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THE CATHOLIC PARISH PRIEST.
(From the French of Lamartine.) On the continent, in every district called a parish, there exists an indi. vidual, who, without having a family himself, belongs to the family of every one within his parochial jurisdiction ;- an individual, who is summoned either as witness, counsellor, or agent, in the most solemn acts of social existence ;—whose ministry is sought after by all Christians as as they enter or depart this life; who is invited to bless the couch of wedlock, the cradle of the newly born, and the bed of the dying ; an individual whom little children are accustomed to love, or to fear, and whom, even strangers, when they seek his acquaintance, distinguish by the endearing name of Father. At his feet, the aged and the young, of every rank and sex, kneel down with reverence, and confide to him their most secret transgressions, and hidden sorrows. This individual is, by profession, the comforter of each one's spiritual and corporal miseries. He is the usual mediator between the poor and the rich, who alternately cross the threshold of his well-known dwelling. The wealthy come to entrust the distribution of their unostentatious alms-deeds, and the poor, in their turn, wait upon him, in order to get relief at his hands, without a blush. This individual, laying claim to no particular rank, equally belongs to all : with the lower classes he is connected by the poverty of his life, and often by the humbleness of his birth. Το the upper classes, he belongs by education, by extensive knowledge of the world, and by the elevation of sentiment, which religious philanthropy usually inspires. This individual, who, by profound study, has acquired a general knowledge of many things, has a right to give an opinion upon most matters. Indeed, his appeals to the heart and understanding of his hearers, on moral subjects, carry with them the sanction of more than human authority.
This individual, so often alluded to, is the Parish Priest. By the peculiar power which he possesses, no other person has so many opportunities of doing good or evil to his fellow-creatures, according as he discharges or neglects the duties of his sublime mission. What, it may be asked, is a Parish Priest considered in his official capacity ? He is the minister of Christ's religion upon earth, charged with the preservation of its doctrines, the propagation of its morality, and the administration of its benefits, to that portion of our Saviour's flock committed
to his care.
From these three sacerdotal functions, result as many titles, under which we may consider the Parish Priest as a divine, a moralist, and an administrator of spiritual blessings; from these sources also flow three species of obligations, which he must fulfil, in order to prove himself not unworthy of his exalted charge, and at the same time deserving of the respect of his fellow-men.
As a theologian, or guardian of the doctrines of Christianity, a priest is not amenable to the tribunals of secular opinion; for dogmas, mysterious and divine in their nature, revealed to and accepted by faith are above criticism. The Priest, therefore, cannot be called to account by any lay authority, being, as he is, responsible only to the Church, our common Mother, from whom he has received his jurisdiction. Wherefore, a priest may authoritatively and usefully exert his influence over the religious customs of his flock. For instance, when certain trivialities and popular superstitions, the result of human ignorance in the lapse of
ages, have been confounded by the ignorant and uninformed with the primitive purity of Christian belief. As superstition is an abuse of Faith, it behoves the enlightened minister of religion to remove the dark shadows which obscure the bright holiness of truth, and which sometimes afford a pretext to the enemies of the Gospel to class it (though a masterpiece of heavenly wisdom) with those corrupt systems,—the offspring of error and deception. Any abuse of Faith, therefore, which may have imperceptibly crept in among his parishioners, it is the Priest's duty to discountenance. The attention of the over-credulous, let him divert from local prejudices and marvellous legends, to the ordinary laws of a merciful Providence. Virtue can at all times dispense with the unhallowed aid of deceit, for religious truth is great and eventually must prevail.
As a moralist, the Parish Priest sees a noble sphere of action before him. The Bible contains a system of divine philosophy, which may be considered in two ways,-historically, in the first place, as regards the life and death of Christ, and secondly in a preceptive point of view, that is to say, in the divine instructions, which JESUS gave to his disciples. These two watchwords of Christianity, precept and example, are united in the New Testament; this holy volume, therefore, should be the constant study of God's ministers. In fact, a good Priest is a living commentary upon this divine book. Every word of the Holy Bible, mysterious though it be, responds, like an oracle, to those who interrogate it with humble sincerity, while it imparts unerring light to the benighted in the path of duty. There is not a single moral or political
truth, the germ of which cannot be found in some passage of the Gospel. From its first precept, love, springs philanthropy; liberty, also, follows in its train, and to its benevolent emancipating policy, slavery owes its abolition. Moveover, political equality took its rise from the acknowledgment which the Gospel required and enforced of our common fraternal equality before God. To its influence, the laws owe that milder form unknown to pagan legislation, and by its civilizing power, inhuman habits and barbarous customs have been subdued and modified. It threw its protection over the weak, and raised woman, the fairest work of God, to her proper respected position in the scale of created beings.
Through the course of ages, as Christianity advanced, tyranny and deceit gradually gave way. At the present time, indeed, it may be confidently asserted that the whole civilized world, with its institutions and prospects, is greatly, if not solely, indebted to evangelical principles which form the basis of modern polity. But the end which the Author of Christianity had in view is not yet entirely accomplished.
