Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


Part III


Chapter 3
Auxiliary Associations —

The "Apostolate of Conquest"





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The only point remaining to be dealt with in this part of the book is the question of the relationship of Catholic Action with the auxiliary associations and the problem of the apostolate of conquest.

The Problem

Here again, the perspective that meets our gaze is very clear. On one hand, innumerable papal documents assert that religious associations are "true and providential auxiliaries of Catholic Action", as Pius XI said; and so many were the affirmations of this great Pontiff in this line, that it would be difficult to quote them all. Also Pope Pius XII, in his memorable allocution on Catholic Action of September 5, 1940, dedicated a whole section to the exemplary harmony that should exist between Catholic Action and the auxiliary associations.

In the same order of ideas, we could also mention the statutes of the Brazilian Catholic Action, which impose on auxiliary associations the obligation to collaborate with Catholic Action. Thus, this is for both of them not only a duty but also a right. Lastly the Brazilian Plenary Council (1939), in many decrees, commended, counseled and even imposed the establishing of associations, which in final analysis are auxiliaries of Catholic Action.

On the other hand, we note in certain associations an inexplicable obstinacy in refusing to render due collaboration to Catholic Action and in some cases even ignoring it altogether. For their part, certain elements of Catholic Action defend the opposite error and display a systematic desire to completely dispense with any collaboration from auxiliary associations, rejecting it disdainfully however generous it might be. Both of these extreme and passionate positions must be avoided with the greatest assurance: for if any doubts on this matter remained, the allocution of Pope Pius XII would have dissipated them completely.

Auxiliary Associations Must Not Disappear

First of all let us say that the claim that auxiliary associations must eventually be dissolved in keeping with longstanding but hidden motives of the Holy See is totally unfounded. According to this account, the Holy See is supposedly in the process of slowly killing the auxiliary associations by burying them in praise while giving Catholic Action a primacy tending to rid it, at last, from its "true and providential auxiliaries."  Imagining such a thing would be tantamount to assuming that the Holy See is acting with unmatched duplicity. Indeed, in documents intended to be known in the whole world, the Holy See would be supposedly lavishing fallacious praise upon associations which, because of an affectionate frailty or some other reason, it lacks the courage to wound openly.

Thus, they err, and certainly err, who instead of considering the religious associations as auxiliaries, look upon them as a hindrance, destined sooner or later to disappear completely, and whose death should be hastened through a methodical campaign of defamation, silence and contempt. In his letter With Special Pleasure, of January 31, 1942, to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Pope Pius XII refuted this opinion with the following allusion to the well-deserving Marian Congregations:

Our liveliest desires are that these associations of Christian piety and apostolate, expand every day; that daily they become further strengthened in an intimate and deep spiritual life; that with every day that passes they cooperate more and more, with their traditional respect and humble submission to the norms and guidance of the hierarchy, in the expansion of the Kingdom of God, and that they spread the Christian life ever more abundantly in individuals, in the families and in society.

As can be seen, it is not merely a "wish," but "his liveliest desires."

It Is No Less So With Catholic Action

Equally mistaken are those who imagine that the establishment of Catholic Action was an audacious innovation wrenched in a reckless way from the old age of Pius XI by some bold advisers. The most elementary justice toward the memory of the glorious Pontiff obliges us to recognize that the vigorous hand, who until death's threshold, knew how to grip firmly the helm of the Church, crossing haughtily the great waves stirred up by Nazism and Communism, could not be forced by the agility of some palace conspiracy; moreover, this hypothesis could only be accepted with discredit to the prestige of the Holy Catholic Church. Catholic Action may, of course, assume one form or the other with the passing of time, perhaps maintaining with the auxiliary associations very different kinds of relationship as circumstances may require. Both the former and the latter, however, will continue to exist.

A Simplistic Solution

Nor do we see as being on truth's side, those who led by a praiseworthy desire of conciliation try to delimit the fields pertaining to Catholic Action and the auxiliary associations, attributing to the former a monopoly of the apostolate and restricting the latter to the task of interior formation and the cultivation of piety. The papal documents that expressly grant to Catholic Action the right, nay, that impose on it the duty of forming its members are innumerable. Now, this duty implies the formation and fostering of piety without which no formation can be considered complete.

On the other hand, it is not true that the bylaws of the religious associations assign piety as their exclusive purpose. On the contrary, the great majority of these, orient, stimulate, and some even impose the apostolate on their members; and many associations carry out their own works of apostolate, which, by the way, are generally in a flourishing state. His Holiness Pope Pius XII, in his aforementioned letter to His Eminence Sebastião Cardinal Leme, expresses himself in such a way as to remove from such an opinion, not only its very foundation, but even all and any appearance of truth. The Holy Father positively affirms that he wishes to see the Marian Congregations dedicated to the exterior and social apostolate, and not only to the field of piety and formation.

