Taken from The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, June, 1867
[We have received the following paper from a zealous ecclesiastic who, after devoting himself for a long time to the welfare of our faithful people at home, is now actively engaged as a missionary in watching over their spiritual interests in the United States. We sincerely thank our reverend correspondent for this most important article, and we earnestly commend it to the attention of our readers:]
Much might be written on the extraordinary development of the Church in this country. I am sorry to say that at the side of this we have to lament losses quite as remarkable. There may be a difference of opinion as to their extent and their causes, but there can be no doubt of their being most extensive and lamentable It is still more painful to be obliged to say, that notwithstanding the growth of our ecclesiastical institutions, the process that produced these losses is going on to-day as surely, as rapidly, and as extensively as at any former period. This is not only my opinion, but I find it to be the opinion of many moderate and intelligent observers. Many think that our losses now are greater even in proportion to our numbers than they ever were before. While it is pleasing to think of our progress, the consideration of these losses, of their causes and their remedies, may be practically more useful. I therefore beg leave to direct to them the attention of the zealous readers of your valuable periodical.
There is little use in moaning over this state of things, much less in disputing about its extent, if the latter be admitted on all hands to be great. Every conscientious person who has any responsibility in it, will much rather inquire if there be any thing having a bearing on it, within the reach of his duty. To such this letter is addressed.
In writing to you, I confine myself to the causes of it which exist in Ireland. We who live and labour here will have to give a strict account to God whether we have done what was in our power to arrest this scandal of our age or not. But it is unnecessary to treat of our duty in writing for a periodical circulating chiefly amongst the clergy of Ireland. Your zealous readers will naturally be more anxious to inquire if they have any duty themselves in this bearing.
For many reasons it is necessary to state at once that the falling off from the Church, to which I allude, does not take place by immediate apostacy in passing over to some sect. There are cases of this, of course, but, thank God, they are few. It is literally a "falling off", first, from the fervour of religion, then from its practices, then from the faith itself, and a lapsing into that mass of irreligion, which is not always either infidelity or open impiety, though it contains a great deal of both, but is merely an exclusion of positive faith in any definite system, or of adherence to the practices which it enjoins. This is what is called here "belonging to no church", "professing no religion", which does not necessarily imply a denial of the truths of Christianity in a general way, but merely a determination not to busy one's self with what it is or what it requires.
Catholics born and brought up in Ireland seldom cease to cling to the Church, even when they do not practise her teachings. They will call themselves Catholics, even when they admit they are bad ones But the tendency of those born or brought up in this country from childhood, when not consistent members of the Church, or of any sect, is to say that "they do not profess any religion"--"they are members of no church". They may retain, notwithstanding this, a certain faith in this or that system. The great number attend some place of worship, but the tendency of the mass of those who belong to this class is to be indifferent at least in what is peculiar to any system. The Irish Catholic, whose life does not accord with his faith, is despised for his inconsistency. The American, or the Americanised, relieves himself of the contempt that follows such inconsistency by professing not to be connected with a system which he is unwilling to carry out in practice. He will say, therefore, that he is a member of no church.
This class of "professors of no religion" embraces persons of all shades between those who merely omit to practise, while they avow their conviction of the truth of religion in general, or even of Catholicity in particular, and the open undisguised infidel; but there are two points which render its effects on Catholicity most baneful.
The first is the effort of such persons to adopt a kind of consistency in their position. Many practices and precautions, which even the careless Catholic will retain, and which will one day bring him under the influence of the saving institutions of the Church, or will at least secure the Catholic training of his children in some degree, are omitted by these people as things expected from, or proper only in, those who profess piety. To adopt them would look like a setting up for practical religion, which they disclaim. They are thus carried away much farther into practical irreligion than persons leading similar lives elsewhere. The second point is the tendency to assimilation amongst those who belong to this class. This "no religion" becomes a kind of religion in itself, with its creed, and its decalogue, and I would almost say its sacraments, which all more or less adopt. Amongst the articles of its creed is the leading dogma, that it is not by a man's faith that he is to be judged, but by his life--that there are good and bad in all religions; if the life be good, it matters little what a man is called. Hence very little value is set on the peculiar doctrines of any. To show a conviction of this faith by the elimination of what is exclusive, is the great practical point with these people. Conformity to this course becomes with them a system. Hence indifference in principle as well as in practice, by which Catholicity is the chief loser. Its practices and its dogmas are lost. Though the first generation may retain some faith in it, those of the next, under an affectation of this course, receive nothing but what floats on the surface. Their character and their belief will thenceforth depend on circumstances. In some cases they will be polished ladies and gentlemen with great respect for religion and its institutions, but without anything deserving the name of faith; in others they will be little better than rough heathens whose vices are the scourge of the community; in others again you will have all intermediate grades.
