Liberalism, whereas essentially one and the same everywhere, presents various aspects in different countries. In its essence it is the denial of the supernatural in whole or in part, but that denial takes a local coloring from place or circumstances. The traditions, customs, prejudices, idiosyncrasies of a people reflect it at various angles. It is protean in its presentations throughout the world, and to the casual observer, who fails to probe below the appearances of things, it may not seem to manifest itself at all; whereas, in reality, it exists in its subtlest and therefore most dangerous form. In America it would scarcely seem to exist at all, so ingrained is it in our social conditions, so natural is it to the prevailing modes of thought, so congenital is it with the dominant religious notions about us-----and thus providing so congenial a habitat to the Protestant sects. Indeed it is a very constituent of the pseudo-religious and pseudo-moral atmosphere we daily breathe. We can hope to escape its taint only by copious and frequent draughts of orthodox doctrine, by the strictest intellectual vigilance, fortified by supernatural grace. Its aspect in this country is peculiar, and fraught with especial danger to the negligent either in faith or morals. Its chief manifestation in the United States is in the form of what is popularly called NON-SECTARIANISM. It is a current fallacy, laid down as a fundamental truth, that one religion is as good as another, that everyone has the right to believe what he pleases; that differences in creed are after all but differences in forms of expression; that everyone may select his own creed or sect according to his taste, or even altogether repudiate religious beliefs, and finally, that religion is a thing entirely apart from civic and social life. All this of course is SECULARISM in its various degrees-----the denial of the supernatural.
In practice this principle ingratiates itself into social and civic life directly or indirectly working out to the prejudice of religion and morality. Civil marriage and divorce, mixed marriages and the consequent degeneration of family life, business standards, morality in general pitched on a low key, vicious literature, a materialistic journalism, catering to lax thinking and lax living, religion publicly mocked, scoffed, denied or held indifferently; all this coldly regarded as a matter of course, a necessary expediency condoned and applauded on the ground that it is the fruit of liberty. But the most virulent effect crops out in the prevailing educational theory. Here Liberalism manifests itself in its most direful and fullest effects, for it denies to religion the very sphere where it has the strongest right and the fullest reason to use its widest and most lasting influence, viz., upon the minds of children. Secularism with the instinct of a foe, has here most positively and triumphantly asserted its claim and, under the disguise of strict impartiality and even patriotism, has banished religion from the schoolroom.
That Catholics should not feel the effects of this relaxing atmosphere is scarcely to be expected. With the air so strongly impregnated with poison it would be difficult indeed to keep the blood healthy. In not a few instances they have fallen victims to the plague, and if not always out-and-out corrupted they become not a little tainted. Hence we find amongst, if not a large, at least no small number an easy disposition to compromise or minimize their faith in points of doctrine or practice. The natural tendency in human nature to escape friction and avoid antagonism is unhappily in most instances a ready factor in the direction of concession.
To apologize, excuse, extenuate, soften, explain away this or that point of faith, practice or discipline easily follows from a habit of thought contracted from perpetual contact with Liberalists, with whom everything takes precedence of faith and supernaturalism. This is especially true where Liberalism eschews aggressive action and with a cunning, either satanic or worldly wise, bases its treacherous tolerance upon a supposed generosity of mind or breadth of view. When the supernatural is vaguely identified with the superstitious, faith with credulity, firmness with fanaticism, the uncompromising with the intolerant, consistency with narrowness, [for such is the current attitude of secularism around us] in these adjuncts it requires courage, fortitude and the consolation of the assured possession of truth to resist the insidious pressure of a false public opinion. Unless supernaturally fortified and enlightened, human nature under this moral oppression soon gives way to "human respect."
Such are our Liberal surroundings in this country. We cannot escape them. But we are in duty bound to resist their fatal contagion with all the powers of our soul. If we hope to preserve our faith intact, to keep it pure and bright in our souls, to save ourselves from the malign influence of a deadly heresy, which is daily leading thousands to perdition, we must be guarded and vigilant in its presence. Amidst a host of swarming foes our armor should be without flaw from greave to helmet, our weapons well-tempered, keen and burnished, not only to ward off the hostile blow, but ready to deal a telling stroke home wherever the enemy's weakness exposes him.
It is because we live in the midst of such perplexities, where the ways are devious, where snares are laid for every footstep to entrap us unawares, that we require to be on our guard in a twofold way; first, by means of a life of grace; second, by means of an enlightened reason, which may shine out over our path as a guide to ourselves and a beacon to others. In an especial manner is this a need in our country, where Liberalism pretends to be the champion and guardian of natural reason laying its snares to entrap the unwary and the ignorant. Not in violence but in a treacherous friendliness on the part of Liberalism does the danger lie. A well instructed Catholic-----who thoroughly comprehends the rational grounds of his faith and understands the character of Liberal tactics under our national conditions-----can alone successfully cope with the enemy face-to-face. Ultramontanism is the only conquering legion in this sort of warfare. It is the vanguard of the army to surprise the enemy at his own ambuscade, to mine against his mine and expose him before he has burrowed under our own camp. Ultramontanism is Catholicity intact, armed cap-a-pie or head-to-foot. It is Catholicity consistent in all its parts, the logical concatenation of Catholic principles to their fullest conclusions in doctrine and practice. Hence the fierce and unholy opposition with which it is constantly assailed. The foe well knows that to rout the vanguard is to demoralize the entire army. Hence their rage and fury against the invincible phalanx which always stands fully armed, sleeplessly vigilant and eternally uncompromising.
In this, above all other countries, do Catholics need to be
constant and unshaken in their faith, for the disease of Liberalism is
virulently endemic. Its assault is perpetual, its weapons
save to the enlightened eye of a resolute and undaunted faith. In
at least on the continent, Liberalism is violent, aggressive, openly
its hatred and opposition. There the war is open, here it is concealed;
there the battlefield is the public arena in civic and political life;
here the contest is within the social, business and even domestic
there it is declared foe against declared foe, here it is friend
friend, even brother against brother and all the more dangerous in
because friendly, social or domestic relations endure without injury
the struggle; dangerous to the Catholic because these various ties are
so many embarrassments to his free action, so many bonds of affection
interest to enchain him. Therefore must he be all vigilant,
should his courage be great, his attitude firm and his stand bold; for
while his circumstances make him friendly to his foe, he must wage a
battle for his faith. His task is doubly difficult, he must conquer an
enemy who appears his dearest friend.