The Holy Father expresses his great appreciation for the spiritual bouquet of the members of the congregation, but great as this joy was, "his satisfaction was even greater in knowing that the brave Marian hosts are efficacious collaborators in propagating the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and that they carry out a fruitful apostolate by means of numerous works of zeal." Thus, the exterior works of apostolate to which the Marian Congregations presently dedicate themselves are not seen by the Holy Father as a field into which the Congregations have intruded, and where at best they may be tolerated for lack of better laborers. Christ's Vicar on earth rejoices with the fact and thus implicitly affirms that they have a full, ample and total right to do it. This sentence proves it: "…this confirms for Us once more, that these Marian hosts occupy, in accordance with their glorious traditions, under the orders of the hierarchy, a conspicuous place in the toil and fight for the greater glory of God and the good of souls." In other words, doing everything they presently do, they are merely in the "conspicuous" role ascribed to them by tradition and this "conspicuous" role suffered no alteration with supervening facts as, for example, the establishment of Catholic Action.

Some people claimed that the Marian Congregations have a juridical structure that makes them radically and viscerally incapable of doing apostolate in our day and age. It is superfluous to emphasize how much the Apostolic Letter disavows this unwarranted and baseless affirmation. Others have sustained that the Congregations occupy in Brazil a place too noticeable, thus stealing from Catholic Action its due. This most certainly does not occur, for the Pontiff rejoices with the magnitude of this role and adds the expression of his great satisfaction for the fact that they "occupy a conspicuous place"—as he has been informed—in the toil and fight for the greater glory of God and the good of souls, and that they are of great importance, as a spiritual force, for the Catholic cause in Brazil. What information did the Supreme Pontiff have to formulate such an affirmation? It was the most authorized and impartial. He himself tells us so: "…you have manifested this publicly, dear son, on repeated occasions, with so much enthusiasm, and other Venerable Brothers in the episcopate have done the same." In other words, it is the entire Catholic hierarchy that affirms, applauds and sanctions it. Who would dare disagree?

Further on, the Holy Father insists: "a solid spiritual formation and an intense and fruitful apostolic activity are both essential elements to every Marian Congregation." How can it be claimed, then, that the Rules of the Congregations themselves confine these associations to the mere field of piety? Someone will allege, however, that in light of the present situation the Holy Father might not like the Marian Congregations to increase the scope of their action.

This supposition is not true. Even less true is the presumption that the Holy Father wishes the Congregations to perish in a slow agony.

The Problem's True Characteristics

The reality is, therefore, that both Catholic Action and the religious associations should apply themselves to formation and apostolate. As they structure their relationships in this area, neither party can ignore this reality, under pain of basing itself on totally unreal juridical and doctrinal premises and thereby dooming itself to failure.

Pius XII Indicates New Directions

It is not up to us to define the manner in which this collaboration should develop within the objective limits stated above. This is a problem for positive legislation, and one that lies within the scope of the statutes of the Brazilian Catholic Action and whatever else the Very Reverend Bishops decide on the subject in their respective dioceses. We limit ourselves to reminding one that in the often quoted allocution of Pope Pius XII on Catholic Action, the Supreme Pontiff opened a new path for the solution of the problem by recommending that Catholic Action nuclei be founded inside the associations themselves and calling on the nuclei to act as stimuli and ferment within them:

And if…internal associations of Catholic Action are established within religious associations which have goals and organized forms of apostolate, the former should enter with discretion and reserve not disturbing anything of the structure and life of the association, but only giving new impulse to the spirit and forms of apostolate incorporating them to the larger central organization.

Thus, when founded also within the associations, Catholic Action would be a nucleus of fervent members leading the others to sanctification and combat. Since this method has already been used in Italy for several years, under the eyes of the Holy See, and has consistently achieved the best results, we deem it providential and bring it insistently to the attention of our readers.

We must also add that given the juridical situation of Catholic Action and the Auxiliary Associations in Brazil, this solution presents most important advantages.

Attacking the Prerogatives of Catholic Action Is Nefarious and Vain

Indeed, only a mind so obscured with prejudices of every kind as to have lost entirely any sense of objectivity could refuse to see the extraordinarily solid juridical situation of Catholic Action in Brazil's religious life. Created with a most solemn document signed by the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy in Brazil and officially approved by the Holy See, it enjoys such importance that fighting against it is like charging against windmills. Don Quixote's fight against these invincible enemies, while ridiculous for its impracticability, had at least the merit of its heroic intentions. Not even this merit, however, can be ascribed to auxiliary associations which, driven by an individualism contrary to Catholic sense, were to fight against Catholic Action. The Auxiliary Associations should render unto Catholic Action the double assistance of enrolling in it their best members, and cooperating resolutely in its general activities. This is what the statutes of the Brazilian Catholic Action ordain. In fulfilling this duty, the attitude of the Auxiliary Associations should not be one of melancholic resignation, but that of one who joyfully fulfils a glorious responsibility.

