The Sanctity of the Catholic Church

From Chapter V of Basil Maturin’s “The Price of Unity”:

For the sanctity of the Church, I need scarcely say, does not mean the sanctity of all its individual members. Our Lord, at its very start, insisted upon this. The Church is a field sown with good seed, amongst which the enemy scattered tares. The servants besought their master that they might pouck out the tares, but they wer forbidden: “Let both grow together till harvest, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle you root up the wheat also together with it”.

The material upon which the Church has to work is sin, its earthly member are sinful men. The sanctity of the Church consists in the holiness of the means which she brings to bear upon the sins of men to strengthen, heal, and cleanse them, and to enable them to rise to the holy and lofty standard which she sets before them, and from which she never swerves. Her sanctity lies in the holiness of her standards and the holiness of her remedies for sin. She does not ask the sinner to rise to a certain moral standard before she gives him her greatest gifts. She asks merely that he should be penitent, that he should have the desire and purpose of doing better, and then she will absolve him in the precious Blood of our Lord and give to him His very Life in the Blessed Sacrament. She can, and does, deal with a class of people that almost every other form of Christianity abandons as hopeless. She numbers amongst her children some of the offscourings of the human race, and yet she has nothing to give the Saint that she does not give to the sinner, if only he wants and resolves to do better. The remedies for sin are the same as the means of sanctification. The imparting ot the soul of the life of God Incarnate. She will give, with daring confidence in their power, her very greatest gift to those to whom others refuse what they have to give. Like her Divine Head, she is in very Truth the friend of publicans and sinners. Like Him she gives scandal by her readiness to forgive and to receive sinners to His Banquet. And yet while she understands well the human heart and its weakness, and does not exact much of those who are in the throes of their first struggle with sin, she never lowers her standards. She is often content with the poorest efforts of beginners, efforts such as many a rigorist would scorn, but she will not tamper with the Divine standard given her to hold up before the world. If she would permit certain tamperings with the moral law, such as are tolerated outside, she would fail of the note sanctity. And every one knows that this she will not do.

Thus the note of sanctity is in a certain sense obscured by the fact that the Church reckons amongst her children many of those whom other forms of Christianity reject and cannot deal with; that all have still upon them the marks of sin, and that sin is more easily and quickly seen than goodness, as disease is more obtrusive than health. But it stands out clearly in the fact that for no earthly advantage, and to win to her allegiance no multitude of people, will she ever lower the moral, spiritual, and doctrinal standard which she is commissioned to teach; that at the present moment she is the only religious body who will not bend to any pressure from without, or allow herself to be influenced by the laxity of the age. Her rigidity is often brought against her as a fault; but all must admire it when it is used in defense of a moral and spiritual system that is committed to her keeping, and not of her own making. The Church, in fact, is the only Christian body who knows how to combine the teaching of an unbending moral and spiritual standard with an infinite mercy towards sinners.

But the upholding of these standards depends upon her unity. If she cannot secure throughout the length and breadth of her far-reaching domain, that all her clergy guide the people with whom they have to deal, by the same principles, and have before them the same ideals, she cannot fulfill her mission.

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