27 August 2015

Mark Twain said the Church in Hawaii in 1866 was "unmistakably Catholic." Is this the way to go forward now?

Finding myself in the unusual situation without another book to read at hand, I picked up a copy of Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii, edited by A. Grove Day (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1966).

Having grown up on the banks of the Mississippi River just a few miles north of Samuel Clemen's (1835-1910) hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, I heard much about Mark Twain but - as is often the case - have never really read much of his works, only what was required for class (and that without much pleasure). What led me, then, to buy this book? It was this quote on the back cover that caught my attention:
I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever.
How could I pass that by?

Twain was on the then Sandwich Islands in 1866 and wrote a series of letters from the islands for publications in various newspapers in the United States of America. His letters are informative, humorous, and interesting, covering a broad range of life in the islands at the time, with Twain commenting on both activities current and ancient.

In his sixteenth letter, written from Honolulu on June 30, 1866, he comments on the various Christian religions then present in the islands, which I wish to quote now at some length (with my emphases):
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I will say a word or two about the Reformed Catholic Church, to the end that strangers may understand its character. Briefly, then, it is a miraculous invention. One might worship this strange production itself without breaking the first commandment, for there is nothing like it in the heavens above or the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. The Catholics refuse to accept it as Catholic, the Episcopalians deny that it is the church they are accustomed to, and of course the Puritans claim no kindred with it. It is called a child of the Established Church of England, but it resembles its parent in few particulars....

When the bishop first came here, he indulged in a good deal of showy display and ceremony in his church, but these proved so distasteful, even to Episcopalians, that he shortly modified them very much....

The French Roman Catholic Mission here, under the Right Reverend Lord Bishop Maigret, goes along quietly and most unostentatiously; and its affairs are conducted with a wisdom which betrays the presence of a leader of distinguished ability. The Catholic clergy are honest, straight-forward, frank, and open; they are industrious and devoted to their religion and their word; they never meddle; whatever than do can be relied on as being prompted by a good and worthy motive. These things disarm resentment - prejudice cannot exist in their presence. Consequently, Americans are never heard to speak ill or slightingly of the French Catholic Mission. Their religion is not nondescript - it is plain, out-and-out, undisguised, and unmistakable Catholicism. You know right where to find them when you want them. The American missionaries have no quarrel with these men; they honor and respect and esteem them - and bid them Godspeed. There is an anomaly for you - Puritan and Roman Catholic striding along, hand in hand, under the banner of the Cross!
It seems to me that this is not a bad recipe for the Church in every place to follow, to be unmistakably, without being ostentatious, to be frank and open.

In too many places today, both the clergy and the laity are perhaps shy in being unmistakably Catholic and seek to couch the teachings of the Church in terms "more acceptable to the modern age." Wherever this has been done the Church has diminished and secularism has taken firm root. This is not the way forward, nor is it the way of the Apostles.

My friend, Father Tony Neusch, put it this way yesterday at the Bellarmine Forum:
If our expectations have been set so low, and I fear that they have, then the result is a sacramental ministerial priesthood with no zeal.  Why should I have a fire for souls when through our own lack of formation and evangelization the faithful have been assured of their own personal salvation through the virtue of niceness?  We have all heard it, “I am a good person, and I believe in God; He would never allow me to enter into Hell.”  To encourage the lowest common denominator of Christian knowledge can result only in the mediocre Christian life.  The truth of the matter is simply this mediocre Christians do not have the power to draw others to Christ and they rarely have the ability to maintain their own Christian life.  Mediocrity is not the friend of the Priest of Jesus Christ, it is his sworn enemy.  When mediocrity is encouraged, nurtured, and expected from the lay faithful, then the Ministerial Priest is even less than that.  The real vocation crisis, to marriage or orders, is rooted in mediocrity. Good enough is good enough for me.
The Apostles, following the example of their Master and Teacher, were certainly not mediocre in the lived expression of their faith; rather, they were honest, straight-forward, frank, and open in their proclamation of the Gospel. Their preaching in this fashion yielded great fruit and produced men and women of strong and sincere faith, many of whom gave up their lives out of love for Jesus Christ.

It is not enough the people know that we are nice because Jesus was not nice; people need to know that we are Catholics, that we follow Jesus Christ in the Church which he established for our salvation. They need to see our love for him expressed in every aspect of our lives.

People are not drawn to the beliefs of those who live their lives in something of an "eh, whatever" attitude; they are drawn to the beliefs of those who live differently, who live with conviction, whose lives mirror what they say. This is the way forward for the Church today, the way of being unmistakably Catholic.

This does not mean that we have to wear the biggest crucifix that we can find. Nor does it mean that we introduce ourselves saying, "Hi, I'm Catholic!"

What it meas is this: That we go to Mass every Sunday and holy day. It means that our churches look like Catholic churches, both inside and out. It means that we use incense and beautiful, well-crafted vestments, processions, and chant. It means that we correct others with charity when they misrepresent the teachings of the Church and defend her when she is maligned. It means that we invite our family and friends and coworkers and neighbors to pray with us. It means that we are not ashamed to pray in public. It means that everything we do is done with a good and worthy motive.

If we go forward in this way, the New Evangelization will take root and will bear great fruit to produce men and women of strong and sincere faith, and perhaps a new generation of martyrs.


  1. Until the Catholic Church restores the ancient form of the Mass throughout the Roman Rite, it will continue to NOT look "unmistakably Catholic." A protestantized liturgy produces protesantized Catholics, which is what we have... in the millions. When even popes are offering Mass in a manner that is NOT "unmistakably Catholic" (example, "Charismatic Masses" with dancing, et cetera) there is obviously an enormous problem.

  2. Also, don't forget Twain wrote a biography of Joan of Arc and so he knew Catholicism.