What Catholics Believe

Archbishop McNicholas' 1940 Lenten Pastoral

Lenten Pastoral
Archbishop of Cincinnati
January 31, 1940


The holy season of Lent should be for all of us a time of prayer, fasting, penance, and almsgiving. Our concern must be first for our own sanctification, then for the souls of others so far as our duties and our station of life permit. We should pray unceasingly. "We ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 19: 1). "Pray without ceasing" (I Th. 5: 17). The duty of prayer is all the more incumbent when the unbelieving everywhere reject the value of prayer and the worldly-minded minimize it. They have in their hearts only pity for those who pray, considering it impossible for prayerful thoughts and words to change the destinies of nations and of individuals. Unbelievers are unmindful that an omnipotent God has from the beginning taken into account the humble prayers of all mankind. They forget also that prayer is an acknowledgment of the supreme dominion of God and the dependence of all rational creatures on His goodness, His justice, and His mercy.

We should pray very earnestly, in these crucial days, for peace, beseeching God to enlighten the minds and to soften the hearts of those who are responsible for all the injustice of war and for the suffering and inhuman treatment of their neighbors whom God has made their brothers.

We turn to the second psalm of Holy Scripture and read: "Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them. Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage" (Psalms 2: 1-5).

We may ask, why have the rulers of nations raged and why have their people devised inhuman treatment of their fellow men? Why have countries met against the Lord and against His Christ? We have witnessed the growing apostacy of nations, followed by a war against Christ and of nation against nation.

Let us beseech God, the Author and Lover of peace, to break asunder the bonds of all those now met together against the Lord and against His Christ. Let us plead that nations may be brought back to the knowledge and love of Christ. Let us entreat Him that in His infinite mercy He will bring to their knees even the godless and Communistic forces that would make a shambles of the whole earth, that would put light for darkness and darkness for light, that would call evil good, and good evil.

In our daily prayers let us beseech the Prince of Peace and His blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, that concord among nations and harmony among peoples and settlement of strifes within the confines of the countries of the world may be brought about. Let us pray for peace according to the intentions of the Vicar of Christ, who is the representative of the Prince of Peace on earth. The Holy Father has only the best interests of all peoples and all nations at heart. He is the father of all and would have all live in charity. He speaks as the common father of all, loving justice and charity. Our prayers should be offered especially that our own country may unfalteringly walk in the way of peace and exercise its potent influence to bring about world peace. Let us beware of the subtle propaganda of war and of statements of leaders who speak of its morality but who have abandoned all fixed moral principles.

The holy season of Lent is marked off by the Church as a time when we should fast and abstain, when we should undertake penitential exercises, and when those who have means should give generously to the poor. Our Divine Savior chose privation, penance, and suffering as the means of our redemption. These salutary practices must ever be the means of our sanctification. Through them we should ask a merciful God this Lent to grant peace to a distracted world. Those who cannot fast or abstain or who are dispensed should pray more often and more fervently. If they can give alms to the poor, they should do so. There are other matters that must be brought to the attention of every parish.

Mixed Marriages

1. Mixed and unhappy marriages are multiplying with distressing results to the souls of individuals and to the detriment of both Church and State. We plead with our people not to enter into hasty marriages and not to assume the obligations of this holy state lightly. Mixed marriages can only be expected to result unhappily. The abnormal quest of changing pleasures among our immature young men and women gives them a false courage to risk the happiness of their entire lives in mixed or hasty marriages.

Parental Vigilance

Fathers and mothers should be most solicitous to have their sons and daughters avoid companions and dangers which must make them unhappy for life. They cannot be too sensibly vigilant about their children who are in high schools, colleges, and universities. In many of these institutions utterly false notions of sex, of marriage, of the dignity of man, of the immortality of the soul and its eternal destiny, and even of a personal God prevail. Parents should, on the other hand, encourage such companionship of Catholic young men and women as is calculated to result in happy, life-long Catholic marriages. Catholic parents who are indifferent to the friendships formed by their children often discover that, when the spell of fascination grips young people, it is too late to prevent unhappy marriages.

Courtship of Divorcees

2. Catholics must know that before God and the Church they should not carry on a courtship with divorced persons. To attempt a marriage with one who is validlymarried, even though divorced, is, according to the precepts ofthe Gospel, to live in an adulterous union. Pastors should warn their parishioners contemplating marriage not to give attention to nor to receive attention from any divorced person. Pastors, parents, and friendsshould discourage all such associations from their very beginning since they can never lead to a valid or sacramental marriage.