It is into this mass that so many of our young are plunging. The Catholics who came from Ireland, almost invariably retain their faith with more or less fervour. The numbers of their children who are sinking into the mass I have described, is truly frightful. It may take one or two steps to complete the work, but this is the end to which vast numbers are tending.
I have thought it necessary to explain this, as many at home cannot believe, and they would be right in not believing, that even the children of Irish Catholics become Protestants, They know only of good and bad Catholics, and the few apostates who make a traffic of their souls. They justly conclude that the base qualities which go to constitute the latter, cannot be found to a great extent, even in the offspring of Irish Catholics, however forgetful of their duty.
But this class of men of "no religion", which is not necessarily infidelity, but merely a systematic ignoring of practical religion, and gradually shaping the mind to accord with the practice, without substituting any other system, is, as a system, a growth peculiar to this country, and is the real grave of the faith of the descendents of Irish Catholics. The parents from whom they spring are not perhaps worse, or at least are not much worse, than many at home. But at home the children of such people receive their religious convictions from the community in which they live; they find them almost in the atmosphere of the country, which contains nothing but Protestantism and Catholicity, and they easily spurn the former. Here the atmosphere that such persons breathe is impregnated with this spirit of "no religion", and they grow up accordingly. If the first generation of this kind retain some slight inkling of the Catholicity of their fathers, even that is blotted out in the next. What, becomes of them after is a matter of chance. This is the process by which the Church sustains most of her losses in this country. It would be frightful were I to state the extent to which they reach beyond all doubt.
The great question now arises, what is to be done to obviate this? As I said before, we have a great responsibility in the matter, and wo to us if we are unmindful of it. But it may be asked, does any part of the causes of this falling away exist at the other side of the Atlantic ? This is the only practical question for your periodical, and I feel confident that every zealous reader will be glad to hear something on the subject from this side, even though he may not at once adopt our views.
Much arises from the character of our people, which, I fear, cannot, or at least will not, be remedied in our day. Such, for example, is that thoughtlessness which leads them to go about from place to place without due reflection on what prudence would suggest as best for their own moral, or even for their material welfare, or for that of their children. Their poverty, and their want of experience, make them dupes of designing knaves, and these are frequently countrymen of their own, who have acquired skill in practising on their simplicity, and know how to impose on them to a degree that renders any efforts of their true friends useless, and makes them be given up in despair. The same may be said of the fact that by their situation they are brought into contact with the worst classes of the native population, from whom they learn the vices of the country before they acquire the good qualities which it possesses. These and analogous things in their various developments would afford scope for extensive discussion, but I have long since come to the conclusion, that there is little to be hoped for by any direct attempts to produce a change in them, and without such a prospect, it would be out of place to ask you to give room for their discussion.
I will therefore confine myself to things to which your readers may address themselves, and to which, no doubt, they will be glad to apply themselves, if they be brought to see the actual influence which as pastors they possess. Much would be accomplished if the clergy of Ireland once felt the full amount of responsibility they have in this matter.
It may be thought that if they do their duty to their people at home, the Irish clergy are not bound to provide for the peculiar dangers that beset those who leave their own country. But emigration is now too important a fact to be ignored by any Irish priest who inquires into his duty to his people. It is not, I presume, an exaggeration to say that over 100,000 leave Ireland annually. These make a million in ten years. This, on political, economical, or religious grounds, may be considered an evil, and some may think it better to set their faces against it.
