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The boys and girls of Saint Benedict Center have in the past month been going around Boston selling Catherine Goddard Clarke’s new book, Gate of Heaven. In the course of doing this, they have spoken with some 70,000 Boston Catholics. Needless to say, their experiences have been many and diverse. Some of these experiences we will tell you of in future issues. But, in general, they have this to report: While there remains a large number of those unworthy Catholics who are ashamed of their faith or indifferent to it, yet there is unmistakably a new vitality among Boston Catholics — a kind of waking up — a growing concern for the state of the Faith and determination that it be not lost. These are the people who have been responsible for making Gate of Heaven the most widely read and discussed book in all of Boston.
Incidentally, Gate of Heaven will soon be available through bookstores, in a clothbound edition coming out March 3.
Which shows what you can get away with when you have ivy on your walls.
Father Keller, of the Christophers, in a recent pamphlet: “Less than one percent of the world is causing all the world’s troubles.”
Things seem to be a lot better in the New York diocese.
There are undoubtedly many places in greater Boston with more mossy traditions than the Center, but there seems to be no place currently so fascinating or notorious. For instance, there is a woman we know who was visited recently by a friend from California. Since it was her first trip to Boston, the woman asked her friend what she would like to see first in the historic old city. “Take me to Cambridge,” the friend replied. “I want to see Saint Benedict Center.”
The reason for all this interest and excitement is, of course, Father Leonard Feeney, the Center’s spiritual director, the priest who dared to decry the carefully-established methods of expediency and to proclaim the Catholic Faith in its traditional purity. By doing this, Father has disturbed the peace of mind of more people than any other man in the United States. Many people are quite prepared to be charmed by Father, who made his first reputation as a poet and lecturer, until they find he is really saying what rumors have reported him as saying — that without the Catholic Faith you cannot save your soul. People who never had any interest in salvation, who laughed at Hell as a medieval superstition, become suddenly alarmed when they find that this priest says that, unless they change, they are going there. They gasp in horror, step back, and cry that Father is “preaching hate.” In this land of religious freedom, there seems to be only one thing that must not be said, and that is that Jesus Christ is God and that He founded one Church for the salvation of all men.
Harvard College has been particularly upset by Father’s Christian challenge. This stems not only from the proximity of the Center to Harvard, but also from the fact that almost half of the Center boys are ex-Harvard, most of whom resigned before receiving their diplomas, giving as their reason that attendance at an anti-Christian institution was incompatible with their Faith. This won for Father early recognition among the Harvard deans as a man of dangerous ideas. Then, too, Father has never pulled his punches when attacking Harvard’s teachings or its teachers. He has openly and strongly denounced J. B. Conant, the self-styled “skeptical chemist” who is Harvard’s president, for his answer to someone who asked him if he thought we were right in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. Conant’s reply was, “I think we should have dropped ten atomic bombs.” He has also attacked such professors as F. O. Matthiessen, the Harvard English teacher who eventually jumped from a hotel window and thereby won for himself the veneration of all loyal Harvard men. (It is a Harvard custom always to refer to its own suicides as “martyrs.”)
As far as the doctrine of “No salvation outside the Church” goes, Harvard would be quite willing to admit as an academic point that this is the traditional teaching of the Church. But Father’s insistence on its application to every single individual, even those with a Harvard degree, has made it a little too personal for Harvard’s comfort.
The latest evidence of Harvard’s hostility is an article in the Harvard Crimson, a nervous, two-page diatribe against Father. Although the article is somewhat in the nature of an “expose,” its exact purpose is a little vague. The reporter seemed to be torn between trying to fit Father into one of the categories he had learned about in sociology class and trying to dramatize himself as a sort of counter-spy, like the ones he’d seen in the movies. The article resulted in typical Crimson repercussions (someone broke the window of the St. Benedict Center).
