Christmas Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Hayes

Editor’s note: In this beautiful and hard-hitting 1921 pastoral, New York’s Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hayes1 treats of Christmas; the Holy Family; Christian Family life; and the evils of contraception and divorce. Oh for the days when an American Bishop would speak like this.

Dearly Beloved of the Clergy and Laity:

"To take life after its inception is a horrible
crime; but to prevent human life that the
Creator is about to bring into being, is
satanic. In the first instance, the body is
killed, while the soul lives on; in the latter,
not only a body but an immortal soul is
denied existence in time and in eternity. It
has been reserved to our day to see
advocated shamelessly the legalizing
of such a diabolical thing!"
                       -
Archbishop Hayes

 

Christmas comes again to bless us with heavenly grace and brighten with eternal hope our journey through this vale of tears. The vale, in many respects, was never gloomier, and the tears seldom less bitter. The world's material progress, rich in power and promise a few years ago, has lamentably failed, in the supreme hour of need, to stand the strain of the terrible affliction of war. We have been groping for the wall, as Isaias the prophet says, --and "like the blind we have groped as if we had no eyes, we have stumbled at noonday as in darkness" (Is. 59:10). Divine light and strength have been ever at our side; but man would have none of it. Being a law and guide to himself he has been groping in vain for peace and the solution of the world's appalling problems. Though God has visited the children of men with a scourge of their own making, He still loves us with infinite love and would comfort us with an all-forgiving and all-healing compassion.

Over the ashes of war, over the sufferings of mankind, over the distress of nations there appears on the world's horizon, with His exalted Mother and His humble Foster Father, the Divine Child of the ages of prophecy and fulfillment--"the Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth; coming to lead out of bondage man sitting in darkeness and the shadow of death." Jesus, Mary, Joseph bring Bethlehem,--starry sky and sleeping hills; the shepherds and the sheep; the patient watches and the awing silence of the night; the darkness of the earth and the light of Heaven; the song of the Angels and the star of the Magi; the warm, cheery inn and the forbidding, bleak stable; the ox and the donkey; the straw of the manger and the bare, cold ground of the cave; and the gold, frankincense and myrrh from Saba with the dromedaries of Madian and Epha.

In the entire panorama of Bethlehem thus unfolded the only thing made by human hand, and not by God, was the inn that refused a roof to the Child. The stable-cave has been held in blessed honor ever since; the inn in everlasting condemnation. No one knows the site of the inn nor the name of its inhospitable keeper. Still on that heavenly night it was the many who walked the path to the inn for bodily comfort and passing pleasure; only the few, led by Angels and inspired by grace, sought the stable, and beheld the wondrous revelation of Emmanuel, God with us, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of mankind.

There is nothing wrong with God's beautiful world--the universe formed and fashioned by His hand. Only the world of pride, lust and self, created by man and alien to God, has been judged and found wanting both by Heaven and earth. To redeem us from the bondage of sin Our Heavenly Father sends not the plagues of Egypt to afflict us, but His own Beloved Son, the Babe of Bethlehem, "for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted" (St. Luke, II, 34).

On that holy night in Bethlehem a new spiritual and sublime standard of life, thought and action was given to men until the end of time. The Holy Family became the ideal, the law and the copy of childhood, womanhood, parental duty, home-making and the dignity of labor. Innocence of children, purity of woman, chastity of man, poverty, honest toil, humble station, obedience and patience were embraced, sanctified and taught by God Himself as precious and essential for our welfare here and hereafter. Riches, worldly honor, exalted position, great learning, and success,--laudable though they be when sought, reached and used within right reason--all are secondary, unnecessary, and often dangerous, in God's plan, for the following of Christ and the salvation of our immortal souls.