On the other hand, it would be equally foolish to ignore that the auxiliary associations possess themselves as well a very solid juridical situation, especially after the Apostolic Letter “Con Singular Complacencia” [With Special Delight] and that Catholic Action should refrain from abusively draining for itself the best elements of the Auxiliary Associations—an easy recruiting process that would destroy everything outside the structure of the fundamental organizations of Catholic Action.

It is necessary, therefore, to have great equilibrium in the manner in which cooperation is established between the fundamental organizations and the auxiliary associations of Catholic Action. It seems to us that such equilibrium would be maintained in a much more secure fashion by paving the way for a harmonious and fruitful interpenetration between the fundamental and auxiliary organizations of Catholic Action, instead of considering them necessarily and always as entirely parallel entities, sharing only their common obedience to the Diocesan Board and the hierarchy.

As for the relations between the fundamental organizations and the auxiliary associations of Catholic Action, whenever they constitute completely different structures we can see no better way of systematizing them within the spirit and letter of the bylaws of the Brazilian Catholic Action, than by means of the wise rules published in this regard by the Right Reverend Monsignor Antonio de Castro Mayer, at the time General Assistant of the São Paulo Catholic Action, and today Vicar General, responsible for all the works and organizations of the laity, by order of His Excellency the Most Reverend José Gaspar D’Afonseca e Silva, Archbishop of São Paulo. We are publishing this wise and beautiful document, distinguished for its true equilibrium, as a footnote. (1)

One of the most eminent bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of São Paulo, told us once in conversation that the aforementioned document effectively contained the sure and wise guidelines that the solution of such a delicate problem demands, but that in practice, the success of its application depended on the observance of a line of conduct so exact and difficult to ascertain in certain specific cases, that the publication of these guidelines, while having opened many horizons, had not yet uttered the last word on the subject. We were then in 1940. The allocution of His Holiness Pope Pius XI came afterward, which, as we stated, makes the foundation of Catholic Action nuclei within the auxiliary associations possible. With this new step, it seems to us that the question is entirely solved: two wise and fruitful ways are open for establishing, in accordance with the intentions of Pius XI and Pius XII, a regime of frank understanding and intimate cordiality between the fundamental organizations of Catholic Action and its auxiliary associations.

Another Fundamental Problem

The same intemperate thirst of expansion, which has lead Catholic Action, in certain areas, into the grave mistake of disorderly and hasty recruiting, also generated a rather unfair state of spirit in regard to the problem of determining if Catholic Action should, preferably, dedicate itself to sanctifying the faithful or to converting the unfaithful.

The Problem's True Aspect

At first glance, plain common sense would make us answer with Our Lord "oportet haec facere, et illa non omittere." (2) There is no reason for Catholic Action to neglect either one of these highly laudable activities. In practice, however, the problem may present itself when Catholic Action, normally overwhelmed with tasks, will hesitate in deciding how it should use the sparse remnants of time left on its hands: in organizing a small Easter campaign or in handing out leaflets to convert spiritists; in putting together an effort to preserve the purity of Catholic families, or trying to infiltrate Communist trade unions; building a center for its members, or setting up a project to combat Protestantism. Consequently, we would like to comment on the subject.

First of all it must be made entirely clear that the problem may never be resolved in a uniform fashion. Local circumstances vary immensely and may give to one or another of these tasks such aspects of urgency that an immediate intervention is required. Everything we say is applicable only to general cases, in which one cannot really determine if concretely one or the other task is more urgent, so that the problem must be resolved in its theoretical elements.

Charity Establishes Priorities

In view of what has been said, we do not hesitate to affirm that above all else we must desire the sanctification and perseverance of the good; in second place, the sanctification of those Catholics who have fallen away from the practice of the Faith, and, last of all, the conversion of those who are not Catholic.

a) We Should Concern Ourselves Above All With the Sanctification and Perseverance of the Good

Let us justify the first proposition. A simple analysis of the dogma of the Communion of Saints offers us a precious argument to this end. There is a supernatural solidarity in the destiny of souls in such a way that the merits of some turn into graces for others and, reciprocally, souls which stop meriting, impoverish the treasure of the Church. Let us hear, in this regard, an admirable lesson of a master. The Reverend Father Maurice de la Taille, in his well-known treatise on the Holy Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist, notes that "the habitual devotion of the Church never disappears, because It will never lose the Spirit of Holiness It received; this devotion however, in different times, can be greater or smaller." (3) And applying this principle to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he adds:

