Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.
|Seminarians of Holy Cross Seminary, Australia|
We have all known many men do many striking and noteworthy things, attain the height of their ambition, win for themselves a great and even worthy name, and yet feel, when the goal had been reached, that somehow they had failed, somehow they were disappointed, somehow they had not done that with their lives for which their lives were made. On the other hand, none of us has ever known a man save a soul and regret it; none of us has ever known a man even work to save a soul, whether he succeeded in saving it or not, and think that his time has been misspent. I have known an eminent mathematician who said he would give all he knew to be able to preach a single sermon that would really reach down into a single soul; an eminent University professor who, the more the world of intellect smiled upon him, felt all the more that to serve a human soul was a greater honour; an eminent artist, who gloried in his art, not for the reputation that it brought him, nor even for the art's own sake, but solely because it had become in his hands a means of rescuing and lifting up the lives of others.
And surely these are not rare exceptions. Is there a man in all the world, with a mind that understands, and a heart that feels, and common sense to guide his judgment, but appreciates the good thing it is to keep another man from harm? Is there a man who has not a longing to do something good for someone else before he dies; nay, more, who does not know that if he can gain this, more than if he gains any other thing that he ambitions, then his life will find its satisfaction? We look on at men about us; sometimes we feel a sort of envy for those who prosper where we fail, and who rise to great heights before the eyes of others; when time is past, and history is written, and men are arranged in the order of their real worth, we do not esteem the rich men most, nor the prosperous, nor the powerful, nor the learned, but the men who have been true in themselves, and have given their lives for the service and saving of others. The rest come next, not in the order of their wealth, or their power, or their learning, but according to the use they have made of these accidental gifts of God for the good of their fellows. And as we judge of the past, so do we judge of the future. Wealth, and power, and learning may be important matters, but the man that will stoop to lift up his fellow man is greater than them all, he will be the force that will tell through all time and in every crisis, and will find for himself the satisfaction of a life wellspent which nothing else will give him.
There are few men but know this in their hearts. There are many who would like and would be willing, if they but knew how, to make it the ruling motive of their lives. They would give themselves to the service if they could; they would labour if they could; if they could they would be willing - indeed, who could be a man, and yet would be unwilling? - to go out and lift up a soul that was stifling in the mire. At least, there are few who at some time or another in their lives have not had this attraction. But some have thought it was not for them, and have suffered it to perish; their circumstances have been against them, they have had themselves to consider, they have had the cares of this world put upon them. Others have reckoned up the cost, and have found it a dear one to pay. Others, again, have had the dream and dwelt upon it; but with them it has never come to action; it has remained a dream and no more, and like other dreams, has gradually vanished beyond recall. They have forgotten the ideal in the fancied real; they have allowed the present interest, perhaps the present need, to blot out the greater thing that might have been. And they have satisfied themselves that this was enough; this is all for which they were made. They were not made to save the souls of others; that requires a special vocation; it is enough if they can save their own.
We do not say this in blame. Many, perhaps, would yet do something if they could; many would still answer if they heard the Master's obvious call. But the fact remains; meanwhile the work grows every day greater, and the recruits for the army of Our Lord stand still. Every day the world grows larger and more open; every day there are more souls offered to be saved; yet every day, by comparison at least, there seem to be fewer and fewer men at hand to save them. Never before in the history of the human race has the man who would work for the saving of others had such an opportunity as now. At home and abroad, in civilized and in savage countries, the whole earth is gaping, parched, and dry; and it cannot be moistened but by the sweat of the labourer's brow, if not by the blood from his veins. Not only is today the labourer's day; it is also the season for ingathering. The seed has been long sown, the blood that should water it has been long shed ; others have laboured for centuries in patience and failure, and now we have but to lift our eyes and see the fields white for the harvest. At home on every side the cry is heard: "Had we more priests we could stop the leakage. Had we more priests there are countless numbers of our countrymen ready to come in." From the mission-fields it is the same. "Send us priests," they appeal, "and we have souls without number for them to save." Never does a missioner come home but he is struck with the work that might be done if only the men would go out and do it. For the men are here, and the work is waiting there; would to God they could be brought together!
This is the appeal that rings out to all the World; but especially, here and now, should it echo throughout Great Britain. Once it was the day for Spain, once for Portugal, once for France; each in its turn has had the world beneath its feet. And they produced upon demand the men that were required, their Xaviers and their Clavers, their Silveiras and their Machados, their Jogues, and their Breboeufs - men of whom today their fellow countrymen are proud, as those who gave themselves to save their country's honour in the days of its prosperity, and luxury, and danger of disgrace. Now the wheel has turned and the day has come for us. Let us not stay to lament that Britain is not Catholic; let us not despair at the smallness of our numbers. Whether our numbers are great or small, each of us still is one; and if we are so few, why then, "The fewer men the greater share of honour."
That not mere number makes the difference, the past has clearly shown. It is not number, but willingness; not learning, but self-sacrifice; not even any special skill or training, but a strong desire to spread the Kingdom, a strong hand to put to the plough.
Shall we then be wanting? Fathers and mothers, I care not who you are, rich or poor, noble or lowly, do you really grudge to God one or even more of the sons whom He has given to you? Is it such a mean thing as some would seem to think it, that a son of theirs should hold their Maker in his hands, should plead for them and for others at the altar, should be called upon to tramp down a sodden street, or across a field, or through a jungle, to carry salvation to a single soul? All honour to the widowed mother of five sons, who gave them all to God, and has lived to see them die one by one, priest-victims on the mission-fields! Sons and daughters, is there any ambition that is nobler? When you come to die, would you regret it if there were souls in Heaven waiting there to thank you for the gift of life you had given them? Other treasures you must leave behind; this is yours, if you will have it, for all eternity. And even if this world's estimate be taken, what life will you find more worthy of, more suited to, the energy and talents that are yours? Luxury, I grant you, you will not have; but you shall have even here a hundredfold instead. Mere wealth will never be yours; but love is more than gold or silver, and it you shall have to overflowing. Honour from men you may or may not receive; instead, centuries hence, when this generation is forgotten, the work you have done will still live on, and somewhere someone will bless the unknown hand that was generous; that gave and did not count the cost; that toiled and did not seek for rest; that laboured and did not look for any reward, save only to know that it worked for the glory of God and the good of the souls of men.