The acting idea of human reason, viz., the march of improvement, enters also into the system of gospel perfection. The latter prohibits us from being stationary in good works. It invites us onward to greater and better performances, it commands us not to despair of human nature's gradual amelioration. Before us, it inceasingly spreads a brighter horizon, and the more we open our eyes to the brilliancy of truth, the more of promise may we discern in its counsels, of wisdom in its precepts, and of happiness in our own mysterious destiny. The Priest, then, with the Bible in hand, holds a code to which reason, civilization, and humanity, are equally indebted. That book contains a treasure, the key of which is confided to his keeping. Like that of Christ his master, the teaching of the Parish Priest must be twofold, that is to say, by word and example. His life, as far as human frailty permits, ought to be a visible demonstration of his doctrine. The Church has placed him where he is, to be the oracle and guide of others. Nature may have denied him the gift of eloquence, but virtuous example, though mute, is more persuasive than the language of the most accomplished orator.
Let us now consider the Parish Priest as the administrator of the Sacraments, and the dispenser of the benefits of charity. His duties in both capacities are very important to society. Albeit his knowledge of mankind will oftentimes be put to the test, for he must not unfrequently, in the discharge of these important functions, come in collision with
the passions of men, and their clashing interests. Mildness, delicacy, and prudence, should be his distinguishing qualities, having to take cognisance of his neighbours' faults, regrets, and necessities; his heart should overflow with benevolence, longanimity, compassion, and kind
To all, and to every one, who may require aid, his door should ever be open by day or by night; notwithstanding distance of place, the inclemency of the weather, or the danger of infection, he should keep himself in readiness to pour the balm of consolation on a wounded heart, to absolve the repenting sinner, and to carry the viaticum to the dying Christian ! In his sight, as in that of the ALMIGHTY, the Parish Priest must make no exception of person ; let him not, therefore, stop to distinguish between the poor and the rich, the little and the great, but look upon all as brethren in hope, or as fellow-sufferers in distress ! Although he must not refuse his ministry to those who desire it, still he ought not to force it upon those who decline, or despise its salutary prescriptions. Even in charitable offices, unseasonable importunity is more calculated to repulse than to attract.
Moreover, the Priest should remember that he is placed among a people whose government have guaranteed freedom in religious matter, and that each individual, by his country's laws, is held responsible only to God and his own conscience.* The duties of a Priest towards the state, which affords him protection, like that of every other citizen, is clear and simple. To all its just decrees and ordinances he owes obedience. With political parties, ambitious of gaining power, it is not his province to interfere. Forms of polity change and vary, thrones and dynasties are liable to vacillate; but religion, God's eternal government over the mind of man, is superior to political vicissitudes ! Its ministers, therefore, degrade themselves by meddling with the external schemes of statesmen. In questions of this nature, the Priest is perhaps the only citizen, who has a right to be neuter, and is reasonably expected to keep aloof from the rancorous struggle for ascendancy that too often agitates the different parties into which a nation is divided. The Priest, on these occasions, should look upon himself as the Father of the victors and the vanquished, as the advocate of peace and love, as the delegate of a Prince who would not allow a drop of blood to be shed in His own defence, and who, on this account, rebuked the chief of his Apostles for drawing a sword. In fine, while maintaining his own in
* We are not responsible for this sentiment, however qualified in the sequence. There is a time serving leaven in it we do not like.-E. C. M.
dependence in spiritual matters, let the Parish Priest, in his dealing with the civil authorities be mindful that bis powers are confined to the Confessional, the Pulpit, and the Altar; or that, when necessary to extend them beyond the walls of his church, they should be employed for the benefit of the ignorant, and limited to the pillow of the sick, and the bed of the dying. In the church especially, as well as in the asylum of poor suffering humanity, he is the minister of the Most HGH; elsewhere, he should appear the most humble, and unassuming of men. For his clothing and maintenance, for the relief of his distressed clients, in a land where the clergy who differ from the state religion are inadequately requited, the means of the Catholic priest are generally very circumscribed. Without the comforts, he must often be content with the bare necessaries of life. Still it is advisable for him to show the utmost disinterestedness regarding the perquisites to which he may lay claim. While he accepts the offering of the affluent, let him nobly decline it from the very poor, who, ashamed not to sacrifice something, can but ill afford to mingle rejoicings at a marriage, or baptism, or the sorrows of a funeral with the pinching expenses attendant upon the prayers and blessings of their pastors !
As regards his household concerns, a Parish Priest's reputation for virtue should be without stain, and, if possible, without reproach. Retired from day's garish eye, let him live as much as he can beneath the shade of his own sanctuary. A little field or garden he might cultivate with his own hand ; a few domestic animals, also, he may cherish, such as the cow, the horse, the dove, and even singing birds, without forgetting the dog, that model of fidelity, and friend of those by the world forgotten, but who require to be loved by some living thing though it be no higher in the scale of creation than the irrational brute. The Parish Priest should seldom leave his quiet retreat to join in the clamorous mirth or convivial meetings of his neighbours. Excepting certain solemn and indispensable occasions, let him decline the sumptuous hospitality of the great. Let him not, however, when invited, disdain the unsavoury fare of his humble parishioners,-for example, when a wedding or a baptism has assembled a few family friends round the poor man's table. With these exceptions, the Parish Priest's time should be spent in teaching the young and even the old, the Christian's alphabet, that is to say the catechism, or among the books of his library let him hold converse with the illustrious dead. At even's close, when the bells of his church chime to the Angelic Salutation, the pious pastor, after the labours of the day, may not unfrequently be found reciting