The greater this devotion is, the more acceptable is oblation. So, it is of the utmost importance to have in the Church many saints and very holy ones; and men and women religious should never be spared nor prevented from making the greatest efforts for the value of the Masses to increase daily and for the unfailing voice of the Blood of Christ crying from earth to become more powerful to the ears of God. For the Blood of Christ cries from the altars of the Church, but through our lips and hearts: all the louder and more vigorously as we may allow it. (4)

Thus, it is not difficult to see that, in the plan of Divine Providence, the sanctification of good souls occupies a central role in the conversion of infidels and sinners. Whether they be ecclesiastics or laymen, those souls are in a certain way "the salt of the earth” (5) and “the light of the world." (6) And it is in this sense that it must be affirmed that the contemplative orders are of great usefulness to the whole Church of God. Now, the same should be said of holy souls who live a life of apostolate in the world. Woe to Christian communities where the light of the prayer of the just goes out and the expiatory value of sacrifices decreases. Abbot Chautard says that the simple fact of establishing contemplative and cloistered convents in mission areas works marvels. In the final analysis, it is on sanctity that the victory of the Church depends in the great combat she is engaged in. One truly supernatural soul, who with the merits of her interior life makes her apostolate fruitful, conquers a greater number of souls for God than a legion of apostles with a mediocre prayer life.

This truth is commonly accepted in regard to the clergy. Important as the problem of priestly vocations may be, it will never be on a par with the need for sanctifying the clergy. This is the most important issue in every country. And, implicitly, the same principle imposes itself in matters of lay apostolate. If it is more important to have a group of truly holy priestly apostles than a great number of priests, logically it is more important to have a group of truly interior lay apostles than a useless crowd of members of Catholic Action. If for the clergy the paramount problem is the growing sanctification of its members, Catholic Action, the clergy’s humble collaborator, cannot have a greater desire than the sanctification of its own members and of all pious souls in the Church of God.

There is a flagrant naturalism in imagining that the Church would gain by increasing the apostolate activity of its members to the detriment of their prayer life. However useful and praiseworthy exterior activities will always be, the prayer of souls truly united to God is what gives the Church its best laurels. Leo XIII says so, in the encyclical Octobri Mense, of September 22, 1891:

But as regards the prayers which we join to the suffrages of the heavenly citizens, and offer humbly to God to obtain His mercy for the Church, they are always favourably received and heard, and either obtain for the Church great and imperishable benefits, or their influence is temporarily withheld for a time of greater need. In truth, to these supplications is added an immense weight and grace - the prayers and merits of Christ Our Lord, Who has loved the Church and has delivered Himself up for her to sanctify her…so that He should be glorified in her(Eph. 5:25-27). He is her Sovereign Head, holy, innocent, always living to make intercession for us…

And if in their wickedness her enemies have not accomplished all the injury they had resolved upon and striven to do, they nevertheless seem to go on unchecked. But, despite them the Church, amidst all these conflicts, will always stand out and increase in greatness and glory. Nor can human reason rightly understand why evil, apparently so dominant, should yet be so restricted as regards its results; whilst the Church, driven into straits, comes forth glorious and triumphant. (7)

And His Holiness adds:

The time will come when…the marvellous power and utility of prayer will be shown forth. Then it will be seen how many in the midst of a corrupt age have kept themselves pure and inviolate from all concupiscence of the flesh and the spirit, working out their sanctification in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1); how others, when exposed to the danger of temptation, have without delay restrained themselves gaining new strength for virtue from the peril itself; how others, having fallen, have been seized with the ardent desire to be restored to the embraces of a compassionate God. (8)

If, from the standpoint of the Communion of Saints, this is the conclusion we should reach, what theology tells us of the essence of the apostolate also leads us to an identical conclusion. As we have already said, the apostle is a mere instrument of God and the work of sanctification or conversion is essentially supernatural and divine. (9) "No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him," Our Lord said. (10) Now then, in such an august task, God does not use, if only rarely, unworthy instruments; and the question of Scripture "ab immundo, quid mundabitur?" (11) expresses not only the natural and psychological incapacity of an unworthy apostle to produce fruitful works, but also the repugnance God feels in using such elements to operate the most august mysteries of the regeneration of souls.

Do not think, however, that only mortal sin is harmful to the fruitfulness of an apostle’s work. Also venial sins and even simple imperfections, by decreasing the union of souls with God, bring down to a trickle the torrents of grace of which they should be channels. How many praiseworthy associations just keep dragging on with a thousand difficulties as their generous directors fight on all fields without obtaining any result; and thus, hundreds or thousands of souls remain fallen away, souls who in the designs of Providence should be saved through that association. And, while the most heroic efforts are broken against all difficulties, their directors do not notice that the source of the failures is elsewhere. "Venti et maria oboediunt ei," (12) says Scripture about Jesus, and certainly under His command all obstacles could crumble. But the intermediaries of divine grace, however zealous, have this or that infidelity which separates them from God. And Jesus waits for the renunciation of some overly lively sentimentalism, or some overly keen self-love, for the obstruction of the channels of grace to clear. What seemed a question of money or social influence is often a question of interior generosity, in a word, a question of sanctification.