The Riches of Children

3. The present-day tendencies would have young people enter the marriage state without assuming its grave burdens. Nature cannot be defeated, the plans of God cannot be frustrated without paying terrible penalties. We entreat those who contemplate marriage with the deliberate purpose of forfeiting the riches of the blessings of children to desist from embracing this holy state. Pseudo-physicians, pseudo scientists, pseud-welfare workers, and pseudo-reformers who advocate that married people live a life of legal prostitution or degeneracy by the commission of unnatural sins should get no hearing among true followers of Christ. If they acknowledge His divine authority and investigate His sublime teaching, they will be convinced that the Savior of mankind raised Matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament. The Church is not arbitrarily legislating about the duties of married life; she is merely insisting that the laws of nature, from which she cannot dispense and which she cannot modify, be observed.

Lenten Sermons

4. We direct that every pastor, during the holy season of Lent, preach two sermons on the sacrament of Matrimony, pointing out the blessings of the sacramental state and the happiness of a true married life enriched by the divine gift of children, and, again, indicating the dangers of hasty marriages, and of companions that are likely to lead to unhappy unions, the sinfulness of attempting to marry divorced persons, and the wretchedness that must overtake those who deliberately, selfishly, and sensuouslydeny themselvesthe inestimable riches and choicest blessings of a Christian family.

Parish Census

5. It is a matter of grave importance that a true census of every parish be taken. For ten years a devoted community of Sisters has been taking up the census in our parishes under-the direction of parish priests. The facts brought to light have been, in many instances, a shocking revelation — facts, indeed, that never would have come to the notice of priests making a parochial visitation, because the people visited would have denied, at the outset, that they were Catholics. In parishes visited there are hundreds of marriage cases that have no sanction of the Church because they have been entered into before a civil magistrate or a non-Catholic minister. In every parish visited careless and indifferent parents, as well as those who never practice their religion but have never joined any religious sect, allow their children, in considerable numbers, to be baptized by non-Catholic ministers and agents. It is shocking to think of the travesty of baptism administered, in many instances, by persons who neither believe in it as a sacrament nor in 'the divinity of Christ who instituted it.

Facts of Parishes

We must remind all pastors of souls that it is their duty to know the state of affairs, whatever it is, within the limits of their parishes. We direct that the pastors of all parishes engage the Sisters of Parochial Visitation to take up a census. Many zealous pastors, during the past ten years, have had their parishioners visited many times by these Sisters. In the visitation of a parish many Catholic Action groups can help. In the follow-up work of a visitation, these groups can encourage lapsed or careless Catholics, helping them to become fervent in the practice of their religion. When the poor and unemployed need assistance, the Catholic Charities should be notified.

Some pastors have desired such a visitation each year, even though it has not been possible to secure a sufficient number of Sisters for this apostolic work. We know definitely from experience that both pastors and assistants in many parishes are kept busy from one visitation to another in dealing with the sad and almost unbelievable cases revealed by the visits of the Sisters.

Champions of the Poor

6. Pastors of souls are urged to be more vigilant than ever. The poor, the hungry, the unsheltered, the unemployed, the strayed sheep of every description whose lives, for the most part, are spent in earning a sustenance inadequate to keep soul and body together should be the object of their special solicitude. They should be able to turn to the priest as to their father and friend. Pastors should give opportunities to our young priests to know the condition of the poor, to make sacrifices for them, and to become sympathetic to the unemployed. The informed champions of the poor and struggling classes in an economic world should be our priests, who will defend them as brothers, who will not set class against class, but who will seek social justice for all of God's children.

Fifty Years of Education

7. Our predecessors, Archbishop Elder and Archbishop Moeller, during fifty years of truly apostolic administration labored heroically for the Catholic schools of this diocese. We are reaping the harvest of their toil, especially in the grade schools. In many parishes ninety-five per cent of our children, thank God, are in the parochial schools. In other parishes we have not this favorable condition.

Grave Moral Dangers

Notwithstanding the fact that we have upwards of 9000 pupils in our high schools, notwithstanding all the unsurpassed work that has been done for Catholic education during half a century in this diocese, there are thousands of our children in tax-paid schools, elementary, high, college, and university. Let us acknowledge frankly that these youths are· exposed to very grave dangers and temptations. There are serious dangers for their faith and almost unbelievable dangers for their morals. These schools in which thousands of our youth are enrolled are necessarily our concern, both as citizens and as Catholics. We have as much to say about them as any other group, according to our numerical strength. We share equally with others the tax burden of supporting them. Many, even among our Catholics, wrongly refer to public schools as Protestant schools. They seem to think that Catholics have nothing to say or do about them except to pay taxes for their support. These schools are not Catholic, nor Jewish, nor Protestant. They serve all religious groups. All religious leaders can and should find a solution for the moral training of children in public schools. We, as Catholics, should exercise all our influence to make our public schools less dangerous to the faith and morals of our children and a better training ground for the moral stamina of our future citizens. We say this, not in a spirit of faultfinding, but in the earnest hope that some solution may be found to give solid religious instruction in our tax-supported educational system.