I will enter into no controversy on this view of the case. For many, if not for most of these emigrants, it would most certainly be better in every way if they staid at home. But whatever be thought on this subject, it will be admitted that the state of things cannot be changed to any serious degree, no matter what efforts are made for the purpose. The few with whom such efforts could be successful, would be the very ones for whom danger might be less apprehended, for an appreciation of such danger would itself be the most efficacious means of guarding against it. The people will go, no matter what is done, and at the rate stated. We should not lose sight of what is before us, in endeavouring to struggle with what is unchangeable.
A future to which so many of his people may look forward, cannot be ignored by any pastor true to his duty. He is bound to prepare them for it, as far as reasonable exertions will enable him. It is, I may say, a state to which so many are destined; and the pastor who would neglect to fortify his people against the dangers attending it, would be neglecting his duty as much, as in neglecting to prepare them for the responsibilities of any other state of life that is before them.
You will ask what must be done for this purpose?
I do not propose in reply any contrivances of an artificial nature, on the intrinsic value of which there may be a difference of opinion, much less any plans of my own. What I would say is merely this. Let the people be attended to, and trained as would be proper, at any rate; only take care that the training be such, that the object be accomplished so, that it may continue independently of the peculiar circumstances in which they happen to be placed at this moment in Ireland.
This may appear trifling or imaginary to many of your readers. I think, however, that reflection will show that it is neither fanciful nor unimportant.
The same difficulties that are felt here, are, as far as I can learn, realized in England, in Scotland, and amongst the Irish emigrants everywhere else. They cannot be said then to have their root in any peculiar circumstances of this country. I hear it stated every where, that, while the Irish emigrants display an earnest faith, and show great generosity in supporting the institutions of the Church, vast numbers neglect the practical duties which it enjoins, and particularly that, though they make sacrifices also for the education of their children, in one way or another they fail to train them up in virtue, and that many, probably the majority of these, are lost even to the faith. This happens amongst the Irish emigrants to a far greater degree than amongst any other having an equal or any fair degree of earnest faith.
For this universal fact there must be a general cause, and that can be found only in the training and character of the old stock.
The natural effects of this may not be felt immediately at home, in consequence of peculiar circumstances. The atmosphere, as I said before, is there Catholic. Public sentiment supplies the deficiency of parents, and children neglected by the latter are borne on by it and grow up Catholics. Here, and in the other places to which Irish emigrants fly, it is quite the opposite. Not being supported from without, and not having proper strength within, they fall away. This appears to me the true explanation of this saddening phenomenon.
Now this should not be so The chilling influence of perverted surroundings will, under any circumstances, be productive of evil results. But it is in the power of the clergy of Ireland to diminish its effects far below what now follows. Let them use all the aids with which their peculiar situation is yet happily provided to plant deeply not only the faith, but the habits that will protect it under trials, and make it fructify, and let these be so planted as to be able to stand as much as possible by themselves, and not need the props by which they are surrounded for the present at home, and their people will go forth ready to contend with the trials of other countries with a well founded hope of coming out victorious.
This I would venture to say is necessary, not only for their preservation in other countries, but even for the stability of the Church at home. Persons at a distance are sometimes better
judges of the dangers of our situation than we who are in its midst. We often make a fatal mistake looking on the temporary and accidental, as permanent and deeply rooted. We are often beguiled by the flattering appearance of the tree in full foliage. Those who see it removed elsewhere are able to perceive the worm that had advanced far in undermining its root. The unsoundness of any thing subject to decay is perceived first by those who can examine it under altered circumstances.
In this view of the case persons at a distance, who have much, intercourse with Irish people, may be better able to judge of the approach of danger even in Ireland than those remaining at home.
Now I am sorry to say that I have met many such who love and sincerely admire the Irish people and the Irish clergy, who have the most serious fears that we are on the eve of a turning tide in the religious feelings of the people of Ireland itself. I will not enter into the reasons of this opinion, which I would be glad to believe unfounded. If it be even partially correct, it is time to look out for yourselves at home.
The remedy is the same as that required to guard against danger here--a well grounded practical carrying out of the spirit of faith in individuals, without too much reliance on the circumstances by which they are as yet surrounded. Without this, things may go on for a time in the old routine, but as their being disturbed by the changed condition of the emigrant leaves him a wreck at the mercy of circumstances, other serious disturbances in the state of affairs may produce sad havoc at home.