In the Book of Josue is found a highly meaningful narration in this regard. Acan took for himself, among the spoils of the city of Jericho, some valuable objects, in spite of this action being illicit, because these objects were covered by the anathema with which God fulminated Jericho. (13) This simple fact—one man in a huge army had a few cursed objects in his luggage—was enough for the Hebrew army to be inexplicably and noisily defeated as it attacked the small city of Hai. God then revealed to Joshua that the Hebrew armies would only resume their victorious streak when Acan were exterminated with all that he possessed. Over his mortal remains a monument of curse was built and only thus the wrath of the Lord was deviated from Israel. This is an eloquent image of the harm that even one lay apostle, keeping in his soul any guilty attachment to his sins or imperfections, can do to a whole organization.

With all of this in mind it is easy to perceive how erroneous it is to pretend that, according to an unfortunately common expression, to work for the sanctification of the good is to "beat a dead horse." We have quite intentionally presented, in favor of our thesis, arguments that prove with complete clarity that this sanctification is the most precious condition for obtaining the so ardently desired conversion of the infidels. How much more could we say, however, about the importance of the apostolate for the perseverance of the good!

b) Secondly, We Should Bring Sinners Back to the Life of Grace

The preceding arguments are also useful to prove that it is more important to return to the law of grace sinners who abandoned the practice of Religion, than to convert infidels. We wish, however, to add one more argument on this point. Holy Baptism received by one of the faithful, makes him a son of God, a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, a living temple of the Holy Ghost. The graces with which God then showers him in his age of innocence, the Eucharistic conviviality with Our Lord, all concurs for a Catholic to have an invaluable title of divine predilection. It is thus that in a general way (14) God loves immensely more the souls who form his Church than heretical and infidel peoples. Because of this, a just man who "leaves the commandment of God" (15) gives Him a suffering immensely greater than the perseverance of an infidel in his infidelity. The sinner continues to be a son of God, but a prodigal son whose absence fills the father's house with unspeakable mourning. Broken reed, but not separated, flickering but still smoldering wick, he is the object of God's solicitude. And for this same reason the Redeemer, "desireth not the death of the sinner, but that he convert and live," (16) multiplies his entreaties to return him to the fold. The Catholic sinner, a son of God and therefore a beloved ingrate, is our brother to whom we are linked by duties of love and assistance, duties incomparably greater than those toward non-Catholics. This is an absolutely indisputable point of theology. And this is the reason why we are obliged to devote our time to the conversion of Catholic sinners, in preference to that of infidels. The terrible word of Scripture, uttered by the most sweet lips of the Savior, applies here with all propriety: "It is not good to take the bread of the children, and cast it to the dogs." (17)

The thought of His Holiness Pope Pius XI, expressed in his message of February 12, 1931, published by L'Osservatore Romano, was no different:

The Apostle orders that when We speak to men, We do good to all, but especially to those who possess the same Faith. It is well, then, that We speak first to all those who, living members of the family and fold of the Lord, the Catholic Church, call Us by the sweet name of Father; to the Pastors and the faithful, the lamb and the sheep, and to all those whom the Pastor and Supreme King Jesus Christ charged Us to teach and guide.

And Saint Thomas says the same:

Out of charity we ought to love more that which has more fully the reason for being loved out of charity, as stated above (II-II, q. 25, art.12). Now fellowship in the full participation of happiness which is the reason for loving one's neighbor, is a greater reason for loving, than the participation of happiness by way of overflow, which is the reason for loving one's own body. (18)

And elsewhere,

Our neighbors are not all equally related to God; some are nearer to Him, by reason of their greater goodness, and those we ought, out of charity, to love more than those who are not so near to Him. (19)

Saint Paul expressly recommends: "whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (20) And writing to Timothy, he recommends that, if the servants have Catholic masters, they should serve them better than those who are not Catholic, "because they are faithful and beloved [by God], who are partakers of the benefit [of Redemption]." (21) And Our Lord proclaimed the same principle when he said: "Whosoever shall do the will of God, he is my brother, and my sister, and mother." (22)

Expanding This Doctrine Cannot Harm the Apostolate with Infidels and Heretics

Let us finally add, to these numerous theoretical arguments, a practical reflection that also has considerable value. If a tally of Catholics and infidels were made in Brazil, one would see that the numerical inferiority of the infidels is overwhelming. What is, therefore, the problem that affects Brazil most basically: the conversion of the infidels or the reconciliation of sinners with the Church?

