Bread of Life

My interest in your knowing that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church is not for the sake of the thoughts you are going to have about people outside the Church whom you are going to meet. It is for the purpose of putting you right, in your own Faith! It is for the sake of your salvation primarily, that I tell you the Church’s doctrine on salvation, and only secondarily for the sake of the salvation of other people.

Just suppose you are minded to make the salvation of other people more important than your own salvation? That is not the right order of interest on your part! That is not according to God’s plans. That is not what God expects of us.

God expects some kind of, what I might call, innocent selfishness to be attached to our regard of our own existence and the preservation, of it. We blink our own eyes as something flashes in front of us. We pull back our own hands if some danger approaches. Our own heart beats when some horror is beside us.

Putting other people before yourself in the things you are meant to be most interested in, in terms of yourself, is a wrong kind of vicariousness. There is a wrong kind of selfishness, as we know, but there is a right kind of selfishness.

“What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26.) I think that this statement of Our Lord’s is strong enough to imply in its challenge: “What good does it do if everybody gets into Heaven, if you do not get in?”

“Well,” you say, “if everybody else does not get in, I do not mind not getting in. I will just sacrifice myself for Humanity. I will be democratic about the whole thing!”

That is not a sane response! God does not expect us to be that selfless. On that score you would want to be insane every time you passed an insane asylum, or be put in prison every time you passed a jail — by way, let us say, of democratic charity. That makes no sense!

Jesus says: “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” (Matt. 22:37.) Before He passes to the second commandment, Jesus tells us about the first: “This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Do not touch one single phrase of the next commandment until you have fully comprehended and understood this first one!

Our Lord then goes on: “And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:39.)

But the first is the greatest commandment! That means that in regard to the saving of your soul, you desire your own salvation; and there is enough love of self during your life to preserve that desire.

We think alone! We suffer alone! We are lonely alone! We worry alone! We pray alone! We are heartbroken alone! And, we die alone! A man with an assignment like that to fulfill is entitled to a certain amount of healthy, salutary and noble self-interest.

To be more interested in my neighbor’s salvation than in my own — to ask how the man next door is going to be saved instead of how I am going to be saved — is asking the right question in the wrong place; putting the first question where the second should be.

Were the scheme to go on that crazily on the subject of salvation, A would be interested in B’s salvation, and B would be interested in A’s salvation. It would be said to A: “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of B’s soul?”

It is hard enough to save your own soul, with a conscience of your own, a disposition of your own, a temperament of your own, without using all that equipment to save somebody else’s. We will get over later to the points where unselfishness comes in, but, first of all, the basic challenge is to save your own soul.

If you think there is any salvation outside the Catholic Faith, you cannot save your own soul — even though you never told it to anybody! You cannot say: “I am not going to deny it orally, but I am not going to believe it inwardly.”

You never could save your soul that way. You would be praying hypothetically. There would be a condition in your prayer, a proviso, a hold-back, a little limp in the wrong place. You would have a hidden suspicion in your mind that the Catholic Faith was not truly the way for you if you could have been saved without it in another situation.

If you think that people who live lives unmotivated by the true Faith, and who measure up to all that is best and sincere in themselves, get into Heaven by reason of that performance, it would take only the slightest bit of adjustment to see yourself as that person.

Any one of us can see a thousand places in the course of our lives where one detour would have meant the loss of our Faith. One priest not encountered, one book not read, one sermon not listened to, would have meant the loss of our Faith. One support not given, or one prayer not had recourse to, would have meant the loss of our Faith. Therefore, we are incapable of totally excluding from our thought the five-sixths of the world in which we might so easily have been, had it not been for the grace of God. Thanks be to God, we corresponded with the grace which He gave us!

God has sufficient grace waiting for every man in the world, would he but take it! Were God to see that he would take it were it offered to him, it would be given. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3,4.)

We have been urged to think by our Liberal clergy, who are more sociological than they are theological, that it is the greatest kindness to those who have not the Faith to say that they will get into Heaven without it. This is not the greatest kindness! It is the greatest lack of charity towards them!