Christian Doctrine Confraternity

Pastors of souls must leave nothing undone to form the moral character of the youths of their parishes who are attending State and secular schools. The most salutary means will be found in the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. It is desirable that accurate information be sent to The Chancery each year regarding the work accomplished through the Confraternity. A report regarding the instruction of children and youth not in our schools, and also regarding adult religious instruction, must hereafter be filed in The Chancery each year.

Greatest Problem

8. Undoubtedly, the greatest problem confronting our country today is the training of 30,000,000 or more of our youth in schools where belief in a personal God is not inculcated; where children are not trained to be good, that is, not formed according to moral principles; where the very atmosphere is one of religious indifference; where, in many instances, religion is derided; where subtle belittling of the supernatural and of Revelation is a hobby of many unprincipled and uninformed teachers and atheistic professors. How unnecessary it is to expose our country to the evil consequences that must inevitably follow years of training in such schools.

Religious Leaders

If leaders of religion cannot be forced through the public opinion of parents, who have the primary rights in the education of their children, to sit at a conference table and to agree upon some plan of teaching morality in our schools which will be submitted to the State, then our country is eventually doomed to chaotic conditions which will afford the radicals and the godless the very opportunities for which they are working in order to bring about a revolution. Schools without God and, consequently, without morality must eventually bring about the overthrow of our form of democratic government. Leaders without fixed moral principles will be the products of our present-day schools. They, in due time, will be in control of our government.

Religious Instruction

Secular educators interested always in a more material expansion of their system as though it were the only means of scholastic progress cannot see the dangers ahead. The secular press, making a chronicle of events from day to day, cannot be expected to see them. But instructed and well- meaning parents, who have the welfare of their children at heart, and religious leaders of every group ought to see very clearly the inevitable dangers that we must face from our secularized education. It is heartening to read the strong commendation made by the President of the United States on the necessity of religious instruction for the youth of our country. It is to be hoped that religious leaders will take his words to heart.


9. Our schools, our homes, and the Church should teach the true fundamental notions about authority. There is not only loose thinking, but many inaccurate and false statements are made and popularized about authority. Holy Scripture assures us that all authority is from God. "Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God" (Rom. 13: 1). Divine authority is exercised in the home, in the State, and in the Church. It is basically wrong to think that the vote of the majority of the people or any government at any time or under any circumstances can change the source of authority or its delegation to the three units of the human race— the home, the State, and the Church.

Popular writers, especially those who present their false or inaccurate news in publications which have millions of readers, are doing untold harm by breaking down respect due to legitimate authority. Many radio speakers do likewise. In condemning the excesses of authoritarian governments they often give the impression that they are condemning the very principle of authority. They either do not recognize or they deny the source of all authority. There is on all sides a confusion of thought and an inaccuracy of expression about authority. Radical and Communistic groups have a very positive program to undermine and to destroy respect for all authority except that which they hope to seize and to exercise.

The Home

10. In the home from the earliest years respect for the authority of parents should be inculcated, not by making children fear or dislike parental authority but rather by having them love it as coming from God.

Civil Officials

11. Respect for civil officials and compliance with the just laws which they enact by the authority that has its source in God should be taught by all religious leaders, by parents, and by all agents forming public opinion. The Church will uphold the authority of any form of government provided it recognizes the binding force on all, including government itself of the laws of God and of nature which, in turn, have their sanction from the law of God. The so-called liberal attitude of the hour is to manifest contempt for civil authority, to show no respect for civil officials, and. to ridicule their laws. This modern derision of civil authority is quite contrary to the Catholic position. We are not to understand that there cannot be a constructive criticism of unjust laws, a critical analysis of legislation and official pronouncements; but this should always be done with due respect.

Civil Authority

The attitude of politicians is to condemn opponents who do not share their partisan views, if necessary, by unjust means and by slanderous arguments, provided they will help to gain victory. The most outrageous and libelous things are said about candidates for political office. If these candidates are chosen today, the citizens tomorrow cannot be expected to give them the official respect due to them. In the discussion clubs of our parishes the nature and the limits of civil authority should be defined, its relation to the divine authority of the home and the divine authority of the Church should be explained, and due respect for civil officials should be inculcated.

