My Dear Reader: Perhaps this is the first time in your life that you have handled a book in which the doctrines of the Catholic Church are expounded by one of her own sons. You have, no doubt, heard and read many things regarding our Church; but has not your information come from teachers justly liable to suspicion? You asked for bread, and they gave you a stone. You asked for fish, and they reached you a serpent. Instead of the bread of truth, they extended to you the serpent of falsehood. Hence, without intending to be unjust, is not your mind biased against us because you listened to false witnesses? This, at least, is the case with thousands of my countrymen whom I have met in the brief course of my missionary career. The Catholic Church is persistently misrepresented by the most powerful vehicles on information.
She is assailed in romances of the stamp of Maria Monk, and in pictorial papers. It is true that the falsehood of those illustrated periodicals has been fully exposed. But the antidote often comes too late to counteract the poison. I have seen a picture representing Columbus trying to demonstrate the practicability of his design to discover a new Continent before certain monks who are shaking their fists and gnashing their teeth at him. It matters not to the artist that Columbus could probably never have undertaken his voyage and discovery, as the explorer himself avows, were it not for the benevolent zeal of the monks, Antonio de Marchena and Juan Perez, and other ecclesiastics, as well as for the munificence of Queen Isabella and the Spanish Court.
The Church is misrepresented in so-called Histories like Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It is true that he has been successfully refuted by Lingard and Gairdner. But, how many have read the fictitious narratives of Foxe, who have never perused a page of Lingard or Gairdner? In a large portion of the press, and in pamphlets, and especially in the pulpit, which should be consecrated to truth and charity, she is the victim of the foulest slanders. Upon her fair and heavenly brow her enemies put a hideous mask, and in that guise they exhibit her to the insults and mockery of the public; just as Jesus, her Spouse, was treated when, clothed with a scarlet cloak and crowned with thorns, He was mocked by a thoughtless rabble.
They are afraid to tell the truth of her, for
"Truth has such a face and such a mien, As to be loved needs only to be seen." [Dryden, Hind and Panther]
It is not uncommon for a dialogue like the following to take place between a Protestant Minister and a convert to the Catholic Church:
Minister: You cannot deny that the Roman Catholic Church teaches gross errors--the worship of images, for instance.
Convert: I admit no such charge, for I have been taught no such doctrines.
Minister: But the Priest who instructed you did not teach you all. He held back some points which he knew would be objectionable to you.
Convert: He withheld nothing; for I am in possession of books treating fully of all Catholic doctrines.
Minister: Deluded soul! Don't you know that in Europe they are taught differently?
Convert: That cannot be, for, the Church teaches the same creed all over the world, and most of the doctrinal books which I read, were originally published in Europe.
Yet ministers who make these slanderous statements are surprised if we feel indignant, and accuse us of being too sensitive. We have been vilified so long, that they think we have no right to complain.
We cannot exaggerate the offense of those who thus wilfully malign the Church. There is a commandment which says: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
If it is a sin to bear false testimony against one individual, how can we characterize the crime of those who calumniate three hundred millions of human beings, by attributing to them doctrines and practices which they repudiate and abhor. I do not wonder that the Church is hated by those who learn what she is from her enemies. It is natural for an honest man to loathe an institution whose history he believes to be marked by bloodshed, crime and fraud.
Had I been educated as they were, and surrounded by an atmosphere hostile to the Church, perhaps I should be unfortunate enough to be breathing vengeance against her today, instead of consecrating my life to her defence.
It is not of their hostility that I complain, but because the judgment they have formed of her is based upon the reckless assertions of her enemies, and not upon those of impartial witnesses.
Suppose that I wanted to obtain a correct estimate of the Southern people, would it be fair in me to select, as my only sources of information, certain Northern and Eastern periodicals which, during our Civil War, were bitterly opposed to the race and institutions of the South? Those papers have represented you as men who always appeal to the sword and pistol, instead of the law, to vindicate your private grievances. They heaped accusations against you which I will not here repeat. Instead of taking these publications as the basis of my information, it was my duty to come among you; to live with you; to read your life by studying your public and private character. This I have done, and I here cheerfully bear witness to your many excellent traits of mind and heart.
Now I ask you to give to the Catholic Church the same measure of fairness which you reasonably demand of me when judging of Southern character. Ask not her enemies what she is, for they are blinded by passion; ask not her ungrateful, renegade children, for you never heard a son speaking well of the mother whom he had abandoned and despised.