These general remarks will supply abundant matter for thought to any one desirous of realizing the true condition of things. It would be unpleasant, and it is unnecessary, to enter into details that are obvious. The remarks I have made will be pooh-poohed by those who wish to look only at the bright side of things, and, satisfied with the status quo, they will say, let posterity or those at a distance provide as best they can for what chance may send them.
It would be impossible in a letter like the present to treat even all that could be said with propriety on this subject. I will point out a few that seem to me to have an important bearing.
Taking things from the beginning, a very serious omission appears to me to prevail very generally in Ireland in preparing children in due time for the sacraments, and thus implanting in them at an early period habits of practical religion. It is, if I mistake not, a very general practice to admit them to the sacraments only at the age of twelve, and frequently not until they are fourteen. Perhaps this practice is changed or modified since I left the Irish mission: perhaps it was not general. But I speak of the state of things as they came under my own observation.
Now on this, or any other subject, I would not venture to make any suggestion or demand, but what clearly accords with the spirit of the Church, which, I would think, requires a change of this practice.
Its evil effects may be neutralised by peculiar circumstances in Ireland. The youth, though admitted thus late to the sacraments, may have conceived a reverence for them from childhood, and may be led to frequent them regularly afterwards by the usages of the community in which he lives. But this is precisely an instance of what I have been alluding to. It is relying on your peculiar circumstances, where a result could and should have been attained that would be independent of them. The consequence is, that when these circumstances exist no longer, the habit ceases.
Now, it is not certainly the spirit of the Church, that the sacraments should be deferred to such a late period in the life of a Christian as the age of fourteen, or even twelve years. As soon as the child attains the use of reason, it is capable of committing sin, it is capable, and stands in need of penance. This sacrament should, therefore, be received at a very early age.
Even though communion, according to the present discipline of the Church, be deferred for a fuller development of the mind, that it may be received with a better appreciation of its august character, there is no reason why the child should not sooner approach the holy sacrament of penance. The very nature of things demands the contrary. Its youth would make more labour and care necessary to enable it to go and to perform this act in a proper manner, but such care is one of the most important duties of a pastor of souls.
It is only by this that a love for the sacraments is instilled and becomes a habit--almost a want that leaves the subject uneasy until it is satisfied. When a boy has grown up to the age of fourteen, and then for the first time goes to confession and communion, he may be told that he is bound to go every year, but he feels no yearning for the sacraments: he does not feel it a part of his Catholic life to attend to this duty. If convenient, he will go; if not convenient, he will easily omit it.
This appears to me to be one cause why so many of our Irish population, here when not reminded of the necessity of going to confession by the "station" which all the neighbours are attending, never think of it, or think of it so lightly, that they neglect it for years. You will meet hundreds who live almost under the shadow of the Church, who, when asked when they were at confession last, will tell you--"Not since I left the old country"; yet when pressed, you will find there was no very serious obstacle or habit that prevented them. It was nothing but carelessness. There was no deep-rooted habit of attending to their duties for its own sake, and they easily lost sight of it.
This neglect in Ireland operates badly in many ways. People here, even when well inclined, will follow the customs established at home. They will send their children to the sacraments at the age they received them themselves. We may thus have a certain number of children to make their first communion at twelve or fourteen. The priest, if vigilant, may induce a certain number to return a few times; but there is soon an end of this, and no more is heard of them. In our fast age, and in this fast country, the world and its vicious habits take possession of them before they learn to be practical Christians.
If, on the contrary, children as soon as possible were led to confession, if stated times were fixed, and proper arrangements made, so that they would go frequently and well, if in due time --say at the age of ten or eleven--they were led to make their communion, and again and again brought to make it, until the habit became well settled, this duty would not be neglected in after life, or if, falling into crime, they felt themselves unworthy, remorse would lead them, first of all, to think of the sacraments, and evil habits would be nipped in the bud. Their Christian character would be formed before business and politics, or precocious vice, absorbed their whole attention and energies, and gave an unreligious stamp to their character.
Now it is impossible to introduce amongst the masses here different ideas on this or any similar subject from those they received at home. The clergy themselves can with difficulty, in many cases, be brought to see the necessity of proceeding differently from the old priests, to whom they looked up with veneration in childhood. If this habit has any part in causing apathy and neglect, and thus falling off, as I am sure it has, the root of this is to be found in Ireland.
