Included also in the photograph were Presbyterian Mrs. Dulles and daughter, the total pictorial effect being a splendid Interfaith testimonial to the wisdom of Father Keller’s dictum, “The family that votes together, gloats together.”
After defining this new dogma, Archbishop Cushing established a new devotion. Fancying that the bereaved mothers of Boston would find comfort in his willingness to violate the singularity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the archbishop bestowed on Our Lady the title, “First Gold Star Mother.”
It is safe to say that nothing in Leo XIII’s reign was more difficult for him to cope with than this American heresy. Being a European, he was accustomed to seeing theological error that took the shape of intellectual speculation, and allowed itself to be formulated in neat, condemnable propositions. But this sprawling, raucous, back-slapping movement could not be so easily pinned down. It was a theological maverick that defied any attempt to brand it with conventional categories and terms. Consequently, when Pope Leo XIII tried to describe and condemn Americanism with his precise theological vocabulary, the American hierarchy was able to deny indignantly that they had ever heard of such a thing. The Pope felt obliged to accept this denial, and so Americanism was free to continue unhampered on its merry, convivial way.
Had Leo XIII been an American rather than an Italian, the heresy of Americanism might not have been such an enigma to him. For actually it is nothing else than the adoption into theological territory of that same national temperament that Europeans find so unintelligible in its secular manifestations.
It is the temperament of standardization, of uniformity, of mass production; the temperament that makes every American want to be like every other American and every American want every other American to be like him. It is the temperament that always seeks and adopts the lowest common denominator, as a basis for friendship, for culture, and for intelligence; that is suspicious and resentful of whatever does not conform to the mores of mediocrity; that calls it freedom when everyone shares the same slavery. It is the temperament that boasts of its undiscriminating and unrelenting joviality; that feeds its mind and stirs its emotions chiefly by platitudes; and that is constantly striving for platitudes that are large enough and grins that are broad enough for the attainment of national unity.
The heresy of Americanism consists in trying to adapt the Catholic Faith to this temperament. It consists in trying to give the impression that Catholics are in no way different from other Americans; that priests are just good fellows — likeable, broadminded, and unchallenging; that the message of the Catholic Faith is the same as that of democracy and Interfaith; that the Church honors and respects other religions and encourages the members of those religions to be faithful to their observances; that, though securing our democratic privileges might require constant vigilance and labor, securing salvation is easy; that heaven is not a kingdom, but a democracy; that it plays no favorites and is open to all, regardless of race, color, or creed.
The secret in discovering the doctrines of Americanism is this: to pay attention not to what its preachers say, but to the impressions that they give. This is necessary partly because their democratic jargon and Rotary Club inanities usually make it impossible to extract any coherent meaning from what they say, and partly because they are reluctant to state, in so many words, what they really believe. They prefer to get their message across by suggestion, insinuation, implication, leaving it to their listeners to infer their meaning and to state the heresies outright.
The heresy of Americanism is fostered and advanced mainly by a few highly conspicuous and successful American priests, who have made their reputations on their ability to display their own sparkling personalities and good citizenship, while obscuring the Catholic Faith. One such priest is Fulton J. Sheen, who presents us with the spectacle and the scandal of a Catholic bishop, sworn to preach and defend the Faith even to the shedding of his blood, offering to the millions of Americans who see him on television, a “non-sectarian” program. Bishop Sheen never indicates that he is worried about, or even interested in, the eternal salvation of his audience; nor does he ever tell them anything that they would need to know in order to achieve that salvation.
Another promoter of Americanism is Father James Keller, M. M., founder and director of the Christophers. He has, by way of reducing the Church to the standard of American religion, shown that a Catholic priest can make Christ just as vague and just as meaningless as any Protestant can. Through his Christophers, Father Keller invites “Catholics, Protestants, Jews, as well as those who profess no formal religion,” to join with him in being “Christ-bearers.”
Still another priest who has devoted his life to the practice and preaching of Americanism is Father John A. O’ Brien, or, as he prefers to be called, John A. O’ Brien, Ph.D. Like Bishop Sheen, Father O’ Brien is a midwesterner; in fact, they both grew up in the same midwestern town and attended the same midwestern college. For many years, Father O’ Brien was chaplain at the University of Illinois, where, in evidence of his easy-going disposition and lack of faith, he was presented with a gold pin by a Masonic fraternity and was called “Jack” by all the Protestant ministers on the campus.