Do not fear on the other hand, that the development of the works to convert infidels would be hindered as a consequence of the order of ideas we have been expounding. Certainly Germany was one of the countries in which the works for the conversion of the many Protestants existing there were more developed. In fact, the problem of leading Protestants back to the fold of the Church in Germany was incomparably more pressing and important than in Brazil. The German bishops did not believe that these works to expand frontiers would suffer any harm because of the following truth which under the designation of "23rd question," appeared in the Catechism officially written by the Venerable German Episcopate:

Q. What is the cause of grave sins committed even inside the Catholic Church?

A. The fact that in the Catholic Church mortal sins are committed is due to the fact that many Catholic Christians do not obey the Church and do not live with her. The sins of her own children hurt her more and make her expansion more difficult than persecution from enemies of the Church. “It is impossible not to have scandals but woe to him who gives them (Luke 17:1).”

A curious fact is that the Nazi government of Baden, in a circular of January 27, 1937, ordered that this question be deleted from the catechism. (23)

"Apostolate of Conquest"

From everything we have just expounded and above all, from the energetic words of the German Episcopate, it follows with all clarity that the interest for pious souls cannot be separated from the one due to souls of infidels and sinners. Hence one understands how unfounded it is to interpret in an exaggerated literal sense the expression "apostolate of conquest," very often used to designate, in a one-sided and exclusive sense, the works for the conversion of the infidels, while at the same time this title is scornfully denied to works for preserving and sanctifying the good.

Undoubtedly, every conversion of infidels expands the Church’s frontiers; and since every such expansion is a conquest, these works can reasonably be called "apostolate of conquest." In this sense the expression is licit. Yet, while these works are worthy of all enthusiasm, there is an error, and not a small one, in endowing them with some kind of radical exclusiveness that disturbs the lucidity of concepts and the hierarchy of values, unjustifiably casting a mantle of scorn upon other works. Speaking about totalitarian propaganda, Jacques Maritain said that it possessed the art of "making truths go delirious." The conversion of infidels is certainly an exciting work and could not be praised enough. But let us not make this noble truth go delirious.

Unfortunately, however, this delirium does exist; and from it spring a passion for the masses and for belittling elites, a one-sided mania of wholesale recruiting, an implicit or explicit indifference for works to preserve the faithful, and so on. A curious state of mind is linked to this order of ideas. In some circles, there is such a respectful enthusiasm for converts, that according to the expression of a very keen observer, those who have always been Catholic "feel a certain shame for never having apostatized so they could be converted." Evidently, the return of the prodigal son to his father's house is a cause for overwhelming joy, and his faithful brother’s jealousy of him is worthy of criticism. Yet, the fact that someone always persevered is of itself a title of honor greater than an apostasy followed by sincere amendment. Of course a penitent soul could soar much higher than someone else who always remained faithful. However, it would be rash to argue concretely whether more admiration is owed to the innocence of Saint John than the penance of Saint Peter; to the penance of Saint Mary Magdalene or the innocence of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Let us put aside these idle questions and serve God with humility, avoiding the exaggeration of turning apostasy into a title of vainglory.

Concern, or rather obsession with the apostolate of conquest generates yet another error that we simply mention for the time being. We will speak about it more at length in a subsequent chapter. It consists in hiding or invariably underestimating the evil in heresies so as to give heretics the idea that the distance that separates them from the Church is small. What is forgotten, however, is that in so doing the malice of heresy is hidden to the faithful and the barriers that separate them from apostasy are leveled!  This is what will happen when this method is used extensively or exclusively.

An opinion has been spread that the apostolate of Catholic Action as a consequence of its magic mandate, exercises such a sanctifying effect over souls that mere apostolate activity is entirely sufficient for a member of Catholic Action and excuses him from the interior life.

This chapter has become too long and we do not want to digress even further about this complex matter. So we will limit ourselves to saying that Holy Mother Church demands that clerics and even bishops maintain an interior life all the more intense as their works are absorbing. Hence we see that the apostolate of the hierarchy does not excuse them from interior life. In his treatise, De consideratione, Saint Bernard does not hesitate to call "cursed works" the activities of the Blessed Pope Eugene III, as long as they would consume the time necessary for that Pontiff to increase his interior life. And he is talking about the sublime and so to speak divine occupations of the Papacy! What could be said, then, of the modest occupations of a mere "participant" of the hierarchy? Could his activities be more sanctifying than those of the hierarchy itself? How could one imagine, in the essence and structure of Catholic Action, the existence of sanctifying virtues that dispense with the interior life!

