The Good that May be Done by Magazine Literature - A Complete Revolution in the Position of Women Through Christianity - The True Womanly Characteristics - The Home as the Nursery of Human Goodness - Sisterhoods - Parish Visitors - Intermediate Institutions - Nursing-poor Law
The Church has always had, and has, what may be called an outer and an inner life.
The history of its outer life has - almost from the beginning - been the history of a great disappointment. At the beginning, one apostle was a traitor, and another a coward. Since then there have been plenty of bishops and clergy who have been untrue to their calling and unfaithful to their obligations.
The people, of course, have suffered. Schisms and heresies have been created, and, especially in our own country, bodies of separatists have assumed to themselves names and offices which, by Christ's appointment, do not belong to them, and have perpetuated the schisms and propagated the heresies.
The inner life of the Church has been quite a different matter. In the worst moments of her crucifixion there have been, as in the case of her Lord, those who have been true to her. These have been quiet, holy souls who, by their fearlessness, their holy lives, and their good works, have prevented the waves of corruption from completely overwhelming her. Amongst these none have been more useful than good women.
Christianity, when it came into the world, caused a complete revolution in the position of women. The miraculous birth of the Eternal Son of God into the world, as the child of a Virgin Mother, made clear the dignity of woman. Henceforth the second Eve, the Mother of God, was the pattern for woman's excellence and usefulness. That pattern has not, indeed, always been followed, but whenever women have forsaken it, the loss both of character and usefulness has been correspondingly conspicuous. The "mannish" woman ceases to be a blessing to the Church, or, indeed, to human nature, and becomes only a curse. This is as conspicuously true in our own Church and time as in any other age of Christian history.
The characteristics of Blessed Mary, as we gather them from the Gospels, were quietness, retiringness, constant communion with God, thoughtfulness as to His word, and entire submission to His holy will, gentleness, firmness, lovingness, and consequently quiet diligence in duty (as for thirty hidden years in the home at Nazareth), and influence (as, for instance, when, owing to her entreaties, Our Blessed Lord, before the "hour" had come for the full revelation of His glory, performed His first miracle, and roused the faith of His disciples).
The nursery of human goodness is the home. No country can long flourish where the principles of "the Christian home are disregarded. Here there is no "democracy" or any of those "democratic principles" which supply the staple of modern cant.
The faithful wife is the autocrat of the nursery. If she is a good and religious woman, her influence goes out into the world in the persons of sons and daughters, who have learnt from her to love and obey. And in loving sisters and dutiful daughters we find high influence for good. In this age and country, where there is so steady an advance of wickedness and defiance of the law of God, the real, quiet antidotes to evil in high places, to the scandalous poison-plots of sin in divorce courts, and surrender to human badness in the public tampering with the marriage law, and all that that means, are to be found in the purifying atmosphere of a Christian home.
Here, first of all, woman helps the work of the Church of Christ.
The revival of sisterhood life in England is one of the most striking consequences of the reawakening of Christianity in the country, by the Oxford Movement. A number of excellent women, who otherwise would perhaps have had to lead weary and aimless lives, have found their vocation in such great sisterhoods as St. Margaret's, East Grinstead, or All Saints or Clewer, and other communities of the same character.
Their work is of priceless value. In prayer for the needs of the Church, in self-devoted work among the sick, the poor, or the fallen, in training the young so that they may grow up not only useful members of society, but also true members of the Church, knowing the Catholic faith, and realising their duties as "members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven." This knowledge and realisation have been of vast importance in helping souls, especially now, when ignorance of their duties, or insufficient training for the priesthood, or natural English stiffness, have made many of the clergy useless as Christian pastors and teachers, and consequently have left many of our poorer people quite uninstructed in the faith.
There is also open to good women who have leisure, and are not bound by home duties, a wide opportunity for usefulness as parish workers. St. Paul seems to have been alive to the strength (as well as weakness) of this class of Church workers. Many hard-working and devout parish priests find immense assistance from good women, who will visit the dwellers in districts of a parish, and help very really to bring the people in touch with their priest. Work of this sort requires, of course, tact and sympathy and devotion. The women who do this work well are those who do not play at being parish priests themselves, who do not ruffle the finer feelings of the poor, who are themselves instructed in the Catholic faith, who are women of prayer and servants of God, and who feel a real kindly interest in the sorrows and trials of the poor, and who have the common-sense - coming from absence of vanity and self-seeking and great love of God - to distinguish between real cases of need and impostors, and yet never to be hard towards poor sinners who have been victimised by circumstances.