Finally, and worthy of special mention, there are the Harvard Catholics, that self-conscious, apologetic little group of misfits, who are constantly trying to convince Catholics that a Harvard education doesn’t hinder their Faith and to convince Harvard that their Faith doesn’t hinder their being Harvard men. Among these Harvard Catholics there has been each year a large number of priests, sent there to give their education the finesse of the atheistic point of view. When Father attacked Matthiessen, three Jesuits who were studying under him retaliated by attacking Father. Matthiessen’s leap left these three Jesuits sitting in his classroom. As evidence of their faithful discipleship, they could offer, besides the prestige of a Harvard degree, their notebooks, in which were carefully recorded all of the suicide’s ideas.
The meeting-house itself is a sacred edifice which looks something like a church, partly like a library, and a little like a bank. It is often covered with ivy, and in more cultivated sections of our country, as in New England, is usually rich in historical reminiscences.
Meeting-house Christianity discourages an intellectual outlook on the subject of salvation, and thrives on sincerities rather than on certitudes. Its theories in the field of Christian Doctrine are so diverse that its disciples have fairly run out of hyphens trying to link them all together. This program leaves it with a confused Christology, and even with a theology which is sometimes a matter of conjecture. The lifework of a devout meeting-house parishioner is to be a perpetual seeker after truth, whose proper chastisement comes from never being permitted to find it ...
Lacking system, even in its morals, meeting-house Christianity was bound to have an explosion of pride somewhere in its ranks, and it had one about a hundred years ago in the State of Massachusetts, by way of an eccentric doctrine known as Unitarianism. The Unitarians, many of whom were men of abstemious habits and great wealth, finding the Christianity they were experiencing too complex to be a reflection of God, delved into Deism and discovered a God too fastidious to become man. As a result, the divinity of Christ went overboard in Boston as lightly as tea had gone overboard in an earlier revolt. But the genius of Christ, like the excellence of the flavor of tea, has never been questioned there. In Boston, Christ continues to be quoted by Unitarians, more at tea parties than in church, and not for what He said, but for what He “put so well.”
(from The Leonard Feeney Omnibus)
Three hundred years after the first Christmas, there were still numbers of people who believed in it with the freshness of Bethlehem’s Shepherds. Many of them lived at Rome; and, of these, one was Agnes. Agnes was a child and a Christian, and Rome was a bad place to be either. Beyond being a child, Agnes was a girl, in a city where that was discouraged. Beyond being a Christian, Agnes was a Catholic, in a time before such a distinction was needed. For Agnes was born in the catacombs, when the Rome overhead was still an Empire. And it was twelve years before the Empire would be obliged, regretfully, to require Agnes’ head.
In those twelve years, she learned, in its simplicity, the Catholic Faith. That there was once a girl so loved of God that God’s delight was to be born of her. That God as man had lived in our world and, before He died for us, had devised a way in which man might become God. Indeed, this Way was God — the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. Having received this Divine Flesh and Blood into her body, Agnes vowed her virginity to the Jesus with Whom she was so one. This vow, and the Faith that prompted it, were Agnes’ transgressions against the Empire.
The removal of a head by a sword is a process that varies little with individual performances. In this sense, Agnes’ martyrdom was, if not routine, regular. But, as St. Ambrose says of the twelve-year-old Agnes, “Behold! a strange martyr! She is not grown of stature to fight the battle, but she is ripe for the triumph; too weak to run in the race, she is still clearly entitled to the prize; unable from her age to be other than a learner, she is found a teacher.”
For years after the death of Agnes in 304, Rome pretended to be still an Empire, and perhaps this is why St. Agnes is seldom called “of Rome,” lifting her city to her sanctity, in the way a Teresa would one day elevate Avila. As if to compensate for this lack of length in her name, Holy Mother the Church gives to St. Agnes the liturgical length of an “octave-day.” On January 28th we have the “little feast” of St. Agnes, exactly one week after her “great feast” of January 21st, giving us a double dose of her annual love to warm our Januaries.
God’s saints are abundantly remembered. The truth of this is realized in learning that St. Agnes has not only taken over two feast-day Masses, but that she has established herself in the middle of each Mass of the year. Secure in the Canon, between St. Lucy and St. Cecilia, St. Agnes is every Mass’ reminder that an Empire is no match for a girl, when that girl is out to win God’s heart.