Finally, we are faced here with an aggravation of the Americanism already condemned by Leo XIII; and a complete refutation of this doctrine can be found in the document about this matter. (24)

*    *    *

An Objection

One could certainly object, to all this, that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." (25) Few passages from the Holy Gospels have been the object of more unfounded interpretations than this one. The woman of the parable, who lost a coin, certainly experienced more joy in finding it than in keeping the coins she had not lost. This does not mean that she would be consoled for losing the other ninety-nine coins by having found one! She would have to be crazy to act like that! What Our Lord wished to say is simply that the joy of recovering the goods we lose is greater than our pleasure for the quiet possession of the goods we keep. Thus, a man who loses his sight in an accident and afterward recovers it should reasonably have a great expansion of joy. However, it would be irrational for a man who was never threatened with blindness to suddenly go into indescribable outbursts of joy because he is not blind.

Think about it: if there is more joy in the heart of the Good Shepherd for the conversion of a sinner than for the perseverance of ninety-nine just men, the logical consequence is that there is more sorrow in the Heart of Jesus for a just man who apostatizes than for ninety-nine sinners who persevere in sin.


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1) The following Archdiocesan document was published in the São Paulo press:


   On orders of His Excellency the Most Reverend José Gaspar D’Afonseca e Silva, Metropolitan Archbishop, and the Very Reverend Canon Dr. Antonio de Castro Mayer, General Assistant of Catholic Action, the following document is published in the press:

   The Divine Savior constituted a restricted group of disciples, whom he formed with special dedication, associating men to His Work of Redemption of the Human Race and the conversion of a world given over to the senseless adoration of pagan idols. The Savior made of that small group a militia of choice, a sacred ferment, to which he gave the mission of renovating the face of the earth, indefatigably feeding their spirits with doctrine, in intimacy and in a way proportional to the particular necessities of each one, modeling their hearts by means of a personal direction, enhanced by all of the attractions of His company and the irresistible force of His examples; and sending upon them the Holy Ghost, distributor of priceless gifts for the intellect and the will.

   Our Lord Jesus Christ opened the Kingdom of Heaven to the crowds to which He taught the way of the truth. However, He entrusted to a much smaller number the task of opening in His name the way of bliss to other peoples as well.

   Faithful to the Divine Master, the Church always followed the same process; and while preaching the Gospel to all peoples, she reserved a particular tenderness and zeal to form in a very special way the members of the Mystical Body of Christ destined to hold office in the Hierarchy established by the Redeemer.

   There is more. The Church, drawing from the most wise example of the Savior all the teachings it contains, since the earliest times did not limit herself to impose on all the faithful the duty of apostolate, but congregated around herself the most fervent to endow them with special virtues. Having been thus formed, such lay people were instruments of choice and special collaborators, designed to participate inside the Learning Church, of the holy sufferings and meritorious work of the Teaching Church, excelling in their unbreakable docility to the Magisterium of the Church, in their all-embracing and unconditional submission to those, who above them were constituted in the dignity of priests and bishops.

   Pius XI of holy and lamented memory, gave brilliance shine and providential increase to this custom that Catholicism preserved uninterrupted for the twenty centuries of its existence, when, to overthrow the insolence of the idols which the pagan multitudes of our days were starting to acclaim and worship, he made obligatory for all peoples to establish an elite militia of Catholic Action, calling on all faithful to climb to a very high doctrinal and moral purity and fight courageously with it and in it, the pomps and works of Satan.

   The appropriateness of this principle of prudence applied by the great Pontiff, is so obvious that human ingenuity itself recognized it and used it in its own way. All of the great empires had their choice troops, who were in the vast set of military formations, at the same time, core and backbone of the army, disciplined and audacious militia whose courage should fill with awe and encouragement the bravest among the brave in the other regiments. This is the tradition of all the armies of great generals who conquered lands and founded empires. If the great warriors and conquerors acted this way, why would the peaceful and invincible army of Christ the King that should conquer all peoples act otherwise? These considerations suffice to clarify with precision the relations between Catholic Action and the Teaching Church, which is the general staff of Jesus Christ: if the situation of Catholic Action in regard to the Hierarchy is special in any way, it is because the latter has the right to expect from the former a more prompt and loving discipline than from any other religious association.

On the other hand, in relation to Catholic works and associations, its position is implicitly defined: to be an encouragement, example and point of reference for common action. For their part, the associations owe Catholic Action a fraternal and disciplined cooperation.

   In order to give these concepts a living and full-fledged application, the following principles must be observed in the Archdiocese:


          Faithful to the spirit that distinguishes it, Catholic Action excels in reverence and docility toward the Ecclesiastical Authority. Therefore, in their respective areas, Ecclesiastical Assistants, in addition to doctrinal censors, are a living law in everything that pertains to the activities of Catholic Action. Members of Catholic Action owe all due respect to lay members of the organization who hold directive office in it, since their authority reflects the authority of the Ecclesiastical Assistant.

          When priests and men and women religious not having the office of assistant are present at meetings of Catholic Action, they should always be treated with great respect because of the sublimity of their state and be given precedence right after the ecclesiastical assistant.

          After them, precedence goes to the members of the Archdiocesan Commission.