As we now suffer, the day may not be distant, when similar results may follow at home, if this practice be not corrected. The peculiar influences that bear the people on, notwithstanding its tendency, may cease, and then you will remain with the masses negligent in frequenting the sacraments, and I need not dwell on the consequences likely to follow. Happy is it that you may yet introduce almost any change you think well.
Family devotion, and still more, family instruction, is, I fear, much neglected in some parts of Ireland, and this is another of the great causes that operate here in preventing the transmission of practical religion, in Catholic countries, where there is any pretension to practical religion, the whole household unite in morning and evening prayer, and in special prayers on holidays and the chief festivals of the year. The parents feel it a duty themselves to teach their children the catechism, to explain to them, as well as they are able, their Christian duties, and everything else connected with the doctrines and practices of religion.
I fear that our people leave this too much to the priest or to the schoolmaster. The clergy of Ireland have it yet in their power to establish almost any practice that they please in this matter.
Without inquiring closely what actually takes place, I fear that not near as much is done, as could and ought in this matter. The habits that are acquired at home are not improved here, of course. The deficiency may be supplied there to some extent. Here ruin is the result.
If, on the contrary, people were trained at home to inculcate Christian duty on their children; if they were in the habit of looking upon it as an essential duty to teach their children the catechism themselves, to lead them to Mass, to the confessional, to speak to them of their Christian duties, of the guilt of this and that sin, and what might lead to it, we would have a different state of things.
Now many of them speak little of religion, except in a general manner, nor of duties, except to complain of some glaring fault. They are taught that they are Catholics, and little more. To speak of the claims of God, of the examples of the saints, of love for the practices of religion, is left to the priest or the sister, or is done only by those who are prompted by special fervour. The consequence is, that the mass of our children grow up without any practical religious training. Many of the substitutes which supply the parent's deficiencies in Ireland, are here wanting, the children remain as tabulae rasae, and numbers grow up like so many baptized heathens.
No wonder that in moving from place to place, all recollection of the faith is lost, at least in the succeeding generations.
There are many defects which commence at home, but here produce most disastrous results, even amongst the adults themselves.
I am not so unreasonable as to expect that our poor people should not have their defects as well as others; much less would I insinuate that pastors have it in their power to correct every thing. But it is a matter worth inquiring into, whether, with the great influence which the clergy yet possess in Ireland, more could not be done to eradicate, or at least to diminish, certain defects, which are developed here in extensive ruin.
There is, in the first place, a great want of intelligent caution in guarding against dangers of all kinds. The very ardour of their faith, when it is not enlightened makes our people careless. Their adherence to the faith is so strong that they think nothing can shake them Each one imagines there is no danger of his children ever abandoning it. Hence they expose themselves and their children to dangers, the effect of which is only realized by the sad result.
They should be made to understand that, however sincere our faith may be, it is after all a grace that requires to be guarded carefully; that the wilful or unnecessary exposure to evil occasions may cause this as any other virtue to be lost; that it is necessary to foster and cherish it, if we are anxious for its preservation.
It is lamentable to think of the neglect of our people in this respect. They will place their young where they are not only without instruction, but exposed to all kinds of evil influences. At one time they flatter themselves they are too young to receive bad impressions, at another that they are too firm to be influenced. At another time they look forward to bringing them to the priest as a remedy for the evil that may occur. Protestants laugh at their simplicity, and take advantage of it. Before these foolish parents realize the danger, the evil done is beyond remedy, and then they will console themselves by saying that they are not responsible. The same thing holds good in dangers to morals as in dangers to faith.
Could nothing be done in Ireland to inspire more salutary fear and caution on these subjects? The blindness of our good Irish people in this regard exceeds that of any other class now here, or that comes here, that has any pretensions to faith.
You may be surprised, and will scarcely believe that the want of caution, and of the efforts which caution could inspire, exists particularly with regard to education.
