See how laymen put our lethargy and its apologists to shame. Look at the author with pallid cheek and fevered brow, half starving in an attic, perfecting his style, polishing his periods. There is the actor, haggard, jaded, toiling for hours at a single passage, that he may interpret its meaning and enchain his audience. While the world is dreaming the barrister is studying his brief, ransacking tomes, wading through statutes, in search of one to support his contention, knitting his defence in logical terseness, cudgeling his brains for ingenious appeals to move a jury. The lives of eminent lawyers are records of appalling drudgery.
Turn to the great doctors of the church. After preaching for thirty years, St. Augustine did not consider himself free from the obligation of writing his sermons. He prepared, he tells us, cum magno labore. “I have,” says St. John Chrysostom, “traversed land and ocean to acquire the art of rhetoric.” If giants so laboured, who are we to expect exemption? Ah! if our bread entirely depended on our sermons, as a lawyer’s on his briefs or an actor’s on his parts, what a revolution we should behold! Yet how humiliating the thought! Every time you go into the pulpit it is to plead a brief for Christ. The destiny of many a soul hangs on your effort. Will you permit yourself to be outdone in generous toil by the lawyer, who consumes his night not to save a man from an unending hell, but from a month’s imprisonment?
To-day the devil’s agents put forth sleepless activity. The world rings with the clash of warring forces. The priest, then, that idly folds his arms and manufactures sops for a gnawing conscience, while the very air is electric with the energies of assault, that priest is set up not for the resurrection but the ruin of many in Israel.
HOW SHOULD THE YOUNG PRIEST PREPARE HIS SERMONS?
The pulpit, as an instrument for the salvation of human souls, holds, after the Sacraments, first place. Indeed the frequentation and proper reception of the Sacraments themselves largely depend upon it.
Never since the first Pentecost was its agency a more pressing necessity than to-day. The apostles of evil are busy. The printing press teems beyond all precedent, obscuring truth and belching forth poison over the world of intellect with a reckless audacity that scorns all restraint. The powers of darkness have seized, polished with unstinting labour and sharpened into slashing efficiency, the varied weapons in the armoury of the orator—crispness of style, brilliancy of diction, a declamation that covers the want of argument and gilds sophistry till it passes for truth. The question for us is—how shall we meet the enemy with steel as highly tempered as his own?
Cicero embraces within the compass of three words the whole scope of the orator.
Docere.—To instruct the intellects of his hearers.