Let us first consider the Child. Christ, the Son of God, coming into the world as a babe has given to human birth a sacredness that compels the Angels to reverence. In Heaven He had His Eternal Father but no mother; on earth He would have a mother but no father in the flesh. The Christ Child did not stay His own entrance into this mortal life, because His mother was poor, roofless, and without provision for the morrow. He knew that His Heavenly Father, who cared for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, loved the children of men more than these. Children troop down from Heaven because God wills it. He alone has the right to stay their coming while he blesses at will some homes with many, others with but a few or with none at all. They come in the one way ordained by His wisdom. Woe to those who degrade, pervert, or do violence to the law of nature as fixed by the eternal decree of God Himself! Even though some little angels in the flesh, through the moral, mental or physical deformity of parents, may appear to human eyes hideous, misshapen, a blot on civilized society, we must not lose sight of this Christian thought that under and within such visible malformation there lives an immortal soul to be saved and glorified for all eternity among the Blessed of Heaven.

Heinous is the sin committed against the creative act of God, Who through the marriage contract invites man and woman to cooperate with Him in the propagation of the human family. To take life after its inception is a horrible crime; but to prevent human life that the Creator is about to bring into being, is satanic. In the first instance, the body is killed, while the soul lives on; in the latter, not only a body but an immortal soul is denied existence in time and in eternity. It has been reserved to our day to see advocated shamelessly the legalizing of such a diabolical thing.

In the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, Whose law you Christian fathers and mothers love and obey, stop your ears to that pagan philosophy, worthy of a Herod, which ignoring revelation and even human wisdom sets itself above the law and the prophets of the Old and the New Dispensation, of which the Christ Child is the beginning, the bond and end. Keep far from the sanctuary of your Christian homes, as you would an evil spirit, the literature of this unclean abomination. Sin not against children who, after all, are the noblest stimulus and protection to marital affection, fidelity and continency.

The Babe of Bethlehem comes also to restore reverence for parents--as much needed today as reverence for childhood. If parental authority is fast becoming a byword, it is because parents have failed in their reverence and guidance of childhood according to spiritual standards. Their own children have turned to punish them. God is the supreme sanction of all authority. Neglecting God's law by irreligious or indulgent lives parents have lost, to an alarming degree, their God-given authority over their offspring, who in nursery and school, in sport and society, in literature and art, see, hear, talk of, and, too often, live a freedom of thought and action that knows neither the conventions nor the moral restraint of Christian society. Parents to rule wisely should obey reverently the higher law of God and by example and precept teach their children how elementary in life is the duty to obey authority, Divine and human, domestic and civil. Not the Church alone, but thoughtful men and women, leaders in many spheres of life, are lamenting the deplorable and rebellious spirit of our youth against the restraints of home and family life. It is not within the power of human fear or selfish interest to secure obedience, except it be a servility that cannot be trusted in the building of character. The one lofty motive to inspire the young to reverence and obedience is Christ's own obedience to Mary and Joseph; to them, the creatures of His own hand, the Creator and Lord of the universe was willingly subject in Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Many of humanity's gravest problems would cease to be, if the leadership of Christ, as the Little Child leading, were more fully recognized and followed in the care and training of children and in the upbuilding of the Christian home.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XV, in the Motu proprio on St. Joseph, sounds a solemn note: "The sanctity of conjugal fidelity and respect for paternal authority have been grievously transgressed by many during the war; the remoteness of one spouse served to relax the bond of duty in the other, and the absence of a watchful eye gave rise to freer and more indulgent conduct, more particularly amongst the younger members of the female sex." Christmas is a Divine call to woman. The Virgin Mother is placed by God before all womanhood as an example of purity, devotion, and duty. Her whole being is consecrated to the exalted office of motherhood. Christ not only would be a child, but He would have a mother--and an immaculate one, that man might know the mind of God with regard to woman's place in the world. Providence ordained that God's own Mother, deprived of wealth, fame and social prestige, should have no distractions in her motherhood, except the temple and the home. The sublime simplicity of woman's mission seems no longer fashionable. The eternal commonplaces of building the home by rocking the cradle, spinning the wheel, preparing the meal, making the fireside cheery, teaching the children to pray reverently and live justly are more vital to the permanent good of society and the nation than the wisest legislation conceivable to offset the dangers lying in woman's new freedom and uncertain adventure that may leave in their wake empty cradles and homeless communities.

