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OME of us seem to have a gift of stressing wrong values.
The trouble probably lies with our "complexes," which (or
who) appear to have a finger in everything—if we are to believe current psychology. Be that as it may, there are certainly strange points of perspective abroad which tend to overthrow the equilibrium of some of us who were brought up in old-fashioned three-dimensional days.
Of course there are non-important instances where the metaphysical accent may be placed, just as the audible one in the pronunciation of your name—that is, where you please. But are there not categories where the mistake of a gnat for a camel (to introduce the figure of our caption) may cause inconvenience, if not something far more disastrous ?
Of the comparatively unimportant kind was the reading of a certain cleric, who, endowed by saving grace, with a good voice and enunciation, robustly emphasized all non-important words in the Church service, thereby deleting the subject matter of much meaning. The case is a parable, with wide-reaching, and graver, applications. We can all make many of them.
The tritest, of course, is the undue stress laid by our generation upon pleasure and excitement. The overexertion of an early service or a weekly fast must be strained out rigorously, while the camels of unlimited "movies," motorings and midnight feasting (the metaphor here tends to become literal) may be freely swallowed. Of course the fault is in a wrong appreciation of values. Responsibility and duty have become debased coinage, and seem still to be shrinking. In our day, the Cavalier has long been revenged on the Puritan. There are "cakes and ale” (or more dangerous equivalents) in plenty now, and "ginger” which we may paraphrase as moral "jazz” has long been “hot in the mouth."
Another, perhaps as obvious, instance of a changed perspective may be found in the point of manners. Certainly, if "manners maketh man" (according to the well-accepted dictum of William of Wykeham), some of our present-day products, of both sexes, appear rather ill-made. Can it be that we are so busy stressing self-expression, self-development, self-suggestion, that we do not note that we are straining out much of really fine punctiliousness, as well as the worthy shame-facedness which belonged as a matter of course to our grandfathers and supremely to our grandmothers !
It is but a step to the realm of morals or social ethics. Here, we are so occupied with emphasizing equality of the sexes (with supremacy of the sex) with eugenics, New Thought, Freudism and every pyscho-ethical fad, that old-time morality is in danger of being listed in the teasing gnat tables. The importance of auras has outclassed haloes !
And if we may tread on the delicate-or we had almost said the indelicate-ground of the clothing we wear, we must admit that Carlyle has not said the last word on the ethics and aesthetics of clothes. The Scotch sage did not know the habits-in either sense of this present century. Could he undergo the reincarnation so glibly talked of in ladies' clubs, and elsewhere, might he not give us a most interesting sequel-volume on Sartor Resartus ?-unless the canny Jenny Welsh Carlyle headed him off? "Clothed, and in his right mind." These were concomitants with the Gadarene. “Mens sana in corpore sano, vestituto sane," the old phrase might well be extended. Dignity, serenity, restraint of garb are scarcely preserved for us elsewhere than in the cloister. Even those who might have been inclined to plead for a little more laxity in the clerical collar, or a little more leniency in the Sister's wimple, might well be deterred by the “decline and fall off" of good manners in dress, so painfully evident elsewhere. Surely, the fair vesture of the saints must be wrought out on earth by restrained and well-ordered lives.
If we turn to the department of education, shall we not find more hopeful signs? Is it not true that, in the past, much mental rubbish, or at best mere scaffolding for the building of life, has been stressed at the expense of efficiency? Perhaps we must be forced to allow something on that side of the balance. But it may be as well to pause and ask, “Efficiency for what?" Is it to be just for one's "job?” Is it to make one an exact peg for the hole he is to fill? Pegs are useful, but not inspiring. The electrified core of a magnet is efficient too; but currents of potentially permanent forces flow through it. If we are to stress the practical at the expense of the ideal, the pragmatic values at the expense of the humanities, are we not in a way to lose an impetus which makes the practical tolerable? The study of Jitsu, or of sewage, may make for efficiency in some of our youth, but if we do not find them time for any contact with cultural subjects, are we not so limiting the point of perspective that a gnat may very well look as large as a camel ?
Possibly it is perfectly right to teach history chiefly in relation to industry. It may even be advantageous to begin our study at the present era and crawfish backward, if we really desire to know what our ancestors owe to us! If we actually want our children Montessoried, or Gary-fied, or brought into line—the line of a tee-to-tum-with new systems which have no curricula at all, and are quite minus discipline or authority (obsolete words, which in ten years we may not be able to find in the dictionary) we may pay our money and take our choice, with perhaps no harm done.