Recently, Father O’ Brien has emerged from his milieu to achieve a kind of national prominence. This has come about by reason of a pamphlet he has written entitled, “The American Dream,” which has just been published by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. This pamphlet has received wide circulation. Extracts from it have appeared in many secular papers and magazines, and the U. S. government is having it reprinted for distribution overseas — presumably to let those Europeans know the kind of Catholicism we can produce in the good old U. S. A.
The tone of the pamphlet is established in the very first sentence, in which Father O’ Brien hitches up his cassock and makes the following midwestern declaration: “I am a Catholic priest, and I like Protestants.” Having thus unburdened himself, Father O’ Brien goes on to tell us who else he likes (Jews, naturally). He tells how all Americans are his brothers (a distinction they seem to have achieved either through their nationality or their existence, it is not clear which), and avers his eagerness to die for their constitutional rights. He concludes by saying that we ought to be grateful that there are so many different churches and sects in America, because it gives us the opportunity to turn our religious differences into “shining pearls of understanding and brotherhood.”
The message that Father O’ Brien, and Father Keller, and Bishop Sheen, were ordained to preach is the message of a kingdom. By trying to make it the message of a democracy, by preaching Americanism instead of Catholicism, they have been true neither to their country nor to their God. They have betrayed Christ the King, and they have kept the Catholic Faith from America.
And finally, the most dangerous of all, is the religious Communist, the man who has no Faith and who wishes to share that lack of Faith with everybody.
It is this last form of Communism which has given rise to the movement known as Interfaith, which consists of a common-denominator belief that leaves a Jew delighted, a Protestant contented, and a Catholic without an Apostles’ Creed.
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 con-corporeal 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 be poor. A poor priest is free to talk all the time about man’s eternal salvation.
(from Bread of Life, published by St. Benedict Center)
Our nation was established by European Protestants who did not want an Old World kind of childhood for their children. Consequently, the boys and girls of early America were of a kind all their own. They were the children of log cabin and covered wagon, who never saw a French child’s cathedral. They were the sons of buckskin and bronco, who never knew the wonder of a Spanish boy’s Christmas. They were the daughters of home-spun and calico, who never could have dreamed of the First Communion lace on a little Italian girl’s veil.
As America and her children grew up, there was a corresponding growth in the number of Protestant sects. For, in hopes of keeping her offspring away from all “Roman” practices, Protestant America has made available an abundant variety of heresies.
Here in Boston, for example, a Protestant child can now aspire to Christian Science, a system in which Christ survives as an anesthetic, and whose founder had a telephone installed in her mausoleum, so confident was she that she would not be dead when she died.
To the more fastidious young Protestant, one who feels that God is much too fine for a Bethlehem manger, Boston offers Unitarianism, allegiance to which consists in denials of belief in the Divinity of Christ, and professions of faith in the fertility of the dollar.
If Christian Science and Unitarianism are not to his fancy, the youthful untruth-seeker has an alternative in Congregationalism, Boston-style. This is bare, raw Protestantism, the kind that has kept America so militantly Protestant, and has muzzled Catholicism in this 70 per cent Catholic city. The current impetus behind Boston Congregationalism is Doctor Ockenga, whose newspaper and pulpit anathemas against the Virginity of the Mother of God have long since established him as Protestantism’s most valuable local voice.
America is a Protestant country, and its regional religions, like the three foregoing Boston ones, are calculated to keep America just that way. Religiously, America is not a good place for a child, and whenever a Protestant child revolts, that is his message to the nation. He may imply it in his novel or shriek it in his suicide. Once a Boston boy put it in his poetry, and got a Pulitzer Prize for complaining in the following way about Boston (while invoking a strictly literary Blessed Lady):
“Mother, for these three hundredProtestant America is a land where children are either pampered or prevented, and grow up to be either divorced or mercy-killed. It is a land which, having many religions and no certitudes, demands that a child get dogmatic about democracy and make a creed out of the slogan that creeds are of no importance. A determination to protect the Italian-Catholic children of America from this kind of enslavement was what forged our only American saint, Mother Cabrini. She said, “I shall have no peace until I have wrested every last infant from Protestant hands.”
years and more
Neither our clippers nor our
The haven of your peace in this
Neither my father nor his
On these dry flats of fishy real estate ... ”
From the beginnings of our country, Mother Cabrini’s purpose had been anticipated by Our Blessed Lady. In her mercy toward America, Our Lady arranged that most of the Protestantism of our land should be the Baptizing kind. Thus, in thousands of water-pourings, validly administered, New World babies with Protestant parents became members of the Church and subjects of the Pope. And countless of these infants were soon after taken up to heaven by Our Lady — where they remain happy hostages for the conversion of the land they, happily, never grew up in.