If you feel that those outside the Church can get into Heaven, there is something weak in your prayer for conversions. There is something senseless about your contributions to foreign missions. There is something lacking in your respect for the power of the Holy Ghost when you send a missionary off to foreign lands — to make the natives more interested in material benefits than in the necessity of their salvation!

Your belief that those outside the Church can get into Heaven is a terrible belittling of the labors of the twelve Apostles, who cast lots for the whole world and went off here and there all over the earth. It is a terrible belittling of all the traveling the great priests and apostles of the Church did in the early days, and all down the centuries. These men did not become missionaries just for the sake of vacations, or excursions, or religious experiences. They became missionaries and traveled to every known part of the world because it was a necessity that they go!

Jesus said to His Apostles: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:15,16.)

The Apostles divided up the world and went off to the ends of the earth, because they knew that the ends of the earth would never see God were they not to go!

Do not tell me that the voyages of Saint Paul, that gorgeous little Apostle to the Gentiles — who never rested for a moment except when they put chains on him in prison and locked him up, with a keeper at the door to bar him in — do not tell me that the voyages of that tireless little worker, up and down Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and Spain, were just for the sake of making an impression! Or that they were by way of seeing what the set-up for the future Church was going to be! Or were simply because he was a restless man who could not stay still very long!

Where Saint Paul most wanted to be, as everybody knows, was in Jerusalem. He wanted to stay in Jerusalem because he wanted to be with Our Blessed Lady.

The Gospel of Our Blessed Lady was written by Saint Paul’s beloved disciple, Saint Luke, who learned from Saint Paul how to love the Mother of God. Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom refer to the Holy Gospel of Saint Luke as the Gospel of Saint Paul. In his humility, Saint Paul wanted Saint Luke, the beautifully educated physician, to tell the classic story of Saint Paul’s love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, which he did, under Saint Paul’s own tender auspices.

Instead of remaining with Our Blessed Lady in Jerusalem, Saint Paul, as we know, was always on the march, always on a ship, always on the go, from town to town, country to country. He was writing letters here and there, exhorting, beseeching, encouraging, and repeating, that the Church of Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

I think that it is a terrible belittling of Saint Paul to say that two things could have saved the people to whom Saint Paul traveled: (1) Saint Paul’s arrival, and (2) their own fine sincerity, in case he had not come.

Anybody with half an eye can see that on Saint Paul’s last great journey to Rome, the shipwreck which cast him on the tiny island of Malta, just off the coast of Sicily — where the natives came and received him and were baptized — was an accident in man’s plans, but was providence in God’s plans. It was because there was a loving heart on that island, a head waiting for Baptism, and a mouth open for the Holy Eucharist, that the ship was wrecked on Malta.

If you, a Catholic, can feel that the Faith you have is not essential to your salvation, all your prayers and contemplation will get you nowhere. Your adoration will cool. Your protests of gratitude to Our Blessed Lady will not ring true. Your “Hail Mary, full of grace…” will be just one version of the apostrophe to where all graces are and from where all benefits come! The whole rest of the world will be un-Mary’d and un-Mother’d, at least in your heart.

You will feel that it is somehow Our Lady’s fault that she is not known to those who, in your mind, are presumably so anxious to know her!

How dare you call Our Lady “Virgin Most Powerful” if there is somebody who really wants her, and who cannot reach her!

How dare you call Jesus the “Saviour of the world,” when right across from Saint Paul’s Church here in Cambridge (and just outside the window of Saint Benedict Center) you have a whole building full of college boys who cannot find Him across the street — and all because of virtues hidden in them which Jesus cannot pierce!

Matt. 7:7. Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.

8. For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

In spite of these words of Jesus, the men who live opposite us in Adams House, at Harvard, who sit in rooms where there are no crucifixes, no morning and night prayers, no aspirations, no thought of eternity from one semester to another, are, according to Liberal Catholics, not coming into the Catholic Church because of the deficiencies of God’s grace and the self-sufficiency of their own goodness! Imagine Divine goodness finding human goodness an obstacle to its own entrance!