In a general way, the well disposed feel an interest in giving a Catholic education to their children; but when it comes to practice, there is great backwardness. They will subscribe to build a schoolhouse, but then it is very difficult to procure the means of carrying it on, and of inducing people generally to send their children to it even when it is kept up. If it be supported by general contributions, these are almost everywhere scanty and inadequate. If those who should avail themselves of it are required to pay, a thousand pretexts are resorted to, to justify their preferring the public schools to save this expense, or seeking Protestant schools that are considered more fashionable. Those who consider themselves somewhat better off, are ever striving for admission to American society, and shy at least that of their own countrymen. Those of the class next to these try of course to follow in their wake.
Our schools, thus deprived of patronage, necessarily suffer, and frequently in consequence of the difficulties apprehended from this, no attempt is made to erect them. It is only the higher schools, which by the sacrifices of the religious that have charge of them, command the patronage even of Protestants, that are truly successful. But these are necessarily limited in number in proportion to the wants of the people.
A determination to give their children as good a Catholic education as they can, to make for this purpose all the efforts in their power, and to look to improving it by degrees, is a feeling in which the Irish are sadly deficient.
The Germans who have any pretensions to faith, act much better in this respect. Generally speaking, they no more think of sending their children to any but Catholic schools, than they would to any but Catholic churches. They give all that is necessary to support them. They are satisfied with what can be obtained for the time being. Hence the schools improve by degrees, and a Catholic school is almost an invariable appendage to a German Catholic church.
But unless the priest can establish at once a school that will meet all their views, our Irish people can scarcely be induced to avail themselves of it. Even if the school be unexceptionable, to avoid the little that is required to be paid, or to form American connections, vast numbers are sent elsewhere. Hence irreparable injury and additional difficulty in providing means to remedy the evil in future.
Now, the feeling of the importance of true Catholic education can be implanted only at home, and ought to be implanted there. It ought to be a feeling common to our race; our people have a kind of general desire for it, but they lack that earnest determination that would lead them to make adequate sacrifices for this purpose and to bear with imperfect attempts, persevering in them until they can be perfected by time, which is absolutely necessary for success.
Would to God that the determination to give a Catholic education to their children were as determined amongst all our Irish people at home and abroad, as their attachment to the faith is sincere; yet it would be so if the latter were enlightened. Without it, it is only a question of time how long the faith shall be preserved in one place or the other.
As I am speaking of the defects of our people, I cannot but allude to one which is perhaps the most disastrous of all, and the most plentiful source of all others I hope I need not say that I do so in sorrow, and without any wish to exaggerate, as I know that even this, great as it is in reality, is exaggerated by many who entertain only contempt for our faith and our race. I refer to the habit of drinking.
This is not in itself indeed so much worse amongst our people than amongst others, as some would fain make us believe, but it is bad enough, and for some reason or other it is amongst them productive of special mischief. It may be that our temperament is a little more mercurial than that of other countries, so that while others get drunk and go home and sleep it off, the Irishman, when he has exceeded, cannot avoid making a noise that attracts general attention. This will account for the peculiar blame cast on us in this respect. But whatever may be said to excuse ourselves as compared to others, the habit of excessive drinking, if not of drunkenness, prevails unfortunately to a frightful extent, and its effects are most disastrous. The wicked ingenuity of manufacturers has led them here, at least of late, to use various materials to increase the quantity produced, to conceal adulterations, and to give what they produce a pungency pleasing to vitiated palates, which adds beyond measure to its deleterious effects The consequence is, that the road to the last excesses is now traversed with an increased rapidity, compared to former times, analogous to that attained in material locomotion. Hence, numbers of our poor people by this habit are dragged to an untimely grave with all the accompanying misfortunes to their families.
But even when things do not go so far as this, before drunkenness properly speaking sets in, and where it may never set in in its last excesses, the habit of drinking produces most disastrous results.
A widely spread habit even of tippling makes our people quarrelsome, reckless, thriftless, keeps them ever on the verge of misery and in moral degradation. Homes which are the scenes of strife, are, I need not say, wretched nurseries of the young. I will not dwell on painting their character; suffice it to say that the number of those of our poor countrymen to which the picture would be applicable is without number. I need not tell you what is the result.
