Physical science tells us that floating through the atmosphere are innumerable disease germs seeking a suitable nidus in which to settle and propagate and that we are constantly breathing these germs into the lungs. If the system be depleted or weakened, the dangerous microbe takes up its abode with us, and propagating its own kind with astonishing rapidity, undermines and ravages our health. The only safeguard against the encroachments of this insidious enemy, which we cannot escape, is a vigorous and healthy body with adequate powers of resistance to repel the invader.
It is equally true that we are subject to like infectious attacks in the spiritual order. Swarming in the atmosphere of our spiritual lives are innumerable deadly germs, ever ready to fasten upon the depleted and weakened soul and, propagating its leprous contagion through every faculty, destroy the spiritual life. Against the menace of this ever-threatening danger, whose advances we cannot avoid in our present circumstances, the ever-healthy soul alone can be prepared. To escape the contagion, the power of resistance must be equal to the emergencies of the attack, and that power will be in proportion to our spiritual health. To be prepared is to be armed, but to be prepared is not sufficient; we must possess the interior strength to throw off the germ. There must be no condition in the soul to make a suitable nidus for an enemy so insidious and so efficacious as to need only the slightest point of contact whence to spread its deadly contagion.
It is not only through the avenues of disordered passions that this spiritual disease may gain an entrance; it may make its inroad through the intellect, and this under a disguise often calculated to deceive the unwary and incautious. The Trojans admitted the enemy into their walls under the impression that they were actually securing a valuable acquisition to their safety, and today their fatal experience has come down to us in the proverb: "Beware of the Greeks when they bring gifts." Intellectual torpidity, inexperience, ignorance, indifference, and complaisance, or even virtues, such as, benevolence, generosity, and pity may be the unsuspected way open to the foe, and lo, we are surprised to find him in possession of the citadel!
That we may know our danger, we must appreciate the possible shapes in which it may come. Here is just the difficulty; the uniform of the enemy is so various, changeable, sometimes even of our own colors, that if we rely upon the outward semblance alone, we shall be more often deceived than certain of his identity. But before laying down any test by which we may distinguish friend from foe in a warfare so subtly fought within the precincts of our own souls, let us first reconnoiter the respective positions of either camp, and to do this best, we shall consider the origin and sources of the danger which surrounds us, for we may be asked: "Where is this foe described as so intangible as scarcely to be apprehended by ordinary mortals?" Or it may be urged: "Is the danger as proximate, as frequent and [as] fearful as you allege? Whence is it anyhow? Point it out! If we know from what direction the enemy comes, we may better appreciate the peril."
As we are addressing ourselves to those who live amidst the peculiar circumstances of our American life, and as the spiritual and moral conditions which obtain in this country make up the moral and spiritual atmosphere in which we have our being, it is in the relation of our surroundings to ourselves as well as of ourselves to our surroundings that we shall find the answer to our question. Let us then consider these surroundings in a general way for the moment.
First, as to some patent facts: The population of
country is at present something over 260 million. [1990 census]. Of
60 million are Catholics, and according to their claim, 80 million are
Protestants, leaving a population of 120 million or more who do not
any form of Christianity at all.
Outside of these various bodies of loosely professed Christians stands a still larger mass of our population who are either absolutely indifferent to Christianity as a creed or positively reject it. In practice, the distinction is of little moment whether they hold themselves merely indifferent or positively hostile. In other words, we have here to reckon with a body, to all practical purposes, that is infidel. This mass comprises over 45 percent of our population, holding itself aloof from Christianity, and in some instances virulently antagonistic to it. In distinct religious opposition to this mass of infidelity and Protestantism-----now in excess of 76 percent of our population, but currently enhanced to an even more frightening percentage by the vast majority of Catholics today  who either do not practice their faith at all or who are ignorant of its teachings [especially with regard to morality] or in practice simply disregard those teachings, bringing the total of practical non-believing and infidel people to probably just over 90 percent, if we can presume there to be today approximately 25 million believing, practicing Catholics-----Catholics find themselves sharply and radically opposed. Heresy and infidelity are irreconcilable with Catholicity. "He that is not with me is against me" [Matt. 12: 30] are the words of Our Lord Himself, for denial of Catholic truth is the radical and common element of both heresy and infidelity. The difference between them is merely a matter of degree. One denies less, the other more. Protestantism, with its sliding scale of creeds, is simply an inclined plane into the abyss of positive unbelief. It is always virtual infidelity, its final outcome open infidelity, as the 120 million unbelievers in this country stand witness.
We live in the midst of this religious anarchy. Some 235 million of our population can, in one sense or other, be considered anti-Catholic [1990 figures]. From this mass-----heretical and infidel-----exhales an atmosphere filled with germs poisonous and fatal to Catholic life, if permitted to take root in the Catholic heart. The mere force of gravitation, which the larger mass ever exercises upon the smaller, is a power which the most energetic vigor alone can resist. Under this dangerous influence, a deadly inertia is apt to creep over the souls of the incautious and is only to be overcome by the liveliest exercise of Catholic faith. To live without enervation amidst an heretical and infidel population requires a robust religious constitution. And to this danger we are daily exposed, ever coming into contact in a thousand ways, in almost every relation of life, with anti-Catholic thought and customs. But outside of this spiritual inertia, our non-Catholic surroundings-----a danger rather passive than active in its influence-----beget a still greater menace.
It is natural that Protestantism and infidelity should find public expression. What our 200 million non-Catholic population thinks in these matters naturally seeks and finds open expression. They have their organs and their literature where we find their current opinions publicly uttered. Their views upon religion, morality, politics, the constitution of society are perpetually marshaled before us. In the pulpit and in the press they are reiterated day after day. In magazine and newspaper they constantly speak from every line. Our literature is permeated and saturated with non-Catholic dogmatism. On all sides do we find this opposing spirit. We cannot escape from it. It enfolds and embraces us. Its breath is perpetually in our faces. It enters in by eye and ear. From birth to death, it enslaves us in its offensive garments. It now soothes and flatters, now hates and curses, now threatens, now praises. But it is most dangerous when it comes to us under the form of "liberality." It is especially powerful for seduction in this guise. And it is under this aspect that we wish to consider it. For it is as Liberalism that Protestantism and Infidelity make their most devastating inroads upon the domain of the Faith.