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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Conversion of the Church
By Paul Desjardins (1859–1940)
WHILE a purer spirit is visibly awakening in ailing humanity and turning it again to Christ, the religion of Christ is rejuvenating. His church is no longer motionless. Thus, in the midst of a great confusion, two religious movements which correspond with one another are defining themselves with sufficient clearness.  1
  On the one side, men without any precise faith, and who thought themselves without any faith, have perceived that they carry within themselves that which they sought: an explanation of themselves, say a principle of salvation. At whatever point these thinking men arrive, it is apparent at the present that they are progressing in the way of the Evangel, and following the path of the cross…. On the other side, the Roman Catholic Church, governed by a vigilant Pope, has declared herself. She has spoken of love, at the moment when all were thirsty for love and self-forgetfulness; she intercedes for the suffering masses, at the moment when others were going to do it outside of her, perhaps against her. And more, she is resolutely to-day accenting spirituality, after having so long accented ritual or policy. The new spiritualists and the renewed Christians are thus pushed forward to a meeting with one another by the need of their practical co-operation, and also perhaps by the consciousness of their intimate kinship. They are marching from both sides, with the same rallying cry, Fraternity and sacrifice! Here they are flying from the city of the plain, where a material civilization reigns, and claiming to suffice all; they are emigrating, they know not whither, if it be only towards the heights; there they are descending from their high, narrow, clerical, shut-in fastness.  2
  The conversion that the Church should make is a conversion of the heart. It must become again a school of true liberty and love. Herein lies all the anxiety of the moment; and the great Catholic question lies not between the Church and the Republic, but between the Church and the People, or rather between the Church and the pure Spirit. By loving the people in truth, and by making itself the people, it is clear that the Catholic Church would simply be returning to its original source. Now, returning to its original source is, in a word, all that the Church should do; and that which, following her example, all old institutions should do so as to live and to make us live. To last, means to be re-born perpetually. In truth, each one of these institutions was born in former times, from a definite need of the soul. And at first they responded exactly to it, and that is why they prevailed; all their strength came from the fact that they were necessary; their weakness comes from the fact that they are no longer so. At first the religious community was formed of the imperious necessity of a deliverance from evil; it was not for ornament, not for the charm of burning incense under arches;… neither was it formed to do what kings, warriors, and judges are sufficient to do; these last would have absorbed it, but they cannot,—although they try to do so every day; but they can never do so, unless the Church abandons her own functions to usurp theirs. She would then, by forgetting her destination, commit suicide. But even then, another church would form in response to the spiritual hunger and thirst which never ceases. Thus the whole problem of the existence of an institution is to remain forever necessary, and therefore faithful to its original source.  3
  Let us add that civil society cannot maintain itself without also constant rejuvenation,—becoming young again; it also exists only by the active consent of willing minds. It is essential for the harmony of the whole that each person should be an individual and not an automaton. As men, divided by the external accidents of habit, condition, fortune, and united by that which is fundamental within them, the weakening of that which is within them disintegrates them; and thence the principal cause of our divisions comes from hardly any one to-day being in his heart that which he appears to be. Therefore, to bring back diverse conditions to their original source and to the reason of their being, to re-establish the principle in the centre of the life of each, is to do the work of unification. To say to the priests, “Be primitive Christians, imitate the chosen Master,” is, socially speaking, a good action which all Christians and non-Christians should applaud, for the salvation of all depends upon it. The remedy of our malady, without doubt, lies not in having all France to mass, but first that all should make their faith the rule of their actions. That which lies at the bottom of our consciences is the thing by which we are brothers.  4

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