Study her history in the pages of truth. Examine her creed. Read her authorized catechisms and doctrinal books. You will find them everywhere on the shelves of booksellers, in the libraries of her clergy, on the tables of Catholic families.
There is no Freemasonry in the Catholic Church; she has no secrets to keep back. She has not one set of doctrines for Bishops and Priests, and another for the laity. She has not one creed for the initiated and another for outsiders. Everything in the Catholic Church is open and above board. She has the same doctrines for all--for the Pope and the peasant.
Should not I be better qualified to present to you the Church's creed than the unfriendly witnesses whom I have mentioned?
I have imbibed her doctrine with my mother's milk. I have made her history and theology the study of my life. What motive can I have in misleading you? Not temporal reward, since I seek not your money, but your soul, for which Jesus Christ died. I could not hope for an eternal reward by deceiving you, for I would thereby purchase for myself eternal condemnation by gaining proselytes at the expense of truth.
This, friendly reader, is my only motive. I feel in the depth of my heart that, in possessing Catholic faith, I hold a treasure compared with which all things earthly are but dross. Instead of wishing to bury this treasure in my breast, I long to share it with you, especially as I lose no part of my spiritual riches by communicating them to others.
It is to me a duty and a labor of love to speak the truth concerning my venerable Mother, so much maligned in our days. Were a tithe of the accusations which are brought against her true, I would not be attached to her ministry, nor even to her communion, for a single day. I know these charges to be false. The longer I know her, the more I admire and venerate her. Every day she developes before me new spiritual charms.
Ah! my dear friend, if you saw her as her children see her, she would no longer appear to you as typified by the woman of Babylon. She would be revealed to you, "Bright as the sun, fair as the moon;" with the beauty of Heaven stamped upon her brow, glorious "as an army in battle array." You would love her, you would cling to her and embrace her. With her children, you would rise up in reverence "and call her blessed."
Consider what you lose and what you gain in embracing the Catholic religion.
Your loss is nothing in comparison with your gain. You do not surrender your manhood or your dignity or independence or reasoning powers. Your give up none of those revealed truths which you may possess already. The only restraint imposed upon you is the restraint of the Gospel, and to this you will not reasonably object.
You gain everything that is worth having. You acquire a full and connected knowledge of God's revelation. You get possession of the whole truth as it is in Jesus. You no longer see it in fragments, but reflected before you in all its beauty, as in a polished mirror. While others are outside criticising the architecture of the temple, you are inside worshiping the divine Architect and saying devoutly with the Psalmist: "I have loved O Lord, the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth." While others from without find in the stained-glass windows only blurred and confused figures without symmetry or attraction or meaning, you from within, are gazing with silent rapture on God's glorified saint, with their outlines clearly defined on the windows, and all illuminated with the sunlight of heaven. Your knowledge of the truth is not only complete and harmonious, but it becomes fixed and steady. You exchange opinion for certainty. You are no longer "tossed about by every wind of doctrine," but you are firmly grounded on the rock of truth. Then you enjoy that profound peace which springs from the conscious possession of the truth.
In coming to the Church, you are not entering a strange place, but you are returning to your Father's home. The house and furniture may look odd to you, but it is just the same as your forefather's left it three hundred years ago. In coming back to the Church, you worship where your fathers worshiped before you, you kneel before the altar at which they knelt, you receive the Sacraments which they received, and respect the authority of the clergy whom they venerated. You come back like the Prodigal Son to the home of your father and mother. The garment of joy is placed upon you, the banquet of love is set before you, and you receive the kiss of peace as a pledge of your filiation and adoption. One hearty embrace of your tender Mother will compensate you for all the sacrifices you may have made, and you will exclaim with the penitent Augustine: "Too late have I known thee, O Beauty, ever ancient and ever new, too late have I loved thee." Should the perusal of this book bring one soul to the knowledge of the Church, my labor will be amply rewarded.
Remember that nothing is so essential as the salvation of your immortal soul, "for what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" [Matt. xvi. 26] let not, therefore, the fear of offending friends and relatives, the persecution of men, the loss of earthly possessions, nor any other temporal calamity, deter you from investigating and embracing the true religion. "For out present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." [II. Cor. iv. 17]
May God give you light to see the truth, and, having seen it, may He give you courage and strength to follow it!