The Church is neglected, for they have scarcely the disposition to seek the house of God. Such persons feel the contradiction between the feelings which it recalls and those aroused by the fumes of liquor. Still less do they think of frequenting the sacraments as at home, where those who would habitually stay away from mass would be pointed at with the finger of scorn. On the contrary, partly that they huddle in neighbourhoods where persons of the same class encourage one another in their neglect, and partly that scorn would lest on the pretension of piety implied in the attendance on the practices of religion by persons who show so little regard for it; in other ways, public sentiment, as far as it reaches them, keeps them away. There their thoughtlessness and the consequent privations leave them without means of appearing in public in a manner thought to be required by propriety, and enable them to stifle any remaining remorse of conscience by saying that their poverty deprives them of decent clothing. The extent to which all this prevails in some of our large cities may be learned from the fact, that in some parishes the number who attend mass is not probably one-half of the inhabitants yet adhering to the faith known to reside within their limits.
I need not tell you what becomes of the children of such people. They fly from, or stay as little as possible in, homes where nothing but ill usage and no comforts await them. But this is only to seek resorts still more demoralising. Many are picked up by proselytisers, many committed by magistrates to private and public institutions, which profess to take better care of their physical and moral welfare.
Our laws are very harsh and unjust to Catholics in this respect. But the community laughs at us--unjustly if you will--when we go pleading for a greater regard for the religious rights of persons whose lives are considered a disgrace to anything deserving the name of religion, and who show no practical regard for it in anything else.
The number lost to the Church from this cause is truly frightful. I have heard the number of children of Catholics taken up by proselytising institutions in the city of New York alone, for the last few years, estimated by persons who examined the subject carefully, at over five thousand per annum ! Many make the number much higher, and this number refers only to those taken by organized institutions. Many others are taken by individuals, and many of those who remain under their parents' roof, grow up with as little religion as those that are taken away.
The figures alluded to, comprise, no doubt, many of the children of deserving poor, whose misfortunes alone make them a prey to the designing. But the mass are the children of such as i have described. Similar results are to be found, in due proportion, in all parts of the country. The parents, recklessly or wantonly, get themselves into positions where the law deprives them of the control of their children, before any assistance can be given. They neglect to apply a remedy while there would be time, or they apply an inefficient one, and it is impossible for the better disposed to wrestle adequately with the evil--such is its magnitude. Our asylums--even if we could gain possession of their children--though increased to ten times their capacity, would be inadequate to meet it, and it is an awful burden for us to find means of support for such as they are.
Without meaning to say that the whole cause of this state of things is to be found in previous habits imported from the old country, much certainly must be traced to this source. The description I have given would not otherwise be so generally and so specially applicable to the Irish population here as it is. Their numbers stand out in unenviable proportions in all reports on this subject, and I am sorry to say that their poverty alone will not explain the prominence they occupy in these returns. I will not tire you with the reasons of this conclusion. Is it impossible to do more to change what is soon developed here so disastrously? Is there no way of preventing so faithful a generation raising such a numerous, faithless progeny? I leave the answer to your zealous readers. My part is merely to impress the dreadful consequences that follow here, that they may not think that in keeping disorder within certain bounds at home, all serious evils are averted.
Several other things occur in this connection, but it would be trespassing too much on your space to go into them more extensively. The facts to which I have adverted, will answer as specimens of the principle I have announced, and will supply food for reflection. A little thought on the subject will suggest many other things to which it is applicable. What I said is intended merely to aid the priests of Ireland in realizing the effects of their labours on a field which does not come under their observation. They have laboured zealously and with success at home, and sacrificed much for their people; God has blessed their labours in an extraordinary manner. Emigration and its dangers could not be seen for a time to bring special duties for those who remain at home; but the magnitude that it has assumed of late, and the results that have followed, are now too striking to be lost sight of It is time for those who laboured so zealously, to look the facts in the face, and examine what new duties this phase in the condition of the people whom God entrusted to their care, demands at their hands.
I have often spoken of the good qualities of our poor people, and gloried in them. Their defects, I know, are often exaggerated. I have often laboured to reduce them to their true dimensions. But after all they are most serious. The interest we feel in the people should not blind us to these defects, but rather make us scan them more carefully, and provide a remedy. Instead of turning away from them, it is better to admit them with the poet
"Pudet haec opprobria nobis,
Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse repelli",
and make the admission spur us to new efforts.
To aid in this, which I am sure will be the desire of all your zealous readers, is the only object which I have aimed at in these lines.