Do I dare say that it is the badness of Harvard that is keeping Christ out? If I do not say this, not only have I lost my Faith, I have lost my mind! There is a way of knowing what iniquity there is in a college boy’s sneers, his blasphemous utterances, his impure face and irreverent attitude towards every decency and decorum, even without going to the criteria of apostolic life. Any Cambridge policeman, in blue uniform or in plain clothes, can tell you what I am trying to say.

My dear children, I beseech you, if you want to save your own souls, admit that the Catholic Church is the only way! Do not deny Our Lord’s words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink his Blood, you shall not have life in you.” (John 14:6; 6:54.)

If we are not to realize these words of Our Lord for our own souls, we will not be saved. We have to realize the truths of the Catholic Faith both for ourselves and for others: for others in case they want to see our light shining, and for ourselves when the only light shining is the light behind our closed eyes, the light of our Faith, Catholic and holy, sheer and clear.

We have to have somehow the kind of Faith that Saint John of the Cross wants us to have when he says: “Each human spirit should talk to God as if no spirit existed but itself.”

God is not a mathematician. He does not have formulas and devices for getting the square root of us. He takes us with marvelous singularity, and He is completely and eternally interested in each one of us. Singularly we are created. Singularly we are redeemed. Singularly we receive the Sacraments. Singularly we receive absolution. Singularly we are judged.

Our first judgment after death is a particular judgment: Leonard Feeney and God Almighty, face to face! I have to stand with something of a report from the whole world in my poor soul when I face my Judge. So must you! If part of your report to Him is that you thought the way you reached Him was not the only way — if you thought there were by-paths to Heaven in face of what Our Blessed Lord went so far out of His way to say: “How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!” (Matt. 7:14) — you will never, never see God.

You say, “Well, Father, is that a kind thing to say to people, to tell them that they cannot be saved?”

It would be an unkind thing to say if they could do nothing about it! If it were impossible for them to become Catholics, or if becoming Catholics meant for them the forfeiting of something fine, noble, certain, and sustaining in their belief. Or if it meant the toppling over of beautiful dogmas; if a great edifice of belief had to go down in the face of our onslaught.

But do you think it uncharitable to say it to the starving minds of America, whose main problem seems to be whether or not to take care of our incurably sick, or to kill them! Do you think it uncharitable to talk to them about what is the value of suffering, loneliness and death?

What we say is stringent, I agree, but anyone who hears us can get from us all that we have, for the asking. We will give them our Faith, our Blessed Eucharist, our Blessed Mother.

It is child’s play to walk into the Catholic Church! Getting into one of the Harvard clubs, or into the Masons, or into any of the set-ups of heresy in this country, is complicated compared to getting into the Catholic Faith. It is child’s play for a little baby to get in, if he has a head for water to be poured on. The simplest innocent in the street, if he has a mouth to open for the Blessed Eucharist, can get in. It does not take much elaborate instruction to teach a Hail Mary, and then you are on the right road to salvation!

All the Sacraments are innocent and simple in their administration. We are a child in every one of them when we receive them.

If a man will, he can look around the world to see where God has signatured the guardianship and protection of the road to Heaven. At the head of it, he will find the Pope, visible and singular, clear and unconfined.

It is child’s play to see the Pope, if one wants visibility. It is child’s play to find Rome! Rome is the most conspicuous city in the world, in geography and everything else. Land and sea are all woven around it with such beautiful conformation of design. If you are not there, you are always going there in one way or another, in interest or reference. All paths almost naturally lead there. Sweet winds blow, and foods grow there — wine, and oil, and wheat.

The Church does not change its Eternal City from year to year, or shift it around to make it more popular to international outlooks! There is Rome! There it stands! The Eternal City, never to be changed!

You can walk where Peter walked, and Paul labored. You can stand where Peter was crucified, and Paul beheaded. You can look where every Pope has looked, over the same hills. When the Pope moves from Rome for a temporary stay, as to Avignon, the whole thing is out of kilter until he gets back again! What do you want by way of more childlike overture?

The same Jesus who declared that He was the Son of the Eternal Father, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity — the one Mediator between God and man and the judge of the living and the dead — also declared to Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles: “And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 16:19.) Imagine, in the face of that, our indicating to people that there are other ways into Heaven than through the gate, and other ways of opening the door than by going to the keeper of the keys!

