The Church speaks for Herself

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXV (3) start of chapter

This was the language and spirit of the Church, as proclaimed in the Pastoral Letter emanating from the Catholic Bishops assembled in the Third Provincial Council of Cincinnati, in May 1861:—

It is not for us to enquire into the causes which have led to the present unhappy condition of affairs. This enquiry belongs more appropriately to those who are directly concerned in managing the affairs of the Republic. The spirit of the Catholic Church is eminently conservative, and while her ministers rightfully feel a deep and abiding interest in all that concerns the welfare of the country, they do not think it their province to enter into the political arena. They leave to the ministers of the human sects to discuss from their pulpits and in their ecclesiastical assemblies the exciting questions which lie at the basis of most of our present and prospective difficulties. Thus, while many of the sects have divided into hostile parties on an exciting political issue, the Catholic Church has carefully preserved her unity of spirit in the bond of peace, literally knowing no North, no South, no East, no West. Wherever Christ is to be preached and sinners to be saved, there she is found with ministrations of truth and mercy. She leaves the exciting question referred to previously where the inspired Apostle of the Gentiles left it, contenting herself, like him, with inculcating on all classes and grades of society the faithful discharge of the duties belonging to their respective states of life, knowing that they will all have to render a strict account to God for the deeds done in the flesh, that this life is short and transitory, and that eternity never ends. Beyond this point her ministers do not consider it their province to go, knowing well that they are the ministers of God, who is not a God of dissension, but of peace and love.

Had this wise and considerate line of conduct been generally followed throughout the country, we are convinced that much of the embittered feeling which now unfortunately exists, would have been obviated, and that brotherly love, the genuine offspring of true Christianity, instead of the fratricidal hatred which is opposed to its essential genius and spirit, would now bless our country, and bind together all our fellow-citizens in one harmonious brotherhood. May God, in his abounding mercy, grant that the sectarianism which divides and sows dissensions, may gradually yield to the Catholic spirit which breathes unity and love!

The startling contrast which the Catholic Church thus presented to most, indeed nearly all, of the other churches during this period of national tribulation, was not without its influence on the public mind of America. It made men think and reflect, and in numberless instances conviction came with thought and reflection. The fervid and furious 'sermons' that were listened to with flashing eyes and quickened pulses by the majority of those to whom they were addressed, excited the sorrow or disgust of not a few. A Protestant gentleman, speaking to a Catholic friend in New York, thus referred to the prevailing topics which inspired the eloquence of his Boanerges:—

'My wife urged me yesterday to accompany her to our church. I refused: she was rather angry. "Well, my dear," I said, "you may go if you please; the pew is there for you—I pay for it. But I shan't go. Whenever I have gone I have never heard but three sermons at the most—Popery, Slavery, and War—War, Slavery, and Popery! These may satisfy you—they don't me. When I go to church I wish to be made better, not worse. Now I think that a little of the Gospel, that tells us something of peace and charity, would do me good—your War, and Slavery, and Popery don't. I repeat, my dear, you may go if you please; but I'm———blessed if I do." '

If the Catholic Church could do nothing to prevent war, she could at least do much to mitigate its horrors; and accordingly she commissioned her noblest representatives—her consecrated daughters—to minister in the public hospitals, in the camp, and in the prisons—wherever wretchedness, and misery, and suffering appealed most powerfully to their Christian duty and womanly compassion.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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