was the early Church in the pagan Roman Empire. Grace will do the rest.
To win the supernatural grace necessary to remove the veil of apathy which to-day hides the living Temple from the eyes of the unbeliever, we must not only pray: we must also supplement our verbal prayer by the offering of our own apostolic endeavour.