The fundamental associations of Catholic Action should not be considered as perfect entities in themselves, and united only for a common end, but as sections of the same whole.

Thus, the Ecclesiastical Assistants of the various sections or subsections are delegates of the Assistant General of Catholic Action and enjoy his confidence. The laymen who occupy offices of direction in Catholic Action are also delegates and persons of confidence of the Assistant General.


Since Catholic Action must be at the same time an encouragement and model for all religious associations of the faithful, it will only admit as members persons fully aware of the high dignity and arduous tasks it entails. Those who do not maintain themselves at the level of such a high mission will be dismissed forthwith.


Religious associations, and in a special way those whose objective is the sanctification of their members, are true seminars of Catholic Action to which they render a most precious help, by making their members more fervent in the spiritual life or better trained in the apostolate, in such a way that the most edifying among them become the best fitted to join Catholic Action after being prepared by it.


The member of Catholic Action who without prejudice to his obligation toward it, and with the approval of the competent authority in his sector, dedicates himself to direct a religious association, deserves only praise.

On the other hand the member of a religious association, who with the excuse of the apostolate in Catholic Action takes the initiative of abandoning the sodality to which he belongs, without an express decision of the organs of Catholic Action, does not show good spirit.


As auxiliaries to Catholic Action, religious associations should be honored to provide it with the largest possible number of members, and to willingly renounce the collaboration of those whose apostolate the competent powers of Catholic Action believe their association should absorb entirely.


Except in special situations verified by the Archdiocesan Commission, the members of Catholic Action whose chapters, for any reason, do not hold pious practices in common on Sunday mornings, should join some auxiliary association that does so. In so doing they excel in docility toward the constituted authority in the association.


The Archdiocesan Commission, acting entirely on its own criteria, but mindful of all persons involved, must make sure that the recruiting of members of Catholic Action in religious associations does not deprive them of members whose work is indispensable to the good functioning of their social activities.

In this sense, it will take special care to ensure that members of Catholic Action who are directors of auxiliary associations, can perform their duties in a satisfactory way without prejudice to their relationship with Catholic Action.


No activity will be initiated by Catholic Action in a parish or auxiliary association without a previous consultation with the Pastor or Ecclesiastical Director respectively.


The Archdiocesan Commission has the exclusive right to direct the doctrinal and moral formation Catholic Action gives its members, as well as to determine and direct all of its actions in general, deciding whether they should be performed exclusively by fundamental sectors of Catholic Action, by these sectors in common with auxiliary associations or works, or finally by the latter alone.

* * *

By decision of the Archdiocesan Commission, meetings and study workshops should be held in all the fundamental and auxiliary associations of Catholic Action to study exclusively the aforementioned document, which in both its preface and ten subsequent paragraphs contains indispensable concepts for the spiritual formation of the Catholic laity and the organization of their apostolate.

This document is true to the original, kept in the Chancery archives.

(Signed) Canon Paulo Rolim Loureiro

Chancellor of the Archdiocese

2) “These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone" (Matt. 23:23.)

3) Rev. Fr. Maurice de la Taille, The Holy Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist, pp. 330-1. (Our translation.)

4) Apud Filograssi, Adnotationes in S.S. Eucharistiam, pp. 1115-1116.

5) Matt. 5:13.

6) Matt. 5:14.

7) Leo XIII, Octobri Mense, no. 10.

8) Ibid.

9) Cf. Summa Theologica, I, q. 109, arts. 6-7.

10) John 6:44.

11) Ecclus. 34:4. (“What can be made clean by the unclean?”)

12) Matt. 8:27. (“The winds and the sea obey him.”)

13) Cf. Josue, 7.

14) We say, in a general way, because there are righteous souls who belong to the soul of the Church, but not to its body. Such souls may be preferred by God more than a hardened sinner who belongs to the body but not the soul of the Church. Notice, though, that the persons belonging to the soul and not the body of the Church are rare in the multitude of heretics and pagans. They are exceptions. On the other hand, among those righteous persons only a few can be recognized as such, because the virtues are written in a visible way on the foreheads of only a few privileged ones. So the cases that can open an exception to the general rule are extremely rare. And the general rule is that in the apostolate we must prefer converting sinners in the state of mortal sin rather than pagans or heretics.

15) Mark 7:8.

16) From the Litany for the Lenten Season at

17) Mark 7:27.

18) Summa Theologica, II-II, q.26, art.5.

19) Ibid., art.6, ad.2.

20) Gal. 6:10.

21) 1 Tim. 6:2.

22) Mark 3:35.

23) Cf. Testis Fidelis, El Cristianismo en el Tercer Reich. The author of this book—a masterpiece from every standpoint—is a German Catholic priest who used a pen name.

24) [Trans.: See Leo XIII’s Encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, Jan. 22, 1899.]

25) Luke 15:7 (NAB).


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