But when it comes to the matter of education in our own Church schools, does it not behoove our Church people to pause? Surely, here the matter of values is of extreme and vital importance. Instruction in the Faith should not only be in the catalogue, but definitely in the curriculum and in the atmosphere. It will not do to stress "good form" and "playing the game" while leaving out of calculation the factors of prayer, faith, selfdiscipline and sacramental grace. It is the old story of the attempt to pull oneself up by the boot-straps. It is confounding, in a very sad way, gnats with camels.
That there are schools where no such mistake is possible is, of course, beyond question.
But there may be far more disastrous confusions than those spoken of. Even in the preaching and the teaching which is sometimes put forth, in the name of the Church Catholic, from our pulpits or our press is there not a danger of false valuations -a peril of sanitation and hygiene being stressed at the expense of the Gospel and the sacraments? We are compelled to doubt whether, in many cases, the ministry to the body (with perhaps a corollary for the soul) be not given supreme attention. Far be it from any of us to belittle the corporal works of mercy, or to deprecate the suggestion of that wholesome mindedness which is healthfulness! But surely the emphasis is often wrong, the values are misplaced. The ugly camels of sin are swallowed while we are engaged in straining out civic gnats—pests, to be sure, but not so bad as the foul marsh which breeds them!
Further, while we are fussing with our neighbor's betterment or uplift, is not our own interior life often sagging very low? It is easier to be active than to be meditative, to be a "good organizer” than a good worshipper. True, we cannot be saved alone—nor do we want to be. But it is also true that our efforts cannot raise our neighbor much higher than our own levelwhich sometimes seems to stop at the plane of social service.
Happily, the Church has moved far since it used to strain candles, and swallow the dismissal of nine-tenths of the congregation at the Prayer for the Church Militant, since it used to find wafers obnoxious and non-communicating attendance abhorrent. But is there not still much to be desired in the Point of Perspective? The emphasis on high Matins, and the light stressing of Eucharists is still too prevalent. Penance is too often spoken of in a derogatory or gossiping whisper. The sacrament of Holy Unction is too often ignored or misapplied. And in our confounding of union of the churches with the unity of the Body we are surely not yet free of our zoo-entomological confusion.
But there are signs of better things within our AmericanCatholic communion. There is a point of perspective which many are reaching after, and many have attained. Is it not the compelling vision that the things most worth while are those which bring us into closest, most vital union with our heavenly Lord, and so with all His earthly members?
ES," said the quiet voice, “it was absolutely contrary to all preconceived opinion, but it happened nevertheless."
As I glanced at the calm steady face of the speaker I knew that, however strange the tale, it would be true to fact.
“Tell me the whole story," I demanded, "from the beginning to the very end."
I had known Gordon for years. He was the kind of fellow on whom one could always rely, quiet, steady, and almost without nerves. When other people got excited and made themselves somewhat ridiculous Gordon would only grow quieter and more watchful, yet somehow one felt as though he were keenly alive to all that was going on in each individual mind, and was almost, as it were, holding silent intercourse with each one present. He was one of the most curious characters I have ever met. He had all the intuition and sympathy of a woman and, at the same time, was absolutely dauntless and the reverse of anything approaching effeminacy. It was so seldom that he ever gave any personal experiences that I privately hugged myself in delighted anticipation.
"Fire away, old chap," I said again, as I settled myself comfortably into my deep, well-cushioned lounge and watched him light his pipe as he stood leaning against the fireplace. "Take your time, but give us every word of it."
He made an interesting picture as the firelight played on the quiet face. He had come to visit me in my own home in Somerset, and we had not met for years. He had entered the priesthood, whilst I had been with my regiment in India.
Now we met after many years and each quietly took stock of the other, noting the changes wrought by time and varying experiences. Gordon had been staying in Yorkshire with some old college friends, and had evidently been exploring the neighborhood very thoroughly.
“Well, it happened this way," he said. “You know how Cromwell marched through Yorkshire and left his usual traces behind him. I had often heard of
Church, but it was some distance off, and it had never been convenient to make the expedition there. However, as I was leaving in a few days? time, I determined to find my way there alone. The church was particularly interesting, from an archeological and historical point of view, and I did not wish to miss what might be my last chance of seeing it.
“I set out in the morning. It was some distance off and I wanted to get there before the heat of the day. My plan was to rest awhile in the church, think out the different points of my sermon for next Sunday, and then explore the church thoroughly. Of course I planned lunch, too, a real country lunch in the village inn; and a country lunch in Yorkshire is something to remember!