Another Christian lesson the world needs to learn is God's law against divorce. The Gospel tells of Mary's severe trial when "Joseph, her husband, being a just man, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep" (Matt. I, 19-20) and prevented him doing so. Divorce has become a national curse; and the evil is spreading. Verily it is a deadly disease in our body politic, not to speak of the moral and spiritual harm born of broken homes, broken hearts, seared souls, abandoned children and unholy alliances.

Disastrous beyond possibility of description to society is the condition when women measure their lives, not by the number of their offspring but by the number of their husbands. Pagan Rome, at the height of its imperial power, with a conquered world paying tribute to the Caesars, sealed slowly but surely its own doom. No foe without proved as terrible an enemy as corruption within. Widespread divorce desecrated the sanctuary of the family with the consequent degradation of woman. The constructive forces of the empire were weakened by the deadly moral poisons that Roman society absorbed into its very vitals and took no means to throw off. When this happens in the human body, death follows.

Let us thank our Heavenly Father for the valiant women we all know--and their name is legion--who with the highest ideals of wifehood and motherhood carry on heroically the honor of the family. Neither height nor depth, nor sorrow nor pain, nor sin of husband nor ingratitude of children, nor privation nor loss, nor opportunity of comfort nor lure of pleasure can tempt such noble women to shirk their duty or break up their home. Silently, patiently, cheerfully and holily they spend themselves and are spent for the spiritual and temporal welfare of their own flesh and blood in their children. Mary, the Mother of Christ, strengthens with the grace and fortitude of Heaven such wonderful mothers, who are one of the most sacred benedictions on this earth.

Since Our Savior, the only begotten Son of the Eternal Father, deigned to be called the "Son of the Carpenter," and since Mary, the Mother of Christ, rejoiced to be known as the "Spouse of the Carpenter," we may readily understand the dignity of the person and office of Joseph in the Holy Family. God evidently would teach through St. Joseph that the supreme dignity of man rests not on a temporal or human foundation but essentially on our relation to Christ, the God-man. The Incarnation elevated human nature to the supernatural order, in which man must live, move and have his being, if our human nature is to reach its highest and noblest expression and purpose in conformity with the Divine Will.

St. Joseph, a poor and obscure workingman in the eyes of the world, was raised in the sight of God and the Angels, to a dignity with which none of earthly origin can be compared. Yet Joseph was nothing more than the faithful head of Holy Family, neither prophet nor priest, nor apostle nor teacher. Nor did he present the heroic figures of Joseph of old in Egypt, or of David, the Shepherd King of Israel. By the labor of his hands, he cared in poverty for Jesus and Mary. He led them amid most harassing circumstances to Bethlehem, Nazareth and across the sands of the desert to Egypt and back. The humble home and little family were his universe of love and service. In comparison with the Babe and the Mother, through whom God manifested His infinite love and mercy, the imperial glory of the Caesars, the jeweled palace of Herod, the gorgeous gardens of the Pharaohs and the undying fame symbolized by the Pyramids were but dead sea fruit to Joseph's mind. His example fixes the real values of human life. Father and husband, ruler and subject, employer and employee, rich and poor--all should pattern their lives and perform their duties in the spirit of this "just man." This justice means reverence for religion; obedience to lawful authority; fair dealing on the part of capital; honest work on the part of labor; purification of wealth; sanctification of poverty.

This Christmas pastoral I place most humbly in the hands of St. Joseph, whom the clergy, the religious and the faithful are honoring in our churches and chapels this day, at the very hour I am writing the final words of this message to my beloved children in Christ.

Praying the Infant Savior to bless most abundantly with every Christmas grace the entire flock, I am, Faithfully your Shepherd,

PATRICK JOSEPH,
Archbishop of New York.

In Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the
Proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.

December 14, 1921.

 

Note:

1) Archbishop Hayes became a Cardinal in 1924.

 

 

From the December 2008
Catholic Family News

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