The Church's Authority

12. There can be no question of the divine authority of the Church. Christ's explicit words are, "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations ... Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Mark, 28: 18-20). Uninformed men speak of authoritarian religion as though authority had been arbitrarily assumed by the Church instead of being divinely imposed by Christ.

Unchangeable Laws

They err who think, therefore, that the Church is free to make and unmake the law of God. The Church cannot possibly change any of the Ten Commandments of God. She cannot change the laws of nature that are merely an expression of the divine law. There is the divine deposit of faith of which the Church is the infallible custodian. The Church cannot add to nor take from it one iota. The Church is not free to declare any new doctrine she chooses. When an article of faith is infallibly defined it means simply that the Church declares that such a teaching is contained in the divine deposit of faith. There are positive laws which the Church makes. These she can change at will. Such laws are those of abstinence on Fridays and fast on other days and at certain seasons.

Uninformed Catholics frequently do not distinguish between the immutable commands of God and the Church's changeable positive laws. Ecclesiastical authorities are often asked, "Why does not the Church change her laws about birth prevention, abortion, divorce, and mercy-killing?" Again, discussions in our study clubs should make it clear that these are laws of nature and of God. The divine organization that Christ set up in the world to lead men to their eternal destiny has no power to change or to modify them.

Respect for Church Officials

Our schools, our homes, our discussion clubs should' promote respect for the officials of the Church. There is a spirit prevailing which cannot be called anti-clerical but which is, nevertheless, critical of the authorities of the Church and especially of priests and bishops. Oftentimes those least qualified to .criticize do so. God has entrusted the government of His Church not to angels but to frail men. And considering human weakness as it is, we can only marvel at the wisdom of God in so decreeing, for we must, with grateful hearts, acknowledge the self-sacrificing, sustained work of the priests of the Catholic Church under all conditions. If hardships are to be borne, priests are always found to bear them. If pioneers are called for, the spirit of adventure for Christ manifests itself in generous priests. If death or martyrdom must be faced for the Church of Christ, again her priests are always found willing to give up their lives that the Church of Christ may be triumphant.

Respect for Priests

13. We ask parents to inculcate respect for our priests. We urge all parents, likewise, to teach their children that the priests have been made the ministers and dispensers of the graces of God through the sacraments. We urge our teachers to inculcate the same lessons in the schools. Formerly the custom was very much more general than it is today of having the school children salute any priest on the street, whether they knew him or not. It was likewise the custom of laymen to mark their respect for all priests by tipping their hats. Today this beautiful custom is less and less in evidence, even in a city as Catholic as Cincinnati. We urge that it be revived and that it be made a matter of discussion in the study clubs.

Vile Literature

14. Parents and teachers should warn children against the vile pictures, leaflets, and books that are clandestinely brought into our cities and sold for the purpose of corrupting the minds and hearts of our youth. All discussion clubs and all Catholic Action groups, including our many large societies, are asked to become defenders of our youth. They should cooperate with the diocesan director in helping to arouse public opinion and in taking any legal action that seems advisable.

Parochial Limits

15. In considering the parochial life of the Archdiocese we deem it our duty to urge the faithful to ascertain the parochial limits of the parish in which they live. The Church has wisely made in every diocese many divisions, called parishes, over which priests are set up as officials. They are given jurisdiction over the spiritual needs of the people within these defined limits. The pastor has certain definite authority over his people. He is an official of the Church for the sacrament of Matrimony. He has specified rights; according to the laws of the Church, regarding the administration of other sacraments. The power he exercises is not arbitrarily assumed. He has divine powers conferred on him through the priesthood in the sacrament of Holy Orders. He is officially authorized by the general law of the Church to perform specified duties. Diocesan statutes and the instruction of his bishop give him further direction. His authority should be respected. Catholics have not the proper idea of the spiritual government of the Church when they disregard the rights of their pastor and take the position that they wish the priest of their choice and not their pastor to bless their marriage. Parishioners cannot, at will, disregard the rights of their pastors without being unjust. People who say, "I will go to any Church I want to," and "I will be married before any priest I choose" have neither the right conception of the Church nor the true Catholic spirit. They express a wrong attitude of mind and heart. We entreat all our people, in a spirit of compliance with the law of the Church, to have their respective pastors bless their marriages. If there be special reasons to ask for another priest, the faithful should be considerate enough to request that this invitation be extended through the pastor. No arrangements for marriage should be made except through the pastor (or his assistant) of the parties to be married.

Parochial Devotions

16. We also urge our people to attend devotions in their own parochial churches. The genius and the spiri