A man can become a martyr in the Catholic Church for dying for any one dogma of it. The dogma for which we, in Saint Benedict Center, most hope to die — because it is the dogma most under attack in our day — is that no one can possibly enter the Kingdom of Heaven without personal submission to our Holy Father the Pope. I dare any Liberal theologian to turn this challenge aside by one of his sceptical terms! I dare him to tell me how to “belong to the soul” of Pope Pius XII, a flesh and blood pontiff, living and breathing in the Vatican, at Rome!

Imagine a shepherd who does not know his sheep, and a sheep who does not know his shepherd, after Christ’s doubt-clearing utterance: “I am the good Shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know Me.” (John 10:14.)

When you tell a man there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, it sounds strong by way of challenge. But what you have to buttress it with, by way of invitation and wedding feast, is so clear and beautiful, and strong and sheer, that nothing in the world could be more welcome to the unhappy, restless and despairing minds of our time.

The confused, strained faces in Harvard Square grow worse every month. They were bad enough when we first came here. Now they are practically intolerable. The soda clerks rarely look into the faces of the people who sit at their counters. The clerks at Bill’s Place tell me they often dare not look at the men and women grieving above the food they have just served to them.

I have never seen such distortion! Distortion in a man’s face is bad, but distortion in a girl’s face is simply the awfullest thing in the world to look at. Their doubts and confusions are there in their faces for anyone to read, and their lack of faith, hope, charity and certainty.

You can see distant suicides in their memories; students they have known who have killed themselves. Everybody you meet in Harvard knows someone who has killed himself! How do you like that for horror? The other day I got to one of the boys in Adams House who had taken his own life. The College authorities allowed the account of that suicide to appear in the newspapers because they were afraid I might tell. Think of all the suicides I have not been able to get to!

Imagine Catholic priests being hesitant to come out and thunder to the confused minds in America about salvation in terms of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Father, and the sanctity of the saints!

We priests were not put in Sacrament to take care of the temporal needs of our flocks. Our assignment is to the spiritual welfare of our people. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “Christ allowed one of His Apostles to take charge of all the money — the traitorous Apostle — because He wanted to teach prelates readily to entrust the managing of temporal affairs to anyone, but to keep the managing of spiritual things to themselves; though many do the contrary.”

The hungry whom we must feed, and the naked whom we must clothe are those who hunger for the Bread of Life and thirst for communion with the Blood of Christ. The Blessed Eucharist is a priest’s great gift to man: that Divine Food and Drink which makes him concorporeal with Jesus and induces the Blessed Virgin Mary to take him as her child.

Saint Paul tells us that we could give all our goods to the poor and still not have charity. (I Cor. 13:3.) Unless a priest makes the Blessed Eucharist his first and foremost charity, how can he say, or ask anyone else to say, what Saint Paul once shouted: “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20.)

Priests should be poor men. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, insisted that all his sons should be poor. A poor priest is free to talk all the time about man’s eternal salvation.

A poor priest can be fearless, and capable of indignation. He can “be angry and sin not,” as the Holy Scripture exhorts him to. (Eph. 4:26.) A priest who is poor does not need to have in his voice the same horrid pleasantries that are heard in the voices of academic preceptors in wealthy universities.

There can be dynamite in a poor priest’s sentences. One may see challenge and danger in his eyes. A poor priest is always warning that salvation is not easily achieved, unless we are willing to pay the price.

Each and every one of us can make the grade in the matter of salvation if we want to do so. The Catholic Faith is a loving invitation. We are saved singly, not in groups.

Jesus’ coming to us in the Blessed Eucharist can never be any hidden meditation in our own heart. We do not reach Him in Flesh and Blood in the sanctuaries of our sincerity, with the tabernacle lamp of our own self importance before us. We never reach Him as a group, or as a crowd. Each one of us has to come up and open his or her individual mouth, and to each the priest has got to say: “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep thy soul unto life everlasting.”

The Blessed Eucharist means nothing to a man who thinks other people can get along without It. The Blessed Eucharist means nothing to a communicant who thinks he needs It but someone else does not. The Blessed Eucharist means nothing to a communicant who offers others any charity ahead of this Charity of the Bread of Life.

