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PUBLISHED IN THE "CENTURY," OCTOBER, 1900
IN Mr. Lecky's profoundly suggestive book, "The Map of Life," referred to by me in a former article, he emphasizes the change that has been gradually coming over the religious attitude of the world because of the growing importance laid upon conduct as compared with dogma. In this country we are long past the stage of regarding it as any part of the State's duty to enforce a particular religious dogma; and more and more the professors of the different creeds themselves are beginning tacitly to acknowledge that the prime worth of a creed is to be gauged by the standard of conduct it exacts among its followers toward their fellows. The creed which each man in his heart believes to be essential to his own salvation is for him alone to determine; but we have a right to pass judgment upon his actions toward those about him. Tried by this standard, the religious teachers of the community stand most honorably high. It is probable that no other class of our citizens do anything like the amount of disinterested labor for their fellow-men. To those who are associated with them at close quarters this statement will seem so obviously a truism as to rank among the platitudes. But there is a far from inconsiderable body of public opinion which, to judge by the speeches, writings, and jests in which it delights, has no conception of this state of things. If such people would but take the trouble to follow out the actual life of a hardworked clergyman or priest, I think they would become a little ashamed of the tone of flippancy they are so prone to adopt when speaking about them.
In the country districts the minister of the gospel is normally the associate and leader of his congregation and in close personal touch with them. He shares in and partially directs their intellectual and moral life, and is responsive to their spiritual needs. If they are prosperous, he is prosperous. If the community be poor and hard-working, he shares the poverty and works as hard as any one. As fine a figure as I can call to mind is that of one such country clergyman in a poor farming community not far from the capital of the State of New York—a vigorous old man, who works on his farm six days in the week, and on the seventh preaches what he himself has been practicing. The farm work does not occupy all of the week-days, for there is not a spiritual need of his parishioners that he neglects. He visits them, looks after them if they are sick, baptizes the children, comforts those in sorrow, and is ready with shrewd advice for those who need aid; in short, shows himself from week's end to week's end a thoroughly sincere, earnest, hard-working old Christian. This is perhaps the healthiest type. It is in keeping with the surroundings, for in the country districts the quality of self-help is very highly developed, and there is little use for the great organized charities. Neighbors know one another. The poorest and the richest are more or less in touch, and charitable feelings find a natural and simple expression in the homely methods of performing charitable duties. This does not mean that there is not room for an immense amount of work in country communities and in villages and small towns. Every now and then, in traveling over the State, one comes upon a public library, a Young Men's Christian Association building, or some similar structure which has been put up by a man born in the place, who has made his money elsewhere, and feels he would like to have some memorial in his old home. Such a gift is of far-reaching benefit. Almost better is what is done in the way of circulating libraries and the like by the united action of those men and women who appreciate clearly the intellectual needs of the people who live far from the great centres of our rather feverish modern civilization; for in country life it is necessary to guard, not against mental fever, but against lack of mental stimulus and interests.
In cities the conditions are very different, both as regards the needs and as regards the way it is possible to meet these needs. There is much less feeling of essential community of interest, and poverty of the body is lamentably visible among great masses. There are districts populated to the point of congestion, where hardly any one is above the level of poverty, though this poverty does not by any means always imply misery. Where it does mean misery it must be met by organization, and, above all, by the disinterested, endless labor of those who, by choice, and to do good, live in the midst of it, temporarily or permanently. Very many men and women spend part of their lives or do part of their life-work under such circumstances, and conspicuous among them are clergymen and priests.
Only those who have seen something of such work at close quarters realize how much of it goes on quietly and without the slightest outside show, and how much it represents to many lives that else would be passed in gray squalor. It is not necessary to give the names of the living, or I could enumerate among my personal acquaintance fifty clergymen and priests, men of every church, of every degree of wealth, each of whom cheerfully and quietly, year
in and year out, does his share, and more than his share, of the unending work which he feels is imposed upon him alike by Christianity and by that form of applied Christianity which we call good citizenship. Far more than that number of women, in and out of religious bodies, who do to the full as much work, could be mentioned. Of course, for every one thus mentioned there would be a hundred, or many hundreds, unmentioned. Perhaps there is no harm in alluding to one man who is dead. Very early in my career as a police commissioner of the City of New York I was brought in contact with Father Casserly of the Paulist Fathers. After he had made up his mind that I was really trying to get things decent in the department, and to see that law and order prevailed, and that crime and vice were warred against in practical fashion, he became very intimate with me, helping me in every way, and unconsciously giving me an insight into his own work and his own character. Continually, in one way and another, I came across what Father Casserly was doing, always in the way of showing the intense human sympathy and interest he was taking in the lives about him. If one of the boys of a family was wild, it was Father Casserly who planned methods of steadying him. If, on the other hand, a steady boy met with some misfortune,—lost his place, or something of the kind,—it was Father Cas