“Depart from Me, you cursed…,” God will say to such, “for I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink.” (Matt. 25:41,42.) Our neighbor was meant to be another Christ, were he fed on the right Food; were he nurtured in the right way. Those who receive Christ for themselves and starve their neighbor of this blessed Food, are killing off Christ in the world. They are blighting the branches that should grow on the vine. That is what is meant by the second commandment of Christ: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Catholic Church. But the Church can get weak and frail. It is getting very weak in this country. There are twenty-six million Catholics in the United States. I do not think that that is an enormous amount, or even a good growth, for a Faith which is supposed to be universal, and outside of which there is no salvation!

In the best records which I have seen, the report is that last year in this country there were 116,000 converts to Catholicism. That is a very weak record! That is only two and one-half converts per priest, since there are 45,000 priests in the United States.

I am sure that that average would not have satisfied Saint Ignatius of Loyola! I do not think that he would have said to Saint Francis Xavier: “See if you can fill your quota of two and one-half Indians!”

What did Saint Francis Xavier do? He went over to India, not because he thought that Christianity would be a nice thing for the Indians to have — a favorable way to salvation in case they were interested, or a nice scheme for their sincerity. Saint Francis Xavier went over to India because, as he said in his prayer: “Behold, O Lord, how to Thy dishonor Hell is being filled with these souls…”

Saint Francis Xavier went to India to give the Indians the Blessed Eucharist, Our Blessed Mother, the Seven Sacraments, the forgiveness of sins. All alone, Saint Francis Xavier spread the Catholic Faith in India. He went next to Japan, and his labors there were so beautiful that three Japanese boys, who had become Jesuits, suffered martyrdom for the Faith which Saint Francis Xavier brought to them. They became saints, and the Church now refers to them as Paul, John and James, on their feast-day!

Saint Francis Xavier said: “Would to God the Faith could get into Japan before the decadent Western culture gets in!” When he had finished his work in Japan, Saint Francis Xavier headed for China, but he never reached there. He died on the Island of Sancian, with his hands outstretched towards China — this former professor at the University of Paris, whom Saint Ignatius had called out of the classroom in order that he might preach the doctrine of salvation. There is scarcely a person in the world who has not heard of Saint Francis Xavier.

Why should an American priest be hindered from trying to be like Saint Francis Xavier? Why cannot I say in one little room the story of salvation exactly as he spoke it in three nations?

Saint Francis Xavier died in 1552. A century later, France sent to North America eight wonderful saints, six priests and two lay brothers, all Jesuits. They came over as missionaries to the American Indians. They came, not to improve the American Indians sociologically, not to tell them how to manage their tomahawks, or wear their feathers, or how to make better Indian porridge. They came to tell the Indians that through Baptism and belief in Our Blessed Lord as God, and Our Blessed Mother as God’s Mother, and the Blessed Eucharist as God in Food, they could be saved.

Without equipment, without display, these eight Jesuit missionaries made the long, hazardous journey to North America for one purpose: to preach salvation! They came to savage, wild people, who were without tradition, without the benefits of European culture — a people to whom it would be very hard to teach anything.

These eight beautiful, strong Jesuits came over and shed their blood to give to the American Indians Baptism and Truth.

I think it not unfair to say that we are unfortunate here in America in the matter of Catholic apostolate. We have had plenty of time, since the days of the eight North American martyrs, to have had American saints of our own. South America — the South America we are apt to condescend to, to look down upon, because it does not have our material “advantages” — has produced saints: Saint Rose of Lima, Blessed Martin de Porres.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who is called the first American saint, was an Italian, really. She became an American citizen in the last years of her life so that she might more easily do her work here in the United States. Her mission to America was to get Catholic Italian children away from Protestant American influence. “I shall have no peace,” she said, “until I have wrested every last infant from Protestant hands.”

The eight North American martyrs got from their labors at least one precious flower, a little Indian girl named Kateri Tekakwitha. I said that we have no saints. Maybe Kateri Tekakwitha will be our first. I am anxious for that day to come!